Goodbye, Charles Harbutt #

This sense of quickness, of being alive on this earth, of simple orgasmic sense perception, is the point at which great photographs are made. Photographs come from that moment in the process of cognition before the mind has analyzed meaning or the eyes design and at which the experience and the person experiencing are fully, intuitively, existentially there. Such images look like photographs, not paintings: there is a tremendous sense of stopped time, of the blinking shutter, of being alive and still there, of discovery (rather than analysis), of chance, not design, of quick emotion from an uncertain cause. Photography is at its best when it deals with the very act of seeing in itself and not with recollections in tranquility or dilettantism of design.

The moment of creation in photography is similar to a state of consciousness very much sought after in yoga. Or Gestalt therapy. It is to be at the exact center of one’s being, where an awareness of everything going on inside oneself — in fantasy, memory, emotions and thought — is balanced by sensitivity to what is happening outside the person and what it means and feels and is. If a photographer can become sufficiently aware of this continuum and have the energy to push a shutter when inside and outside click together, that camera might produce some very fine photographs indeed. And they would be unique and original (good or bad) because the particular way the world would fall into space from that camera angle could not be seen by any other camera. One couldn’t occupy the same physical space. And because that particular continuum is totally personal. And because a person is different from moment to moment. As is the world. But all one’s photographs would share that unique personal way of being alive, and it is this being-aliveness that viewers can respond to.

How Does Google Share Data Between Its Services and Applications? #

Part of the answer seems to be protocol buffers:

Protocol buffers are Google’s language-neutral, platform-neutral, extensible mechanism for serializing structured data – think XML, but smaller, faster, and simpler. You define how you want your data to be structured once, then you can use special generated source code to easily write and read your structured data to and from a variety of data streams and using a variety of languages.

On Social #

A couple of people have mistaken me for Dan Cross, probably due to my glasses and graying hair. I looked Dan up and assure you I’m not him — he is much smarter than me, though we probably swear about the same amount!

Confirmation Bias #

Often, people never even think about asking questions that would produce a negative answer when trying to solve a problem — like this one. They instead restrict the universe of possible questions to those that might potentially yield a “yes.”

Simon Stålenhag's Paintings #

From a childhood that never was and a future that could have been.

Media LIT: Overcoming Information Overload #

Taught by Dan Gillmor and Kristy Roschke. Should be good.

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To Zapf

Typography and calligraphy legend Hermann Zapf died last month.

I have set type with his wonderful typefaces in a lot of my work and am especially fond of Zapfino, visual music I’ve used in various projects after it was distributed with Apple’s first version of OS X.

Goodbye, Mr. Zapf, and thank you for your beautiful work which has enriched my life and allowed me to communicate with the help of your hand. The following poster is in your honor, using your words, in your forms.

Calligraphy is a peaceful and noble art, done by well educated human beings who do their work with full commitment, with intense concentration. For we want to put into our letters a little of our own feelings, of our personality and mood. Letters should have grace and beauty in themselves. No calligrapher pollutes rivers with his ink, or poisons the air we breathe. Calligraphy makes no noise. We don't fight with arms nor with our pens, but we want to convince sometimes with a hand-lettered message of special importance in which we believed.

Download a PDF.

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Emotions Are Simply What You Feel, Not Who You Are #

Chade-Meng Tan:

Thoughts and emotions are like clouds—some beautiful, some dark—while our core being is like the sky. Clouds are not the sky; they are phenomena in the sky that come and go. Similarly, thoughts and emotions are not who we are; they are simply phenomena in mind and body that come and go.

Possessing this insight, one creates the possibility of change within oneself.

What is Code? #

Excellent, epic writing by Paul Ford. The lead ‘Hello World’ picture is by nice person and photographer I’ve coincidentally met in NYC: David Brandon Geeting. I warmly recommend his book ‘Infinite Power’ if you can get a copy!

A few highlights from the gigantic, in web parlance, ‘wall of text’, to help convince you to go read the whole thing:

Compilation is one of the denser subjects in computer science, because the lower down you go, the more opportunities there are to do deep, weird things that can speed up code significantly—and faster is cheaper and better. You can write elegant, high-level code like F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the computer will compile you into Ernest Hemingway. But compilers often do several passes, turning code into simpler code, then simpler code still, from Fitzgerald, to Hemingway, to Stephen King, to Stephenie Meyer, all the way down to Dan Brown, each phase getting less readable and more repetitive as you go.

You rarely see TMitTB in person, because he’s often at conferences where he presents on panels. He then tweets about the panels and notes them on his well-populated LinkedIn page. Often he takes a picture of the audience from the stage, and what you see is an assembly of mostly men, many with beards, the majority of whom seem to be peering into their laptop instead of up at the stage. Nonetheless the tweet that accompanies that photo says something like, “AMAZING audience! @ the panel on #microservice architecture at #ArchiCon2015.”

Your meetings, by comparison, go for hours, with people arranged around a table—sitting down. You wonder how he gets his programmers to stand up, but then some of them already use standing desks. Perhaps that’s the ticket.

C is a simple language, simple like a shotgun that can blow off your foot. It allows you to manage every last part of a computer—the memory, files, a hard drive—which is great if you’re meticulous and dangerous if you’re sloppy. Software made in C is known for being fast. When you compile C, it doesn’t simply become a bunch of machine language in one go; there are many steps to making it really, ridiculously fast. These are called optimizations, and they are to programming what loopholes are to taxes. Think of C as sort of a plain-spoken grandfather who grew up trapping beavers and served in several wars but can still do 50 pullups.

But there’s another way to interpret all this activity around Python: People love it and want it to work everywhere and do everything. They’ve spent tens of thousands of hours making that possible and then given the fruit of their labor away. That’s a powerful indicator. A huge amount of effort has gone into making Python practical as well as pleasurable to use. There are lots of conferences, frequent code updates, and vibrant mailing lists. You pick a language not just on its technical merits, or its speediness, or the job opportunities it may present, but also on its culture.

Python people, generally, are pretty cool.

Back in the 1980s, while the Fortran programmers were off optimizing nuclear weapon yields, Lisp programmers were trying to get a robot to pick up a teddy bear or write a sonnet.

HyperText Markup Language, the encoding format for Web pages since the Web began. Programmers argue over whether HTML is “programming” or not because they are paranoid about status and don’t want to allow mere tag-wranglers to claim blessed programmer status. So the text that appears here doesn’t count as “code” but as “markup.” The difference between an expert markup person and an expert coder is, from experience, somewhere between $20K and $70K in favor of the programmer.

Oracle makes you pay thousands of dollars to use its commercial enterprise database, but more and more of the world runs on free software databases such as PostgreSQL and MySQL. There’s even a tiny little database called SQLite that’s so small, so well-behaved, and so permissively licensed that it’s now in basically every smartphone, available to apps to help them save and load data. You probably have a powerful SQL-driven database in your pocket right now.

Academic researchers often produce things that basically work but don’t have interfaces. They need to prove their theses, publish, and move on to the next thing. People in the free software community often code to scratch an itch and release that code into the digital commons so that other people can modify and manipulate it. While more often than not this process goes nowhere, over time some projects capture the imagination of others and become part of the infrastructure of the world.

Anything Java can do, Clojure can do. And since it’s built atop the JVM, it can do it on any computer. There were already Lisp editing tools out there, and it was pretty easy to modify them for Clojure. It was joined to Java like a remora to a shark. Or more accurately, it’s a remora attached to a remora, because the JVM itself is a fake machine running inside real machines.

The point is that things are fluid in the world of programming, fluid in a way that other industries don’t seem to be. Languages are liquid infrastructure. You download a few programs and, whoa, suddenly you have a working Clojure environment. Which is actually the Java Runtime Environment. You grab an old PC that’s outlived its usefulness, put Linux on it, and suddenly you have a powerful Web server. Now you can participate in whole new cultures. There are meetups, gatherings, conferences, blogs, and people chatting on Twitter. And you are welcomed. They are glad for the new blood.

An ecosystem. “Ecosystem” is another debased word, especially given what we keep doing to the real, physical one around us. But if a few hundred thousand people are raising their kids and making things for 100 million people, that’s what they call it.

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Philosophy of Joy on a New York City Bus

The metro wasn’t running and we needed to take the free shuttle bus instead. We sat near a large woman next to a small boy and listened.

Whatchyou talkin’ ‘bout the end o’ the world’? It be just a storm, not the end o’ the world! Who been givin’ you ideas ‘bout the a-po-ca-lypse anyway?! You wake up in the morning (snap) — happy. You go outside for a walk (snap) — happy. That’s how it’s done, son! There be no time for bein’ pessi-mistic! Look at me! I still have some years in me and I don’t have time fo’ dis shit! (loud joyous laughter)

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Timeline of the Far Future #

Upcoming events in the cosmic calendar.

Google Photos #

Very happy to see this! Facebook and Apple need competition from somewhere that embraces the open web. Also kudos for using astronomical bodies’ & spacecraft names for the filters!

The filters interface.

Ask for Help #

As often as you can, work with people who are smarter than you.

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Be Kind, Damnit!

Here’s another poster using Google’s Roboto typeface, quickly made to celebrate it becoming an open source project!

Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind.

Text from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut. Exclamation point mine. Download an infinite resolution version for printing (36kb PDF).

And here’s a free, open source web typography template using Roboto (demo), made especially for you, dear writers, readers.

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Wabi-sabi #

Wabi-sabi (侘寂) represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.

Your Websites Suck #

Baldur Bjarnason:

The web doesn’t suck. Your websites suck.

You destroy basic usability by hijacking the scrollbar. You take native functionality (scrolling, selection, links, loading) that is fast and efficient and you rewrite it with ‘cutting edge’ javascript toolkits and frameworks so that it is slow and buggy and broken. You balloon your websites with megabytes of cruft. You ignore best practices. You take something that works and is complementary to your business and turn it into a liability.

The lousy performance of your websites becomes a defensive moat around Facebook.

Of course, Facebook might still win even if you all had awesome websites, but you can’t even begin to compete with it until you fix the foundation of your business.

Chade-Meng Tan on Neuroplasticity #

More Krishnamurti-like thinking at Google, this time from Chade-Meng Tan:

What we think, do, and pay attention to changes the structure and function of our brains.

ALA: Meta-Moments: Thoughtfulness by Design #

UXD strives toward frictionless flow: removing impediments to immediate action and looking to increase conversions at all costs. This approach delivers some great results, but it doesn’t always consider the wider story of how we can design and build things that sustain a lasting relationship.

TaskBuster Django Tutorial #

Came across a good, current tutorial (Django 1.8 and Python 3) by Marina Mele while brushing up on Django skills.

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When In Doubt, Move

I’ve been experimenting with Google’s Roboto typeface which now clothes this website and I quite like, and with embracing things I usually can’t stand such as the ill-typeset quotations that litter social network feeds.

Result: A simple poster with D.H. Lawrence’s lifelong credo, which narrowly won me over both Jesus’ and Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade’s versions of the same good evolutionary advice:

When in doubt, move.

Download an infinite resolution version for printing (412kb PDF).

Roboto Slab is set against a background with a golden pattern tile which I somehow managed to put together years ago and recently came across while navigating the ‘cutting room floor’ folders of an old hard disk.

I better move outside while I can still see. A dopo!

Update: Roboto is now open source. Here’s another poster to celebrate!

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Hello, Roboto #

Lets live with you for a while and see how things go.

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I Heart Earth

I Heart Earth

Download a 3.8mb PNG suitable for printing in A4 size. Dedicated to the public domain.

Original idea by Milton Glaser. Tiny Earth image (the blue pixel in the letter ‘I’) is PIA00452: Solar System Portrait - Earth as ‘Pale Blue Dot’ by NASA/JPL. PT Mono typeface by Alexandra Korolkova with participation from Isabella Chaeva. Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (XDF)1 image (inside the heart) by NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team. The Hubble Space Telescope has been in orbit for 25 years. Large Earth satellite view of the Americas on Earth Day 2014 by NASA and NOAA.

Earth day is every day.


  1. Read about the iconic predecessor to this image, the Ultra Deep Field photograph, also made by the Hubble Space Telescope

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Margaret Hamilton During the Apollo Program #

Margaret Hamilton

Taken by the Draper Lab photographer in 1969 (during Apollo 11). Here, Margaret is shown standing beside listings of the software developed by the team she was in charge of, the LM and CM on-board flight software team

What a great photograph!

A Map That is Just Good Enough #

Reminds me of Alex Martelli’s talk in EuroPython 2013.

Deep Space Climate Observatory #

Falcon 9 carrying DSCOVR, 2nd stage with Earth in background (16673034486)

Falcon 9 carrying DSCOVR, 2nd stage with Earth in background. By SpaceX, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite launched just two months ago and will reach its designated orbital position approximately one million miles from Earth in June. I’m looking forward to seeing its pictures of our planet!

Via Neil Fraser.

Hover.css #

Thanks to encouragement from a friend I’ve been working on my site design and exploring CSS3 animation.

I apologize if I cause your computer’s fans to speed up while experimenting here. Browsers seemingly still need to be optimized to run the effects efficiently, without burdening the processor, though it is most likely me causing issues :)

Much like developing a photograph from the negative or raw file, designing a good website involves subtle changes, not too much and not too little, but just right. As the great designer Milton Glaser put it, just enough is more (PDF 176kb).

This Land is Mine #

Incredible work by Nina Paley, who Amber introduced to me through Sita Sings The Blues.

Avoid Gratuitous Negativity #

The key word here is ‘gratuitous’.

The GNU Manifesto Turns Thirty #

torrent-of-ions’ in the HN discussion is right on:

It’s not really about “giving back”. There’s no obligation to give anything back at all and neither should there be. Rather, the GPL is designed to globally maximise the freedom to use, modify and distribute a piece of software. The only freedom the GPL does not provide is the freedom to take these freedoms away from future users.

GPG and Me #

As usual, a thoughtful essay by the awesome Moxie Marlinspike.