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  past petermemes

September 7, 1999 [New York City]
My take on Long Lake.
Over Labor Day weekend, I attended a design gathering in Long Lake, a hamlet (not a town, or a city, or a village) in the Adirondacks situated on, well, a lake. Forthwith a scattering of thoughts and personae encountered. Sorry there's not more embedded links.

For further context, last year's gathering is featured in issue 1 of If/Then: Design Implications of New Media, a tome of original essays on the state of interactive design, situated around the theme of play. If/Then has broad relevance to fans of petermemes, as this passage demonstrates:

"She also came up with an excellent example of knowledge with a capital K, in the shape of The Knowledge, the famous understanding of routes that London taxi drivers have to master. At the lowest level it is data, the names of the roads and streets; above that it is information, about the spatial relationships between the streets. Above all it is knowledge about how to actually get from one place to another, incorporating contextual information about matters such as traffic congestion and local bottlenecks, and how to modify the Highway Code to London conditions. And, of course, it is a set of maps." (p. 62, bold emphasis mine)

This bolsters the notion that everyone is an information designer, which begs the question, that what is it that professional information designers do?

Random aside: If I'm any bellwether of market trends, then there is a huge industrial design opportunity in bicycle commuting, specifically for laptop-toting knowledge workers. Who's with me?

The interrelation of design and business and its implications on design education were delved into. The level of multi-disciplinary breadth required for good design suggests wholly doing away with design education as it's currently practiced, which is typically in some degree of isolation from essential understanding in technology, business, social sciences, cognitive science. I was heartened to realize that successful design requires bucking the trend of increasing specialization in favor of more holistic understanding.

This lead to discussion on how to guide designers towards a better understanding of their craft. Information design for the Web has little formal curriculum, and to me suggests that a master/apprentice relationship is imperative--too often people are simply thrust into the role and expected to figure it out. The role of coach was also suggested, someone to act as a mentor, who might not have domain expertise, but whose wisdom can be brought to bear on any situation. This holds appeal in that it won't succumb the potential "Business As Usual" sentiment already too prevalent in the design--"You'll design this way, because I design this way, because the person before me designed this way, etc."

Clever wordplay was often the order of the day. Sawad proclaimed he practiced "affirmative cynicism," which became something of a motto for the event. In mentioning how I hate getting caught up in semantics, because I find the constant definition of terms often serves only to get in the way of real dialog, David asked, "Does that make you anti-semantic?"

Both Don and Kristi highly recommended the business practices book Orbiting the Giant Hairball, a tract on out-of-the-box type thinking written by a 30-year Hallmark veteran. Normally I'd roll my eyes at the thought of such seeming "alternative" thinking, but I place a fair amount of trust in the suggestors' opinions.

Go with the flow. Sawad Brooks and Beth Stryker presented Disseminet (the name looks vaguely Russian, nyet?), a beautifully fluid piece of interaction design art, with a semantic (there's that word!) model that could be appropriated for any number of information spaces.

David read Coyote Trickster tales from Native American myths. It lead to a dialog on the utility of subversion in design, particularly if it's possible for designers to exploit their role as the shaper of the communication and insert their own messages in the product.

September 5, 1999 [Long Lake, NY]
Representational distortion
, among other things, is the subject of this picture-filled essay on maps.

Patron Saint of Free-Thinking Oddballs. Today, in a discussion of virtual information spaces, and the unfortunate reality of how such intermediation further divorces us from the real thing that we care about, 16th-century philosopher and proto-scientist Giordano Bruno came up. Best known for his Copernican heresies around heliocentrism, he also developed intriguing memory maps as a way to store and catalog personal information.

September 2, 1999
Today only--get a Palm V at low cost through Accompany. I've just purchased in this group, and the more who buy in, the cheaper it gets! Ahh, the power of positive aggregation.

August 31, 1999
Simply brilliant.
Personal Dictionaries is an old favorite computer art piece. I originally saw it as part of the dearly departed New Voices New Visions contest, which was among the best fora for encouraging interesting interactive art.

NVNV was sponsored in part by Interval Research, which has made its publications free to all! Most are pretty technical, though Michael Naimark's "Interactive Art--Maybe It's a Bad Idea" and "Art ("and" or "versus") Technology: Some Personal Observations" are accessible and intriguing.

I'm wishing.... Wow. I'd buy this and hang it on a wall, as long as the wall wasn't in my house. An amazing picture, but, well, too depressing to live with, no? That woman's face squarely defeats any witty detached irony. Thanks, judith, errr, mrpants, errr, katherine. (follow the bouncing meme!)

August 30, 1999
Submitted for your approval.

"I don't need to top off my night with the shaky camcorder scanning for a good place to ford the 5-INCH-WIDE CREEK! Thousands of dollars worth of video equipment BUT NO CELL PHONE? Climb a tree and LOOK AROUND YOU STUPID LITTLE BASTARDS!"

"Blog" marches on. The term has entered Keith Dawson's Jargon Scout (where you find out cool new sayings long before they're mentioned in Wired), along with a handy verb conjugation guide. In a private email, Keith mentioned the word's "ungainly" quality, to which I responded:

I quite enjoy it's "ungainly" qualities. I like that it's roughly onomatopoeic of vomiting. These sites (mine included!) tend to be a kind of information upchucking.

August 29, 1999
Weekend grab bag.

Caffeinated. Mark Pendergrast, who wrote the thoroughly brilliant For God, Country, and Coca-Cola: The Unauthorized History of The Great American Soft Drink and The Company That Makes It, has very recently written Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World. I hope the new publication will bring For God... back into print. It's a revelatory chronicle following the caramel syrup from it's first batch through to global dominance, and reveals how Coca-Cola blazed trails for much of modern capitalism, setting precedence in trademark, attitude-based advertising, international distribution, and more. I have yet to read the new book--yet another to add to the pile!

An oldie-but-goodie: The Shuttlecocks rate Coca-Cola's marketing slogans. (Though they neglected my favorite, "The Pause That Refreshes.")

The pervasiveness of the flavored fizzy sugar water throughout American society is an overwhelming and potentially depressing thought. The Onion had a marvelous take on the notion of soda proximity, though the article appears to be no longer online. In the spirit of the misplaced story, please answer the new poll to the left.

This table of per capita consumption of beverage types in Canada, USA, and Europe reveals some interesting trends.

Now why hasn't anyone else done that? Microsoft's Knowledge Base Search offers a brilliant and simple feature--"My Last Ten Searches":

This is so wonderfully handy. My guess is that users often return to a search engine wanting the exact same thing--in this particular case, troubleshooting computers often means restarting the system, so the ability to hop back to right where you are is a godsend. (Unfortunately, I still haven't been able to figure out why Windows98 hangs when I attempt to Standby, Shutdown, or Restart.)

Disoriented. Last night I attended my 10-year high school reunion. It reminded me how little I interacted with folks when I was in high school. The fact that humans have a remarkably specific facility for remembering faces proved ultimately draining--surveying the room repeatedly triggered my face-recognition sensor, informing me that I should know who all these people are, but when cross-referencing the internal names database, I repeatedly drew a blank.
[Tangent: Recognizing faces is such a highly specified neural activity that there is a term solely for the inability to do so, prosopagnosia. Here's a thoughtful first person account.]