Switching to Amazon.ca

Canada selection

US selection

I switched my Amazon digital account to Amazon Canada from the US site recently, primarily to be able to try Kindle Unlimited, which has been running a .99$ 3 month trial recently. My daughters English reading habits were starting to be an over $30 a week expense, and I thought this might present some cost savings, and perhaps encourage her to read more. I could already access Kindle prime, but the selection is even more pithy than Unlimited has turned out to be.

My hesitation to date has primarily been the mess that my 3 Amazon accounts (US, CAN, CN) presented to me when dealing with Alexa and the belief that the American store would always present the best selection of books. A cursory search has proven that the category of books I might be interested in, the selection is indeed less on the Canadian side and in some cases more expensive.

Of all the possible specific titles I might be interested in reading, none were available as apart of Kindle Unlimited. So I suspect, other than my fascination with easy reads from fantasy and sci-fi genres, this will have limited utility for me. Hopefully it might be of interest to my daughter and possibly Sheryl.


Just read

In updating my What I am up to now page, something I haven’t been keeping up with, I realized the two books that I started reading earlier this year haven’t been finished. I’ve read, mostly trashy things that entertain, but nothing that requires my full attention, or perhaps challenges me in ways a harder text might. This is a somewhat embarrassing mistake on my part which I think illustrates just how much more challenging long form reading has become when my overwhelming habit is to skim for information. When reading in this manner, including the tweets, headlines, rss and websites that I visit becomes habit, it’s difficult to return to the kind of texts that really educate you, books “which force us to think deeply about ourselves and our world”. When trying to refresh or learn some new perspective with regard to design research, I even have the habit searching out a video first, and ignoring a more complete tome.

I now spend an increasing number of hours training my body every week, I think it’s time I return to doing the same for my mind. Reading challenging books should help with that.


Social media has been blamed for ruining our democracy, shortening our children’s attention spans and undermining the fabric of society. But through it, I was able to be with Paulina out in the world again, to see what she sees, to virtually stand beside her and witness the people and places she moves through, in nearly real time. Not in a parent-policing role, but in a wonderful-world sort of way.
Rediscovering My Daughter Through Instagram

I face similar problems raising a 15 year old daughter but luckily she doesn’t have the social media habits that many her age have, partially because “I am the strictest father in the world” and restrict her usage as much as I can.


Quitting Instagram

But Richardson isn’t a bystander reckoning with the ills of technology: She was one of the 13 original employees working at Instagram in 2012 when Facebook bought the viral photo-sharing app for $1 billion. She and four others from that small group now say the sense of intimacy, artistry and discovery that defined early Instagram and led to its success has given way to a celebrity-driven marketplace that is engineered to sap users’ time and attention at the cost of their well-being.

“In the early days, you felt your post was seen by people who cared about you and that you cared about,” said Richardson, who left Instagram in 2014 and later founded a start-up. “That feeling is completely gone for me now.”
Quitting Instagram: She’s one of the millions disillusioned with social media. But she also helped create it

Instagram used to be this special place where you could go and sometimes see beautiful pictures of interesting places and things. Over the years it changed somewhat, I initially thought all the food shots were ridiculous, but I joined the fray with my own banal photos of latté’s and some such. Lately my feed has been inundated with extremely long diary-like posts, ill suited to the format, and a seemingly endless stream of self-help style entries. If I see another post telling me how awesome I am or encouraging me to take action on some “thing”, … well I think it’s just time to leave the platform. Most of it just seems like a marketing or sales channel, and almost every budding entrepreneur or local “marketing expert” all tout it as being so. A demographic shift has occurred and it doesn’t include me.

While I won’t join Bailey Richardson in deleting my account, I for some reason don’t feel comfortable doing so, I will delete the app and waste my time elsewhere.


twitter in mouth

This past week or so I’ve come to realize why I have over the years developed the habit of listening more, talking less. It’s sounds like a good rule, as many could stand to stop talking so much, but I developed this primarily to avoid feelings of regret due to saying (or writing) dumb or misconstrued crap. Afterwards I would also suffer from an over-analysis of the things I should have said but didn’t.

That’s what happened recently on twitter. First was my expression of amazement that people still read magazines enough to actually subscribe; part of my exasperation that my son taking part in a magazine subscription donation drive to raise money ostensively for his school. I wasn’t interested in buying and from my experience selling subscriptions over 25 years ago, it’s an extremely hard sell. Anyway, my tone was off and I received a quick rebuke from a parent who was likely a supporter of the initiative.

The other incident was a short commentary on my experience at various gatherings throughout the city – again a question of tone. The reaction in this case was far more conciliatory, which made me regret my post more. There needs to be an edit button.

Perhaps the fact that when I sit down to write, it’s still early in the AM, when the effects of caffeine are at their strongest has some influence. I’ve turned off auto-complete, which should force me to take the time to think, but that hasn’t had any meaningful effect.

We all should take the time to think before we write, some like me should perhaps stay away from the immediacy of twitter et al., lest I come across as the cranky old curmudgeon I may one day become.


The future of content, in my opinion, is all about creating context. We are bombarded with so much information from so many channels every single day, that people crave editorial that can actually help them make sense of everything. We get so much of our “content” in these little bursts now — be it an email, a tweet, a blog post. But it’s always this little bite-sized, isolated bit of information. We rarely understand how it actually fits into our lives.

Given this, I think what’s needed are curators, editors, writers, filmmakers, etc who can really zoom out from that narrow perspective and take the long view. Who can do some of that sense-making for people so that they understand how this political development fits into the long arc of history, or how developing this particular habit will give their life more meaning in the long run. The future of content is about creating a rich, well-thought-out context that makes it possible for people to really process and synthesize ideas in depth — not in this surface-y way we’re all accustomed to now.
Jocelyn K. Glei


Social media is not just personally unhealthy, it has become a threat to democracy. The tech companies that give us access to an infinity of information have become all-powerful and morally corrupt. And the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley fosters the development of products that idolize efficiency and greed, points us towards a dystopic future global monoculture. We don’t just hear all this, but we feel it, too. Something is profoundly wrong.

As designers, we are not without some responsibility for this situation. We fought for design to be a strategic partner to business. We developed methods and frameworks that could be incorporated into corporate cultures. And we successfully offered design as a tool that could improve business outcomes. The result was that our work was used by and influenced millions, sometimes even billions, of people. Did we, along the way, stop asking if what we were doing was right?
Did we do something wrong?

I don’t entirely agree with all contained in this quote, it’s all too easy to label large organizations like corporations and governments in an evil abstraction, but much of the essay rings pretty true to me.


From the New York Times Weekend Briefing:

Western food companies are aggressively expanding in developing nations, unleashing a marketing juggernaut that’s contributing to a new epidemic of chronic illnesses fed by soaring rates of obesity.
How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food

In an era of fake news and “Make America Great Again” propaganda this struck me as an unusually honest statement to come from an American news publication.


A history of media technology scares, from the printing press to Facebook.

By chronicling a history of responses to technological developments, Vaughn Bell in his article “Don’t Touch That Dial!”, attempts to address anxieties about the introduction of new communication technologies and their effects on cognition. It’s an interesting reminder that we have been worrying about these issues for a long time and the article also makes for some interesting parallels but there are far more differences than similarities between the way we consume information today than in the past.

A respected Swiss scientist, Conrad Gessner, might have been the first to raise the alarm about the effects of information overload. In a landmark book, he described how the modern world overwhelmed people with data and that this overabundance was both “confusing and harmful” to the mind. The media now echo his concerns with reports on the unprecedented risks of living in an “always on” digital environment. It’s worth noting that Gessner, for his part, never once used e-mail and was completely ignorant about computers. That’s not because he was a technophobe but because he died in 1565. His warnings referred to the seemingly unmanageable flood of information unleashed by the printing press.
Worries about information overload are as old as information itself, with each generation reimagining the dangerous impacts of technology on mind and brain. From a historical perspective, what strikes home is not the evolution of these social concerns, but their similarity from one century to the next, to the point where they arrive anew with little having changed except the label.

I think he’s missed the literature detailing internet addiction and the effects of multi-tasking on IQ and data retention.
Slate: Don’t Touch That Dial!


Progress?


Interesting how they comment on not trying to make money delivering the newspaper over the internet — the exact opposite of what is occurring today.


On reading books

“Some books are to be tasted,” he wrote, “others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. Some books also may be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others; but that would be only in the less important arguments, and the meaner sort of books…. ” (Clearly Bacon predicted the rise of the graduate research assistant, trudging through the monographic literature for some great professor’s benefit.) – Francis Bacon

I see in the turning of literal pages — pages bound in literal books — a compelling larger value, and perceive in the move away from the book a move away from a certain kind of cultural understanding, one that I’m not confident that we are replacing, never mind improving upon…. The book is part of a system. And that system stands for the labor and taxonomy of human understanding, and to touch a book is to touch that system, however lightly. – Sven Birkerts

Taken from The Reader, commentary on Amazon’s Kindle 2, by Scott McLemee.


Twitter and politics

twitterpolitico.jpg
This was one of the most interesting moments on the web I have experienced in years. I was watching a high quality live broadcast of the last Presidential debate in a window above realtime responses in Twitter.
The quality of the conversation is not always the best but it’s pretty clear how important services like twitter can be for debate, critique and fact-checking of political candidates. These a great tools for democratic journalism.
I’ll be monitoring twitter election night as well.


Certainly I need more data

Dailylit is an interesting service which I am giving a try. It delivers books in installments, via email or RSS. One per day. They have over 950 titles available, of which I am struggling to find something I am interested in reading. Many are free or available on a Pay-Per-Read basis.
Since I unfortunately spend most of my day in front of a screen this might be a good way to read something of value vs. the shit I read on blogs and news sites.


No Interest Magazines

I think that general-interest magazines may well be fated to fade away. General-interest anything is probably cursed. For the truth is that interest never was as general editors and publishers thought it was, back in the mass-media age. Old media just assumed we were interested in what they told us to be interested in. But we weren’t. We’re proving that with every new choice the internet enables.
Yet special-interest magazines — community magazines, to put it another way — have a brighter prospect — if they understand how to enable that community.


PRINT’s regional design annual on DVD

print_logo.jpg
I just found what I want for Christmas this year. Thank you Swissmiss.

PRINT’s Regional Design Annual is the only comprehensive profile of design in the United States. Now you can have immediate access to ten years’ worth of Regional Design Annual winners, online and on DVD. All of the 16,000+ winners—hand-picked by PRINT editors—are organized into easily searchable categories, including Identity/Stationery, Self-Promotion, Posters, Packaging, Ads, Editorial Design, Environmental Graphics, Photography, Illustration, Invitations/Announcements, Annual Reports and Outdoor Ads.

You can order it here.


iStock Photo’s Slow Customer Service

I have been using iStock quite frequently lately and I am quite pleased with the cost vs. quality that their catalogue provides. It’s not only a good source of stock but it’s a great place to find talent who are usually willing to take undemanding bits of work within my limited budgets. It’s a real boon to independent publishers as a way to supplement custom art. All in all the experience of using this part of the service has been fine with the added bonus of a strong user community.
But iStock begins to fail miserably when you actually have to interact with a real person who works with the company.
I sent by email a support request to their support address over a month ago without so much as an acknowledgment. A few days later thinking that perhaps that my mail got ‘lost’ I used their support form on their site. Luckily I got an automated reply but 30 days later I have yet to get my question answered by a human. And I must say it was a pertinent question not covered in their FAQ or contained within their forums. Snail mail would be faster than this. Actually, I ended giving up on using the service that I had the question about entirely.
Seeing as their is a dearth of Asian stock in their catalogue I thought it would be an interesting challenge to join the community as a contributor. Part of the strength of their catalogue comes from a seemingly vigorous human approvals process for each and every image submitted to the site. I submitted 3 images as they request in order for my application to be approved (you also have to pass a minor exam as well). 2 weeks later I heard back that one of my photos had ‘artifacts’ and such was rejected while another was rejected with no reason given. I submitted 2 new images for the application. It’s been over 2 weeks since. Obviously as valuable as this process is they need help.
iStock is a very successful company, largely as a result of their great user community, and despite the pitfalls I have mentioned I still use parts of the service. Their approvals process is painfully slow, which precludes using their interesting BuyRequest service for anything but the most untimely projects, and they never seem to answer support questions. As long as you don’t interact with people that work there than you will be fine. But is this any way to run a company?
[edit: November 4] I have since been contacted by both a volunteer and an official iStock customer service rep. – I am quite impressed with how they have handled my public comments. It would seem that my support question was responded to, the one with which was submitted by the contact form, and somehow it either never arrived at my inbox or got labeled as spam.
So it was all a mix-up and I think the way they handled it was superb.


The Long Tail from IHT

An explanation of the jargon phrase that I keep wanting to explain but always fail.

Want to buy an out-of-print book, a folk song recorded on a 78-rpm disc or some 18th century ceramics from Lunéville? You know already that the Internet can connect you with such esoteric purchases.
What you may not know is that these products help make up “the long tail,” a phrase that describes the never-ending shelf life of products that are not mass-market, top-40 favorites.

The End User: Of tails and walls


Jessey Meng and Toilet Gate

You just can’t make this stuff up. The Mainland Chinese forums are ablaze with indignation that someone would make a joke at their shoddy toilet facilities. From Reuters:

Enraged Chinese Internet surfers have called for a public apology from a Taiwanese model after she poked fun at the mainland’s public toilets and their users on a Taiwan chat-show, local media reported Thursday.
“Many mainland toilets don’t have doors and even when they do, most people don’t even shut the door!” Meng said.
She regaled the host with a story about a toilet in a Chinese city where she had seen “hundreds of pale bottoms all lined up in a row.”

Old news is sometimes good news. Found via my referrer logs.


R.I.P. The Broadsheet

100013_m.jpg
“In an age where information is gulped down and digested more rapidly via multimedia channels, the traditional printed publication must evolve to avoid extinction. So, what next? We will see more and more A4, and possibly A5 titles akin to the Hamburger Morgenpost as this trend is taken up on an international stage. Indeed the trend for Lilliputian publications is already prevalent in the women’s magazine sector where the likes of Glamour and Cosmopolitan have all produced ‘handbag’ sized glossies. …”
Culture of Mobility – design – trends R.I.P. the broadsheet


What is a Splog?

A splog, the illegitimate lovechild of spam and blogs, is a website made to look like a blog by streaming fake posts. Instead of musings about politics and technology, splogs are filled with computer-generated gibberish meant to entice search engines to link to them and get people to click on the ads. Utne.


No Good News

I had an insane idea Sunday. Why not start a site dedicated to reporting only good news. A web site with content similar to what you find in those “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books but injected with a bit more humor. Their are seemingly endless web logs and general news sites dedicated to nothing but sarcasm and negativity. Surely there must be some demand, an audience, people who want some balance in the stories they read. I was sure there was.
So I designed it.
But as I was working on it I was also “sourcing sources” for content. It was hard. Very hard. I didn’t intend for this to be a full time research project and it shouldn’t be. It’s probably pretty telling about the current state of our media and society when someone has to actually work hard at finding something positive and enlightening to read. Is the world that dark a place or is just not profitable to write something that is positive or enlightening?
Here are a couple sites that have managed to find something positive to say: Good News Network and Good News Blog