Archive for the ‘book’ Category

Borges wrote on graph paper

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

I had the fortune in participating in the Find the Future event, which was part of the on-going Celebrating 100 Years exhibition and series of events marking the century-old Main Branch of the New York Public Library. I spent 12 hours locked up in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building with Robert. We were playing a game which involved finding objects labelled with QR code, more on that later.

The best discovery of the night was located in the exhibit of artifacts from the library’s research collection. This crappy photo, taken without flash on a iPod touch, is a manuscript by Jorge Luis Borges, which was written on graph paper. Without overly romanticizing his process,  graph paper is supremely fitting for an author who wrote literary works about the finite library (The Garden of Forking Paths, 1941), interactive fiction (The Library of Babel, 1941), and the limits of science and data collection,  (On Exactitude in Science, 1946).

Support the NYPL.

People are people…

Sunday, June 13th, 2010


A couple of interesting articles appeared on today about the future of human.

Although, insights and important discoveries have been made, Nicholas Wade reports in “A Decade Later, Genetic Map Yields Few New Cures,” that ten years after completing the first mapping of the human genome, the reports that scientists have not made nearly as much progress in finding cures for cancer or Alzheimer’s as they expected. The main thing I take away from the article is that the human body is really complicated and can surprise us how little we really know about it functions.

On the hand other, we also learned from Ashlee Vance in “Merely Human? That’s So Yesterday”, the Singularity University was recently held and attended by tech luminaries like the Google founders and Raymond Kurzweil, who predict that people will soon access a technology-aided evolution to become superhumans with infinite intelligence and lifespans measured in centuries. The Singularity will be some combination of  tapping into the collective knowledge of networks like the Internet as well as medical advances like organ regeneration and cybernetics.

So, anyway, in some ways, I’m actually glad that we are finding out that the body is far more complex system that we want to believe. A slower rate of innovation might be a good thing.  While it would obviously would be great to find cures for diseases, my hope is we actually have a chance to figure out all the ethical implications of the meaning of this work. Actually, it’s not even figuring out, but I want people to just start asking the questions.

On a related note, I just finished You Are Not a Gadget, by Jaron Lanier. The book is a great critique of how we overvalue technology, undervalue the products of people’s creativity, and as a result, undervalue humanity itself.

Update: 2010/06/19: This month’s Wired magazine cover story by Thomas Goetz is “Sergey’s Search.” (Not online yet.) Apparently, he has a 50% change of getting Parkinson’s, which reframes (at least) his interest in the Singularity University, and has put in US$50 million into researching Parkinson’s disease. Again, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be pursuing this research. Rather, where is the critical discussion on where is it leading us, who benefits, and who is left behind.

This is New York

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Shot from the top floor of 14 Wall St. J P Morgan (the person, not the bank) used the entire floor as a piet de terre.

Wonderfully surprised by the renovation of Alice Tully by Diller Scofdio + Renfro and FXFowle. Is it a shark or a ocean liner? Interiors and sound quality were great too. I heard Alarm Will Sound, Bang on a Can All-Stars, and Steve Reich & Musicians.

This sign was found in the bathroom of the 31st floor of One Chase Manhattan Plaza. The typography is mesmerizing.

The dream of POD customized magazines is (almost) here

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

I love magazines. Although the industry as a whole model is busted, as titles are folding, advertising revenue is plummeting, and wholesalers are in lawsuits, while they are going out of business. Even before the recession hit, unsold copies (which are the majority of them) end up getting destroyed. On the bright side of things, Cunning and teamed up with HSBC to give travelers in Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 1 customized magazines. Passers-by had the ability to select content from 32 commissioned articles, get them bound, and take their personally curated magazine onto their flight with them.  Of course, the next step is to have the printing done by something like Espresso Book Machine.

Via the fine folks at PSFK.

Books on design.

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Wojciech recently asked me to suggest some good books on design, which were more practical than theoretical. Here are a few suggestions that immediately came to mind. If you think something is missing, please let me know. I may also add a few more if they come to me. (Ed note: I’m recalling some of the examples from memory, so there may be an error or two in the examples I site.)

Edward Tufte, “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

While Tufte has written other good subsequent books on visualizing information, this one was the first. To my knowledge, the book was also the first to organize ideas on how to display quantitative data in a formal way. The book contain now classic examples, such as mapping Cholera in 19th century London and Napoleon’s army during an campaign in 1812 which relates time, temperature, and number of soldiers.

Donald Norman, “The Design of Everyday Things

Another classic book outlines how design often fails the user (not the other way around,) by not taking her into account though the entire design process. Although the book’s examples mostly reference industrial design, the concepts can be applied to other design disciplines like graphic design, interaction design, and architecture. By the book’s end, the readers will forever recognize how often everything things, such as light switches, water faucets, and doors are poorly designed and labeled.

Gary Hustwit, “Helvetica

While not a book, this surprisingly entertaining documentary film on the ubiquitous font tracks the font’s rise in a particular point in history and how designers still revere or reject it. Designers and non-designers come away from the film with an understanding about the subtle and overt power typography can have in skilled hands. Designer Paula Scher gives a hilarious quote connecting Helvetica to the Iraq War.

William Lidwell, Kritina Holden and Jill Butler, “Universal Principles of Design

A book that I discovered by accident runs through and defines a wide collection of principles from many disciples of design (industrial, graphic, and architecture, etc.) Each principle only gets a brief two page overview, as the book thrives for breath. However, the budding designer can quickly get a sense of what practitioners have discovered over time.

Erik Spiekermann and E.M. Ginger, “Stop Stealing Sheep

Although written in 1993, this book is still a fun and relevant read on the basics of typography. With an abundance of visuals, readers get exposed to many different examples of the same word in different contexts and typefaces to help show the nuances of type. Spiekermann of the firm Meta Design is also featured in film Helvetica. I’ve only read the first edition, but a second edition was published in 2002.

Scott McCloud, “Understanding Comics

I love reading this book every couple of years or so, and not just because it justifies countless hours and dollars in my youth reading comics. Scott McCloud, creator of the also amazing comic book Zot!, formalizes sequential art, in a way that legitimizes the art form as a medium within itself. It was a book both comic book lovers and makers where waiting a long to be written.

Steal These Books.

Thursday, December 4th, 2008


A few years ago, I noticed a bunch of books sitting behind the information desk at the St. Mark’s Bookshop in the East Village. The books were multiple copies of Don Delillio, Paul Auster, and Raymond Carver. I asked the sale clerk behind the counter what they were doing there.  As it turns out, independent book shops put certain authors behind the counter to keep them from leaving the store before they have been purchased. If you go into the stacks of St. Mark’s, you’ll find signs within the titles, directly customers to the information desks. The other authors also include Jorge Luis Borges, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Hubert Selby.  A bit further south in Nolita, McNally Jackson Books uses a similar strategy. Charles Bukowski makes an appearance, with Delillo and Burroughs giving a repeat showing. These choice titles are not the current best sellers, but are works from those aggressive writers who capture college-aged (give or take a few years) minds.  Those books, like White Noise or Junkie, feel dangerous the first time they are read. In a way, it makes sense that that those book are the ones most often stolen.

Somewhere there is this whole small oddity, there resides in compliment making it for behind the counter.

Other people who write about books:
Future of the Book
The Penguin Blog
26th Story
Planned Obsolescence
New York Public Library Blog

Trying to redefine browsing the web

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Image source: Amazon Windowshop

Am I the only person who missed this? This month Amazon launch Windowshop Beta, a CoverFlow-ish interface for shopping. This flash based interface allows you to search new selections, which are added each Tuesday. Browsing is controlled with the space bar to zoom in and the arrow keys to navigate, giving it the user experience of an 80s PC video game (that’s not a bad thing.) However, the categories of “Best selling,” or “New releases” have limited appeal to me.

I’m not a user of CoverFlow, mostly because most of songs don’t have images attached to them, so the UX is pretty lame for me.  But I think that some of the Silverlight interfaces and visual search engines like SearchMe and Riya are showing promise. Clearly, Amazon is trying to emulate the browsing experience of the brick and mortar store.  However, just like I only browse certain sections of a book store, it would be great to have that kind of granular control in Windowshop.  If you could combine some search, and narrow the selections down to topics or areas of interest, and then browse through 100 or so titles, we would *really* have something to write up in here.

Awesome People I Met/Saw At The New York Art Book Fair

Monday, October 27th, 2008

I finally made it to the New York Art Book Fair after being out of town last year. I think I learned about the first one a couple of days after it ended, which is quite typical for me.  In any event, there was the high and low brow and everything in between.

Image source: The Thing

I met Will Rogen and Jonn Herschend from The Thing Quarterly, which sends its subscribers a piece of art every quarter. I had just heard about it a couple of weeks ago, when I was out in SF, where they are based. It’s not quite publishing, although it’s definitely a self-described periodical, and a bit more like those organic local food subscription services where they mail you a box of kale or carrots or melons once a month, except its art and of course its quarterly.

I was pleased to find out that they were super friendly, and we had a short, but interesting conversation, on publishing. When I asked them if their backgrounds was in publishing, I found it of note that they said they are artists. That answer is personally great to me because I’m really intrigued in publishers (if you want to call them that) from non-traditional backgrounds.  I finally got my tax stimulus check from the federal government, and a chunk of it may just go towards a subscription, especially because Jonathan Lethem is on the docket as an artist. Will and Jonn are in town participating in various art organizations in the city of the rest of the week.

Stuart and David of Dexter Sinister had a table, and it always fun to talk to them, especially about geeky things like the text editor Tex. I ended up buying something that was quasi-expensive and actually deserves an entire post of its own later.

Image source: An Atlas of Radical Cartography

At the table next to Dexter Sinister, I met Alexis Bhagat who co-edited “An Atlas of Radical Cartography” which is a collection of essay and maps.  Coincidentally, Brett introduced to me the collection when I was at UArts a few weeks ago, funny how things work out that way.  The maps touch everything from oil to surveillance to garbage production. He was fun to chat with as map have been on my mind lately.

J Morrison was selling silk-screened man purses for a suggested donation. He had young women helping him silk screen images on the spot, and everyone was wearing matching colored tee and shorts. His assistants made a bag to order, for a good birthday present, which was my next stop after the fair.

My Longstanding Issue With Blog Interfaces.

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Something has been confusing and annoying me basically since I started reading blogs. It’s one of those slight annoying things, where a little design considering would make the issue irrelevant. When reading or searching blogs, the bottom of the screen usually offers you two choices, of which, the following combination is quite common:

<< Older Entries          Newer Entries>>

<< Previous Entries     Next Entries >>

Am I the only person who is confused by this interface? Both examples are slightly ambiguous. What does “previous” or “next” mean?

Blogs are generally organized by descending chronological order, that is, newest post on top of the screen or webpage. Books are generally ascending chronologically, if they have a time-based narrative, and start at a point in time and move forward.

Because English is read left to right, the “next” page of a book and navigation pointing to the right refers to pages dates in the future. However, in a blog, “Next” and “arrows pointing to the right” could either refer to blog web pages with posts that you haven’t read yet or a page with blog posts written in the past, ie older then the posts you are currently reading. To further add to the confusion, some blogs use Google as their search engine, which serves results in order of relevance.

To reiterate the two main points of ambiguity:

#1: Blogs and books don’t chronologically map in the same way. Books based on chronology are usually presented oldest information first. Blogs are generally displayed with the newest post first.

#2: Pages in blogs and print don’t map in the same way. The subsequent unread (I’m trying to avoid saying next) page on a blog is going backwards in time. Going forwards in a history book, toward the right, is moving forward in time.

In these two examples, left arrows link to older posts by date and right arrows link to newer posts by date.

Here is the interface of, so I write:

Notice the subtle different in terminology in designnotes (composite image):

As mentioned before, the questions arise:

What does “next” mean? That is, does it refer to unread posts or posts dates in the future?

In both cases, when I see “<< Previous Entries,” do the arrow mean the past in time or unread posts?

Why are the older post to the right? If I were to print out a blog and bind it, the older posts would exist towards the right.

Is there a better solution?

I think Gigaom, has a very good solution, part of the time. Instead of using the interfaces of many blogs, they both map to the closest to the print experience as well as have clearer wording.

With this interface, Gigaom both avoids the ambiguity of “previous” and “next.” Using “newer” and “older”  clearly refers to date of the posts. Also, the arrow points in a direction that map to the printed out and bound blog. Unfortunately, that interface is only used for the main pages, and not when you search. Sigh.

So, the remaining point is, why should blogs map to the convention of English (or any language read left to right) books? My only response is that most English speakers read books before blogs. It is important for a designer to build upon the obvious reference points and mental models of their users. For blogs in languages the read right to left, such as Chinese or Hebrew, I was have Older Posts pointing to the right.

Now, I have to go try to tweak this site’s navigation.

Next Transformations: A Response To Transformations By Grant McCracken

Monday, July 28th, 2008

Images source: flickr

I finally got through Transformations, which has left me with lots of blogging ideas and a lens to look at world around me. The book is highly recommended, Grant McCracken is able to achieve the balance between theory and practice, pulling high and low brow examples of how we are a culture of transformation (in terms of, for example, social standing, identity, and gender roles.) Transformation is organized into four types, which are roughly chronological, traditional, status, modern, and postmodern. The last one describing how we are porous, where transformation flow in and out of ourselves. For this to occur, we have taken over the authorship over our identity, traditions, and rituals.

What comes after Postmodern transformations?

I think the next evolution we are currently witness to is the rise of Networked transformation. The Networked transformation takes the multitude of the Postmodern transformation and moves beyond it, using the speed and comprehensiveness of the internet.

Where as McCraken describes the Postmodern transformation self as porous, the Networked transformed self is fragmented and refracting, like shards of a broken mirror. The porous self denotes a soaking inward. In a networked society, culture is both pushed and pulled toward the individual, seemingly at the speed of the internet. The process is more catch and release. Actually, a more apt description is reflected and projected. The typical New Yorker who adopts the fashion trend of camouflage absorbs little, if any, of militaristic meaning of the object. Rather, it is reflecting outward an adherence to a clothing trend, influenced by designers and people on the street or in the media. Further, what is consumed and assumed and then used to formulate our multiple identities spin outward, via the network.

Roles, identifying to a discovered culture in consumed and projected back out, through ego-casting vehicles of Facebook and Twitter, as well as, more directed and one-to-one types of communication. Our digital selves are becoming our actual selves. The shift has real consequences as we become more digital, and people such as Nicholas Carr start questioning these changes. At some point, we will no longer we able to distinguish between our digital self and actual self. Cues or ideas of new identities will be taken from friends, or celebrities whom are treated and spoken about as if they are intimate friends, enabled in some way by the internet.

The web has removed (the confines of) place and distance from our lives. The speed of the network also has increased our ability to consume and assume new identities. The new limiting factor is not waiting for the next great thing or movement, but rather, it is our attention span and the human capacity to want that change. (What happens when the transformation is forced upon us, is another question.)

Authenticity, which McCracken points out was so crucial in the desire for upward social climbing in Modern transformation, has been left behind by many. Such authenticity can be learned and shared via the network, rendering the scarcity aspect of authenticity to be meaningless. The decoding which was once difficult to learn is now accessible through a simple internet search. The internet allows for the access to learn and enforce an authentic identity by anyone with an internet connection. Sites dissect and lay out the minutia of any topic. Movie sites, such as the pioneering Ain’t It Cool News site published industry news, rumors, and gossip that was once only privy to Hollywood insiders. It now, of course, has competition running in the hundreds if not thousands, depending upon how you count. Access to authentic insights allows for the virtual vicarious living. (Although, the network transformation does have a real effect, as seen by the movie fans shaping the re-shooting and release of the film Snakes On A Plane. The line between insider and outsider is blurring, and artifact of the networked transformation.)

However, for many people, the effort of using the network to achieve an authentic transformation is too much work, especially when the identity consumed/assumed is so disposable. Who has time to fact check these days? The Networked transformation allows two unknowns to manipulate New York socialite scene by running Socialite Rank, a status ranking blog. Now, identities can be created and accepted as credibile, only to cast off with the same whim as it was adorn, before any inaccuracy is discovered. Granted, Socialite Rank was a special case. For most, the assumption of identity because my friends are doing it and I want to keep up my social currency, is enough.

A lot of the tension in the world can be viewed and understand through McCracken’s ideas of transformation. These changes occur at difference rate across family, companies, and countries.  Change can be threatening, especially when those changes affect truths who hold to be fundamental to our construction of the way things work.