Discovering Clay Shirky via Mr. Alan Cooper Quoting Him On the Perils of Categorizing Things In Advance

I keep wanting to refer back to this truly insightful tweet from Alan Cooper. Twitter is not a great place to keep things that will be useful for a long time. It can be grueling work to find a specific old tweet. As a result, here is the content of his tweet about the challenges of categorizing things in advance for documentation purposes:

“categorizing things in advance forces the categorizer to take on 2 jobs that are quite hard: mind reading, and fortune telling.”

and here is a screenshot of the tweet as well:

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 10.34.43 AM

 Thank you Mr. Alan Cooper for this wonderful little statement. As a result of wanting to frequently bring this quote to people’s attention I wanted to post this on my site. And after assembling the above it occurred to me that HE had put this in quotes himself. I didn’t notice that before! This was apparently not an original thought of his own but something somebody else said that he was sharing.

Naturally, the next thing to do was to sick Google on the quote and see what popped up.

Maybe I’m not smart enough to be following Alan Cooper on Twitter since I totally missed that the above tweet was quoting Mr. Clay Shirky from some talks that he gave in 2005 collectively titled, “Ontology is Overrated: Categories, Links, and Tags”. I am guessing these “talks” are well known in certain circles.

I wanted to share this little revelation about discovering the work of Clay Shirky. This is how I have learned throughout my whole life. This is how I know what I know. Looks like I have some reading to do!

Follow these guys on Twitter: @MrAlanCooper and @CShirky

Reading Digital Magazines via Text-to-Speech with NOOK app on iPad or iPhone

If you would like to read a digital magazine with text-to-speech, this is how to do it on an iPad or iPhone using  iOS’s built-in Voice Over features.

Since this is Apple technology, I’m pretty sure this will work for Apple’s Newsstand magazines as well, but I think it depends on magazine publishers and how they choose to deliver their magazines.

For the purposes of this how-to, I will describe how this works with Barnes and Noble’s NOOK app on the iPad or iPhone. The magazines that I have read with this app include a text-mode that the NOOK app refers to as their “Article View”.

How to Activate iOS’s Voice Over

  1. Go to SETTINGS > GENERAL > ACCESSIBILITY
  2. Turn Voice Over ON
  3. Be sure to read the text below the main Voice Over switch.

With Voice Over on, the way you interact with the iPad/iPhone will change. Keep in mind that Voice Over is predominantly intended for the visually impaired. Having Voice Over on all the time might be frustrating. If that’s the case, apply the following setting to make it easy to enable and disable Voice Over as you need it:

Set Triple-click of the Home Button to Enable/Disable Voice Over

  1. Go to SETTINGS > GENERAL > ACCESSIBILITY > TRIPLE-CLICK
  2. Select VOICE OVER for the Triple-click feature.

Finally, launch the NOOK app and open a given issue of a magazine. When looking at any page of that magazine you should see a button in the top-right that says “Article View”.

Tell Voice Over to Read Your Magazine

  1.  Click “Article View” to switch from the “Layout View” that resembles the actual magazine to a layout that is more like a web page with “real” text and an image or two.
  2. If necessary, triple-click the home button to enable Voice Over.
  3. With Voice Over enabled, touch the first line of text that you would like to have read for you.
  4. Swipe downward with two fingers. Voice Over will begin reading the text.
  5. Tap with two fingers to pause reading. Tap with two fingers again to continue reading.

Good luck. I hope this is helpful

David H. Freedman’s Ridiculous Steve Jobs Editorial

I have been casually (sometimes painfully) reading through Discover magazines year-end issue featuring “100 Top Stories of 2011”. I read magazines in an illogical order, so it has taken a while for me to get to Top Story #8: “The Man Who Gave Us Less For More” by David H. Freeman. I’ve probably read Mr. Freedman’s work before, but I’m not overtly familiar with him. Regardless, if the top story from 2011 is referring to Steve Jobs’s death, the title alone is a pretty insulting way to reference it.

Read it for yourself, but here are some of the main points of this ridiculous rant that attempts to make Steve Jobs look like a man that sells snake oil:

Original Macintosh

“What did this pretty beige box offer that a hundred other computers didn’t already offer, besides a higher price, much less choice in software and no compatibility with the rest of the world’s devices?”

Well, for starters, it had the first really successful, useful, graphical user interface powered by a mouse. This change in UI was so good and apparently successful that Microsoft made a really bad copy of it. I’m sure in your list of features and bang-for-buck you aren’t giving this important accomplishment much value. I just don’t see how, as an honest technology journalist, you can brush off the Macintosh as overpriced crap. Are you still working sans mouse today?

Apple Lisa

“Who remembers the Apple Lisa, a chunky desktop that sold for $9,995 in1983?”

OK. So the Lisa was a financial failure and a technological dead end thanks to the success of the Macintosh (see above). The price? Well, nobody put a gun to your head. Besides, Steve Jobs was kicked off of the Lisa team and as a result worked on the Macintosh. (see above)

Apple Newton

“Who remembers the Newton, a $700 PDA/paperweight?”

Try doing some research. You are conflating Steve Jobs with Apple. Steve Jobs left Apple in 1985. The Newton project was started in 1987. One of the first things Jobs did after becoming the Apple CEO in 1997 was kill the Newton.

NeXT

“Then there was the NeXT computer, to which Jobs devoted a decade of his life … starting at $6,500, Jobs sold only 50,000 units ever.”

Yes, the NeXT computers never sold well, but you make it sound like Jobs wasted a decade of his life on a complete failure. Maybe you didn’t know this – again, research – but the NeXT operating system was more highly regarded than the hardware. So much so that, when Apple was circling the drain after failing to build their own next-gen operating system, they purchased NeXT. This purchase is how Steve Jobs returned to Apple and also how Apple ended up with the operating system that it runs today. Without Steve Jobs’s return and that operating system – now called OSX – Apple wouldn’t exist today.

iPod

At this point you actually start giving Steve credit for creating something useful. But you still go on to piss and moan about paying higher prices for prettier things like Apple products have no real value above the competition. Never mind that you say this at a time when the rest of the consumer computer companies are struggling to build iPad and MacBook Air knock-offs at the same price point as Apple.

Discover magazine should be ashamed of themselves for publishing this misguided, lazy and factually incorrect editorial as though it were objective journalism. It makes me question everything else I read in their magazine.

Great New Book Coming Soon: “Design for Hackers”

Please consider signing up for email updates for this great new book that is intended to help “hackers” learn the basics of design. It’s being written by a very skillful (and good-looking!) designer named David Kadavy. The book will be available September 2011 and the publisher, Wiley, has recently made the book’s website live: designforhackers.com.

The cover design looks AWESOME.

Art, Failing To Transform, Is Merely That of Which It Is Composed

The world’s “trash problem” is one I’m interested in finding a solution for, but Vik Muniz’s artwork doesn’t interest me at all. There’s nothing brilliant about recreating past works with garbage/food products.

If you have to explain to your viewers why your art is interesting you’ve already failed. No matter how positive or meaningful the message might be. In sports if you lose the game and explain that you lost because whatever, you still lost the game. Now, if you win the game in spite of whatever, well, then you might have the audience’s attention. The art needs to be good before it is even given the chance to be explained.

A sloppy recreation of Jacques-Louis David’s “Death of Marat” is just a poor reproduction of a well-crafted masterpiece that was both great art and meaningful to its contemporary audience. What percentage of today’s population is even familiar with this painting, let alone know who Jean-Paul Marat was?

Jeff Koons’ art is what made Mr. Muniz realize he “could be an artist too”. Good grief, Charlie Brown, a 5th-generation Dada-ist. Just what the world was begging for: another smart-ass with nothing to say other than, “this sucks”. Well, maybe Mr. Muniz has something interesting to say, but he isn’t very good at speaking. Is The New York Times writing about him because he is a philanthropist or because he is an artist?

Minecraft: Make Something Virtual

Have you checked out Minecraft yet? I was looking at it last night. You can play the “old” version for free online in your web browser via the Java plugin (yeah, a use for that thing, finally).

Here’s a blog post about it:

Read this: The Year Minecraft Made Playing Alone Cool Again.

It’s interesting. I’m tempted to play it ’cuz you can make yourself a cool virtual castle or, like this guy says, a giant water slide. I guess the only objective is to make a shelter before the sun sets, then the zombies come out. Or something.

Then I think, wait, I could instead spend that time creating something REAL in the REAL WORLD. Wait, that’s kind of what I’ve been doing my WHOLE life. I’m always, generally, drawing or painting or making websites or learning about fixing computers or making wine or teaching myself how to bind books or YOU NAME IT.

If people aren’t living their life like that, it’s no wonder so many people waste their entire lives watching brain-dead television or playing video games, looking for meaning in their life. I, fortunately, have a talent or a natural drive to keep making things and I am eternally grateful for that gift.

If you don’t have that drive, I guess Minecraft sounds like a good place to start learning.

Art is Communication, Getting Yelled At by Art Is as Much Fun as Getting Yelled At by People

This post is the third of what I hope will be a series. My friend Adrian Hanft and I are going to try having an ongoing conversation about art and creativity. Initially it was going to be held via email, but we’ve agreed that it might be more interesting to have it via our blogs by way of the internet. With any luck it won’t end up being a bunch of ill-thought drivel.


We Need People to Take Art Seriously

Sometimes “art” feels irrelevant in the same way that I struggle with organized religion. People just prefer to ignore it. I think that is sad, because both art and Christianity have the power to rise above the mediocrity of everything else. It is much easier to ignore the meaningful things in life and embrace the “safe” stuff. As a result the kitsch rises to the top and things with substance get attacked – or worse yet ignored – because these things are uncomfortable. The people who create and have passion for them seem absurd because they have the guts to be different. People don’t have time to wrestle with deep thoughts when there are simpler ways to entertain themselves. Why would anyone want to stifle an endless stream of gratification by confronting things that aren’t easy to understand or appreciate?

—Adrian Hanft
from his post “Invisible Artwork: If We Ignore It Maybe It Will Go Away

I can relate to this perspective, but I also wonder about its validity. Sure, that’s the way things are right now, but was human culture ever any different?

I am quite sure that any time in the last 2010 years (at the very least) the ‘general public’ has had a consistently limited interest in any visual art that would not be considered ‘folk art’ or ‘kitsch’. Like public education, visual art as we know it has simply not been available to the general public for most of human history. There have always been objects and visual art in the home that fall under what we would call folk art. I think those items were focused on functionality and cultural meaning. Only the children had art objects that were purely for amusement. The act of selecting a painting or print to be hung on a wall in the home is something relatively new.

Only recently has the general public had the free time and money to attempt to emulate the rich by thoughtfully decorating their homes with the mass-produced copies of images that have already been defined as ‘good art’ by rich people in the past. Its as though they have a nostalgia for someone else’s past. They’ve replaced what was most likely their own relatively simple but rich folk art tradition with thoughtless, mass produced imagery.

Your culture is composed of your general understanding of how the world works, the things that you do every day and why you do what you do. Having any of those things put into question is unpleasant and potentially disastrous. It is a certain kind of educated, intelligent and intellectually hungry person that seeks out and enjoys encountering things and people that challenge their own culture. To have any hope that the general public would embrace this practice is foolish. Most people, especially in Tennessee, are uncomfortable negotiating a four-way stop at an intersection.

There are a lot of art enthusiasts that feign this difficult approach to art, but most of them are simply looking for art to reinforce their own culture and beliefs. To have something on their wall that reminds them that what they are doing is right and good.

As a person educated in the history of art (four, maybe five semesters of art history at college and I frequently napped in the art history section of the library) I have a difficult time choosing pieces to display in my home. I can’t look at a piece of art without considering its historical context or the context of its artistic influences. I am quite self conscious about why or what it means for me to hang this or that painting on my wall.

“Will having this in the living room make me look clever or make me look like I am trying to look clever?”

“Will having this in the living room be very clever or is it so clever that most visitors will just think it’s a ripe pile of poo?”

Adrian, your Jesus painting might be coming off as an insult to your visitors. Or at least as socially comfortable as saying, “You know, Jesus died a horribly painful death to save you” in the middle of a conversation about the stylish new shower curtain you bought at Target. Knowing you, that’s probably your intention. Hell, you’ve pretty much said as much in your post. If so, I would look at your visitors being uncomfortable as a success. If they had seen it and proceeded to discuss everything about the painting but the explicit subject matter, then I would consider it a failure. One that the organized church is all too familiar with in contemporary USA.

Fine Art in Museums: Tigers in Zoos

This post is the second of what I hope will be a series. My friend Adrian Hanft and I are going to try having an ongoing conversation about art and creativity. Initially it was going to be held via email, but we’ve agreed that it might be more interesting to have it via our blogs by way of the internet. With any luck it won’t end up being a bunch of ill-thought drivel. This one’s a real hum-dinger though. Observe how I go completely off-topic by the fifth sentence.


Topic 1: Art and Culture

Adrian: I loved going to the art museum as a kid. It was so exciting to see beautiful pictures by famous artists. But I remember when I walked into the modern art wing of the museum and saw a row of Campbell’s Soup cans for the first time. It was utterly shocking. This couldn’t be art! It can’t be! I have been a Warhol fan ever since. I can’t think of anything that has changed my perception of art as completely as that. You were passionate about Jackson Pollock like I was about Warhol. What is the lasting impact that your studies of Pollock have had on you?

Jason: I think the ‘all-over composition’ is the lasting lesson learned from studying Pollock. But that’s just technique. Nuts and bolts. There’s no ‘why’ in there.

A large misunderstanding about reality has made it so that I sincerely insist that real art is not something that should be made or chosen to match a couch. Why does that statement get anywhere near my lips?

Its a problem with what I see as fine art’s arrogance. I think its revisionist history. I think the long list of well known artists are obviously the artists that were commercial-savvy or there was somebody that found their work and saw the commercial potential. They were working artists that got paid to make things that others liked to look at. And the names that we celebrate from the past are those that were the most successful. No art expert would debate that but somehow they overlook what that says about what art is.

Maybe I sincerely believe that ‘real art’ shouldn’t be chosen because it matches a couch, but the reality is that that attitude is self-important and false. The reality is that artists should recognize the truth behind the nostalgia for art history: ARTISTS ARE MAKING ART TO ADORN HOME WALLS, SIT ON TABLES, MATCH COUCHES AND SIT NEXT TO BUSHES IN GARDENS. Art doesn’t exist anywhere else.

Seeing a painting on a large white wall in an art museum is no different than seeing a tiger in a cage at a zoo. Only an idiot would think that that is its natural habitat. That the zoo is its destiny. And yet that’s what ‘fine art’ teaches people. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to put my beautiful painting next to an ugly couch.

Adrian: I never thought of it that way, but I like that analogy. But doesn’t it bother you to think of a Pollock hanging on a wall across the room from a screen that plays Dr. Phil all day? And given the choice between the two, Dr. Phil will get more eyeball time. I am not sure the home is the natural habitat for art, either.

Jason: No, it wouldn’t bother me to see a Pollock in a living room. I don’t think art should be treated like a sacred artifact. In this Dr. Phil-living-room case, the Pollock would be a decoration for the wall. A great decoration for that wall. Boy, I wish I had a Pollock to hang in my living room! My walls are bare right now because I don’t have any hand-made art to hang and I simply won’t hang some cheap mass-produced image there. Mass-produced furniture? Okay, well, I can’t afford/don’t have the time to make anything better. Mass-produced art? It’s not for me. Unless it’s a screen print. Or a lighograph. Wait, why isn’t mass-produced art good enough for my walls again? Well, however the art is produced (even, gasp, offset printing), if the image has been seen a million times or is not very good I have no interest in hanging it on my wall. There. Now it sounds like I know what I’m doing…

It’s no wonder contemporary ‘fine art’ is irrelevant in our culture. Graphic design/interior design/industrial design/architecture will be the most important artistic artifacts of society. Those are the things people pay for in our society.

Adrian: Society also pays for things like American Idol and liposuction. I sure hope that’s not what the history books are talking about when they write about our times. I completely agree, however, that our culture is shaped by the artists. Whether it is advertising, fashion, movies, music, architecture, the artists are the one’s that push the culture forward.

I just had a scary thought. I am almost certain that if Andy Warhol were still alive he would most likely be a judge on American Idol. Then he could actually hand out fame to people in almost exact 15 minute increments. And Jackson Pollock would make great reality television. What has this world come to?

Jason: In the words of the immortal Tupac Shakur: It’s strictly business, baby. Strictly business.

And I don’t find that offensive in relationship to all of art history as we know it. The fact that this is nothing new does leave a bad taste in my ideological mouth though. I do so want everybody in the world to get along and spend their time doing meaningful things.

This conversation will most likely continue on Adrian’s website. I’ll provide a link when that happens.

In Search of a Truly Creative Occupation

This post is the first of what I hope will be a series. My friend Adrian Hanft and I are going to try having an ongoing conversation about art and creativity. Initially it was going to be held via email, but we’ve agreed that it might be more interesting to have it via our blogs by way of the internet. With any luck it won’t end up being a bunch of ill-thought drivel.


Topic 2: Talent in the Workplace

Adrian: My first job out of college was working at a Costco. At the time I desperately wanted to be a designer, and I hated that job. The funny thing is that sometimes I daydream about the days working in a warehouse. I worked with a guy named Paul who was as creative and interesting as anyone I have met in the design world. I remember you used to have a mentality that you could be as happy working as a janitor (actually I can’t remember the exact occupation you used, but you get the idea) as you would be as an artist. Do you still feel that way, and what (if any) is the relationship between a person’s creativity and their occupation?

Jason: Actually, my current job is at least 50% non-design. Some of what I do could be called ‘designing workflows’. EXAMPLE: We have a task to complete every issue, how do we do it efficiently and have documentation so that we can prove when and how it was done?

Other things that I do are copy editing (a necessary skill for any good designer), project management, production, write documentation, office technical support, web coding (HTML,CSS,Javascript,Server-Side Stuff) and video editing.

Anyway, I’m not sure I’d be happy as a janitor necessarily, but I could do a variety of jobs and BE HAPPY as long as it involved some sort of problem solving on a regular basis. Graphic design and studio art work are definitely things that I approach as problems/puzzles.

The more I get to know about my own capabilities the more apparent it is that my artistic abilities are secondary abilities. These secondary abilities are birthed from a more primary skill: compulsive problem solving or a compulsive necessity to make something that is incomplete complete or improved, better.

Adrian: It isn’t that hard to add some visual polish to a crappy concept. If that is the “art” part of being a designer I am not at all interested. People that think that is what I do don’t realize how insulting that is. The fun part (and the real value) of a designer is that they can improve the end product. If you want frosting, hire a baker. If you want me to help make your project successful, let’s talk about design.

Jason: I guess that could be a description of ‘artistic abilities’, but I find myself quite delighted in doing many things that are not at all ‘artistic’.

What really bothers me is the measure of importance of what I do. I’m not a snob, but it seems to me that I’ve been given a lot of capabilities that the majority of people don’t seem to have. I can be egotistic about it, but I really shouldn’t. The older I get, the more humble I am about my talents. The talents are not something I created. They are things that I’ve been given, gifts. Sometimes it bothers me that I’m not doing something more important with these gifts.

Adrian: I will confess to being a little snobbish in that regard. For example, I am amazed how often I write a quick “fake” headline for a web comp and those words end up on the finished website. I can’t believe someone who has known about a company for 20 minutes can burp up a better headline than the president of that company. But copywriting isn’t really one of my gifts. Design might be. And it is in the moments when I do produce something truly good for an irrelevant product or company that I ask myself, “am I wasting my talent?” Should I be working on things that are more important?

Jason: What ‘more important’ means is elusive though. It could mean better paying, something that makes you famous or something that helps people. I definitely lean towards helping people. A weekly magazine about country music stars doesn’t seem very important, but I think there’s a micro and a macro option here. In what I think follows a Lutheran approach to life I’ve focused on the micro. What can I do to help the people in my immediate vicinity?

Adrian: I think it’s interesting to think of that as a Lutheran characteristic. The work I do isn’t world-changing and the chances of fame knocking on my door based on the design I do for a local business is really slim. But if I work hard and have a positive impact on the people I work with makes the work feel a little more important. Is that what you mean by “micro?”

Jason: Well, it’s possible that calling that ‘Lutheran’ is a ridiculous. I have a tendency to be ridiculous and wrong.

Yes, that’s what I mean by ‘micro’. I like to think that a lot of ‘micro’ effort is the only way to produce ‘macro’ results. Maybe it’s a matter of improving the morale of your workplace. Maybe it’s a simple matter of providing assistance to those that need it.

But back to the main topic: it’s problem solving that’s important for having job satisfaction. At least for me. And problem solving in a design-y environment involves a lot more than putting polish on a crappy idea. I’m in agreement with you there. I don’t know if it’s insulting, but thinking that designers merely ‘make things pretty’ is certainly a misguided concept about what designers do. Okay, maybe that misguided concept IS insulting.

Dean Allen and Textism

I have recently discovered a great blog by a designer that is smart and funny. Today I decided to Google his name and found a great article that he wrote for a list apart about being a good designer:

Reading Design

and at the bottom of that article his short bio states that he is the creator of Textpattern, a website CMS that I’ve been learning to develop with recently.

I love discovering that two people I find interesting are actually one person.

Woody Allen’s ‘Match Point’ is Great Art

Just because it’s paint on a canvas doesn’t make it art. Just because it’s on film and is being advertised by Hollywood doesn’t make it art. I always enjoy Woody Allen films. Well, I at least appreciate what he’s trying to do. Sometimes he can be boring. Sometimes he can be bad (like that film with Jason Biggs and Christina Ricci). This time out the content, music and mood are not at all familiar Woody Allen elements. The credits in the beginning and the composition of the scenes are all familiar, but the film is unique.

Go watch the film. It’s about our private desires, our actions and how we understand our actions. It’s refreshing to see a film express the subtleties of our lives as opposed to the generalized morality that is so common in most mediocre art (and that’s most of what many consider to be art). It’s not easy to create characters that the viewer can both empathize with and despise. Mr. Allen gracefully unfolds the story, giving the viewer just enough information to speculate about the plot. Half of an hour into the film the plot looks obvious. Fortunately it’s not that simple. The film doesn’t get boring fiddling with details that are irrelevant to the plot and it doesn’t try to show a great sex scene either. At one point there is some obvious foreshadowing, but the effect it has on your anticipation for what’s to come is successful. Foreshadowing can be cheesy, but its origins are in classic literature. Ghosts returning to speak to the living can be cheesy as well, but not if what they say is a relevant element of the story.

I have read one positive review of this film, but I can’t say that I overheard anybody at work discussing it. I blogged this comment with the hope that it will make the film intriguing enough for more people to go out and watch it. I’d hate for it to go unnoticed.