Capn Design

October 2010

This month I posted 15 entries, crafted 85 tweets, listened to 145 songs, watched 25 videos, bookmarked 5 sites, took 43 photos and favorited 76 things.

Doc Brown is the Villain

Gene Newman explains to us all why Doc is the evil mastermind of Back to the Future. Here’s a small snippet:

Even if everything went according to plan, Doc still contaminated a mall parking lot with plutonium, poisoning a helpless community for decades to come. You really think those thin hazmat suits or plutonium chamber in a jury-rigged DeLorean are safe protection against nuclear fall-out? Well, they’re not.

This article proves that writers are willing to put fictional worlds at risk in order to move the plot forward. For. Shame. [via sippey]

20101028robothand.jpeg Coffee Grounds and a Balloon Can Do a Lot

Cornell Computational Synthesis Laboratory built a universal robotic gripper out of a balloon, coffee grounds, and a vacuum. Here is a fancy explanation of how it works:

Individual fingers are replaced by a single mass of granular material that, when pressed onto a target object, flows around it and conforms to its shape. Upon application of a vacuum the granular material contracts and hardens quickly to pinch and hold the object without requiring sensory feedback.

If they could get the price down to a couple hundred bucks and it could reach from my couch to my coffee table, I’d totally buy it. [via Co.Design]

Kindle to Support Lending

This will be a differentiator between eBook services down the road. Movies are a social experience, so sharing is not quite as important. Also, we’re trending towards a subscription-based cloud model. Microsoft tried sharing with the Zune and it was the one thing people loved, so I am hoping we’ll see something here. For books, it’s going to be an issue. People tend to read them once and pass them on, so I’m curious to see how this progresses.

[Later] this year, we will be introducing lending for Kindle, a new feature that lets you loan your Kindle books to other Kindle device or Kindle app users. Each book can be lent once for a loan period of 14-days and the lender cannot read the book during the loan period. Additionally, not all e-books will be lendable - this is solely up to the publisher or rights holder, who determines which titles are enabled for lending.

I can only lend it once for 14 days? Lame, but I guess it’s a start.

Amazon's Approach to Product Development

A Quora user wonders and the head of Amazon’s gifting business answers. It shouldn’t be a surprise, but they start with the consumer and work backwards.

For new initiatives a product manager typically starts by writing an internal press release announcing the finished product. The target audience for the press release are the new/updated product’s customers, which can be retail customers or internal users of a tool or technology. Internal press releases are centered around the customer problem, how current solutions (internal or external) fail, and how the new product will blow away existing solutions.

In discussing this with a coworker, he brought up the issue that a customer may not actually ask for the thing they want. I agree, but what they ask for is always telling. If they say, “I want to see 3,000 items per page,” that doesn’t mean you give it to them, but it does mean your site is probably too slow. [via @irondavy]

eReader Incompetence Checklist

Craig Mod’s list of things an eReader should not do. Some of are painfully obvious and this one is my favorite.

Does a PDF export of your content provide a basically identical reading experience as your ereader? Would a PDF actually provide a better reading experience (zoomable, searchable, real text)? Then your ereader’s plagued by confused incompetence.

Tangentially, Craig is now collaborating with FlipBoard. Congrats Craig. I’m excited to see what happens.

Mobile Libations

Edible Geography looks at what people drink on mass transit. The post is based on a NYT article that focuses on Metro-North and LI Railroad, but the blog post covers air travel as well, reminding us that Ginger Ale sells a lot better at 30k feet up. [via Bobulate]

Web Directions South 2010 Opening Titles

Cameron Adams created an amazing example of what you can do with HTML5 and CSS3. It makes me start to wonder if this is faster than building something comparable in Flash or another Motion Graphics tool. Anyway, this is amazing and needs to be viewed in Chrome. [via @stop]

I Cut the Line

Posted October 17, 2010

I will admit, I can be impatient. I hate going to the DMV, waiting thirty extra minutes for my doctor, and standing at the end of a Friday night Shake Shack line. You’d be smart to assume that this is why I wait until the last possible minute to merge into the exit lane, and you’d be partly right.

If that drives you nuts, you’re in good company. At the beginning of the month, New York Times’ City Room blog published a screed deriding line-cutters. Alice Dubois, the writer, basically called me scum.

The line-cutter is the most enraging species of self-entitled driver, with those using the breakdown lane representing an even more despicable subspecies. These impatient hooligans seem to be convinced that lines are for chumps, that they are too important to be inconvenienced by basic concepts of fairness like “waiting your turn.” I resent people who think nothing of avoiding irritation for themselves by making it worse for others. Their behavior demonstrates a sense of entitlement and egotism that makes my blood boil.

Many of the City Room readers agreed with Alice, but one of them linked to a study I’ve been looking for over the last few months. This study shows that “the [zipper] method speeds traffic by 20 percent and slashes the length of traffic back-ups by 35 percent.” This, my friends, is why I cut the line. I do hate waiting, but waiting actually makes things worse. It’s also why this comment from a reader makes me nuts.

This same applies for those lovely subway riders who seem to think that the train will pull away before they are able to run over the mass of poor suckers trying to get off.

I hate those guys too, but we are not the same! While I don’t have any studies to reference (except Jason’s subway rules), it’s clear that this gums up the works. In fact, henceforth this is my motto — “Try not to gum up the works.” This seems like a good rule to live by, even if your virtuous actions may occasionally frustrate onlookers.

Now, if you told me that the zipper method caused a greater delay to those not waiting to exit, I don’t think I’d stop cutting the line when I want to get onto the Brooklyn Bridge from the FDR. That line is just plain ridiculous.

Insane Clown Posse Are Christians

Like you all, I have joked about Insane Clown Posse over the years. I enjoyed watching Miracles and sat, mouth agape, listening to some of their lyrics. But reading this article today and watching documentaries on Juggalos (ICP fans), I can’t help but feel for these guys. They’re all just trying to find a way to work out their issues and this is their medium. The author of this article, Jon Ronson, puts a fine point on it.

I suddenly wonder, halfway through our interview, if I am looking at two men in clown make-up who are suffering from depression. I cautiously ask them this and Violent J immediately replies. “I’m medicated,” he says. “I have a lot of medicine that I take. For depression. Panic attacks are really a serious part of my life.” He points at Shaggy. “He’s gone through some things as well.”


It’s just a terrible twist of fate for Insane Clown Posse that theirs is a form of creative expression that millions of people find ridiculous. But then suddenly, palpably, Violent J pulls himself out of his introspection. They’re about to go on stage and he doesn’t want to be maudlin. He wants to be on the offensive. He shoots me a defiant look and says, “You know Miracles? Let me tell you, if Alanis Morissette had done that fucking song everyone would have called it fucking genius.”

Imaginary Forces Considers the Desk

This is a video showcasing how people work at and interact with their desks. It makes Sippey wonder if Massimo Vignelli has a power supply intern. And when I hear Alice Twemlow say that “…the desk becomes more of a state of mind than an actual physical place” in the futue, I can’t help but think of Jack’s great article on habit fields.

Consider the desk in your office. Maybe it reminds you of when you opened the box and put the pieces together. Or maybe it recalls your first day at work, when your colleague showed you where you would sit. The desk, the computer on top of it, the chair you sit in, and the space they comprise are all repositories for memory. But these things don’t just store our memories; they store our behaviors too. The sum of these stored behaviors is an object’s habit field, and merely being around it compels our bodies and minds to act in certain ways.

Banksy Does the Simpsons Opening

Probably the weirdest opening the show has done. And as Wooster Collective suggested, this must have been “one of the most closely guarded secrets in TV history.”

Jay Smooth's Send-Up of Christine O'Donnell

I feel bad giving her any more exposure, but this giggled my tickle bone. [via Cynical-C]

Why 37signals Skips Photoshop

I could always see why 37signals can skip Photoshop as part of the design process, but I’m starting to believe that more and more product-driven companies can too. Comps build up expectations and the final product will never satisfy everyone. Jason makes a lot of good points here, but this one especially rings true.

Photoshop is repeating yourself. Ok, so you’ve spent 3 days on a mockup in Photoshop. Now what? Now I have to make it all over again in HTML/CSS. Wasted time. Just build it in HTML/CSS and spend that extra time iterating, not rebuilding. If you’re not fast enough in HTML/CSS, then spend the time learning how to create in HTML/CSS faster. It’s time well spent.

20101005taco.jpg The Spaghetti Taco

Ladies and gentlemen, the brilliant minds behind the show iCarly want the world to welcome a wonderful new treat, the spaghetti taco — the thing you never knew you always wanted.

For Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, the question is not why kids are asking for spaghetti tacos, but why they haven’t asked for them sooner.

“This combination seems to be an inevitability, sort of like chocolate and peanut butter running into each other on that Reese’s commercial,” he said. “The amazement should be only that it took ‘iCarly’ to bring it into our melting pot of a culture.”

“Spaghetti tacos has made it possible to eat spaghetti in your car,” he said. “It’s a very important technological development. You don’t even need a plate.”

Today's Top Tweet

Posted October 1, 2010

First the tweet and then some context.

First my cereal has the wrong number now someone stole my pregnant pigeon and her cage, who the fuck steals pigeons they are everywhere FUCKless than a minute ago via twidroid

  1. You may be wondering who the heck OchoCinco is. Fair enough. I blogged about his tweets late last year and that should suffice.

  2. That cereal box thing is probably confusing too. Well, it turns out OchoCinco has a cereal named after him. It’s called OchoCinco’s (obviously) and it’s available in the Cincinnati area. The good news is that it benefits a charity called “Feed the Children”. The bad news is that they misprinted the phone number and it now points to a sex line. I genuinely feel bad for the dude about that.


  4. Mr. Ochocinco is obviously torn up, but wow, this may be the most ridiculous 140 characters I have ever seen strung together.

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