‘Real Work’

Benedict Evans (via DF):

This brings us back to the mouse and keyboard that you ‘need for real work’, as the phrase goes. Yes, you really do need them to make a financial model. And you need them to make an operating metrics summary — in Excel and Powerpoint. But is that, really, what you need to be doing to achieve the underlying business purpose? Very few people’s job is literally ‘make Excel files’. And what if you spend the other 90% of your time on the road meeting clients and replying to emails? Do you need a laptop, or a tablet? Do you need a tablet as well as a smartphone? Or a laptop, or phablet? Or both?
This is what Microsoft is trying to convince people with their Surface tablets—that you can’t do ‘real work’ on a ‘regular tablet’ (read: iPad), yet you can.
Ironically, consumer-focused Apple is dominating mobile device sales in the enterprise market.


I’m not surprised, but Samsung is integrating a fingerprint scanner (via The Loop) into their new phones—just like Touch ID Apple introduced last year in the iPhone 5s.
I lump Samsung in the same category as all the tacky, unoriginal people putting Flappy Bird clone apps in the app store and the vendors on Canal Street in Manhattan selling ripoff Louis Vuitton purses.
To be clear, the copying isn’t what bothers me. All artists copy. It’s the fact that they didn’t improve on what Apple introduced. Judging from the video, they actually made it worse.
It’s the difference between a talentless hack singing Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground at a karaoke bar and then hearing The Red Hot Chili Peppers do it. The former is copy, the latter a reinterpretation of the original.

Conjunction Fallacy

Probability and chance often appear to be counterintuitive…Consider the following scenario:

John initially took a degree in mathematics, and followed it with a PhD in astrophysics. After that, he worked in the physics department of a university for a while but then found a job in the back room of an algorithmic trading company, developing highly sophisticated statistical models for predicting movements of the financial markets. In his spare time he attends science fiction conventions.

Now, which of the following do you think has the higher probability?

A. John is married with two children.
B. John is married with two children, and likes to spend his evenings tackling mathematical puzzles and playing computer games.

Many people answer B. In fact, the set of people described by the characteristics in B is a subset of those described by the characteristics in A: for John to have the characteristics of B, he has those of A and more. It follows that the probability that John is described by B cannot be larger than the probability that he’s described by A.

…This failure of intuition is often called the conjunction fallacy.

From The Improbability Principle by David J. Hand.
It’s a fascinating look into just how poor we human beings are at predicting outcomes. My favorite bits of the book are when Mr. Hand savages Carl Jung for casting a broad net over his personal coincidences as evidence for synchronicity. Sure, that’s low-hanging fruit these days, but still makes for good reading.

Careers, Grit, Timing & Context

BGR: WhatsApp exists thanks to Twitter and Facebook’s ignorance
Wow. Talk about a flamebait headline and a load of bullshit.
The fact that Twitter and Facebook turned down WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton in 2009 has nothing to do with ignorance. Careers are not just about talent (although talent helps). Careers are also about timing and persistence (see also: grit.
It’s also important to point out the same person can achieve—or not archieve—very different things at different companies.
Case in point: Jony Ive. He was languishing at Apple and on the verge of quitting when Steve Jobs came back and made him his right hand man in 1997 so he could help develop little dinky products like the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad.
What did Ive make at pre-Jobs Apple? The 20th Anniversary Mac. A thoughtful product for sure, but not quit in the same league as those other “i” products, is it?

Sorry UI designers, you’re not Paul Rand.

Brandon Velestuk:

The first implementation of our internal Show & Tell reminds me of Dribbble. For that matter, it reminds me of a good portion of online communities. They require little to no thoughtful input. It’s more common than not that a single click or tap is all you need to do to show your support for a photo, status update, or design snippet, even though what’s really behind that interaction is, and should be far more complicated.
Dribbble absolutely favors presentation over critical thought and in that way it works more like pornography than graphic design. An image of slider controls or buttons without context is like picture of a set of tits (or a dick, hey, I’m equal opportunity)—in both cases context doesn’t matter. What matters is only how good they look.
Image taken from Michal Parulski
My favorite error I see made over and over again on Dribbble (and many portfolios) is when people skew their mobile app designs away from the viewer (see above). Now the actual user interface doesn’t even matter, the pixel porno designer wants you to appreciate how well he/she designed a composiiton of an interface.
Update: I should note, I’m not against porn. Porn is awesome and if you want some great graphic design porn, I suggest FFFFOUND.

Roll The Dice

Sam Byford at The Verge:

Mt. Gox, once the largest Bitcoin exchange in the world, is operated from an unmarked Tokyo office block that offers no indication of its major, controversial influence on the digital currency’s health. No indication, that is, unless you’ve walked past the headquarters in the past week, where protesters are attempting to draw unwelcome attention to the company’s existence. “Mt. Gox: Where is our Money,” reads one sign. “Mt. Gox: Are you solvent?” reads another. What’s going on?
If you’re using Bitcoin as a legitamate currency, you’re an idiot.
There’s way too many unknowns surrounding it, so if you’re using it, you’re just rolling the dice.

Tesla should hire this guy NOW

Matthaeus Krenn:

Several automotive companies have begun replacing traditional controls in their cars with touch screens. Unfortunately, their eagerness to set new trends in hardware, is not matched by their ambition to create innovative software experiences for these new input mechanisms. Instead of embracing new constraints and opportunities, they merely replicate old button layouts and shapes on these new, flat, glowing surfaces.

Supersaturation and the Subsequent Creative Fallout

Quartz: Why major creative breakthroughs happen in your late thirties:

So why the late 30s? The most obvious factor is education: Scientists spend ages 5 through 18 in school, and then ages 18 through 30ish getting their academic degrees. Then a few years of learning on the job, and presto! You dig up an uncertainty principle. Meanwhile, scientific breakthroughs tend to be less common in old age because we invest less in learning as we get older, and our skills gradually become less relevant.

There’s evidence from the humanities, though, that genius doesn’t decline with age at all. Over 40% of both Robert Frost’s and William Carlos Williams’ best poems were written after the poets turned 50. Paul C├ęzanne’s highest-priced paintings were made the year he died.
I’m 36 years old, and a few years ago I got back into screen printing for the first time since college and since then I’ve been creating new designs on a regular basis.
In tandem to regularly creating art, I’ve been regularly updating a backlog of project ideas so I don’t forget them (I keep my lists in iOS app called Simplenote).
Why did I wait so long to start making art? I think it’s because I never had anything to say or express before now. For years I’ve been reading and learning and collecting things. Then I reached a point of supersaturation and things are precipitating out of my head.

Chris Ware

Over the weekend I found a book on cartoonist Chris Ware for $2.76 in the discount bin of a bookstore. After flipping through the book for a few seconds, I realized I recognized Ware’s work when it was featured in the The New York Times Magazine (back when I used to buy the print edition on Sundays!).
The essay by Daniel Raeburn at the beginning of the book reveals Ware to be a fascinating artist:

In sum, comics are a map of the fourth dimension, composed not only of the intersection of words and pictures but also of words that act like pictures and pictures that act like words, with color and composition shaping the map with their own structure and emotional meaning. This requires Ware to be not only a writer, drawer and painter — an illustrator if you must — but a calligrapher, typographer and, to tie all the arts together, a graphic designer. When we extend the demands of comics from actuality to analogy and consider for a moment that Ware must create a world and portray convincingly every character who inhabits it, it is fair to say that Ware’s chosen art also requires him to be a casting agent, wardrobe artist, set designer and actor. In short, Ware has to work like a theatre director. Given that he also has to frame and crop our every view of this world, he also has to work like a cinematographer. He has to be a control freak.

One has to wonder why people shrugged off this confounding art as kid’s stuff. One also has to wonder why Ware stuck with it. For 40 to 50 hours a week, every week, for nearly 20 years. Ware has sat at his scarred drawing table composing one page additions to this most disrespected of all mediums. He has done this work in relative isolation, a part of no movement, no school and, until recently, for almost no money. When we consider this grind it is impossible to overestimate the role of grit in Ware’s honing of his art. As early as 1990. Ware was bucking himself up with these exhortations: “DON’T GET BITTER”, “DON’T STAGNATE”, RESPECT YOUR OBSESSIONS” and the quintessentially Wareian war cry, “VALUE YOUR WORTHLESSNESS”. Under these dictums he added, “READ A VARIETY OF THINGS” and, as a final commandment, “DON’T JUST READ COMICS!” This he added, Keep making stuff, too! Or the above will no be able to happen.” Ware’s latter two pronouncements and his postscript are a key to his art. By working on arts and crafts that would appear to have nothing to do with his art, Ware enriched not only his own comics but also our understanding of what comics require.
The book is called Chris Ware by Daniel Raeburn.

Over Nearly Everyone

A few weeks ago, my buddy Jory Kruspe suggested I do a poster about KRS ONE.
I’ll admit KRS ONE gets a little too intense for me in a lot of the interviews I’ve watched of him, but I admire and respect the mark he’s put on Hip Hop. He’s a smart dude. MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know is one of my favorite hip hop tracks.
So here it is, a poster spelling out his acronymic hip hop name. The font? Black Slabbath.
A version of this entry first appeared on The Combustion Chamber