Thoughts, links, and essays from Peter Merholz
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Archives before June 13, 2001

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About peterme

Most of the Time
Oakland, CA

American history around the time of the Revolution, figuring out how to marry top-down task-based information architecture processes with bottom-up document-based ones, finding a good dentist in San Francisco Oakland
Designing the user experience (interaction design, information architecture, user research, etc.), cognitive science, ice cream, films and film theory, girls, commuter bicycling, coffee, travel, theoretical physics for laypeople, single malt scotch, fresh salmon nigiri, hanging out, comics formalism, applied complexity theory, Krispy Kreme donuts.

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[Editor's note: began as a site of self-published essays, a la Stating The Obvious. This evolved (or devolved) towards link lists and shorter thoughtpieces. These essays are getting a tad old, but have some good ideas.]
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Interface Design Recommended Reading List
Whose "My" Is It Anyway?
Frames: Information Vs. Application

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January 18, 2003

Mothballs. I've gotta do something else with this site. I've got ideas. More essays. No blogging. New organization.When this will all happen, I don't know. Until then, this site is pretty much mothballed.
Posted at 07:27 AM PST [17 comments]

January 13, 2003

It's Getting Easier to Be Green. Though a registered Democrat, In both 1996 and 2000, I cast my presidential vote for Ralph Nader. Clinton had pissed me off with "welfare reform", Gore pissed me off with spinelessness, and Nader's platform rang true line-by-line. Last year, I casted my gubernatorial vote for Peter Camejo. And this year, Gray Davis continues to behave in a way that makes me feel justified. The Chronicle reports that while he's slashing budget across the board (he has to, we've got a $34 billion deficit), he's proposing an INCREASE in spending to prisons. For some strange reason, Davis has felt the need to be seen as "tough on crime," which means that he's harsher than your typical Republican. He loves the death penalty, he never considers anyone for parole or clemency, and now he wants to give prisons more money. And he's a Democrat? I suppose, in the same way that only Nixon could have gone to China, only a Republican could have come out so strongly against the death penalty.Closer to home, a bit of local politics shows up why I can't stand the Democrats. In San Francisco, Matt Gonzalez became the President of the Board of Supervisors, making him among the most powerful Green politicians in the country. Not long before he was elected Supervisor, Gonzalez was a democrat. But seeing the erosion of the Democratic platform into a cuddlier version of the Republican one lead him to pursue his ideals and change party affiliation. As a supervisor, he's been thoughtful, considerate, and out of the limelight. One gets the sense that Gonzalez is basically a good guy, wanting to do the Right Thing, working quietly and consistently. His ideals are also that which would be considered traditionally liberal/democratic -- fairness to labor, equal rights, environmentally concerned, etc. etc. As that linked-to article pointed out, Gonzalez' election has caused a conniption in local Democratic circles, because, well, Democrats should just fall in line like good little soldiers and vote strictly for the party, not for the person best suited to the job. (Have I mentioned I have trouble with all group affiliations for *just this reason*?)Though they try to be the "party of the people", the history of San Francisco shows how, with remarkable consistency, the Democratic powerful (who have pretty much been running the city unabated for 40 years) do what's in the interest of big corporations, often at the expense of the underprivileged. Folks interested in this ought to read CITY FOR SALE, a history of downtown development at the expense of those living there. (somewhat tangential: And now Joe Lieberman has thrown his hat into the presidential ring. That odious fundamentalist toad pretty much shows up everything misbegotten about the Democratic party.)I maintain high hopes for Gonzalez, and for the slow, but steady, emergence of the Greens as a voice in our politics. And I strongly suggest perusing their platform.
Posted at 08:41 AM PST [6 comments]

January 12, 2003

Good on Governor Ryan. Illinois Governor George Ryan commuted 167 death sentences before leaving office. It's too bad that this bold and commendable decision is somewhat clouded by the charges of corruption in his office. But, considering there's not a single worthwhile argument in support of the death penalty, it was definitely the Right Thing to do.Scott Turow, who served on Ryan's commission on the death penalty, wrote a revealing piece on his experience for the New Yorker.
Posted at 09:20 AM PST [3 comments]

I don't get it. The State of California is suffering a $34.6 billion shortfall. And yet, in all the news and analysis I'm reading, no one mentions repealing Proposition 13. Why?
Posted at 09:12 AM PST [3 comments]

January 8, 2003

Listening to Lenny. A new book, The Trials of Lenny Bruce, casts the comedian's biography in the light of the First Amendment. One of the book's authors is interviewed on, discussing the role Bruce inadvertently played in the evolution of the First Amendment. The book includes a CD of unreleased performances. Me wanty!
Posted at 10:08 AM PST [1 comment]

January 7, 2003

WATCH ME IF YOU CAN. Last night I took in a showing of Spielberg's latest confection, Catch Me If You Can. Essentially, I liked it, but those who don't see it are not really missing anything. This cinematic trifle follows the teenager Frank Abagnale, Jr. as he costume-changes through a series of personas, impersonating a pilot, doctor, and lawyer while cashing fraudulent checks to pay for it all.Perhaps because it's such a puff of air, I find the movie is quite worth discussing. Unlike Spielberg's previous two efforts (AI and Minority Report) this film is never encumbered by its own seriousness. Spielberg never weighs in too heavily with emotion, and it's happily lacking in staged shots leaden with import.The cinematic restraint allows the actors freedom to breathe, and there is one true revelation in this film: Christopher Walken as Frank, Sr. Too long typecast as a freakish goon, Walken proves himself more than capable of being the film's heart -- Frank, Jr.'s actions are a direct result of his feelings for his dad, and if Walken hadn't made us feel for him, too, the film would simply be a shell. Walken's performance is so engaging, with such class, and a remarkable range, that the audience maintains its sympathy for Frank, Jr.'s behavior, no matter how outlandish it becomes. This is the classic "Supporting Actor" role, and a nomination (and reception) of an Oscar is deserved. (With this and his work in the Fatboy Slim video, we're seeing The Second Coming of Walken. Here's a nice feature on him.)The films' stars perform admirably, too. The Leo backlash that occurred post-Titanic is a particularly annoying manifestation of knocking success to make your small self feel better. DiCaprio has done excellent work in a number of films, and he holds together CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, allowing you to believe in this character and the situations he gets himself into and out of. Oh, and he's beautiful to look at. Hanks' offers a workmanlike portrayal of a sad sack bank fraud FBI agent.Where the story simply follows Frank, Jr.'s development, it works very well. It's hard not to marvel at his chutzpah in assuming identities and getting away with it, and smirk at the ironies that abound in a 17 year old portraying a 28-year old pilot, doctor, and lawyer. Where the scriptwriting gets cute, particularly in the film's framing device (the film begins with Frank, Jr.'s capture, and the film is told in flashback, with occasional leaps forward), it falls apart. Beginning with the ending was a bad choice, particularly because it means you're thrown into a rather bleak jail cell in France, a remarkable downer to start this film. It seems to me as if Spielberg didn't really 'get' the effect of this narrative structure on the audience--it's needlessly choppy.
Posted at 12:23 PM PST [6 comments]

January 6, 2003

Irrigation Irritation. Let's say you're a happy homeowner, interested in purchasing a smart sprinkler system for your yard. You go to Google and type "home irrigation" and click on "Directory" so you focus on categories. Here is what's returned.irrigation_directory (10k image)
Posted at 12:38 PM PST [8 comments]

"State" is an anagram of "Taste." The public is being encouraged to vote for the back of the new California state quarter. Remember--these are the finalists. (It makes me worry about who didn't make the cut). Still, there are a few decent designs. Vote for one of them.
Posted at 09:16 AM PST [2 comments]

January 1, 2003

For the citizens, by the citizens. Reading Gawker, the catty New York weblog, has made me want something similar-ish in my new city of residence, Berkeley. I was chatting with Adina about this. She lives in Austin. What would a Berkeley Gawker be? An Austin Gawker? Obviously, they'd take on the regional flava... I don't think Berkeleyites would be nearly as obsessed with Prada and J. Lo (thankfully). But I could definitely see a network of city/region blogs developing. For me here in Berkeley, it would be something that could delve into local issues, politics, referenda, as well as new restaurants stores, and even local events, library happenings. One of the nice things about Gawker is that it doesn't fear mundanity. And that's something that sets the web apart from other publishing media. Mundanity is important in a citizen's life. I'd love to know that I ought to avoid the intersection of Sacramento and Oregon because there's a massive pothole. Stuff like that.It's particularly valuable in cities too small to warrant a good local paper. I mean, we've got the East Bay Express, but that covers the whole East Bay, and comes out only once a week. We also have things like CitySearch, which are nice, but too commerce focused. Anyway, the point would be to have 5-10 folks, different people scattered around a region, writing about what's happening in their neighborhood, providing insight on all sorts of topics. As Adina pointed out, "column inches are cheap" on the Web.What would be great is if a blog tool was modified for regional use... Easy access to maps, some form of archiving/categorizing that included geography, etc. Like me, I'd talk about the Thai Temple Brunch two blocks from my house, or the Jumpin' Java coffeehouse that offers both free wireless AND wired connections (ethernet cables you can plug into your laptops). Or maybe get a discussion going about the best places to play pinball in Berkeley and North Oakland. Anyway, I suppose this is one for the LazyWeb.
Posted at 01:48 PM PST [26 comments]

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