Thoughts, links, and essays from Peter Merholz
petermescellany   petermemes


Archives before June 13, 2001

RSS Feed

Adaptive Path (my company!)

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.

Click to see where I wander.

Wish list
Show me you love me by
buying me things.

Track updates of this page with Spyonit. Clickee here.

[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.]
Reader Favorites
Interface Design Recommended Reading List
Whose "My" Is It Anyway?
Frames: Information Vs. Application

Interface Design
Web Development
Movie Reviews

September 30, 2001

For faceted classification wonks. A late post to the thread on "Innovation in Classification" provides some mentally-heavy-lifting resources.
Posted at 08:14 PM PST [0 comments]

Don't Get Out of Sorts! For the project I am working on, we're about to conduct a card sorting exercise. While I know the basics of the practice, I poked around to see if I could turn up any detailed methodologies. I found a number of items of interest.

If you know nothing about card sorting, start here. A brief primer.

Combine card sorting with a survey on usage behavior.

Microsoft Research's take on Web usability, including card sorting.

I'm quite keen on Chiara Fox's affinity diagrams for card sorting, a visualization that helps understand the "slop" that will inevitably occur when asking more than one person to organize a set of terms--strong groups will emerge, but there will still be significant relationships across the groups.
Posted at 08:11 PM PST [5 comments]

September 28, 2001

Heading back east. For this week, I'll be staying in Cambridge, MA. Love to me meet any peterme-readers out there. Mail me.
Posted at 10:22 PM PST

September 27, 2001

The Politics Of Science. This month's Scientific American features a story on Maeve Leakey, who married into the renowned Leakey family and became a leading paleoanthropologist in her own right.

My B.A. is in anthropology, and since school I've tried to keep up on developments in physical anthropology. Very subtly alluded to in the story, one of the more interesting meta-issues in the field are the politics and disputes between two main research groups, the Leakey family and Tim White's group. Oftentimes it seems that science is discarded in favor of convincing people that you've discovered Homo sapiens's oldest direct ancestor. Ever since Louis Leakey's discovery of Homo habilis, the Leakey family has disputed every other group's claim to having found a precursor to humans. In this instance, Maeve claims that her new find, Kenyanthropus platyops is just as likely our direct ascendant as is Australopithecus afarensis, discovered by White and Donald Johansen in 1974, and commonly known as "Lucy."

Professor White taught what might have been the single most significant course in my education at Berkeley, and everything I've read about him and his findings makes sense, so I tend to side with his contentions. Particularly because the Leakey family has a history of ignoring the evidence in favor of supporting the primacy of the elder Leakey's work. Of course, only time and further research will tell whence we came. offers a good overview of some of the latest findings and disputes within the field of human evolution.

And perhaps a little listen to "The Politics of Dancing"?
Posted at 11:36 AM PST [0 comments]

September 26, 2001

Oh, and Lou-- I still say hierarchical categorizations ARE tyrannical. And I'm upset with library/info-scientists for keeping the magic of faceted classification from the rest of us so long.
Posted at 11:01 PM PST [2 comments]

Follow Up On Facets. In the comments thread for "Innovation in Classification," Lou pointed out that Epicurious utilizes faceted classification. Silly me, I had forgotten about this organization, which was written up by Prof. Marti Hearst in this great paper: Next Generation Web Search: Setting Our Sites. The facets are used to support browse here.

And, finally, I find it fascinating how Best Cellars has copywritten the elements of their classification. If I read it right, others could use the "style" facet in describing their wines, and even the values--they just couldn't use the image or the words used to provide context.

Can facet classifications by protected by copyright? Does anyone know? There was a thread about it on SIGIA-L a while back.
Posted at 10:32 PM PST [5 comments]

September 25, 2001

Oh, yeah, hey, it's my birthday. 29. Kind of an anti-climactic experience this year.
Posted at 10:33 AM PST [20 comments]

September 23, 2001

Innovation in Classification.
In this post, two threads are at work. The first addresses an issue often raised in user-centered design, which is that its discipline and process don't encourage innovation--many people equate UCD with usability engineering, a practice which seems to limit creativity, encouraging designs similar to those already out there, because that's what people are familiar with. During Adaptive Path's Web2001 presentation, a question from audience was, "How do user experience methods lead to innovation?"

The second thread involves faceted classification, one of the most powerful, yet least understood, methods of organizing information. Most folks, when thinking about organizing objects or information, immediately think of a hierarchical, or taxonomic, organization; a top-down structure, where you start with a number of broad categories that get ever more detailed, until you arrive at the object. In such structures, each object has a single home, and typically, one path to get there--this is how things are organized in "the real world", where each item can only be in one place. Oftentimes, when thinking of organizing information, a hierarchy is where people begin (think Yahoo!).

Faceted classification, on the other hand, is a bottom-up scheme. Here, each object is tagged with a certain set of attributes and values (these are the facets), and the organization of these objects emerges from this classification, and how a user chooses to access them. Toys, for example, lend themselves to a faceted classification, with the facets being things like, "Suitable Age," "Price," "Subject Type," "Brand," and even "Character" (like Barbie or Elmo). Someone might be price conscious, and want to start there; another knows that the child in question loves science toys, and wants to begin with that. Faceted classification allows for exploration directed by the user, where a large dataset is progressively filtered through the user's various choices, until arriving at a manageable set that meet the users' basic criteria. Instead of sifting through a pre-determined hierarchy, the items are organized on-the-fly, based on their inherent qualities.

Now, faceted classification isn't inherently innovative. In fact, objects tend to have a fixed set of facets by which they are organized. Where innovation comes is through user research that listens to how the users/customers/audience think about and approach a task, and providing tools to allow them to approach it meaningfully.

Wine is a much-fussed-over subject that, over the years, has developed a language and organization of it's own, an organization that happens to be faceted. Wines are typically organized by color, or varietal, or region, and occasionally by price. Online wine merchants, like (now eVineyard), have exploited this, allowing their visitors to shop for wine in these time-tested fashions.'s main facets

Anything that is "time-tested" is ripe for innovation. I know I've been utterly at a loss when shopping at a store or online for wine, because, I don't understand the differences in region and variety, and, frankly, I don't care. I have a sense of what I like, or I know what I'll be drinking it with, but the store layouts are of no help.

One smart entrepreneur realized this, and opened up a wine store, Best Cellars, that eschews the arcana of wine connoisseurship in favor of a classification scheme better suited to the average drinker:

These, I understand! I know I tend to like "medium-to-full bodied" red wines, and that's easy to find here. The proprietor ditched conventional wisdom, utilizing terminology they knew their users would better understand. In fact, the whole store is premised on this innovative nomenclature scheme, and it's been frightfully successful.

User-centered approaches engender innovation by encouraging us to truly listen to and understand our audience, in order to best serve their unmet needs. In the same way that the focus of Design is shifting away from products (the thing in itself) and towards processes (things in context, in relation to people and the environment), innovation, which once meant "technological innovation," will increasingly mean procedural innovation--a natural outcome of user-centered methodology.

For those interested in reading more about the wonders of faceted classification, here are some resources:
Faceted Classification, from Ranganathan: Ahead of his Century
Faceted Access: A Review of the Literature
Encyclozine's Content Classification Page, with definitions of various classification methods, and pointers for learning more

For folks interested in more advanced takes:
Contextual Classification in the Metadata Object Manager (M.O.M.)
Interactive Information Retrieval based
on Faceted Classification using Views
and View-based searching systems - a new paradigm for information
retrieval based on faceted classification and indexing using mutually
constraining knowledge-based views
Posted at 09:16 PM PST [32 comments]

September 21, 2001

Beware: Time Waster Ahead. I've just spent the last half-hour or so clicking around Film In Context, an amiable little movie reviews site from across the pond. Seemingly a labor of love from some British web developers, the smartly-hyperlinked entries keep you clicking in associative fashion. Strong focus on world cinema, contemporary indies, and film classics.
Posted at 09:15 AM PST [0 comments]

September 20, 2001

Oh. And another thought. About San Francisco. After New York, I wouldn't be surprised if San Francisco feels the pain of the Current Situation more than any other city.

SF was already hurting, thanks to the downturn in information technology purchases and the concomitant stock sell-out.

Now, you see, SF's economy has three primary legs:
  • Technology
  • Finance
  • Tourism

    Because SF isn't that big of a city, these three account for a rather large portion of the economy. Finance, as witnessed over the last few days, is kaplooey. And tourism, because of the airline situation and general fears, is down, too.

    Tourism, if memory serves, is SF's single largest industry. If we thought the dot.bomb was bad, what happens when there are rampant layoffs in our hotels, shops, restaurants, and various points of support for tourism? The immediate effects will be significant, and the ripple effects could be massive.

    Over the next couple of years, San Francisco will definitely be living in "interesting times."
    Posted at 06:13 PM PST [1 comment]

  • Yes, Virginia, This Is A Crusade! So, word is that "infinite justice" was an existing meme.

    It turns out that Muslims have objected to the name, because supposedly only God or Allah can mete out infinite justice.

    A trip around Google, removing the contemporary embellishments, shows just how deeply the meme "infinite justice" is ingrained with religion.

    Which basically suggests that we were declaring a holy war ourselves. I'm sure that the Pentagon will deny any religious intent with the name, but they'd be lying. It's too weird a phrase to have popped up independently.

    So much for that whole "separation of church and state" thing, eh?

    Posted at 05:58 PM PST [6 comments]

    Various Thoughts on the Current Situation. I've felt impotent writing in the face of the tragedy of last week and the mobilization of our armed forces. But I'm figuring, hey, it's my website, I keep having thoughts and ideas, might as well get them out there. If nothing only so maybe I can start thinking of some other things.

    Why, when thousands have died, and hundreds of thousands are in direct mourning, when the streets of lower Manhattan are littered with debris and dead bodies, when I'm feeling impotent with rage at this attack, when my friends are unable to get to their homes and are stranded in my house, when my eyes well up with tears upon thinking of the firefighters and police officers, or reading the dispatches from the latest New Yorker, why am I told that my patriotic concern should be "the economy"? How fucked up are we as a nation to equate being good little capitalist proles (yes, I know the irony of that statement) with buying crap and investing in stocks?

    I have to assume that the military knows what it's doing. I know this sounds stupid to fellow skeptics, but I can't imagine that the military believes it can handle this situation through conventional methods. Right? They're not that dumb, right? They also understand that in order to be seen as successful, they'll have to get to the root of this problem (whatever it is... I'm not convinced it's simply bin Laden), or they'll have lots of egg on their face if they claim "Victory" while somebody blows up the Bay Bridge at rush hour.

    But I'm nervous because the essential structure and policies of the military (at least as how I understand them) are utterly ill-suited to the nature of This Situation. There's no nation to attack here. There's no unified presence. By pretty much every account, the terrorist organizations work in a number of distributed cells. You've got to take out the nodes. I found that this Washington Post article titled "Disconnect the Dots," helped me understand, a little, what we're dealing with. The military folks know these things, right? They don't assume, with some foolish bluster or ignorance, that they can simply mow over these people, right?

    Today, it was the accounts of falling bodies. I'm sitting at the Atlas Cafe, reading the latest New Yorker, and people are talking about falling bodies. Bodies with the skin burned off of them, covered in a white ash. Police officers killed under the weight of a body falling on them. That's when I started to choke up and get teary-eyed. And pretty much give up the thought of getting anything "done" the rest of the day.

    "Infinite Justice" might be the stupidest name for a military operation ever. Not only is it nonsensical (what does "infinite" refer to?), it's an awkward mouthful, difficult to say with any emphasis. We're supposed to rally around something called "infinite justice"?

    Which reminds me of the utter uselessness of our commander-in-chief. I know I'm now a worthless dissenter for saying so, but President Bush has been a nightmare throughout this whole incident. The man is a buffoon, capable only of spouting superficial cliches about freedom and democracy and infidels and cowardice. Mayor Giuliani, on the other hand, has been a surprisingly shining light of hope, assurance, and affirmation--and, typically I can't stand the guy. But he's stepped up to the situation and proven himself capable and dedicated to the city he loves. What does Bush love?

    And war. War war war. Fighting of any kind. Makes me uneasy. I'm something of a pacifist. Yet I know we've got to retaliate... You don't let an incident this grave go by unanswered. But I fear the answer will only escalate the problem. I so wish we could just turn the other cheek. That we had some capacity for simply not showing any response, because that's what bullies want more than anything else... a response. You don't give them that, they leave you alone. Though this isn't a 'bullies' situation, obviously. So much graver. We've got to do *something*.

    But what?

    Posted at 05:06 PM PST [3 comments]

    September 18, 2001

    Which would you choose? Julianne posed an interesting question in an email. For this (admittedly flippant) poll (look to the right), in which every choice is "Me", which do you think is the most popular? (I didn't guess right). I'm no statistician, but it seems that the difference between lowest and highest is quite significant. What does the distribution mean? Anything?
    Posted at 10:40 PM PST [4 comments]

    It's a book review in thoughtwander form! The most intellectually stimulated I got last week was on Wednesday night, over a sushi dinner with a friend. Naturally we were discussing the tragedy, and our conversation turned toward getting the airlines running again--she leads a bicoastal life, and air travel is a big part of her life.

    With the news commenting on how difficult it would be to get air travel flowing again--planes were forced to land, the backlog of travelers needing to fly, heightened security measures, etc--we discussed the inefficiencies of travel even in a normal period, things like how bad weather in New York can cause rippling effects throughout the system, leading to delays around the country.

    The problem seems to have two prongs that I know about--reliance on a relatively limited number of "hubs" through which all traffic is routed, and an exceedingly specific set of routes and plans, a "top-down" structure that crumbles when a single element is out of place.

    Shortly before our conversation, I had finished Steven Johnson's new book Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, a humanist take on the science of complexity, illuminating how patterns of order--and, perhaps more importantly, success--emerge in similar fashion across a variety of complex systems.

    That fashion, at it's simplest, is through massive numbers of brief local interactions that follow a few simple rules... Without explicit intention, these local interactions lead to often astounding order at ever-higher levels, usually to the effect of perpetuating that system... As Steven explains:
    This local feedback may well prove to be the secret to the ant world's decentralized planning. Individual ants have no way of knowing how many foragers or nest-builders or trash collectors are on duty at any given time, but they can keep track of how many members of each group they've stumbled across in their daily travels. Based on that information--both the pheromone signal itself, and its frequency over time--they can adjust their own behavior accordingly. The colonies take a problem that human societies might solve with a command system (some kind of broadcast from mission control announcing that there are too many foragers) and instead solve it using statistical probabilities. Given enough ants moving randomly through a finite space, the colony will be able to make an accurate estimate of the overall need for foragers or nest-builders...

    This book is a great primer on the subject of complexity, particularly powerful in how it uses subjects that many are familiar with (urban living, mass media, buying crap at Amazon), and explains how the processes in evidence there are the result of emergent systems.

    Since my brain was metabolizing this book, I began thinking how such bottom-up thinking could inform airline systems. Complex adaptive systems are amazingly resilient--ant colonies, brains, and cities are remarkably stable, and when some trauma does occur, the system often simply routes around it and continues its development. Airlines, on the other hand, buckle under remarkably little stress, and become unmanageable under even moderate stress.

    If airlines were to pattern themselves on emergent systems, they'd use smaller aircraft and a freer range of flight paths, such that the system can figure out the most efficient means of transporting people, instead of being restricted to the paths laid down "from above" by airline planners.

    As it happens, I believe this is the thesis of James Fallows book, Free Flight. I don't know if Fallows is knowingly advocating an emergent system, or if he stumbled upon the notion independently.

    Such a plan raises all kinds of questions, namely, "How do I know that I can get from San Francisco to New York at a certain time on a certain day?" We've all come to rely on schedules to make sure we get from point A to point B.

    But what if, instead of us being beholden to the pre-determined whims of the air carriers, there was a system that would aggregate customer requests and turn those into flight plans? Such that I'd say, "I'd like to get from San Francisco to New York on March 15th, leaving at 9a." Actually, that's not interesting, 'cause those are two hub cities that get plenty of air traffic. But if I said, "I'd like to get from Santa Rosa, CA to Rochester, NY." And if enough other people made that request, it would achieve some kind of mass, and an entrepreneurial sort would offer to fill that request. Or figure out an as-optimal-route-as-possible that likely wouldn't be whatever a planner had decided.

    Some interesting thoughts on complexity and airlines (specifically cargo routing) are contained in Manifest Destiny: Adaptive Cargo Routing at Southwest Airlines.

    Posted at 10:13 PM PST [3 comments]

    September 16, 2001

    Keeping in mind the human scale. All week, I'd been too busy and scattered to think too deeply about the tragedy--other factors about my work and personal life (client demands, preparing for conferences, ending a romantic relationship, having two stranded Austinites staying in my house, etc.) left me little time for reflection. Yesterday morning was my first stretch of time alone since the hijackings, and the following email was sent to a small list I'm on. In it, Deborah Schultz relates her graveyard shift participation with the Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle team. The combination of simple human encounters over things like Cracker Jacks with the description of the enormity of the damage touched me deeply, and for the first time since the misery that befell us Tuesday morning, I cried. Deborah has given me permission to reprint it here.

    I am one of the lucky few who has been able to channel my shock into action by being in the first group of Red Cross volunteers to be quickly trained and deployed. On Wednesday evening I worked with a great group of volunteers setting up one of the largest shelters for 70 displaced elderly. Last night I worked on the scene. Both events extremely emotionally impactful in different ways. Being on the scene, however is something truly indescribable.

    I haven't processed anything yet, but after finally getting a good night sleep last night, I will give it a try. It somehow feels strange to write this all down, very ego-centric. But people have been asking me what it was like, so I am describing the scene not because I think I did anything special, but to let you all know what I saw and felt. Doc please feel free to post.

    Last night (Thursday), I spent a 12 hour shift from 6PM - 6AM on a Red Cross ERV (Emergency Response Vehicle) with two other Red Cross team leads and 3 other regular folks like me. The ERVs are the red and white trucks that hand out supplies to the men and woman on the scene - the fireman, policeman and construction workers etc. Driving downtown in the van in the dark from the Upper West Side felt like a descent into Dante's Inferno. The further south we got the quieter and eerier it became, first checkpoint at 14th street, then below canal, then pulling up to the corner of Church and Duane. The smell was strong and memorable, bringing me back to a school fire I lived through when I was in fourth grade.

    All around us were national guardsman, army personnel, HUMVs, police, firefighters, con ed and construction workers and media vans. There was even a group of Franciscan friars walking the scene along with religious Jews helping to comb the wreckage for bodies. Most people where wearing masks of all types. Red Cross had told us to be prepared, but it is impossible to prepare someone for entering a war zone. I found it hard to get my bearings..nothing looks the same. The landmark I always used was gone. Only the street signs let me know where I was standing. The area was lit only by floodlights. There was white ash everywhere. It was surreal.

    We parked the truck and set-up shop. Loaded with coffee, power bars, sandwiches, juice, water and treats, as well as t-shirts, socks, gloves etc. We opened our doors and turned on our lights and spread the word where we were parked. We had heard that the fireman need to be encouraged to eat. So rather than wait around for them to come to us, we loaded two boxes with supplies, put on our goggles and respirators and walked down the street. At first we went up to everyone asking them if they wanted anything. Often we used hand signals as the masks impeded speech.

    It is amazing how quickly you become sensitized to who is too tired or shocked and who can be approached. The men are exhausted and sometimes don't know what they want. So we tipped our boxes forward to show them what we had, and I watched the eyes of the individual workers to see if they registered interest. If I saw a flicker, I walked over and asked them if they wanted something.

    Surprisingly, the biggest hit was the box of Cracker Jacks and Oreos. Somehow the simple pleasure of a bag of cracker jacks brought smiles to the faces of these larger than life workers. We joked with a number of them and they always asked if there was a prize inside. Every single one of these men and woman thanked us for all our hard work. When we handed them food they put a large hand on our shoulders, looked us square in the eye and said a simple but impactful "thank-you". I was humbled. I answered over and over - "thank- YOU". One fireman, tired and cold, amazingly said to me, "We are paid for this, but you come here on your own". Can you believe these guys?!

    A fellow volunteer and I walked one or two blocks further south. I stood on the corner of Church, by the Millennium Hotel/Century 21/Borders (the east-side of the WTC) and stared in disbelief at what I saw. The two dimensional photos cannot communicate the carnage. I couldn't tell which pile was what bldg. I won't waste words describing it.

    Then the wind shifted and the precautionary Evac was sounded...everyone started jogging time to think..we ran back up the block-- back to the safety of the van and we pulled back to a safer zone. Headquarters called and asked us to relieve another van, but by the time we got to the new spot another van had arrived, so we decided to ride around to find a spot that was not being well serviced. There are plenty of ERV's and Salvation Army vehicles in the center of things but we decided to find a corner a bit further away. We pulled up in front of a group of con ed workers and they swarmed us for supplies.

    Suddenly there was a crack of lighting that lit up the sky..This electrical storm added even more to the surreal and other worldly nature of the scene. We turned around to look at the sky and were amazed by what we saw...the shadow formed by the smoke and remaining buildings etched a phantom WTC tower in the horizon. It was shockingly real looking.

    Then the sky opened and one of those torrential NY storms brought a deluge of rain. We took shelter in the van. Our first thought was that once the rain let up our coffee, socks, towels and t-shirts would be a big hit. We prepped. Once the rain subsided we found a new location on the corner of Greenwich and Duane. Greenwich is the main convoy route for trucks going down to the scene and back as well as the walking out route for a lot of the guys coming off duty to go back to their cars.

    The rain started again and as we got the word out --cold shivering and wet workers swarmed our van. We handed out t-shirts, socks, underwear, gloves and lots of coffee and sanwiches. When we ran out of t-shirts we made scarves out of four pairs of socks and handed them to the men to prevent the pouring rain from running down their backs. We got our hands on a bunch of ponchos from another Red Cross van and handed those out to the inadequately dressed construction workers as well.

    The convoy drivers stuck in their trucks began backing up in front of us, so we ran down the convoy in the rain taking orders for coffee and food. The six of us got a system together and started collecting orders and delivering it down the line. Cold and wet the fireman arrived at our van, some of them looking dazed, some of them just tired. We smiled, we flirted and joked..."latte anyone, shot of bourbon, champagne?" A unit of firemen walked by us stoically carrying a body bag, we can only assume they were carring out one of their own.

    We continued like this till 6AM when we finally ran out of coffee. Then we packed up and headed back to headquarters. I exchange phone numbers with my new friends and we hugged and kissed as if we had known each other for years. I now have a small understanding of how my friends who have served in the army feel about the buddies in their unit.

    There are many scenes, and images and sights and smells that are engraved in my mind. I feel privileged and lucky to have been able to serve these brave men and women. I am touched to the soul by their courage and spirit.

    The deaths of the firefighters and policemen are what continue to get to me. Not in anyway to diminish the deaths of others, but these folks' job was to run *into* the buildings while everyone is running out. Shit.

    Posted at 09:13 AM PST [1 comment]

    September 15, 2001

    The fundamentals of fundamentalism. I have a tendency to simply dismiss religious fundamentalists as kooks not worth my time, but William O. Beeman's essay, "Fighting the Good Fight: Fundamentalism and Religious Revival", provides an overview of theoretical thought on religious fundamentalism that I found quite illuminating, providing a clear context for fundamentalism within societal processes.

    These four qualities: revivalism; orthodoxy; evangelism; and social action; are the basis for the discussion of fundamentalism (writ small) presented below. As a number of social scientists have noted, the term has come to have pejorative connotations. Nevertheless, it does seem to serve a useful purpose as a characterization of a repeatedly occurring and nearly universal human social phenomenon. The deeper comparative understanding of fundamentalism may forestall the frequent dismissive attitudes exhibited by groups sharing common beliefs toward each other. As Lionel Caplan, editor of a prominent collection of essays on the subject has noted: "an adequate understanding of fundamentalism requires us to acknowledge its potential in every movement or cause. . . . We are all of us, to some degree and in some senses, fundamentalists."

    Posted at 10:04 AM PST [6 comments]

    September 14, 2001

    My tummy is upset, but it's worth it. Last night, I joined Molly and Betty for dinner at Emmy's Spaghetti Shack. Emmy's was a great place for a restorative evening--an inexpensive Italian restaurant (all entrees between $5-10) with a full bar. My stomach is still recovering from the gin martini, half a bottle of red, belgian endive salad, salt cod, porcini mushroom risotto, squid, and spaghetti marinara (we ate family style). But it was worth it. Emmy's might offer the best quality to price ratio in town, at least for a sit-down restaurant. On top of which, the delightfully funky decor (colorful aprons hanging from a clothesline, a corrugated tin metal ceiling, chalkboard beverage menus that have listed out these "40oz"s: Budweiser, Mickey's, Chimay), makes it comfortingly homey.

    The food and company was a much needed salve on what has been a very trying week. And, clearly, not just for us. Emmy's featured a live musician on guitar, playing 60s classics. Among the songs was "What's Going On?" by Marvin Gaye. As he was playing it, our waitress came to take our order, and we called her attention to the music. About 5 minutes later she came back to tell us that she had broken down in the kitchen, hit by a wave of sadness, triggered by the song.

    It can be hard keeping it together. Friends, food, and lots of talking help.
    Posted at 08:58 AM PST [2 comments]

    September 12, 2001

    Please Give to Those Who Are Helping Out.
    American Red Cross.
    NY Firefighter's Disaster Relief Fund.

    Posted at 10:57 PM PST [0 comments]

    September 10, 2001

    Some Thoughts On Nooz. "Variety of Brash Magazines Upset the Old Stereotypes", New York Times. I find the subject of 'new feminism,' 'post feminism,' or, as labelled here, 'third-wave feminism,' quite interesting. In large part, because I love it. I think feminism that embraces femininity is great. I respect the p.o.v. of the old-guard feminists, but as a young 'un, I find their viewpoints tend to toward the condescending.

    "And The Winner Is -- Dell", SF Chronicle. The author's thesis is that Dell Computer has prospered, even without technical innovation. Like this is surprising. Dell's innovation was a business model that responded to customer need. People have no desire for 2Ghz chips. But they definitely seem to enjoy simple ways of building machines that suit their specific needs.

    "Uncertain Future for Online Cards", New York Times. I've been sending web postcards ever since Judith Donath first put up the Electric Postcard Server. I love Web postcards. The idea, though, that anyone ever thought they could make any serious money off of such things is, well, kind of silly. Though, I find the Hallmark executive pooh-poohing web postcards in favor of broadband is offensive as well... The simplicity of web postcards will ensure their popularity long after technology has progressed. There's something about the sending of this simple token, even virtually, that taps into something very human. No technology will change that.

    Oh, and peterme readers will likely want to follow that Judith Donath link--she's got a bunch of great papers on online communities, and a recent publication called "Mediated Faces," about using representations of faces in human communication online.
    Posted at 10:48 PM PST [0 comments]

    September 9, 2001

    Mmmmmm... Putting on pajamas fresh from the dryer... mmmmmm.
    Posted at 08:06 PM PST [3 comments]

    September 8, 2001

    Visceral writing. From an article in The New Yorker on Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez Frias comes this description of a prison where Chavez was held for revolutionary activities:

    Yare is an awful place. The worst inmates are left to their own devices in two dirty-white, bullet-pocked blocks at the rear of the prison grounds, where black curtains of excrement from broken toilets slide down the walls and the ground is carpeted with an oleaginous mass of raw sewage and suppurating garbage.

    Posted at 08:37 AM PST [0 comments]

    The Media Amoeba. This bothers me in so many ways. My gut tells me that, if anything, companies controlling our mass media need more regulation, not less. Anyone who has read The Media Monopoly will understand what I'm saying.

    It's further bothersome to see Big Media wrap this issue of deregulation in the first amendment. A lawyer for Fox said, "The national broadcast rules prohibit the networks from exercising their First Amendment rights to speak to 65 percent of the nation's households." If access to households is now a first amendment issue, an outcome of this case better be that pirate and underground radio stations are free to broadcast at will--they have the same "rights" to speak to our nation's households.

    The first amendment, if I'm not mistaken, was not about access. Let's look at it:
    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

    A founding tenet of our democratic society is ensuring a forum for the exchange of a wide range of ideas. This is what the first amendment is all about. To see Big Media twist the wording is disgusting.
    Posted at 07:44 AM PST [6 comments]

    September 7, 2001

    Achtung! It's been quiet around here. I've been sick and busy. Thought I'd emerge for a bit to call, um, attention to a book, The Attention Economy (Amazon; book's web site).

    It's a decent and quick read. I appreciated it most for it's persistent hammering at the "attention" meme... When your finished, you'll definitely look at business processes around you in a new light. I also was quite pleased with the degree of scientific foundation the authors brought to their thesis--there's a whole chapter on the "psychobiology of attention" which was quite good.

    Still, business books such as this one need to be taken with many grains of salt (perhaps even a whole salt lick). The author's have an annoying tendency to re-frame all manner of interaction as being part of this overarching "attention economy." There's also a glib-ness to their evolutionary psychology references, comments that feel too pat when considered with reference to a real situation.

    In all, I don't think the author's have hit upon a truly fundamental shift in terms of thinking about business and the world around us--while fighting for attention is an ever-increasingly important endeavor, I think it still fits within current economic understanding, as opposed to warranting a paradigm shift (but, hey, it's paradigm shifts that sell books!). Still, many of the points they raise are valid and interesting concerns that will need to be addressed.
    Posted at 03:04 PM PST [0 comments]

    September 1, 2001

    Treasure trove of design thought. Recently, when I ought to have been working, I've been trolling the content found at the Archives and Museums Informatics website, specifically papers from the yearly Museums and the Web conference. Museums face a compelling set of issues in deriving an optimal experience from internet technologies, including exhibit design, database design, information architecture, "cross-channel" integration (integrating real world and online experience), maintaining visitor interest, imparting knowledge, archiving multimedia content, etc. etc.

    Papers that caught my attention include:
  • Artifact as Inspiration: Using existing collections and management systems to inform and create new narrative structures -- Discusses how the Experience Music Project utilized Thinkmap in its interactive displays.
  • Envisioning the E-Quarium: Strategic design planning for the Monterey Bay Aquarium's web site -- A smart case study on the process for developing the aquarium's web site design, touching on strategic concerns, visitor needs, and scenario planning. Co-written by Lauralee Alben, author of interaction design must-reads "At The Heart of Interaction Design" and "The Quality of Experience".

    Posted at 03:39 PM PST [0 comments]

  • All contents of are © 1998 - 2002 Peter Merholz.