Sad news

Sun 20 Aug 2023

Some sad news: my dad passed away a couple weeks ago.

It wasn’t unexpected, and we had enough notice to say all we needed to say to each other and a lot of what we wanted to, which is more than he got with my granddad.

But it’s still awful, and I will never stop missing him.

He was a remarkable human being, and my mom and I made something to honour him.

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Thu 23 Feb 2023

Been a weird couple of months in which ChatGPT has been utterly unavoidable as a topic. I’m skeptical, so I kind of hate it. But as a topic it’s also so all-encompassing in what it contests–socially, technologically, in design terms, how it keeps coming up in every setting including with my non-techy family–it is fascinating and never boring.

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Tue 13 Dec 2022

Increasingly feeling that in 50 years we’ll come to see the rush to software-ize everything the way we’re coming to see our past rush to centre the car in all spaces.1

  1. Not my line, sadly, but internet being internet I can’t find the source any more.

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Fri 25 Nov 2022

Adam Greenfield:

There was a powerful dream that sustained (and not incidentally, justified) half a century’s inquiry into the possibilities of information technology, from Vannevar Bush to Doug Engelbart straight through to Mark Weiser. This was the dream of augmenting the individual human being with instantaneous access to all knowledge, from wherever in the world he or she happened to be standing at any given moment. As toweringly, preposterously ambitious as that goal seems when stated so baldly, it’s hard to conclude anything but that we actually did achieve that dream some time ago, at least as a robust technical proof of concept.

We achieved that dream, and immediately set about betraying it.

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Mon 14 Nov 2022

Ok, so it’s been a while. But with the hellsite coming down any day now, it seemed like it might be a good time to bring back what passed for The Internet ca. 2003.

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Tue 20 Jun 2017

Having a weird and enjoyable mix of projects right now, hence the all-over-the-place scatter below.

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Wed 7 Sep 2016

The long hiatus in which I kind of forget I have a blog.

On faithful representation

Wed 21 Jan 2015

So, I watched the Microsoft HoloLens video. I’m diagnosing my relative lack of excitement as having something to do with it showing an incomplete vision.

Depicting the idea that this technology is closer than ever before1 to representing what it’s like to sculpt physical materials is a lazy trope. Sculpting virtual rockets for your kid is just not a use for this that will ever matter, even if it actually becomes possible as shown.

Why exactly are we so obsessed with faithful represention?

Another tidy analogy: in architectural design, orthographic representation is fundamental to understanding element relationships well enough to inform the judgments one needs to make to design well. It’s sufficiently fundamental that more experienced architects can often make an accurate guess as to whether someone designed entirely in digital model or have actually drawn plans, sections and elevations. (The hint for me is that there are often these curiously under-resolved areas that would have been immediately obvious on eg. an interior elevation).

And yet, these are representations that deliberately distort “reality.” There is no place you could stand or eye you could have that could actually see this view of the real building. They are amazingly useful once you learn to read them. (That reading them is a skill means, of course, that there’s lots of room for misinterpretation, which is why real and digital models are also valuable. I’m just saying they don’t stand alone any better than an orthographic does). A representation’s usefulness for providing design feedback can come as much from how ingeniously poorly it matches reality as how faithfully.

So, that’s a long way around to saying that what will knock my socks off in one of these videos is when I see some thought given to even a guess at a new distorted representations–one that we may not even yet be able to read–that will become easy.2

  1. Considering this “close” is almost comically charitable.

  2. I do recognize the arc of technology is to start by sticking a camera in the audience of a play and calling it cinema. Still, we’re emboldened-visioning here, or whatever.

A tidy little analogy between architecture school and automated test suites

Sat 10 Jan 2015

I had a professor who would turn his students’s scale models around in his hands, holding them about two inches from his nose, and very subtly wiggle various bits of the model.

Fairly often, we’d hear a snap, a piece would come off in his fingers, and–rather than apologize–our professor would shrug, say that that piece really wasn’t in service of the design idea and didn’t need to be there anyway, toss it aside, and resume his deconstructive criticism.

For the most part he was right: any piece that he can remove with a small wiggle is quite likely to be poorly attached conceptually to the overall design, and its actual physical attachment is a surprisingly accurate and understandable-to-know-nothing-kids proxy judgment for the harder conceptual one. (We did eventually start to grok the deeper idea, but mainly the short-term result was that we started gluing the hell out of things).

I was remembering this, and jumped from it to a terrible idea for ruthlessly helping people internalize what makes for a good automated test suite:

Imagine an automated testing tool that runs the entire test suite once per method, removing that method and checking if at least one test fails. If the tests still pass, the tool fails to apologize, shrugs, says it didn’t need to be there anyway, deletes the method entirely, and resumes with the next pass.