The future of interaction design

November 9th, 2011 § Comments off § permalink

If you care at all about user interfaces, or the future, or perhaps even the future of user interfaces, you really need to read Bret Victor’s brilliant rant about the future of interaction design. “Are we really going to accept an Interface Of The Future that is less expressive than a sandwich?

The Isolator

October 7th, 2011 § One comment § permalink

I could really use one of these.


October 6th, 2011 § Comments off § permalink

Yesterday was my last day as a city planner. I spent eight years in the field—six as a professional, and two as a graduate student. That’s nearly a quarter of my life.

Yesterday, of course, was also the day that Steve Jobs died.

I left my job in part because of something Steve Jobs said in his famous 2005 commencement address at Stanford University:

You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.

Most of us will never be anything like Steve Jobs.1 But we can all try to make sure that we love what we do.

I’m trying. I haven’t figured everything out just yet. But I’m trying.

  1. And it’s just as well. Can you imagine a world filled with nothing but Steve Jobses? What a nightmare. []

Nature is disgusting

December 24th, 2010 § Four comments § permalink

The Winter 2010 issue of California, the UC Berkeley alumni magazine, has a particularly gruesome article about bed bugs. My favorite part:

Bed bugs have the expected genitals, [an entomologist] says, and they’re fully capable of having insert-tab-A-into-slot-B sex to reproduce. That’s not what happens. This is: “The male grasps onto the female, and it’s very graphic, and they’re rolling around. It’s not a smooth-looking thing. And the male takes his reproductive organ and starts to stab her all over her body, all over her abdomen, and he punctures a hole through her—and remember she already has one that would work just fine—and he punctures a hole through her and releases his sperm into her blood.”


“It is interesting, and it’s really, really fun to watch,” [the entomologist] says.

From this excerpt, we can conclude the following:

  1. Entomologists are messed up.
  2. So are bed bugs.
  3. When a right-wing politician says we should only have sex in the way God intended, he means that he wants to stab women with his penis.

The irony is wholly intentional

January 3rd, 2008 § Comments off § permalink

Hey, everyone: Go read this fascinating article about boredom.

A fucking brilliant formulation

October 21st, 2007 § Comments off § permalink

From a Steven Pinker essay on the emotional power of swearing:

As it happens, most expletives aren’t genuine adverbs, either. One study notes that, while you can say That’s too fucking bad, you can’t say That’s too very bad. Also, as linguist Geoffrey Nunberg pointed out, while you can imagine the dialogue How brilliant was it? Very, you would never hear the dialogue How brilliant was it? Fucking.

Liberation hydrology

July 30th, 2007 § Comments off § permalink

BLDGBLOG‘s Geoff Manaugh hits one out of the park with his assessment of scientists’ maps showing, for example, how much of Florida will be obliterated by rising sea levels during the next century:

[T]hese things are actually so evocative, and so imaginatively stimulating, that it’s hard not to get at least a tiny thrill at the idea that you might get to see these things happen.

Nothing against Miami, but all of south Florida under several meters of water? With Cape Canaveral lost under a subtropical lagoon and St. Petersburg an archipelago?

The problem, it seems, is that climate change scientists, in describing these unearthly terrestrial reorganizations, are science fictionalizing, so to speak, our everyday existence. …

It could be called liberation hydrology.

Climate change becomes an adventure—the becoming-science-fiction of everyday life.

The purpose of concrete jacks

June 6th, 2005 § One comment § permalink

When I lived in Santa Cruz, I sometimes visited Seabright Beach and wondered why all those concrete jacks were piled up on the shore next to the yacht harbor. Thanks to “The Atlantic Generating Station,” from John McPhee’s book Giving Good Weight, I now know the answer:

East London’s breakwater had been weakened by rough seas some years earlier, and now the storm of 1963 tore off sixty per cent of the armor. Eric M. Merrifield, East London’s harbor engineer, wondered whether that would have happened if the armor had not been solid—had not been designed to accept on one plane in one moment the great force of the ocean. He decided to reconstruct the breakwater with porous armor, and in doing so he invented a momentous novelty in harbor engineering.

The idea was to cover the breakwater with objects of branching shape—like children’s jacks—that would engage with one another, clinging together while absorbing and dissipating the power of waves. There had been similar attempts. The French had tried a four-legged concrete form, a tetrapod, and it had worked well enough but had required an expensive preciseness in construction, because each one had to be carefully set in place in relation to others. Merrifield wanted something that could almost literally be sprinkled on the breakwater core. Eventually, he thought of dolosse.

Dolosse—the singular is dolos—were crude toys that had been used by South African white children since the eighteen-thirties, when they acquired them from tribal children in the course of the eponymous trek, the overland march of the voortrekkers from the Cape Colony to the Transvaal. A dolos was the knucklebone of a goat or a sheep, and might be described as a corruption of the letter “H” with one leg turned ninety degrees. The game that had been played with dolosse by voortrekker children, and by South African children ever since, was called knucklebone. As crude toys, dolosse were also thought of as imaginary oxen. Witch doctors had used them as instruments of magic power. Merrifield replicated them on a grand scale in concrete, making dolosse that weighed twenty tons apiece, and with these he armored his breakwater. When high seas hit them, the water all but disappeared—no slaps like thunder, no geysers in the air. The revised breakwater seemed to blot up the waves after breaking them into thousands of pieces.

Nutational movement

April 5th, 2005 § Four comments § permalink

Plants in Motion is a collection of time-lapse videos showing how plants move and respond to stimuli. I recommend watching the collection of nastic movements, especially the morning glory and sensitive plant. The flower development page is also worthwhile, particularly the passion flower, which is startlingly beautiful as it unfurls.

Nothing new under the sun

January 21st, 2005 § Six comments § permalink

One of the sloppier papers I wrote as an undergraduate, which ostensibly examined Isaiah Berlin’s conception of free will, contained the following passage:

Sartre’s view is like that of the man who decides to prove the old adage, “No two snowflakes are alike.” With great enthusiasm, he travels to New York during a snowy winter and stands outside in the cold, catching as many flakes as he can on specially chilled microscope slides. At the end of a day’s work, he heads into his super-cooled lab with the slides, diligently cataloging and archiving each snowflake. He repeats this process every winter for twenty years.

This week, about five and a half years later, I learned of Wilson Bentley, who spent several decades in the late 19th and early 20th centuries photographing New England’s snowflakes. A newspaper article from 1922 described his methods:

It is indeed a delicate task to “catch” one’s snowflake and get it in position to be photographed. Mr. Bentley has a tray consisting of a board painted black with wire handles on either end, on which he collects the flakes: this he carries carefully by the handles with mittened hands, in order to keep off all animal heat: and to keep his hands warm too, no doubt: into his cold, unheated workroom. With a splint of wood, he painstakingly picks up the snowflake and places it on the slide of his microscope, being particularly careful that it is unbroken and perfectly flat so that all parts reflect the light equally.

(Incidentally, Christie, if the title didn’t make you giggle, try thinking back to our college days and reading it out loud a couple of times.)

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Science and Technology category at pinchy dot org.