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March 31, 2007

Local Initiatives Support Corporation

The Local Initiatives Support Corporation website provides resources (articles, pointers, news items, etc.) for community projects such as architectural and urban planning, education, policy making, and more. The site also includes links to many regional/city LISCs.

[via underdog]

March 29, 2007

Rules and Context

In most of my classes, we spend the first 2/3 of the semester covering theory, concepts, and principles. In the last 1/3 of the semester, we move into realworld projects. I'm amazed at how consistently the final projects (new media texts, websites, etc.) seem to forget the first 2/3 of the course and just forge, relatively blindly, ahead into final designs that seem somewhat inspired, but very muddled. This, I know, is a common problem for most teachers. I've tried other variations on the structure—rubrics for the final project that clearly lay out how students need to use design rules in final projects, putting smaller projects earlier rather than a monolithic one at the end, etc. I sometimes spend a full class at the start of the final project overviewing the major conceptual/theoretical work we've covered, reminding students that the final projects are their opportunity to demonstrate that they know how to apply the concepts/theories. Not much luck. (If you're one of my students and you're reading this weblog entry, obviously you're an exception.)

At Design View, Andy Rutledge has some great examples of the interaction of context and design guidelines (he claims they're inviolable rules, but I think on rare occasions any and all of them can be broken to great effect—but that's a rare thing for a new designer to achieve, rare enough to be an accident).

Among the more counterintuitive characteristics of art and design is the fact that these endeavors are governed by rules. The rules of artistry (and therefore design) are inviolate and unchanging. If you don’t obey the rules, your results will be boring, uninspiring, uncommunicative, and less than compelling. In short: poor art or poor design.

[via Andy Rutledge : Design View]

Vier5: Typography, Modern and/or New


At Design Observer, Dmitri Siegel discusses the work of designers Vier5, who problematize the distinctions between "modern," "postmodern," and "new" with work such as the exhibition poster above.

As Bruno Latour explored in We Have Never Been Modern, modernity is on the one hand characterized by parsing the differences between things like culture and nature, while at the same time it constructs systems that mix politics, science, technology, nature, and so on. Vier5's work, with its blending of the hand-made and the digital, embodies this contradictory quality. Latour suggests moving beyond a worldview of distinctions and instead accepting continuity between eras, cultures, and epistemes — essentially rejecting the idea of newness. This approach allows us to move beyond a historically fixed idea of modernity and to embrace the connections between Tschichold and Vier5.

It is easy to fall back on clichés about the end of history and the post-modern condition, but this historical awareness can be just a convenient excuse for historicism. I’m not completely convinced that every historical moment requires new letterforms (this assertion contradicts one aspect of Modernism I find myself nostalgic for — the goal of universality and commonality), but Vier5’s unapologetic use of the word modern and their quest for the new is gutsy. Their work raises the question: is there a difference between being new and being modern?

[via Design Observer: Main Posts]

Spring in the North Country

The arrival of Spring in the North Country means short-sleeve weather (it's 42 F outside!), buckled asphalt roads from the freeze/thaw cycles, and expansion of the swamplands on our property.

swamp 2

Max Headroom at AOL Video

One of the best TV series ever, the short-lived, futuristic, dystopic Max Headroom, is now available at AOL Video (for free). The soundtrack is a little dated, but the rest of it is great—bitingly funny, spot-on critiques of society, class, and technology, and far ahead of its time. Sort of like a serialized version of Gilliam's Brazil.

[via (also) Fimoculous.com]

Songs as Short Stories

The Onion A/V Club has a nice list of 26 Songs That Are Just As Good As Short Stories. Most of the music I listen to is imagistic—Wilco, Sonic Youth, Sparklehorse—but songs that manage to lay out an compelling narrative in a relatively small number of words—compared to short stories—are both rare and wonderful. Onion A/V's list is wide-ranging and interesting (I have about half these songs in my iTunes library): Elvis Presley's "In the Ghetto" (which I hadn't realized was written by Mac Davis); Jawbreaker's "Chesterfield King"; Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue" (which I knew Shel Silverstein wrote); Pulp's "David's Last Summer". Here's one entry, for a song by The Handsome Family, my favorite post-ironic postmodern band:

17. The Handsome Family, "After We Shot The Grizzly"

As a lyricist, Rennie Sparks has a lot in common with writers like Flannery O'Connor and Patricia Highsmith, both for her narrative sensibility and her darkly comic, macabre attitude. "After We Shot The Grizzly," from last year's Last Days Of Wonder, follows the grim misadventures of a group of plane-crash survivors who struggle in vain against their inevitable descent into savagery and death—sort of Lost as portrayed by the Donner party. Brett Sparks' understated performance and Rennie's deadpan sense of humor make the song something of an anti-epic, with an increasing sense of twilit mystery as the survivors disappear one by one into the darkness and the silent waves, never to be seen again.

The comments section at the end of the entry has some great additions.

[via Fimoculous.com]

March 27, 2007

Stripgenerator: DIY Comics

Collin vs. Blog laments the tragedy of a Saturday afternoon presentation slot at a recent conference—when composition teachers gather for conferences, Saturday afternoon is when everyone heads out to see the big city, making attendance at presentations in that time slot tend toward sparseness. (I have to admit, I didn't even check the conference program to see who was presenting that late in the week—apologies, because it sounds like it would have been worth attending.) But he mentions stripgenerator, a website that lets you compose simple comics using your own images or their supplied clip art and dialogue balloons—it's pretty cool. Just add wit, something I only have meager reserves of at this point in the semester.


Learning Interaction Design from Las Vegas

Dan Saffer has PDF, transcriptions, and a nice review from The Guardian of his SXSW talk, "Learning Interaction Design From Las Vegas". Name-checking substantially (and obviously, as you might guess from the title) Venturi, Scott Brown, and Izenour's majorly influential architectural manifesto [amazon link], Saffer mediates the perceived chaos of interfaces such as World of Warcraft and other crowded interface designs. Cool.

As Experts with Ideals, who pay lip service to the social sciences, they build for the Man rather than for the people—this means, to suit themselves, that is to suit their own particular upper-middle class values, which they assign to everyone.

We need more examples of things like this in interface and interaction design, which still tend towards the "form follows function"/"genius tells you how to live" version of architecture. Those earlier models are useful, in the same way that, say, knowing "appropriate" color combinations are useful. But there's much to be learned from late-modernist and postmodernist theories of architecture; Saffer is dragging us, kicking and screaming, into the future that's already here, already successful and working, in places like eBay and MySpace, and FaceBook, places that Vegas leaped into a couple of decades ago.

(Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown revisit their work recently in this TENbyTen interview. Design Observer has another retrospective review.)

One Last Skyscraper


Underdog and I, being the backcountry hicks we are (there are, as far as I can recall, no buildings of more than four stories within 100 miles of us in the realms of way upstate New York), spent a lot of time in Manhattan last week staring up at the skyscrapers, daring the hipsters to make fun of us. We were, apparently, flying under hipster radar, because we only really connected with the street people (which is a good thing, in my opinion).

This building, I think, is the Sheraton, where I actually stayed in my first baffled trip to NYC about twenty years ago, wearing a canvas hunting jacket (complete with swathes of aged, wine-colored rabbit's blood coating the inside game pockets), desperately interviewing for jobs at MLA. None of that faux LL Bean fake hunting apparel for me. I think I remembered to take off the coat and tuck it discreetly behind me during the actual interviews, but I may be wrong, given how many campus visits those interviews garnered me.

March 26, 2007

User-Driven Design, Where "User"="Vocal Minority"

NY Times has an interesting (though somewhat problematic) article on user-driven design. Here's part of the lede, which talkes about Dr. Nathaniel Sims, an anesthesiologist at Mass General:

Dr. Sims has picked up more than 10 patents for medical devices over his career. He ginned up a way to more easily shuttle around the dozen or more monitors and drug-delivery devices attached to any cardiac patient after surgery, with a device known around the hospital as the “Nat Rack.”

His best innovation to date, he says, involved modifying a drug infusion pump routinely used in hospitals to dispense the proper doses of medicine. Dr. Sims, an accomplished pilot, noticed in the mid-1980s that he could obtain navigation information from regularly updated databases. He wondered why doctors couldn’t use a device preprogrammed with the necessary data to figure out dosages themselves. From 1987 to 1992, he and a small team built an electronic device that worked with an existing pump to provide patients with the correct does of the proper drug. Alaris Medical Systems was the first established medical supply firm to use the technology.

All of which I think is great—users need to be more involved in the product design process, end to end and beyond. Expert designers frequently lose sight of what their users actually need. But after this, the NYT (like most mainstream media) want to make this even more provocative by bringing in some wingnut from the MIT Sloan School of Management (business school profs are always a good source for a provocative, in wingnutty, quote):

“It could drive manufacturers out of the design space,” Mr. von Hippel says.

I'm probably not being fair to Sims or von Hippel, since I don't know the full context of what they provided to the NYT. Sims' comments are excellent sources of innovation in design—taking an existing product and adding in a crucial loop or aspect that someone else missed. And I've actually read portions of von Hippel's book on democratizing innovation and agree with most of it. But von Hippel's "It could drive manufacturers out of design space" is just bizarre. Would I want an an anesthesiologist to suggest improvements in the system putting me to sleep before an operation? Improvements to the aspects of the system he understood and worked with? Absolutely! Would I want an actual medical technology developer developing the whole system, someone who understood the complexities of the electronics, the physics of fluid flow and the of changing thermodynamics within operating room facilities? Hell yeah.

Would I want the anesthesiologist, even a bright sort who could see a little bend in the system that affected his own but small portion of that system to design the whole system, including all the parts he had not expertise in, let alone usability, product design, etc.? Hell no. That's like asking a plumber to design and build your whole house.

This type of over-hyping has been one of the major perils of democratic design, as well as one of its major benefits: technologies frequently help users adapt designs to their own uses, and to work with experienced designers in creating better designs. Sometimes this is great—programs like FrontPage and Dreamweaver can make everyday citizens publishers. And if you look around on the web, non-expert designers/writers do some frankly amazing and important things, on occasion. Does that make them expert designers? Not usually. Is that a problem? Sometimes. Actually, frequently. Especially when innovation in technology is taken to equal innovation in design expertise—Word's grammar checker substituting for writing ability; MovableType's templates substituting for page layout ability; a boatload of cash for a guide and some swanky North Face and Helly Hansen gear substituting for high-elevation mountain climbing experience.

March 24, 2007



(The view outside of our window. Somewhat industrial, but I liked the tonality and composition.)

The other good image I got was from the third-floor balcony in MoMA:

MoMA Gallery

(Click either of the images to go to the Flickr pages, where you can access more-detailed versions from the "All Sizes" tabs.)

March 20, 2007



Here are the slides and notes to my CCCC talk. They're rough, and I'll probably heavily modify them on the train to NYC and then again in the hotel room. But it's a start... [.pdf (9 MB).]

March 18, 2007

Reading Online: Structure and Attention

Cory Doctorow offers some useful ideas about why people—even people who use computers all day to read various sorts of things—say they don't read novels onscreen. And he says that the comparatively low resolution of screen compared to print—the usual culprit—is just a red herring.

"I don't like reading off a computer screen" — it's a cliché of the e-book world. It means "I don't read novels off of computer screens" (or phones, or PDAs, or dedicated e-book readers), and often as not the person who says it is someone who, in fact, spends every hour that Cthulhu sends reading off a computer screen. It's like watching someone shovel Mars Bars into his gob while telling you how much he hates chocolate.

But I know what you mean. You don't like reading long-form works off of a computer screen. I understand perfectly — in the ten minutes since I typed the first word in the paragraph above, I've checked my mail, deleted two spams, checked an image-sharing community I like, downloaded a YouTube clip of Stephen Colbert complaining about the iPhone (pausing my MP3 player first), cleared out my RSS reader, and then returned to write this paragraph.


The novel is an invention, one that was engendered by technological changes in information display, reproduction, and distribution. The cognitive style of the novel is different from the cognitive style of the legend. The cognitive style of the computer is different from the cognitive style of the novel.

[via Boing Boing]

March 15, 2007

Remix: Someone in Congress Gets It

Some almost surreal comments at the "Future of Radio" House Telecom and Internet Subcommittee Hearing voiced by Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) on the importance of remixing as a creative act (and contrary to existing IP law):

Congressman Doyle: Mr. Chairman, I want to tell you a story of a local guy done good. His name is Greg Gillis and by day he is a biomedical engineer in Pittsburgh. At night, he DJs under the name Girl Talk. His latest mash-up record made the top 2006 albums list from Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and Spin Magazine amongst others. His shtick as the Chicago Tribune wrote about him is "based on the notion that some sampling of copyrighted material, especially when manipulated and recontextualized into a new art form is legit and deserves to be heard."


I hope that everyone involved will take a step back and ask themselves if mash-ups and mixtapes are really different or if it's the same as Paul McCartney admitting that he nicked the Chuck Berry bass-riff and used it on the Beatle's hit "I Saw Her Standing There."

There's much more in the full (unofficial) transcript at The 463: Inside Tech Policy weblog. There's also video available.

[via Fimoculous.com]

March 13, 2007

NYT Select Free for Faculty and Students

The NYT is offering free access to TimeSelect features (including articles normally restricted from free viewing and archives) to faculty and students at educational institutions. You'll need a .edu email address to register.

[via metafilter.com]

March 11, 2007

Cornell Study on Multitasking

A brief mention of an interesting study on multitasking from Cornell University. This is only a press release (the article was apparently published in Psychological Science in October 2006):

A new Cornell study shows that people are pretty good at perceptual multitasking -- except when multiple sources of incoming stimuli are of the same type. Morten Christiansen, associate professor of psychology, co-authored the study with Christopher Conway, a National Institutes of Health research fellow at Indiana University.

Note that this sort of multitasking—simultaneous streams of information—differs from the widely (and mistakenly, I think) criticized sequential-task work that people commonly do on computers—moving back and forth between applications but only working in one at a time.

All of these, of course, beg the question of quality. Work in such studies is constructed as an assembly line activity with the simple goal of processing information as efficiently as possible. One factory worker trying to put a nut on a gizmo on conveyor belt a and trying to put a washer on a widget on conveyor belt b spends a lot of time running back and forth between the belts.

But that sort of metaphor doesn't do "work" justice (any more than it does justice to the intelligence of a factory worker). Most people who do a lot of knowledge work are familiar with the feeling of being in the zone (or "flow," to use Csikszentmihalyi's term). Dealing with a complex problem often requires moving across applications and information spaces, the display of multiple fields of information, and even different modes of work. So there may be some cognitive load to switching among tasks or applications, but it's an "opportunity cost": the quality of work may benefit enough from the task switching and multitasking that the added cognitive load are worth it.

[via Project NML]

Breaking Genre: Best Obit Ever

There need to be more obituaries like this one, from the Plattsburgh Press-Republican. Here's a small chunk (there's much more at the link above):

Seiden, Isabelle V.
PLATTSBURGH — Watch out heaven, a new angel is in town. Let's Party! Isabelle Seiden (Izzy) passed away quietly during the early morning hours on March 8, 2007, after raising hell for 82 years.

She was born on July 1, 1924, in Montreal, Quebec, to Stanislaus and Hazel Tremblay. She graduated from business college and worked for Singer Sewing Machine Company in Montreal as head of payroll until she married John W. Seiden in 1953. She became a U.S. citizen in 1957, after settling in Plattsburgh. The remainder of her working career was spent tending bar in most of Plattsburgh's hotspots. She was a very strong personality and being bilingual, she could handle herself in any situation. [...]

Izzy had a lifelong passion for the Montreal Canadian hockey team; as a matter of fact, as a young woman she wouldn't even date anyone unless they had season tickets. She loved knitting and making socks and hats for her family and for many years she knitted hats and mittens for hundreds of children in the community. She enjoyed many hours in her back yard and on her back porch feeding her squirrels and birds. Izzy loved her pull tabs but lady luck was not always on her side. As her memory began to fade, we frequently had to go find her because it was common to find that she had driven her car to Geoffrey's Pub or Mickey's to have a vodka with her friends (without plates, license, registration or insurance and unbelievably, she never got caught!) [...]

Chers amis: Telle est la vie. Telle est sa fin. Ce n, est qu un au revoir!

[via underdog]

Writer's Rooms


J.G. Ballard is featured in the latest installment "Writer's Rooms" at the Guardian Unlimited. The series asks writers to comment on a picture of their workspace.

The first drafts of my novels have all been written in longhand and then I type them up on my old electric. I have resisted getting a computer because I distrust the whole PC thing. I don't think a great book has yet been written on computer.

I have worked at this desk for the past 47 years. All my novels have been written on it, and old papers of every kind have accumulated like a great reef. The chair is an old dining-room chair that my mother brought back from China and probably one I sat on as a child, so it has known me for a very long time. A Paolozzi screen-print is resting against the door, which now serves as a cat barrier during the summer months. My neighbour's cats are enormously affectionate, and in the summer leap up on to my desk and then churn up all my papers into a huge whirlwind. They are my fiercest critics.

Other writers featured include A.S. Byatt, David Lodge, and Sarah Waters, among others.

[via ballardian]

March 10, 2007

Rediscovering Fire: Email Flame Research

Has anyone else been puzzled by dramatic flurry of activity on blogs pointing to Daniel Goldman's NYT article on the social neuroscience of email flaming? Here's a clip:

In a 2004 article in the journal CyberPsychology & Behavior, John Suler, a psychologist at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., suggested that several psychological factors lead to online disinhibition: the anonymity of a Web pseudonym; invisibility to others; the time lag between sending an e-mail message and getting feedback; the exaggerated sense of self from being alone; and the lack of any online authority figure. Dr. Suler notes that disinhibition can be either benign — when a shy person feels free to open up online — or toxic, as in flaming.

I thought Internet researchers had pretty well established all of these things back in, say, 1985 or so. Goldman does allow that people have recognized the phenomenon of flaming for quite some time, but never mentions that researchers in communication, sociology, composition & rhetoric, and other fields have already done mountains worth of research on this topic and reached pretty much the same conclusions that are discussed in the "new" research. I suppose it's interesting that neuro researchers are looking at the functional aspects of how these things work cognitively, but I'm not sure that adds much (or if it does add something, Goldman doesn't make it clear what's news about this).

March 08, 2007

Open Architecture Network


Architecture for Humanity has launched the beta version of the Open Architecture Network, a Creative Commons-licensed, collaborative, open website for architects, designers, engineers, builders, community agencies, teachers, etc.

Pictured above is a one image from plans for the Desporte Residence, a model home in Biloxi designed by CP+D Workshop that meets FEMA and accessibility standards for post-Katrina rebuilding.

Satire: Speculative Grammar Journal

This has been around for some time apparently, but I hadn't seen it yet: Speculative Grammar, an online (satirical) journal [archives are here]. Articles include How to Make a Linguistic Theory, The Black Market in Ill-Gotten Morphemes, and Gavagai with Peppers (serves 4).

[via metafilter.com]

Gehry on the Abu Dhabi Guggenhiem

At the Register, Frank Gehry discusses aging, the start of the new Abu Dhabi Guggenheim, and architectural criticism:

I've just turned 78, but I hope I'm not stuck in a groove like some old long-playing record. One of your British journalists thinks so; he described my recent buildings as "crude curlicues". If you know who he is, get him to try on some concrete overshoes for size. I'll send them over . . .

[via things magazine]

March 07, 2007

Results of WritersUA's Tech Writer Salary Survey

WritersUA has posted the results of their annual salary survey for technical writers, broken down into categories for experience level, gender, location, job title, and more.

[via Usable Help]

March 06, 2007

Tweaking EQ

If you're like most people, you don't really have a sense of what those little sliders in an equalizer do, except for the fact that the ones to the left are the ones you crank up to make things on your shelves shake. Methodshop has a great overview of how to tweak the equalizer settings in iTunes (or, by extension, any standard EQ) to get the sound you want. The examples provided make the overview extremely useful:

8K: This is getting into the high end, where the majority of cymbals and hi-hats are, as well as upper range of synths, pianos and guitars. Many vocals have a lot of information in this range.

This knowledge isn't going to turn you into an audio engineer or producer, but it'll probably make your audio sound better than it does now.

[via Lifehacker]


Nihilism is best done by professionals.

- Iggy Pop

[via underdog]

Baudrillard Simulates a Dead Person

(Sorry, I couldn't control myself.)

Jean Baudrillard, the postmodern theorist who made my head hurt in grad school and long after, died in Paris recently [BBC News obit, [wikipedia entry].

Today, everything has changed: no longer is meaning in short supply, it is produced everywhere, in ever increasing quantities -- it is demand which is weakening. And it is the production of this demand for meaning which has become crucial for the system. Without this ... power is nothing but an empty simulacrum and an isolated effect of perspective...

In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities

[via pinguerin]

March 04, 2007

Technical Writing, 1400-1600 A.D.

"Der Meister sol auch kennen schreiben und lesen: Writings about Technology ca. 1400-ca. 1600 A.D. and their Cultural Implications," is the transcript of a talk by Bert S. Hall given at UT-Austin c. 1976. I haven't had a chance to dig too deeply into this, but it looks interesting.

Another aspect of the culture of technology emerges if we ask about the way such works were used by their audiences. Obviously no one writes a book without some sort of user in mind (except, of course, for such purely private jottings as we see in Leonardo's Notebooks). It is difficult for us to place ourselves imaginatively in the milieu of the authors and to see just exactly who they had in mind when composing their works. At times the question is answered for us. Feuerwerkbuch, for example, is obviously by a gunner for the use of other gunners. Most of its contents have nothing to do with mechanics or ballistics as a science, but instead seem to have served as a sort of cookbook for the gunner, and some of the copies I have examined show stains and charring to indicate that they were used in just such a fashion in the workshop or arsenal.

The question becomes more involved when we turn to other works. The German tradition stemming from Kyeser seems to have almost no respect for what we consider authorship or textual integrity. Kyeser himself is, next to Leonardo, the most idiosyncratic and self-possessed of authors. His work is shot through with his personal likes and dislikes, leaning heavily toward the latter, and he even offers us his portrait and self-composed epitaph. (His is the first realistic portrait of an author since antiquity, by the way.) His followers, however, were of a different stripe. They tended to decompose, recompose, alter, edit, and delete old texts and then mix the result with new material from available sources. This chaotic blend of traditional and novel contents is the absolute despair of the orderly-minded historian, who wants his "texts" in neat rows suitable for making charts in introductions, but the Germans at least preferred a kaleidoscopic approach to such matters. We do find an occasional name attached to a work, usually a Buechsenmeister's, but it merely refers to the compiler, not the author in most cases. The epitome of the compilation approach is reached when we find deluxe encyclopedias of technology compiled from many sources and obviously made under noble patronage by highly skilled illuminators to grace the palace library, in fact one can sometimes trace the same drawing as it climbs the social scale from crude original to final entombment in a deluxe copy within two or three generations. The fact that aristocrats were interested enough in technological writings to purchase manuscript copies or to patronize "improved" editions is an index of the rising social status of technical authors and their subject matter, We should also note that the deluxe copies, like the "picture book" presented to Emperor Sigismund, seem slightly biased toward military technology' this suggests that a certain selectivity in what was patronized may have contributed to the military character of the later German tradition. In any event, the German evidence shows what we might call a "semi-public" literature of technology in which texts, drawings, and ideas are considered common property. They are circulated among interested parties and are available to anyone who wishes to copy or use them, without any apparent legal or social inhibitions.

[via things magazine]

March 03, 2007

The Principles of Economics, Translated

The Standup Economist riffs on Mankiw's 10 Principles of Economics. This is several orders of magnitude funnier than it sounds. (Youram Bauman's Standup Economist website is here.)

[via metafilter.com]

March 02, 2007

Infinite Loop

From Overheard in the Office:

Until You Whack the Sides of Their Heads, Engineers May Loop Indefinitely

Engineer #1: The error is not repeatable.
Engineer #2: Not repeatable?
Engineer #1: Not repeatable.

[via underdog]

The visual rhetoric of endangered species

Slate examines the lack of public support for one endangered animal, the aye-aye (a not exactly warm and fuzzy creature).

[via Treehugger]

March 01, 2007

Sugar: The $100 Laptop OS

BusinessWeek reviews (and offers screenshots) the Sugar OS/interface that runs on the $100 Laptop (now officially called "XO".

Sugar offers a brand new approach to computing. Ever since the first Apple Macintosh was launched in 1984, the user interfaces of personal computers have been designed based on the same visual metaphor: the desktop. Sugar tosses out all of that like so much tattered baggage. Instead, an icon representing the individual occupies the center of the screen; "zoom" out like a telephoto lens and you see the user in relation to friends, and finally to all of the people in the village who are also on the network.

As the article notes, Sugar has been criticized for its development process, which included no feedback from kids who might actually use the computer (the article says that some testing is planned in the next few weeks, but that's a little late). Designing objects without user input can be successful (look at the iPod), but it's an extraordinarily iffy process. The XO project seems far too high-profile for that sort of approach, so it will be interesting to see how well this works out.

[via the IxD Discussion List]

Visualizing Overuse of Adverbs in Your Writing

Lifehacker has published a free Greasemonkey script you can add to Firefox that will highlight all of the words ending in "ly" on a webpage. Which seems odd, unless you remember your Strunk & White advice about reducing the number of adverbs in writing to make it more direct and powerful (most adverbs end in -ly). (Not all -ly words are adverbs, but many are.) OK, even then it's a little odd.

It might seem like you could do this before creating the .html file to check in Firefox, but in most word processors, you can't highlight all of the -ly words visually and simultaneously—you can just search for them sequentially. And then you have to deal with -lys with spaces after them, and periods, and, whatever, or come up with a grep expression (a task not within the grasp of many writers.)

There's not anything wrong with adverbs in themselves, but seeing all of them lit up at once might be a good cue to examine the prose to make sure they're not being overused. Take it with a grain of salt—seems like a useful experiment, anyway. More details, download links, and install instructions at Lifehacker. (Now I just need to modify the script so I can search for overuse of parentheses.)

[via Lifehacker]

Mose & Teaching & Learning

[update: Wait, I read that image wrong: The teacher is holding a hammer and working left to right, rather than an axe and moving right to left. Drawn!'s interpretation seems correct.]


The always intriguing Drawn! had a completely different take on this comic by Adam Cohen, from his series Mose. Here's Drawn!'s take on the comic:

I had a teacher like this once! Thankfully, I lived to tell the tale. And apparently so did Adam Cohen, creator of the online comic feature Mose. Mose is a series of experimental, and seemingly nonsensical at times, comics. Adam’s style morphs in and out of experimental stages, but the quality of the drawing and the humour is consistent throughout. I’m now a fan!

Actually, most of the best teachers I've had—the ones who uncorked the stopper at the top of my head and let bright things come out, were also teachers who I sometimes felt like I'd survived. So maybe Drawn! is right: Learning is often painful. But in a good sort of way.

[via Drawn!]