Archive for March, 2013


Dissociated Press Says Goodbye

[ 1 Comment ]Posted on March 6, 2013 by admin in Editorial & Opinion

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

But don’t bust out the tissues just yet, we’ll be back in the coming months with a new name and a new vibe.

Don’t cry. We’ll be back.

After almost five years of relentless blather on pop media, pop culture, politics, and technology, I’m retiring the site to prepare an all new, punchier, tablet-friendly site on a new domain. If you’ve been a regular visitor and want to be notified when the new site goes live, drop me a line. And if you’re interested, there’s a long-winded explanation of why Dissociated Press is calling it a day here. Feel free to express you thoughts or condolences in the comments. Read the rest of this entry »

Interface Design: Get Your Hands Off My Banana

[ Comments Off ]Posted on March 6, 2013 by admin in Technology

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

The future of device interfaces is probably hands off, but it looks like we’ll still be fingerpainting on windows for a while.

For about a decade until around 2008, I did a lot of work in web development, often focusing more on the UI/UX (user interface/user experience) end of things. Early on, I developed a concept that I often adhere to, which is “Give the Monkey a Banana”. The monkey, in this case, is of course the person we usually refer to more politely as the “user”. It was inspired by watching one of my first clients review a website I had just created for them. They did something I’ve seen dozens (if not hundreds) of times since. They kept clicking on things that gave no indication that they were links. What were they clicking on? They clicked on words they liked, or pictures they liked, with utter disregard for common visual cues like underlined text or mouseover effects. It hit me that first time, with that first client — the monkey wants a banana! To this day, that largely sums up my approach to interface design. What is the banana? How can we help the monkey get it? Which is a big part of why I’m excited about all the new things going on with interface design. This is a topic we’ve touched on a lot before; in fact one of our first posts back in 2008 was about digital interfaces for music, and more recently, I prattled on about the vague virtues of Windows 8 and my mild contempt for skeuomorphic design.

More recently, my personal frustration with computer interfaces has only accelerated with the purchase of a tablet. As much as I love the thing, it creates two problems. The first problem? If you use a tablet for a while, you’ll probably find yourself quickly and easily adopting gestures like swiping, pinching, and tapping. Pretty cool, very functional stuff. But soon, you’ll run into apps or websites that don’t respond to any of these gestures, or worse yet, the layout of a website (like the site you’re on right now!) will make it hard to even tap links because of type sizes and image layouts. So the first problem is the transition period to a new form of interaction. But the second problem is even more irksome in my opinion, and it is that in spite of the tech industry’s new focus on the second screen as a growth market, the last thing we need is another screen. While perusing How ‘Minority Report’ Trapped Us In A World Of Bad Interfaces on the other day, I ran across a link to piece called A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design, by Bret Victor. It’s probably one of the best summaries I’ve seen in a while of the problems we still face with interface design, the most obvious of which is what Victor calls “Pictures Under Glass”. No matter how cool the animation of an action is on your iPad, it’s still just a picture. And you’re still just dragging your finger around on a piece of glass, a dull experience – given our complexity as organisms that can grasp, see, and feel – that Victor calls a “Novocaine drip to the wrist”.

Why, when we have things like fingertip-tracking gesture technology or 3-D interaction, or even using brain waves as a control input almost at our er, fingertips, would we zero in on the dull and often less-than-useful action of “fingerpainting” on glass? Again, Bret Victor sums it up nicely, compiling in a single image all the amazing real-world examples of how this gesture is used in every day life:

Below are examples of just a few of the alternatives mentioned above, but take the time to check out that rant on interaction design. It examines the issue in an entertaining and insightful way. Maybe some day soon, you’ll be able to get your hand off my banana, but for now, you’re going to have to keep poking and pinching it. Read the rest of this entry »

Weekly Wipe: Shitpeas and Cunk

[ Comments Off ]Posted on March 5, 2013 by admin in Missing Links

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

If that headline sounds like nonsense, you probably don’t live in the UK, and/or haven’t seen BBC 2′s Weekly Wipe

As we mentioned last week, our Tuesday Missing Links  feature is abandoning GIF’s and other moribund memes to bring you things you probably actually haven’t seen. And unless you live in the UK, there’s a pretty good chance you haven’t seen Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe (clips below). If I watched TV, and if when I did, I watched reviews, I’d move to England just so I could watch this show every week. Fortunately, there’s an internet, so I don’t have to start eating eggs chips and beans for breakfast or surrender my stockpiles of automatic weapons, I can sit right here on my ignorant American butt and “watch it on the Youtube”, as one of our more popular US presidents used to say. If you’re an ignorant yank like me, the occasional joke will fly over your head, but heck, being oblivious to how people in other countries live is part of being a patriotic American, so don’t feel bad. Or “badly”, as those pompous Brits would say. Just enjoy segments like “Shitpeas and Cunk”, in which Philomena Cunk and Barry Shitpeas serve up some compelling insights about current pop media like A Good Day To Die Hard, the Harlem Shake, and Brian Cox (Sir David Attenborough’s heir apparent) of The Wonders Of Life. Clips below. Read the rest of this entry »

The Solar System Circular Orbit Conspiracy

[ Comments Off ]Posted on March 4, 2013 by admin in Popular Media

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Is there a vast science conspiracy dating back to the time of Copernicus? Probably not, but this video is fun anyway.

Did you know that science is perpetrating a vast global conspiracy to prevent you from knowing the truth about the shape of our solar system’s orbits? Yeah, me neither. Remember how in school they taught us that the planets all move in a circular orbit around the sun? And later, when they thought we could handle it, they admitted that they had lied, and that the orbits were actually elliptical? Well, the fascinating video below (which might be more fascinating with a different soundtrack) finally reveals the shocking truth that scientists have been hiding from us all along! Or not. As cool as the clip is, and although it highlights an interesting aspect of relative motion in a rather visual way, most of the hyperbole in its claims about this radical “new” vortex model of the solar system that is somehow destined to replace the “old Newtonion [sic]/Copernican Heliocentric model” is exactly that. There is nothing new about looking at the motion of the planets in this way, and in spite of the fact that the video highlights the fact that the sun is indeed not a fixed ball like the one at the local planetarium, it also is itself a pretty inaccurate representation of the relative motion it intends to convey. Ignore the fact that the creator of the video cites sources like Dr. Pallathadka Keshava Bhat and Nassim Haramein, the physics crank, whose cred is mostly derived from his appearance as an “expert” in the wacky conspiracy movie Thrive. He may just be doing it for page views, or maybe he actually believes it. Who cares. The video is fun, and I’d bet a nickel that you’ve never thought about the fact that on top of the Earth rotating on its axis as it revolves around the sun, we’re also moving in a dizzying spiral through the galaxy, occasionally dipping into the dense arm of it long enough to cause mass extinctions  . Video below. Read the rest of this entry »

Denial is a River In Washington DC

[ Comments Off ]Posted on March 1, 2013 by admin in Politics

Friday, March 1st, 2013

When you’re drunk on power, you’re bound to act like an addict. Maybe it’s time for an intervention.

My name is Washington, and I’m powerless in the face of power“. That’s a chorus I’d like to hear, as the message machine in DC and the megaphone of the media collude to try to drill the phrase “fiscal cliff” from our brains with the word “sequester”. Quite comically, if you Google “sequester”, one of the top results is a definition of the verb form, which is “to isolate or hide away someone or something” using the example “the artist sequestered himself in his studio for two years”. While this seems uncannily accurate in the case of Washington’s addict-like behavior (more on that in a moment), verbs represent action, and we have little hope of seeing any of that in Washington. So we’re left with the more obscure definition, a noun that means “A general cut in government spending”. Which also seems grossly inaccurate; there’s nothing “general” about these automatic budget cuts. They’re the very specific result of a total abandonment of responsibility on the part of a bunch of overpaid, underperforming, self-obsessed twits who are supposedly at the driver’s wheel of our country. And that’s the scary part. The paralyzing partisanship in DC means that two hands are on the wheel of a battered vehicle with no forward visibility, flat tires, and low on fuel, and the only thing they can agree upon is that the car should keep moving at all costs. And you and me? We’re like the huge codependent families who – in spite of knowing that our friend is a drunken idiot making absurd claims about another drunken idiot – stand faithfully on one side of the argument or other, pointing fingers. This analogy is not really much of a stretch,  David Ignatius of the Washington Post framed it as a Political DUI, and when I made this general analogy to an addict’s “I’ll quit next week, I promise” behavior, a friend of mine agreed, saying “Basically, our goverment decides it will take antabuse to stop drinking, and then goes ahead and drinks, anyway“. If Washington can’t deal with its addiction and gambling problems, maybe it’s time we did an intervention.