Apr 20, 2017

The LMS and the End of Information Literacy

This post by Lisa M. Lane was a must-read for me. I could easily just quote the whole thing, but that’s what the link is for.

If I had to pick one nugget it would be this:

The fact that such interfaces prevent branching, distributed, or complex learning is considered to be a feature, not a bug. All information is “chunked” for easy understanding and assessment.

I love thinking about the interplay between the web and education, and it’s clear that things are murky.

When designing for the web, or “digital” or “apps” or whatever, we are encouraged to make things easy to use. The trouble is that most rewarding work is not “easy”—that is, it doesn’t follow a straight-forward progression of steps.

In thinking about designing tools that coexist with people, then, I don’t believe it is our job to design a tool that makes peoples’ jobs easier. Instead, I think it’s our job to design tools which make fussy or mundane parts of the job easier, possibly to the point of going away altogether, so that the job that’s left to the person is largely concentrated on what that person does well and finds rewarding. (This can obviously vary from person to person.)

If we treat learning as the job of the student, and facilitating that learning as the job of teachers, how can we design tools for learning and facilitation that shave away the tedious bits and focus on the juicy bits?

‘Technology-Enhanced Retention’ and Other Ed-Tech Interventions

I can always count on Audrey Watters to join words together that get at something that’s been brewing somewhere beyond my own language motors:

And I’ll say something that people might find upsetting or offensive: I’m not sure that “solid research” would necessarily impress me. I don’t actually care about “assessments” or “effectiveness.” That is, they’re not interesting to me as a scholar. My concerns about “what works” about ed-tech have little to do with whether or not there’s something we can measure or something we can bottle as an “outcome”; indeed, I fear that what we can measure often shapes our discussions of “effect.”

Arguments around “outcomes,” “assessments,” and “effectiveness” bother me because they tend to be reductive and self-serving. They’re reductive because they require us to place measuring sticks on students that don’t take into account their perspective. And they’re self-serving because anything that you choose to measure can be optimized for, providing an easy escape to the question of whether we’re measuring the right thing: “Sure we are, just look at how much {thing we are measuring} has improved!”

At the same time, I do have a bias toward practical, hands-on education. What is practical? strikes me as a tough question, but I still personally prefer it to How do we measure effectiveness?

Audrey finishes this talk with a real doozy that will likely ring in my ears for a long time:

My concern, I think – and I repeat this a lot – is that we have substituted surveillance for care. Our institutions do not care for students. They do not care for faculty. They have not rewarded those in it for their compassion, for their relationships, for their humanity.

Adding a technology layer on top of a dispassionate and exploitative institution does not solve anyone’s problems. Indeed, it creates new ones. What do we lose, for example, if we more heavily surveil students? What do we lose when we more heavily surveil faculty? The goal with technology-enhanced efforts, I fear, is compliance not compassion and not curiosity. So sure, some “quantitative metrics” might tick upward. But at what cost? And at what cost to whom?

Making small culture changes

Great advice from Julia Evans, as usual.

Ethan Marcotte: “The work I like.”

The illustration of “designing in layers” at the end is lovely.

How Dan Meyer presents

He’s got a great attitude about his approach:

I will share some of my workflow and style choices with you but a lot of that is just how I present, not how you should present. I’ll offer only two words of advice that I think every single presenter should take seriously.

To preface that advice, I’d like you to make a list of what you like and dislike about presentations you attend. Keep that list somewhere in view.

I’ve seen him talk about his preparation process before, but never this succinctly. His approach to using a document to outline “Narration” alongside “Images” is a great way to separate what you say from what your viewers see.

As Dan puts it, what your audience sees should illustrate your point, not restate it.

It’s no mistake that presentations prepared in this way, with a focus on the content first as text, with images prepared as illustrations, adapt well to being presented accessibly on the web.

A Todo List

Heydon Pickering:

In this article, I’ll be building an integrated todo list component from the ground up. But what you learn doesn’t have to apply just to todo lists — we’re really exploring how to make the basic creation and deletion of content inclusive.

Great walk-through and explanation. I especially like the black and white aesthetic of the example.

Aug 31, 2016

Understanding by Design

I’ve been working my way through this book and its concepts recently, along with some help from one of our fab instructional coaches at work.

Wiggins and McTighe outline an approach to unit planning in the book which seems to be colloquially referred to as “backward design”. Check out the first two paragraphs of the first chapter:

Teachers are designers. An essential act of our profession is the crafting of curriculum and learning experiences to meet specified purposes. We are also designers of assessments to diagnose student needs to guide our teaching and to enable us, our students, and others (parents and administrators) to determine whether we have achieved our goals.

Like people in other design professions, such as architecture, engineering, or graphic arts, designers in education must be mindful of their audiences. Professionals in these fields are strongly client-centered. The effectiveness of their designs corresponds to whether they have accomplished explicit goals for specific end-users. Clearly, students are our primary clients, given that the effectiveness of curriculum, assessment, and instructional designs is ultimately determined by their achievement of desired learnings. We can think of our designs, then, as software. Our courseware is designed to make learning more effective, just as computer software is intended to make its users more productive.

Selfishly, it’s exciting to read a book which draws an explicit connection between my field of work—design and development—and my chosen path—teaching. There’s an incredible amount of overlap, and I’m grateful to have a set of ideas about approaching this work which may bridge some of the gaps between the fields I’ve been so involved in.

Somewhat embarrassingly, I can say with full confidence that reading this book—along with some other experiences I’ve had recently—has given me the chance to confront how much further I have to go with my craft.

It was two years ago that I set aside my daily CSS wrangling and shifted into teaching full time. For many of my friends who have gone into K–12 teaching, I’ve come to see two years as a very short time to develop as a teacher. It has felt like a long journey for me so far, but I need to remember that this is still just the beginning.

There is much work to do.

Lower Ed: A Series

Really looking forward to this series on for-profit education, credentials, and access from Tressie McMillan Cottom:

We’ll begin with a discussion of higher education expansion, credentialism, why I prefer credentialing theory to explain for-profit highered expansion, and eventually wind our way through legitimacy theory, new economy literature and finally a working bibliography.

Feel free to join in through the comments (I’ll open them back up for this occasion; don’t make me regret that) and on Twitter using #LowerEd.

Mar 25, 2016

Why the Math Curriculum Makes No Sense

Ben Orlin:

I’ve come to believe that even this simple question—“who designed this?”—rests on a flawed assumption. The broad thing we call “the math curriculum” isn’t really “designed.” Rather, like all educational institutions and systems, it is shaped by a hailstorm of competing forces…

I think this isn’t a challenge just in education, but in the field of design at large. The idea that things can be well-planned but flawed in execution causes so many issues. Every design has to live in the real world, or it isn’t design. And every real world thing will include elements that have been designed for in advance, but will have features and realities thrust at it that expose where the original design didn’t account for something.

Design can’t account for everything. Do the best you can within the constraints you’re able to identify. Then make changes if it isn’t working.

Mar 11, 2016

Susan Lin’s Website

Delightful.

What Thomas Hardy Taught Me

Freddie DeBoer responds to Rebecca Mead’s AltSchools essay:

The point is not that the humanities, or the liberal arts, or the deeper concepts and values of civilization, or whatever only have value because of how they support more narrowly-remunerative skills. The point is that these deeper values and these monetizable skills exist in relationships so deeply intertwined that they are permanently inextricable from one another. […] I have no doubt that we will come in time to learn again the absolute necessity of learning that goes beyond the rote skills we currently perceive to be important, that someday people will learn to again see the utter necessity of humanistic thinking. But such understanding will only come after we have allowed deluded privateers to wring every last dollar out of our educational system as they strip it of all learning that has a function other than training more efficient little capitalists.

Dan Meyer comments:

I applied to film school out of high school and spent a large fraction of my university math education reading screenplays and writing about movies. The coffin eventually closed on those aspirations, but my interest in narrative and storytelling has permeated every aspect of my teaching, research, and current work in education technology.

I personally agree about the value of liberal arts education, but I have to wonder if there’s a role that privilege plays in this point of view. I also wonder if the division between technical “job skills” and humanistic education is a false one?

Jan 10, 2016

“It’s a focus thing.”

Ashley Ford:

When it comes to jobs, I prefer being a guinea pig with a lot of freedom. I like to be the first in a position or to help build the team.

I was thinking about this yesterday & realized for most of the jobs I’ve had, I was first in the company/organization to have that position.

Or I was in the 1st class of people to have a position. I’m a builder. I like coming in on the ground with brilliant people I trust.

I’ve been working since I was 14 & just seeing this pattern in my best job performances. Let me build or set a precedent & I do better work.

It’s a focus thing. If you put me on a conveyor built, I’ll just ride. If you give me raw materials to tell me to Make, I’ll focus & grow.

[…]

I thought I’d share that because I used to think not being able to focus on conveyor-belt jobs was a weakness, but it’s actually a tell.

It was always just my head & heart trying to tell me “this isn’t right for you”, and “this won’t sustain you”. I’m glad I listened.

It’s not an easy road, but it is a privilege to have the choice to follow your curiosity. I can’t believe I ever thought it made me weak.

Listen.

Aug 22, 2015

And So, Without Ed-Tech Criticism…

Audrey Watters defends her turf in an excellent talk on the role of criticism. A few choice bits:

Indeed, the computer is a medium of human expression, its development and its use a reflection of human culture; the computer is also a tool with a particular history, and although not circumscribed by its past, the computer is not entirely free of it either. I think we recognize history, legacy, systems in literary and social criticism; funny, folks get pretty irate when I point those out about ed-tech.

And:

It’s an odd response to my work, but a common one too, that criticism does not enable or effect change. (I suppose it does not fall into the business school model of “disruptive innovation.”) Or rather, that criticism stands as an indulgent, intellectual, purely academic pursuit—as though criticism involves theory but not action. Or if there is action, criticism implies “tearing down”; it has this negative connotation. Ed-tech entrepreneurs, to the contrary, actually “build things.”

Here’s another distinction I’ve heard: that criticism (in the form of writing an essay) is “just words” but writing software is “actually doing something.” Again, such a contrast reveals much about the role of intellectual activity that some see in “coding.”

And:

If we believe in “coding to learn” then what does it mean if we see “code” as distinct from or as absent of criticism? And here I don’t simply mean that a criticism-free code is stripped of knowledge, context, and politics; I mean that that framework in some ways conceptualizes code as the opposite of thinking deeply or thinking critically—that is, coding as (only) programmatic, mechanical, inflexible, rules-based. What are the implications of that in schools?

And finally:

Computer criticism can—and must—be about analysis and action. Critical thinking must work alongside critical pedagogical and technological practices. “Coding to learn” if you want to start there; or more simply, “learn by making.” But then too: making to reflect; making to think critically; making to engage with the world; it is from there, and only there, that we can get to making and coding to change the world.

Is it just me, or does the tech industry sometimes seem obsessed with building a “feedback culture” at the office where everyone is encouraged to adopt a “growth mindset” meanwhile whenever honest well-intentioned criticism comes along we plug our fingers in our ears and sing “tra-la-la”?

It’s at least worth trying to listen.

Which Unicode character should represent the English apostrophe?

Makes sense to me. Nothing I can really do about it…

Room Versus Board

Brendan O’Connor, writing for The Awl on Airbnb:

The true innovation of the sharing economy—or maybe it’s the startup economy, or entrepreneurship (or maybe just…capitalism)—is in the continued refinement of the perception of value, not necessarily in offering new services and developing new products, but in making them available for cheaper, because, as it turns out, when you don’t pay anyone a salary or give them benefits because they’re all subcontractors, and you don’t actually have to invest in any of the infrastructure upon which your business model depends, either directly or by paying taxes, your costs are a lot lower than everyone else.

The Birth of Pulp Fiction

Louis Menand:

Paperbacks, even paperbacks that were just reprints of classic texts, turn out to have a key part in the story of modern writing.

Still one of my favorite writers.

A Dao of Web Design at 15

John Allsop reflects on A Dao of Web Design, originally published 15 years ago, and the web today:

Perhaps those advocating this position, that progressive enhancement is old fashioned and quaint, that the Web is dead or dying because native apps are better, are right. Perhaps the idea of an application is the apotheosis of the very idea of human computer integration, and the Web, in falling short, well, in being different, is an evolutionary dead end.

But I continue to believe, just as the Web is not print, though it emerged in many ways from the medium of print, it is not just another application platform. It has its own genius, which we could call as I did all those years ago, adaptability.

This is a position that I will have a very hard time letting go of, but one that I find increasingly difficult to uphold with beginners or those who “weren’t around” at the time—and even, I think, people who were but never fully bought into the idea of “progressive enhancement”. The problem is still, I think, one of articulation. We need better explanations for what the web is, why it is important, and why anyone should care.

That, or, we simply need to step aside and let the upcoming generation come to their own conclusions in this regard, perhaps with better and more robust solutions than came before.

Jun 21, 2015

Recursive Drawing

No idea how or if I’d use this, but it sure is fun to play around with.

Jun 14, 2015

How to Design Programs, Second Edition

Matthias Felleisen, Robert Bruce Findler, Matthew Flatt, and Shriram Krishnamurthi:

Acquiring the mechanical skills of programming—learning how to write instructions or expressions that the computer understands, getting to know what functions are available in the libraries, and similar activities—aren’t helping you much with real programming. To make such claims is like saying that a 10-year old who knows how to dribble can play on a professional soccer (football) team. It is also like claiming that memorizing a thousand words from the dictionary and a few rules from a grammar book teaches you a foreign language.

Programming is far more than the mechanics of language acquisition. It is about reading problem statements, extracting the important concepts. It is about figuring out what is really wanted. It is about exploring examples to strengthen your intuitive understanding of the problem. It is about organizing knowledge and it is about knowing what you don’t know yet. It is about filling those last few gaps. It is about making sure that you know how and why your code works, and that you and your readers will do so in the future. In short, it is really about solving problems systematically.

May 16, 2015

Tools don’t solve the web’s problems, they ARE the problem

Peter-Paul Koch (PPK):

Why all these tools? I see two related reasons: emulating native, and the fact that people with a server-side background coming to JavaScript development take existing tools because they do not have the training to recognise their drawbacks. Thus, the average web site has become way overtooled, which exacts a price when it comes to speed.

That’s the problem. Remove the tools, and we’ll recover speed.

I agree with the fear that Koch describes as growing among the web development community, as well as part of the problem being the shift of back-end developers to working on the client side.

I think the fear part is genuine, and I feel it myself.

I’ll confess to having absolutely no clue as to what is going on anymore with front-end web development, despite it being my first job, and a subject I’ve taught for years. It would be bad enough if the problem was just lack of experience, but what I all-too-often observe is a sneering attitude about perfectly common-sense ideas like “progressive enhancement.” And that includes web development instructors I’ve met.

Lately I’ve been trying to just ignore the whole thing. (Which isn’t really working.)

May 7, 2015

Memory Machines: Education Technology Without the Memex

Audrey Watters:

Rather than building devices that could enhance human memory and human knowledge for each individual, education technology has focused instead on devices that standardize the delivery of curriculum, that run students through various exercises and assessments, and that provide behavioral reinforcement.

We’ve got a lot of work to do, and I always think that the first task is to start to win over hearts and minds. And for that purpose, I’m glad Audrey Watters is around.

Audrey quotes at length from Vannevar Bush’s 1945 piece As We May Think and mentions Doug Engelbart’s 1962 report Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework—both of which should probably be required reading for anyone looking to contribute meaningfully to the role of computers in our lives. Bush’s piece is the more accessible of the two, by far, but Engelbart’s is worth a skim at least.

The Conference Manifesto

Christy Wampole:

2) I will not read my paper line by line in a monotone without looking at the audience. I needn’t necessarily abide by some entertainment imperative, with jokes, anecdotes or flashy slides, but I will strive to maintain a certain compassion toward my captive audience.

Man, I thought tech conferences were awful. I’m pretty grateful, at the very least, that I haven’t actually felt obligated to attend any. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to attend academic conferences. Sounds dreadful.

America Will Run Out Of Good Questions By 2050

Ben Orlin on questions as a non-renewable resource:

Questions were not just things to answer; they were things to think about. Things to learn from. Giving the answer too quickly cut short the thinking and undermined the learning.

Good questions, in short, are a resource.

Solving a math problem means unfolding a mystery, enjoying the pleasure of discovery. But in every geometry lesson that year, I blundered along and blurted out the secret. With a few sentences, I’d manage to ruin the puzzle, ending the feast before it began, as definitively as if I’d spat in my students’ soup.

Math is a story, and I was giving my kids spoilers.

Definitely not unique to math.

Apr 28, 2015

This Is How Fast America Changes Its Mind

This is well done, but I have one criticism: that line length on those paragraphs is out of control.

Apr 24, 2015

Where Are the Female Lit Mag Editors? Here.

Danielle Lazarin:

As a woman, I like to see as many women as far up on mastheads as possible and then to do something with the information I’ve gathered.

Proud to see Midnight Breakfast on this list, alongside so many other great publications.

Kinda wish she’d mentioned Rebecca (and the others) by name, but whatever. (For that matter, I also wish that the VIDA Count folks—awesome as they are—would make their data more open and accessible.)

Standardization and the Open Web

Jory Burson:

In the absence of community coordination, methodless enthusiasm will ensue—and caught somewhere in the Bermuda triangle of competing standards bodies, implementers, and OSS maintainers is the developer community. If we want our community-driven projects to become official, internationally recognized standards, we need to understand the impact of our governance processes as well as we understand the technical specifications for our technologies.

Even though I’ve been sitting/standing around defending the open and standards-based approach to governance over the web this week, I sometimes just take a step back and go “Ugh.”

Apr 19, 2015

Too Many Books?

Tim Parks goes into greater historical depth than I’ve seen elsewhere regarding the rising tides of available reading material (and attendant sense of overwhelm along with accompanying apocalyptic commentary).

If you’ve already got too much to read, skip to the end:

How to respond, then, to this now permanent condition of overproduction? With cheerful skepticism. With gratitude for those rare occasions when we come across a book that speaks to us personally. With forgiveness for those critics and publishers who induce us to waste our time with some literary flavor of the day. Absolutely without indignation, since none of this is anyone’s particular “fault.” Above all with a sense of wonder and curiosity at the general and implacable human determination (mine included) to fill endless space with dubious mental material when life is short and there are so many other things to be done.

Mine too, albeit somewhat more sporadically.

Medieval Technology, Indistinguishable from Magic

Elly Truitt:

And yet, although medieval Europeans had figured out how to build the same kinds of complex automata that people in other places had been designing and constructing for centuries, they did not stop believing in preternatural causes. They merely added ‘mechanical’ to the list of possible explanations.

Designing for Disability

Amy Merrick:

The cane soon became a source of self-consciousness. “My eyeglasses would get compliments,” she told me, “but my cane would get a funny tilt of the head from people, as if they were thinking, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ ” For months, she was despondent. One thing that helped her recovery was finding a purple cane, while browsing online, to replace her drab, hospital-issued one. “I went from walking hunched down, wanting to hide, to actually being proud of it,” she said. Sometime afterward, she was shopping at J.Crew, her favorite store, and it occurred to her that her cane would look beautiful with the brand’s Kelly-green T-shirts. That led her to begin asking J.Crew, through e-mails, blog posts, and open letters published on Facebook and Twitter, if it would sell a fashionable cane—to broaden its customer reach and to help ease the stigma attached to assistive devices.

I’m still getting used to Apple as a fashion brand. But the idea of intersecting fashion, design, and technology with accessibility (beyond the usual software-level accessibility)? Fascinating.

A Comforting Lie

Daniel Rutter on a less-well-known skeuomorph:

Comfort noise is a fake hiss that your mobile phone, your VoIP phone, your corporate digital phone system, whatever, creates to mask the silences between talkspurts. That hiss isn’t actually coming down the line, from some analogue amplifier and hundreds of kilometres of copper; it’s created independently at each end by kindly computers.

I Can Text You A Pile of Poo, But I Can’t Write My Name

Aditya Mukerjee digs into the problems inherent in having our digital representations of language governed by an elite group whose dues are expensive, comprised of predominantly white, predominantly male, predominantly American and Western European members.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak has written, ‘The subaltern cannot speak’. They are structurally prohibited from having any dialogue – even an unbalanced one – with the very powers that oppress them. Access to digital tools that respect our languages is crucial to communicating in the Internet age. The power to control the written word is the ability both to amplify voices and to silence them. Anyone with this power must wield it with caution.

The makeup of the Unicode Consortium is available to the public, so there is at least some transparency there. In some ways, this strikes me as closer to how French or German are governed as languages.

I generally imagine that I prefer that there isn’t really a “standard” English, allowing for a flexibility in “correctness” which I feel is valuable to the me as a speaker and as a writer.

Of course, there really is a standard, it’s just harder to pin down because there’s no one organization or website devoted to it. But it’s still there, and structurally just as problematic as the Unicode Consortium, but without any of the transparency. David Foster Wallace captured it in Tense Present:

I don’t know whether anybody’s told you this or not, but when you’re in a college English class you’re basically studying a foreign dialect. This dialect is called ‘Standard Written English. … From talking with you and reading your essays, I’ve concluded that your own primary dialect is [one of three variants of SBE common to our region]. Now, let me spell something out in my official Teacher-voice: The SBE you’re fluent in is different from SWE in all kinds of important ways. Some of these differences are grammatical — for example, double negatives are OK in Standard Black English but not in SWE, and SBE and SWE conjugate certain verbs in totally different ways. Other differences have more to do with style — for instance, Standard Written English tends to use a lot more subordinate clauses in the early parts of sentences, and it sets off most of these early subordinates with commas, and, under SWE rules, writing that doesn’t do this is “choppy.” There are tons of differences like that. How much of this stuff do you already know?

I’m respecting you enough here to give you what I believe is the straight truth. In this country, SWE is perceived as the dialect of education and intelligence and power and prestige, and anybody of any race, ethnicity, religion, or gender who wants to succeed in American culture has got to be able to use SWE. This is How It Is. You can be glad about it or sad about it or deeply pissed off. You can believe it’s racist and unjust and decide right here and now to spend every waking minute of your adult life arguing against it, and maybe you should, but I’ll tell you something: If you ever want those arguments to get listened to and taken seriously, you’re going to have to communicate them in SWE, because SWE is the dialect our country uses to talk to itself. African Americans who’ve become successful and important in U.S. culture know this; that’s why King’s and X’s and Jackson’s speeches are in SWE, and why Morrison’s and Angelou’s and Baldwin’s and Wideman’s and West’s books are full of totally ass-kicking SWE, and why black judges and politicians and journalists and doctors and teachers communicate professionally in SWE. Some of these people grew up in homes and communities where SWE was the native dialect, and these black people had it much easier in school, but the ones who didn’t grow up with SWE realized at some point that they had to learn it and become able to write in it, and so they did. And [INSERT NAME HERE], you’re going to learn to use it, too, because I am going to make you.

The Illusion of Free

Laura Kalbag:

Our data is out of our control. We might (wisely or unwisely) choose to publicly share our statuses, personal information, media and locations, or we might choose to only share this data with our friends. But it’s just an illusion of choice—however we share, we’re exposing ourselves to a wide audience. We have so much more to worry about than future employers seeing photos of us when we’ve had too much to drink.

How to Structure a Video Essay

A nice behind-the-scenes entry to cap off the year of Every Frame a Painting from Tony Szhou.

Includes some great advice from Trey Parker which I think applies to more than just film, which I’ll boil down to: Strike uses of “and then” by replacing with “therefore” or “but”.

Perhaps not surprising that my favorites from the series are Jackie Chan - How to Do Action Comedy and Edgar Wright - How to Do Visual Comedy.

Choire Sicha on Jon Ronson’s ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’

Absent reading this review, I don’t think I would have gotten this update regarding Adria Richards:

Along these lines, one of the most captivating stories in the history of the Internet involves an incident that, happily, Ronson covers in depth. At a developer conference, two dudes, “Hank” and Alex, were cracking mildly off-color jokes to each ­other. Adria Richards, a woman sitting in front of them, photographed them and reported them to organizers. They explained the situation and were released. She tweeted and blogged about it. Hank was fired, then apologized in a public forum. The website of the company where Richards worked was forced down; then she was fired as well. Hank got a new job right away. ­Richards did not. Instead she spent a year fielding rape and murder threats.

But how, Ronson wonders, had Hank’s relationship with women developers changed since the incident? “Well,” Hank tells him. “We don’t have any female developers at the place I’m working at now. So.”

Of course. Of course “We don’t have any female developers at the place I’m working at now.”

As for Richards:

At the same time, Adria ­Richards opened up on Twitter. She had submitted 120 incidents of abuse to Twitter, she wrote — in a single week. They did nothing. ­After selling her furniture on Craigslist and moving out of her apartment, she found a therapist with ­experience in PTSD. She was still jobless, nearly two years later, but in February, she announced she had applied for a job — in the user safety and security department at Twitter. She didn’t sound as if she’d be holding her breath for an interview.

Choire sticks the landing:

The experience of women online is the great link between speech and ­violence, between offense and abuse. For women — and for all gender ­offenders, from gays to trans people — insult and the threat of murder are issued simultaneously. Like almost every other book, then, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” would probably have been handled better by a woman.

Mar 22, 2015

Dear Data

Hand-drawn data drawing project from Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec. See also Stefanie’s project Writing Without Words.

Textures.js

Beautiful.

On Heroes

Ashley Nelson-Hornstein:

In a continuing series, I’ll highlight newfound heroes of mine. Each hero is someone that I did not know existed until recently, whose achievements were not mentioned in any of my textbooks. This inaugural post of the series begins with Annie Jean Easley, an African-American computer programmer, mathematician, and aerospace engineer who worked at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) from 1955 - 1989.

Rational Expressions: The End!

Michael Pershan:

To end a blog is to reject this ethos. It’s to recognize that these things we do on the internet do have endings. And having an end is a wonderful thing to have, because to have an ending is to have a beginning and middle too.

Looking forward to whatever comes next.

Ferengi

If you haven’t already read this, Mandy Brown has some thoughts on Medium, blogs, and Leonard Nimoy:

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that our core discomfort with Medium—with most of online publishing—is we can’t quite see how the money works no matter how hard we squint. And we’re naturally suspicious of the ways that money skews our relationships, with each other and with art.

Typographica’s Favorite Typefaces of 2014

Some of my favorites that made the list this year:1

  • Source Serif is a wonderful project from Adobe to create an open-source companion to Source Sans. So far, they’ve released an increased number of weights, but for a text face it’s still sorely missing italics. Source Serif draws inspiration from the work of Pierre Fournier, so it has a striking resemblance to Matthew Carter’s Charter, which for now I’d still recommend if you need a complete text face for the web.
  • Marr Sans is a flexible sans from Commercial Type, one of my favorite foundries. It has just enough quirky details to keep it from being dry, but feels extremely durable.
  • Cooper Hewitt: The Typeface is the new identity for the Cooper Hewitt Museum, which open-sourced the font. It’s gorgeous, has several weights, and a narrow frame which makes it extremely mobile-friendly. Since discovering it, I’ve found myself recommending it for use on résumés, where it performs admirably.
  • Druk is another new entry from Commercial Type, this one designed by Berton Hasebe. It comes in an unbelievable array of widths.
  • Input is a font for code from David Jonathan Ross at Font Bureau. If you haven’t already checked it out, it’s dazzling. And free for personal use in your text editor of choice, to boot.

Don’t miss Coles’s list of Other Notable Font Releases of 2014. I’m especially surprised that the Questa Project wasn’t among this year’s selections, if only for sheer chutzpah.


  1. It hasn’t escaped my attention that I’ve been more drawn in the recent past to fonts which available for free in some sense. Source Serif and Cooper Hewitt have both been open sourced, and Input is free for personal use. Lately on this very blog, I have been using a pair of open-source fonts through Google’s font service: Karla and Libre Baskerville. My desire for freely-available fonts has shifted as I’ve moved from client work (where I can include a budget for fonts on given projects) to teaching (where I’d like my students not to rack up any additional debt if possible). In professional design work, I still have some strong feeling about organizations which should be able to afford it being stingy about type-related expenditures, but at the same time I don’t think that the economics of fonts have caught up to the changes in typesetting brought on by the web. I’m not convinced of the staying power of the subscription model myself, in part because I feel uncomfortable about what it might mean for our ability to retain cultural artifacts from this period of the web. But I believe there are still types of businesses and individuals who probably would spend more on type and professional design services, if there was a better system in place.

    My number one ask, which sounds nearly impossible, would be for a rise in fonts which are free for use on personal computers, but must be licensed for use in distributed materials. That would be an absolutely incredible change. In the meantime, I am intrigued that there were so many high-profile “free fonts” entering the market this year. 

Feb 22, 2015

Notes on How the Web Works & Native vs. Web

Now that class is over, I finally have some time to look over what my students have been posting this past month. Melbity has some great notes from a lecture I gave.

These technology-oriented topics are always a challenge for me to address with design students because there is a very real question as to the extent to which designers should be familiar with the underlying technology that their work gets built in, even whether they should be able to build out designs themselves.

My medium of choice is clearly the web, although I have a great deal of respect for designers who work with other media. To me, there isn’t a large gap between designing for the web and designing for native apps, since they both tend to be screen-based and interactive.

At any rate, I was happy with how my approach went this time, and I’m glad Melbity was there to take notes.

Feb 2, 2015

Midnight Breakfast Issue 7

Rebecca Rubenstein, in her introduction to the issue:

Maybe it’s because I fundamentally believe books have the power to alter us, to shape us, and yes, to even save our lives. Maybe it’s because I know the ways in which words can affect us—the ways sentences and stories can crawl inside of us and live there forever. While bookselling may not be known for its urgency—we’re not EMTs and no one is going to jail if they leave a bookstore empty-handed—a recommendation is still a gift. A book passing from one hand to another is not just an action; it’s an invitation to experience something transformative.

Brilliant work, as always.

Feb 1, 2015

Jan Middendorp on tools for designers

From LettError, a way of looking at the question that I see less frequently:

Artisans of the past — the predecessors of our designers’ guild — were rarely satisfied with tools as they found them in the shop. They always had the tendency to personalize their tools, to appropriate them by honing them, converting them or expanding them. The more specialized the work, the greater the demand for customized or individually made instruments. For instance, letter-cutters in the past thought up methods of working faster and more meticulously, and to that end they designed not only new fonts, but also counterpunches and other new tools. It must be possible to do something similar with software. After all, programming graphic programs is much too important to leave to programmers.

Earlier today I was reading Duckspeak Vs Smalltalk: The Decline of the Xerox PARC Philosophy at Apple Computers by J.V. Toups1. This bit seems relevant:

The designers of Smalltalk (Alan Kay, Dan Ingalls, and Adele Goldberg principally, and others), given the resources and freedom of Xerox PARC, worked actively to reverse this trend. Whereas a hodgepodge of cultural and technical realities constrained the way most other programming languages looked and felt, both Smalltalk the language and the system were written from the ground up to be so easy that a child could use them (hence the name). It was much more ambitious than just that, however. Kay saw Xerox PARC as being on the vanguard of a real revolution in human/computer interaction. In “The Early History of Smalltalk,” Alan Kay writes of this “Xerox PARC” vision of personal computing:

… the user interface would have to become a learning environment along the lines of Montessori and Bruner; and [the] needs for large scope, reduction in complexity, and end-user literacy would require that data and control structures be done away with in favor of a more biological scheme of protected universal cells interacting only through messages that could mimic desired behavior.

… we were actually trying for a for a qualitative paradigm shift in belief structures — a new Kuhnian paradigm in the same spirit as the invention of the printing press…

Python for (typo)graphic designers

Joancarles Casasín and Gustavo Ferreira:

Software is developed mainly by engineers, not by designers. This makes the designer constrained by the engineers’ thoughts and ideas, not by his/her own. Programming gives the designer more control over his/her tools, and therefore over the design process. It allows one to follow the own workflow and think beyond the resources included in the software.

Probably you don’t need to know how to program to be a better designer. But it might help. And it won’t hurt, for sure.

“And it won’t hurt, for sure.”

I’m not so sure. And I think I know why these kinds of arguments back and forth about design and programming ring a bit of a bell and seem honestly somewhat tired.

I design mostly for the web, and I know its languages reasonably well. But I’m afraid that I will always find my own eye for design and taste informed by things like “build quality” and my design ideas strengthened and stunted by my knowledge of the possibilities of the medium. There’s a tradeoff: I know intimately what can be done and so am more likely to push the medium based on my own understanding of its limitations. I also always have the feeling that my creative instincts may be cut short by that same understanding.

The back and forth sounds old because it reminds me of questions like:

  1. Do musicians need to be able to read music to be great musicians?
  2. What is the role of technique in the work of a great painter?
  3. When composing dance, do we need a set of already-established movements, or should we create new vocabularies?
  4. Should we first learn and master the rules so that we may later break them? Or should we commence with open minds and experimental hearts, discovering and rediscovering as we go?

The Newsroom’s Crazy-Making Campus-Rape Episode

Emily Nussbaum at her best:1

Look, “The Newsroom” was never going to be my favorite series, but I didn’t expect it to make my head blow off, all over again, after all these years of peaceful hate-watching. Don’s right, of course: a public debate about an alleged rape would be a nightmare. Anonymous accusations are risky and sometimes women lie about rape (Hell, people lie about everything). But on a show dedicated to fantasy journalism, Sorkin’s stand-in doesn’t lobby for more incisive coverage of sexual violence or for a responsible way to tell graphic stories without getting off on the horrible details or for innovative investigations that could pressure a corrupt, ass-covering system to do better. Instead, he argues that the idealistic thing to do is not to believe her story.


  1. I had to stop watching “The Newsroom” at the beginning of the second season, which is rare for me. I’m glad she hung on long enough to deliver this gem. 

Design doing

Speaking of Jeremy Keith, this piece from 2007 recaps an earlier round of “Should designers know code?”

Perhaps the question will just remain for people to continuously rediscover.

The Long Web

Jeremy Keith still does a great job articulating the need for progressive enhancement. As a bonus, he plays some traditional Irish music in the first 10 minutes—kudos on that.

Jan 31, 2015

Input (the typeface)

Input, from David Jonathan Ross at Font Bureau, also deserves a shout-out. I haven’t played with it much yet, but it breaks with convention and offers up a font intended for code that isn’t mono-spaced (fixed-width). It also comes in a variety of widths and weights, and has a serif companion style.

Perhaps most impressive of all, it is free for personal coding use, and custom builds can be made to suit your preferred styles of characters like zeros and curly braces.

From Ross’s personal site:

Input came out of a conversation I had with some of my colleagues on this very topic. My boss, David Berlow asked: “Are monospaced fonts really the only solution for presenting computer code in a world with so much type technology?” Input was my response.

Cooper Hewitt (the typeface)

Loving this open-licensed typeface designed by Chester Jenkins. Looks great, and has a wonderful number of weights. I should probably come up with something to do with it sometime.

Jan 11, 2015

Parable of the Polygons

Mentioned in the previous post, but well worth its own link.

All it takes is a change in the perception of what an acceptable environment looks like. So, fellow shapes, remember it’s not about triangles vs squares, it’s about deciding what we want the world to look like, and settling for no less.

Also looks like Nicky Case has a campaign going to do more of these.

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