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Hello I’m here

It’s been nearly a year since I discovered the Forty Days of Dating project and I’m embarrassed to say I’ve still only read up to Day 21. In my defense I kinda don’t want to get to the end too soon; it’s a fascinating experiment made even more beautiful by the presentation, and a good reminder that Life needs to be not only a series of Emersonian experiments but a series of finished projects as well.

2013 in Review

Time is becoming downright relentless. One minute you’re compiling your list of favorite things from 2012, polishing it off, thinking it might even look fashionably forward to release the thing a few weeks after 2013 has begun and before you know it suddenly it’s 2014. That’s right, kids, that best of 2012 post never got published.

So to nip this thing in the bud of 2014 I present to you my favorite things from 2013 (that I’ve remembered in the past 48 hours):

Literally everything about Spike Jonze’s Her, Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha, Amy Adams in anything, anything put out by Annapurna Pictures, the lighting and music of Inside Llewyn Davis, those first two long takes that open Before Midnight,

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2011 in Review

You didn’t think I’d skip tradition, did you?

I’ll say this, 2011: you taught me a lot. And while the natural inclination is to shower you with nostalgic encomiums, the more truthful answer is that you were a fairly uneven year filled with highs and lows both visceral and numbing. There is, not for the first time, possibly too much to think about, but here are a few of my favorite things from the year that was 2011:

Anything written by David Foster Wallace, “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson, “Bossypants” by Tina Fey, “Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World” by Haruki Murakami, “100 Bullets”, “Batman: Year One”, the idea and spiritual philosophy behind Grantland, the first hour of Super 8, the cinematic styling and evocative soundtrack of Drive, Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids, Michael Fassbender in X-Men: First Class, Rose Byrne and Emma Stone in anything, the “Life’s a Happy Song” number from The Muppets, “Upular” by Pogo, “So Insane” by Discovery, “Brand New Shoes” by She & Him, the entire Foster the People album, my iPhone 4S, my work iPad 2, my 3rd generation Kindle, Apple TV, any coconut water I found anywhere, Philz coffee, the Blue Bottle bar at work, Mister Lew’s Win Win Bar, the bookshare at the gym of the Opera Plaza, the magazine rack at Books Inc., the super rolls at Them Ky, brunch at Brenda’s, any macaroon served by anyone anywhere, any Off the Grid or Underground Market I made it to, Derrick Rose’s Adidas commercial, the relentless Tom Thibodeau, the new and improved Jay Cutler, the ingenious storytelling mechanics of “How I Met Your Mother”, the midseason 2 finale of “The Walking Dead”, “Lie to Me”, “Archer”, the killer supporting cast of “Parks & Recreation”, season 4 of “The Wire”, Zooey Deschanel in “New Girl”, Melissa McCarthy on “Saturday Night Live”, “Game of Thrones” nights at the former house of Brad and Ben and Motts, all Netflix streaming apps, Time magazine for iPad, the redesigned UI of Path, Comic Zeal, Kindle for iPad and iPhone, Plants vs. Zombies, Jetpack Joyride, the gorgeous production values of Castleville, Final Fantasy VII on PSP, Dragonvale, the vastly improved controls for Mass Effect 2, Mark pushing the button to open the NASDAQ on the day of the IPO, the Frank Lloyd Wright tour in Chicago w/Mom and Dad, biking along the Embarcadero with Caryn, New Year’s dinner courtesy of Seeyew and Ashley, the Super Bowl party at the Potrero house with a stunning number of rabid Packers fans, Cubs vs. Giants at the company suite, Red Door Cafe w/Ben and Steven, the single trivia night I attended, the Gun Store in Las Vegas, the Asian party house at Sundance, conversations in the car with Emilio, conversations with Kishan in San Francisco, random startup parties with Anthony, watching plays written by or starring friends or friends of friends, shooting zombies and Smuggler’s Cove runs with Ben, pizzas with Caryn, drinks with Liz, comics talk with Chris and Stephen, anticipating the baked good every morning in the cafeteria at work, any time I went snowboarding, Mars Bar with the team at work, Rebecca’s Christmas party, Cathy’s birthday dinner, Thanksgiving II at Sallie and Danielle’s, Henry and Melissa’s first dance at their wedding, launching my first iOS game, reuniting with Curtis and Vee on the dance floor of the holiday party, the incredibly long summer-in-the-fall-in-San-Francisco, the mild winter in Chicago, falling asleep at night listening to Steve Jobs interviews and speeches, the brief and wondrous life of Steve Jobs.

新年快乐!

Yeah, it’s kind of like that

“I haven’t been spending that much time in this restaurant because of all the shit that’s been going on,” he began, “but the past two days I’ve had aneurisms because I’ve been so upset at the kitchen. On the cooks’ end, I question your integrity. Are you willing to fucking sacrifice yourself for the food? Yesterday, we had an incident with fish cakes: they weren’t properly cut. Does it really matter in the bowl of ramen? No. But for personal integrity as a cook, this is what we do, and I don’t think you guys fucking care enough. It takes those little things, the properly cut scallions, to set us apart from Uno’s and McDonald’s. If we don’t step up our game, we’re headed toward the middle, and I don’t want to fucking work there.

“We’re not the best cooks, we’re not the best restaurant—if you were a really good cook you wouldn’t be working here, because really good cooks are assholes. But we’re gonna try our best, and that’s as a team. Recently, over at Ssäm Bar, a sous-chef closed improperly, there were a lot of mistakes, and I was livid and I let this guy have it. About a week later, I found out that it wasn’t him, he wasn’t even at the restaurant that night. But what he said was ‘I’m sorry, it will never happen again.’ And you know what? I felt like an asshole for yelling at him, but, more important, I felt like, Wow, this is what we want to build our company around: guys that have this level of integrity. Just because we’re not Per Se, just because we’re not Daniel, just because we’re not a four-star restaurant, why can’t we have the same fucking standards? If we start being accountable not only for our own actions but for everyone else’s actions, we’re gonna do some awesome shit.”

David Chang

One kick short?

The perfectionist in me thinks this visualization could be improved just a smidge — the lifelines are a little difficult to read, and it would’ve been sweet to incorporate each character’s totem — but it’s still a very cool depiction of the plot architecture of Inception.
where would you put the spinning top?
I find myself still thinking about this movie quite a bit, in the best way possible.

Great moments in UI

So the other night I finally got around to entering a bunch of old bills into Billmonk and noticed for the first time that their UI for entering bills is ridiculous. After filling out all your info for a bill/expense/indiscretion-I-will-never-disclose-on-this-blog you’re prompted with the following buttons:
Because every form should end with a button that deletes its existence

Couple questions. Who in their right mind thought it was a good idea to a) have a “Don’t save” button at the end of a form, b) color it the brighter, more attractive color, and c) put it on the left within easier reach for someone who has just filled out all their information? Seriously, Billmonk? Seriously?? Notice how the extra text even results in the “Don’t save” being the larger, more clickable button?

Being the open-minded person I am, I started thinking, “Surely there’s a good reason for this.” Wrong. There’s NEVER a good reason to confuse your user like this. Why does this button exist? Why not just let someone save a form with bad data when they can easily delete later? And if for some ungodly reason you really need to have this button because you love the way it looks and can’t live without it and want to marry it and have lucid dreams with it where the two of you grow old together, why insert it right at the end of your successful user flow?

To help further illustrate this amusing absurdity I went to the trouble of mocking up some visualizations of comparable situations:
Aren't you curious which scenarios got left on the cutting room floor?
That last one actually works, just seeing if you’re paying attention.

Book review: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

This was a racy cover for 1983
One of my current projects is reading the complete works of Edward Tufte, one of the giants in information design. For better or worse I’ve decided to read the books in order of original publication date, and although The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 2nd edition was originally published in 1983 most of its principles are still easily applicable today.

One great thing about the book is that it immediately conveys Tufte’s strong sense of history, providing a solid foundation in understanding the evolution of infographics through the past couple centuries. Tufte’s writing is crisp and direct, supported by page layouts that are simple and approachable. Most of his historical examples are interesting (including Charles Joseph Munard’s famous infographic of Napoleon’s (death) March), and he gets some good ribbing in when he presents his statistical studies on the complexity of the infographics found in modern (for the 80’s) print publications. Surprisingly the New York Times gets a lashing, though as anyone who peruses the Times website these days knows they’ve now got a ridiculously crackerjack infographics team that could very well represent the publication’s future.

Here are the two key principles I took away from this first volume:

  • Data should never lie. This means being absolutely accurate in representing visual proportions and relationships in your graphics, as well as eliminating any possible confusion in presentation: clearly labeling your data, avoiding harsh coloring/shading patterns, etc.
  • Give your audience more credit. What this really boils down to is that Tufte places a premium on conveying information efficiently, condemning modern graphics for being overly simplistic and bloated “chartjunk.” He goes to great lengths to measure each graphic’s efficiency with two key ratios: the first is the ratio of ink used for data points vs. ink that doesn’t represent actual data, and the second is a measure of how many data points are presented per square inch or square centimeter. His metrics and analysis are endearingly thorough.

These principles are clearly just good user interaction design, though it’s surprising how often they still get violated (I’m looking at you, USA Today). Overall, the book is a brisk and fun read. It’s even inspired me to create some of my own personal infographics, though I suspect most of my ideas won’t pack in quite the data density that Tufte would approve of.

Regardless, I’m really looking forward to cracking open the later books in his oeuvre to see how his design sense (and page layouts) evolve throughout the next few decades. Up next: 1990’s Envisioning Information.