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ChittahChattah Quickies March 7th, 2012

‘Brogrammers’ challenge coders’ nerdy image [SF Chronicle] – It’s a bit of a silly story that turns a catchphrase into a cultural trend, but of course there’s something happening to drive the growth of the catchphrase. Sad that flipping the nerd stereotype reveals a sexist one.

Tech’s latest boom has generated a new, more testosterone-fueled breed of coder. Sure, the job still requires enormous brainpower, yet today’s engineers are drawn from diverse backgrounds, and many eschew the laboratory intellectualism that prevailed when semiconductors ruled Silicon Valley. At some startups the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction that it’s given rise to a new title: brogrammer. A portmanteau of the frat-house moniker “bro” and “programmer,” the term has become the subject of a Facebook group joined by more than 21,000 people; the name of a series of hacker get-togethers in Austin, Texas; the punch line for online ads; and the topic of a humorous discussion on question-and-answer site Quora titled “How does a programmer become a brogrammer?” (One pointer: Drink Red Bull, beer and “brotein” shakes.) “There’s a rising group of developers who are much more sociable and like to go out and have fun, and I think brogramming speaks to that audience,” said Gagan Biyani, co-founder and president of Udemy, a San Francisco startup that offers coding lessons on the Web.

Mr. Peanut’s Alter Ego Leads Kraft Into Planters Butter [Bloomberg] – Surprising not to see any mention of Kraft Peanut Butter, the Canadian product that pretty much defines peanut butter in that market.

Mr. Peanut has a stunt double. Sporting a goatee, aviator sunglasses and overconfidence, “Doug” performs death-defying feats that always end the same way: with him getting crushed and turned into peanut butter. Doug’s daredevil act is part of Kraft’s move into the crowded U.S. peanut butter market. In what may be the most overdue brand extension in history, Kraft is using the 100- year-old Planters brand to spark growth in its mature grocery business. Kraft is targeting adults, who consume two-thirds of the $1.8 billion of peanut butter sold in the U.S. each year, Kraft was looking for an adult mascot and settled on Doug, voiced in Web ads by Kevin Dillon in an homage to the hapless Johnny Drama character he played on HBO’s “Entourage” series. “Peanut butter was a natural extension,” Schmelter said. The new spread and Peanut Butter Doug, as he is formally known, are signs Kraft is getting more aggressive with the grocery business, said Alexia Howard, an analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in New York.

Internet Archive’s Repository Collects Thousands of Books [NYT] – Digital technology allows rapid content creation, and creates interesting archiving challenges. First all the digital data was worth preserving. Then digital was a method to archive the physical world. Now we’re going all-in and trying to archive the physical world itself. Seems like a setup for a Steven Wright joke (didn’t he describe his full-scale map of the US and the problems he had folding it?).

“We want to collect one copy of every book,” said Brewster Kahle, who has spent $3 million to buy and operate this repository situated just north of San Francisco. “You can never tell what is going to paint the portrait of a culture.” As society embraces all forms of digital entertainment, this latter-day Noah is looking the other way. A Silicon Valley entrepreneur who made his fortune selling a data-mining company to Amazon.com in 1999, Mr. Kahle founded and runs the Internet Archive, a nonprofit organization devoted to preserving Web pages – 150 billion so far – and making texts more widely available. But even though he started his archiving in the digital realm, he now wants to save physical texts, too. “We must keep the past even as we’re inventing a new future,” he said. “If the Library of Alexandria had made a copy of every book and sent it to India or China, we’d have the other works of Aristotle, the other plays of Euripides. One copy in one institution is not good enough.” Mr. Kahle had the idea for the physical archive while working on the Internet Archive, which has digitized two million books. With a deep dedication to traditional printing – one of his sons is named Caslon, after the 18th-century type designer – he abhorred the notion of throwing out a book once it had been scanned. The volume that yielded the digital copy was special. And perhaps essential. What if, for example, digitization improves and we need to copy the books again?

Myq Kaplan Gives Birth to a Stand-Up Joke [NYT] – The prototype/test-with-users/iterate process of designing a joke.

The first week is arguably the most creative in the life of a joke. For Mr. Kaplan it’s all about generating ideas. What could explain this jacket convention? Maybe, he speculated, jackets were once very cheap and, as he would later say onstage, “men wore seven coats out, hoping it wasn’t an eight-puddle day.” He also decided that the modern equivalent was leaving the toilet seat down. All these ideas were transformed into jokes as the bit expanded. Setups shrank. Punch lines multiplied. The jacket over the puddle soon became one of several examples of chivalry that began with his pantomiming opening a door after asking the audience: “Does it detract from chivalry if, when opening a car door for a lady, I say, ‘Chivaaalry!’” He dragged out the last word in the self-satisfied voice of a magician introducing his assistant. A coarse joke about chivalry during sex replaced the homeless-man line. By early January Mr. Kaplan’s rhythm became more assured and moseying, lingering on pauses, finding extra laughs between punch lines. His typical stage pose – leaning back, his free hand placed gently on his stomach as if he were pregnant – became looser, adding touches of showmanship. It didn’t matter where he performed (clubs, restaurants, even a hostel), chivalry always worked. The focus now was on getting the right laughs. It was important, he thought, to get a big one right at the start with his car-door opening, and in paring it down, he turned a question (“Does it detract from chivalry…”) into a statement. Later, he brought back the question. Laughter marginally improved.

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ChittahChattah Quickies March 24th, 2010
  • Last supper ‘has been super-sized’, say obesity experts [BBC News] – The food portions depicted in paintings of the Last Supper have grown larger – in line with our own super-sizing of meals, say obesity experts. A Cornell University team studied 52 of the most famous paintings of the Biblical scene over the millennium and scrutinized the size of the feast. They found the main courses, bread and plates put before Jesus and his disciples have progressively grown by up to two-thirds. Based on the assumption that the width of an average loaf of bread from the time should be twice that of the average disciple's head, the researchers plotted the size of the Passover evening dishes. The main meals grew 69% and plate size 66% between the oldest (carried out in 1000AD) and most recent (1700s) paintings. Bread size grew by about 23%.
  • Butch Bakery – Where Butch Meets Buttercream – "Butch Bakery was born when David Arrick felt it was time to combine a masculine aesthetic to a traditionally cute product -the cupcake. When a magazine article mentioned that cupcakes were a combination of everything "pink, sweet, cute, and magical", he felt it was time to take action, and butch it up." Flavors include Rum & Coke, Mojito, Home Run, Beer Run, Campout, Tailgate, Driller, and (ahem) Jackhammer
  • Making Design Research Less of a Mystery [ChangeOrder] – Design researchers don't work exactly like professional detectives. We don't sit down with their users and start asking them point-blank questions regarding a single moment in time, such as, "Exactly where were you on the night of November 17th, when Joe Coxson was found floating face-down in a kiddie pool?" We don't consider the users as criminals, having perpetrated crimes against the state—our clients?—that must be solved. The crimes are the points of friction that go remarked (or unremarked) about the course of our subject's lives, in using the tools that surround them, and in the myths and beliefs that drive their everyday behavior. Our methods of detection are geared towards being sponges, soaking up both the large-scale and minute details that indicate layers of behavior that may have gone unremarked in the design and everyday use of various products, services, and interactive systems.
  • The Medium – Shelf Life [NYTimes.com] – People who reject e-books often say they can’t live without the heft, the texture and the scent of traditional books. This aria of hypersensual book love is not my favorite performance. I sometimes suspect that those who gush about book odor might not like to read. If they did, why would they waste so much time inhaling? Among the best features of the Kindleis that there’s none of that. The device, which consigns all poetry and prose to the same homely fog-toned screen, leaves nothing to the experience of books but reading. This strikes me as honest, even revolutionary….Most of these books were bought impulsively, more like making a note to myself to read this or that than acquiring a tangible 3-D book; the list is a list of resolutions with price tags that will, with any luck, make the resolutions more urgent. Though it’s different from Benjamin’s ecstatic book collecting, this cycle of list making and resolution and constant-reading-to-keep-up is not unpleasurable.
  • Human-flesh Search Engines in China [NYTimes.com] – The popular meaning of the Chinese term for human-flesh search engine is now not just a search by humans but also a search for humans, initially performed online but intended to cause real-world consequences. Searches have been directed against all kinds of people, including cheating spouses, corrupt government officials, amateur pornography makers, Chinese citizens who are perceived as unpatriotic, journalists who urge a moderate stance on Tibet and rich people who try to game the Chinese system. Human-flesh searches highlight what people are willing to fight for: the political issues, polarizing events and contested moral standards that are the fault lines of contemporary China.
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ChittahChattah Quickies July 16th, 2009
  • The Nike Experiment: How the Shoe Giant Unleashed the Power of Personal Metrics – Using a flood of new tools and technologies, each of us now has the ability to collect granular information about our lives—what we eat, how much we sleep, when our mood changes.
    Not only can we collect that data, we can analyze it, looking for patterns, information that might help us change both the quality and the length of our lives. We can live longer and better by applying, on a personal scale, the same quantitative mindset that powers Google and medical research. Call it Living by Numbers—the ability to gather and analyze data about yourself, setting up a feedback loop that we can use to upgrade our lives, from better health to better habits to better performance.
    Nike has discovered that there's a magic number for a Nike+ user: 5. If someone uploads only a couple of runs to the site, they might just be trying it out. But once they hit 5 runs, they're massively more likely to keep running and uploading data. At 5 runs, they've gotten hooked on what their data tells them.
  • To Sleep, Perchance to Analyze Data: David Pogue on the Zeo sleep monitoring system – Just watching the Zeo track your sleep cycles doesn’t do anything to help you sleep better. Plotting your statistics on the Web doesn’t help, either.

    But the funny thing is, you do wind up getting better sleep — because of what I call the Personal Trainer Phenomenon. People who hire a personal trainer at the gym wind up attending more workouts than people who are just members. Why? Because after spending that much money and effort, you take the whole thing much more seriously.

    In the same way, the Zeo winds up focusing you so much on sleep that you wind up making some of the lifestyle changes that you could have made on your own, but didn’t. (“Otherwise,” a little voice in your head keeps arguing, “you’ve thrown away $400.”)

    That’s the punch line: that in the end, the Zeo does make you a better sleeper. Not through sleep science — but through psychology.

  • Baechtold's Best photo series – While they are framed as travel guides, they are really more visual anthropology. A range of topics and places captured and presented in a compelling and simple fashion, illustrating similarities and differences between people, artifacts, and the like.
  • It's girls-only at Fresno State engineering camp – This is the first year for the girls-only engineering camp. Its goal is to increase the number of female engineering majors at Fresno State, which lags behind the national average in graduating female engineers. Nationwide, about 20% of engineering graduates are women. 20 years ago the national average was 25%. At Fresno State, only 13% of engineering graduates are women.

    Jenkins said he hopes the camp will convince girls "who might not have thought about it" that engineering is fun, and entice them to major in engineering.
    (via @KathySierra)

  • Selling Tampax With Male Menstruation – This campaign, by Tampax, is in the form of a story featuring blog entries and short videos. The story is about a 16-year-old boy named Zack who suddenly wakes up with “girl parts.” He goes on to narrate what it’s like including, of course, his experience of menstruation and what a big help Tampax tampons were.
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ChittahChattah Quickies January 4th, 2009
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