Archive of September 2009

John Kricfalusi’s Review Of Meatballs

For context, John Kricfalusi created The Ren & Stimpy Show. Here’s his take on the new movie based on Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs:

I had a tough time sitting in my seat through Meatballs, because what was happening and who it was happening to was not remotely interesting. It’s hard to pace a story around characters with no personality.

But as a cartoonist and designer, there was enough visual interest and unique action throughout the movie that intellectually I found things to stimulate me.

It was an optimistic portent of what could be. It’s basically an undirected film — but one that allowed many of the artists to take nothing scenes and add some kind of cleverness, design and action to the formulaic events being told by the story.

This in itself is so far ahead of an overdirected film (overdirected by executives typically, not by directors that actually have a point of view or style) that stops creativity from happening every step of the way, just so that more stock plot points, filler and bad puns can happen.

I think this kind of thing is enjoyable to read not just because of how harsh it is, but because it touches on something that is really true about the current state of, in my opinion, not just animated films, but most major films. I often find myself settling for the little things in a movie that make it good, rather than expecting something more, maybe in order to seem less like a cynic and an asshole.

But the truth is, there’s a lot of terrible stuff out there, and the industry that has grown around making movies has moved it from an art form into a calculating box office science. I can only remain optimistic by holding onto my belief that the creative juices going into films have stagnated due to lack of competition. Lower production and distribution costs, one hopes, will eat away at the joint monopoly whose long project has been the reduction of creative work to “content.”

Time will tell. Quality endures, but only if it can first find life.

(via Khoi Vinh)

Debunking Dan Brown

Not really a great read either, but Michael Baigent did get me with this zinger:

An early example comes when the ubiquitous protagonist Robert Langdon arrives in Washington by private jet. In a particularly mundane exchange, he is told that he would look good in a tie. He hates ties. Suddenly the reader is treated to a history of ties involving Roman orators and Croat mercenaries. It is as if Brown wants us to think that he is a great scholar rather than a deft hand at computer searching.

Dan Brown, unfortunately, is not the only person who might be guilty of this.

(via @WolfieGoethe)

On the Origin of Species: The Preservation of Favoured Traces

Ben Fry, introducing a spell-binding visualization of Charles Darwin’s changes over time to The Origin of Species:

We often think of scientific ideas, such as Darwin’s theory of evolution, as fixed notions that are accepted as finished. In fact, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species evolved over the course of several editions he wrote, edited, and updated during his lifetime. The first English edition was approximately 150,000 words and the sixth is a much larger 190,000 words. In the changes are refinements and shifts in ideas — whether increasing the weight of a statement, adding details, or even a change in the idea itself.

Built, naturally, using Processing.

Google’s Book Search: A Disaster for Scholars

Geoffrey Nunberg discusses Google Books in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Apparently, Google Books suffers from some pretty shoddy metadata, leading to some humorous juxtapositions and labels. Nunberg’s diagnosis:

It’s clear that Google designed the system without giving much thought to the need for reliable metadata. In fact, Google’s great achievement as a Web search engine was to demonstrate how easy it could be to locate useful information without attending to metadata or resorting to Yahoo-like schemes of classification. But books aren’t simply vehicles for communicating information, and managing a vast library collection requires different skills, approaches, and data than those that enabled Google to dominate Web searching.

The Guts of a New Machine

Came across this again while digging through the DF archives. Rob Walker profiles the then-two-year-old iPod for the Times:

A handful of familiar cliches have made the rounds to explain this — it’s about ease of use, it’s about Apple’s great sense of design. But what does that really mean? “Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like,” says Steve Jobs, Apple’s C.E.O. “People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

(Emphasis mine.)

This idea has, I think, taken root since then, and a respect for the relationship between usability, readability, and visual character on the web in particular has really grown. And yet, some companies seem to continue to try to “copy Apple” in all the wrong ways, drawing the wrong inferences, and learning the wrong lessons.

Think about what you’re making, respect the user and the reader, and make informed decisions along the way to the best of your ability. Setting everything minimally against a white background is not the great lesson of Apple’s success. The takeaway is to place an emphasis on the user in the design process and not to underestimate the value of quality.

Enhancements to Georgia & Verdana Typeface Families Announced

I am super excited about these. Maybe if they add ligatures, lining figures, and proper small-caps to Georgia, the Webkit and Gecko teams will figure out better ways to support these things in their type implementations. Here’s hoping anyway.

Also, is it just me, or does that shot of Verdana Ultra-bold (I assume) look like it has a lot of potential? I could see that finding its way into some of my own work.

(Thanks, Cori.)


If you care about making websites, and you haven’t read this already, I strongly recommend and support Jack Shedd’s point of view regarding the new markup specified by HTML5.

To my ear, this is a much sharper and more clear-minded approach to thinking about the markup changes than those put forward by Zeldman and friends. The difference, I think, is that the “Super Friends” want to improve a standard that is close to being adopted to fit the way they work. Shedd wants to take a step back and say, what is the real problem here?

I respect and appreciate both methods of critique, especially with regards to something as wildly complex as Web Standards, but in this case, I have to say that Shedd is bringing up some very valid concerns, and I hope more discussion comes out of his article.

UPDATE: On further thinking about this, I feel it is necessary to clarify that I don’t mean in any way to impugn the efforts of Jeffrey Zeldman and the other members of the “Super Friends.” (I do think the name is silly, but that is surely the point.) I think it is prudent to point out that the other key difference between the two sets of critiques is that one comes from a group and the other from an individual. Shedd doesn’t have to get anyone else to agree with him before posting the recommendations and critiques that he offers, which is both an advantage and disadvantage.