words posts

A word is worth a thousand pictures April 26th, 2012

I’m intrigued by a few examples I’ve come across lately that downgrade (to an interesting effect) the visual to the textual.

On Twitter, two feeds that take image-specific services and simply describe them in a few words.

  • PicturelessPinterest offers “The best of Pinterest without having to look at the pictures.” (sample tweets: Overexposed picture of a bride walking through a white hallway; A recipe for rhubarb-lemon curd yogurt; Dining room table set up on a beach)
  • Text-Only Instagram is “Your personal Instagram feed in a lightweight text format.” (sample tweets: Tilt-shift fortune cookie; Latte with foam shaped like a heart; Four self-portraits of a teenage girl separated by white lines.)

Descriptive Camera is a camera that captures an image and then obtains a typed description of the contents. Example: Looks like a cupboard which is ugly and old having name plates on it with a study lamp attached to it.

After the shutter button is pressed, the photo is sent to Mechanical Turk for processing and the camera waits for the results. A yellow LED indicates that the results are still “developing” in a nod to film-based photo technology. With a HIT price of $1.25, results are returned typically within 6 minutes and sometimes as fast as 3 minutes. The thermal printer outputs the resulting text in the style of a polaroid print.

I love people hacking together some bit of technology (or a technology-enabled experience) to drive just a bit of reflection on what we might take for granted.

Bonus deconstruction: garfield minus garfield

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ChittahChattah Quickies November 23rd, 2009
  • Amazon PayPhrase – using keywords to combine login, payment, and shipping info – Seems like an interesting idea, to use phrases to bundle up selections. It suggests the possibility of natural language interfaces, where one just "tells" Amazon what one wants to do. It doesn't appear the implementation actually provides that very easily; perhaps you'd have to play with what situations can be described with what phrases, and then try and remember what your exact language is. "Work books" and "books for work" are the same to us, but not for a literal parser as I gather this is. Still, a provocative idea and glad to see Amazon playing with what's possible.
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ChittahChattah Quickies November 23rd, 2009
  • Amazon PayPhrase – using keywords to combine login, payment, and shipping info – Seems like an interesting idea, to use phrases to bundle up selections. It suggests the possibility of natural language interfaces, where one just "tells" Amazon what one wants to do. It doesn't appear the implementation actually provides that very easily; perhaps you'd have to play with what situations can be described with what phrases, and then try and remember what your exact language is. "Work books" and "books for work" are the same to us, but not for a literal parser as I gather this is. Still, a provocative idea and glad to see Amazon playing with what's possible.
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ChittahChattah Quickies June 5th, 2009
  • Overused Food Words (from 2007) – Now we know what's wrong with "crispy" – it should just be "crisp." But here's a more thought-out list of overused terminology.
  • The Seattle Times (from 2006): Say what? A guide to menu-speak – We've blogged this before, but it's fun to revisit. This explains the meaning of some of the obscure food items that are becoming more common on menus.
  • (From 2001) Menu Cliches – "piping hot"
    "garden fresh"
  • Village Voice's List of Overused Food Words – List includes Dollop, Slathered, Homey, Wilted, Toothsome, Nosh, Drizzled, Garlicky, Crispy, Eatery, Well-Browned but doesn't seem that they've really parsed the difference between effective description and overwrought cliche. How is "crispy" an overused word? Some commenters add some good words but others support my confusion over the premise.
    (via Eater SF)
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ChittahChattah Quickies February 13th, 2009
  • Designer Neologisms – Tragically non-ironic video from frogdesign about some important new words (i.e., simplexity) they are designing to explain emerging concepts.
    (thanks, Tom)
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ChittahChattah Quickies January 3rd, 2009
  • Toilet seat covers, upgraded – Dora Cardenas, Toletta's cofounder and VP of communications, explains: “The product concept came to me and my husband while we were trying to find small travel packs of disposable paper toilet seat covers to use ourselves. Not only was I shocked to learn that travel packs are hard to find, but the products we did find didn’t have any ounce of style or quality tissues. All the products we found looked and felt like something you would find in a camping supply store—not exactly something retail stores and supermarkets would be proud to carry on their shelves.”
  • TOLETTA – Because you never know – TOLETTA is the world's first premium brand of paper toilet seat covers. From the funky music to the edgy and stylish packaging, it's easy to see that we're not your ordinary toilet seat covers. Not only do our products look great, the premium tissue helps women feel better about using public washrooms. So for all you señoras, señoritas, and diva fashionistas, you'll never have to settle for those cheap and flimsy paper toilet seat covers again.
  • John Maeda's mini-manifesto in Esquire – I don't convulse with joy every time Maeda utters something, but I did enjoy this brief piece (despite his use of "the consumer"):

    "Technology is outpacing our ability to use it. And it's the job of designers to restore balance to this equation. Technological advances have always been driven more by a mind-set of "I can" than "I should," and never more so than today. Technologists love to cram maximum functionality into their products. That's "I can" thinking, which is driven by peer competition and market forces. (It's easier to sell a device with ten features than one.) But this approach ignores the far more important question of how the consumer will actually use the device."

  • Nussbaum says "Innovation" is dead but "Transformation" is the new black – The conflation between talking about ideas and discussing their labels is kinda frightening. Glad to see someone cited my latest interactions articles about the power of words to clarify our interactions.
  • Dan Pallotta, author of Uncharitable, on KQED Forum – What I heard was very exciting; Pallotta considers the unquestioned framework (and its history) around how charities operate and challenges these principles. He's extremely knowledgeable, thoughtful, and passionate. This was one of the best discussions of innovation – and its barriers – that I've heard in a long time.
  • Katherine Bennett explores design research methods and find the journey is at least part of the reward – "I'm two-thirds through with my MSID in design research at Art Center, and I feel the need to take stock of where I am. I've been teaching design research to product design students at Art Center since 1991, but since my journey down the path of getting this additional degree I have been traveling over some interesting ground."
  • I only started a blog because steve portigal told me to – "My name is Bria and I am a designer." Nice to see my writing having impact
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Words June 11th, 2008

A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.
Thomas Mann

writing-artifacts-processed-4.jpg

Poet Kenneth Goldsmith calls himself an “uncreative writer,” and his works include: everything he said for a week; every move his body made during a thirteen-hour period; a year of transcribed weather reports, and the September 10, 2001 issue of The New York Times, transcribed.

My first reaction to Goldsmith’s work was that it seemed like a good piece of conceptual art scamming, but then I heard him read one of his transcribed weather reports on the radio.

Before he read the piece, Goldsmith explained that the process of transcribing these artifacts creates an experience for him of the poetry in everyday language use. And it was true-as Goldsmith read the weather report, in a fairly rapid, uncadenced style, I was struck by how vividly evocative the place names, the verbs of wind and temperature, the homey advice to “stay indoors” all were.

I think what Goldsmith is doing is a word-focused parallel to what we do in contextual research practice: we carefully observe and document the everyday, as much as possible suspending our own preconceptions of what is and is not significant, in order to see in new ways.

When I was younger, I effortlessly seemed to think in a more lyrical and poetic way than I do now. My hypothesis has been that this change is a result of being more involved with “putting my hands on things” than I was in my 20s. My creative energy now goes much more towards describing and solving problems-juxtaposing complex alternatives, articulating ideas that have the potential for real impact-and there’s just not the same kind of energy available for playing with language.

I’m happy with the direction my way of thinking has evolved, but at the same time, I feel a certain sense of loss for that earlier version of myself, and the ease with which I used to make words do tricks.

Hearing Goldsmith reminded me that I needn’t draw a hard line between between playing with language and solving problems, between the lyrical and the practical-that it’s all out there, evocative and full of potential.

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swearingfestival February 17th, 2006

swearingfestival is some event in SF to look at and experience swearing, of course. But lately I’ve been thinking about the silly words that we create to let us swear with out swearing.

Gosh instead of God
Gee whiz instead of Jesus Christ
Durn/dang instead of damn
Shucks or shoot instead of shit

And now we’ve got the network TV versions. My fave is jagoff (jagov?) for jackoff, appearing on NYPD, Law and Order (I presume), Third Watch, and the like. Anyplace you’ve got cops talking tough about the scum on the street.

It’s just so silly; you can say jagoff, but you can’t say jackoff?

I’m sure there are others I can’t think of right now.

Update: frigging, freaking, fricking all for fucking

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