For the most part we've worked from home through the last few days, I'd say at 65-75% attention, but that's to be expected. Some tools have made our work easier. Here is a list of them!
Github, Dropbox, and hosted gmail apps. It's practically table stakes to rely on these for day-to-day operations now. But I am glad I don't have to worry about email & file hosting this week, what a pain that would be. Gmail slickly rolled out some new features this week, as if to underscore the point: "Life's better here."
The still common but less obvious:
IRC (specifically freenode). We use freenode to chat, wherever we are. It's very lightweight and reliable although not without it's quirks.
Google Chrome Sync. Like the old days of MobileMe & NetNewsWire, once you have your browser state synced from home to work, including bookmarks & open tabs, you cannot live without this feature.
Asana. Asana often feels like overkill to me, especially when we're all in the same office, but it really shines in the case where everyone is working remotely. Especially when tensions or anxieties are high, I think it's fundamentally better for state of mind than simply dashing off an email.
You have this, but you may be doing it wrong:
iCloud. iCloud is much maligned but quite solid. One undersold feature is "back to my Mac," which allows you drop-dead simple access to all of your computers with a simple Screen Sharing app. Of course Apple didn't invent this, but they baked it in to every Mac sold and it works. I shipped two new builds of an app we're testing in the past four days without having to step into the office or move the build process to Amazon. This stuff matters! And it's free.
Stellar.io. Stellar is also free! And it looks (to me) like many people use it for jokes, or to power retweet-bots. But when big news hits — say a shake-up at Apple, Lucas selling Vader to Disney, or … a Hurricane, my Stellar stream is only the most important tweets as curated by the people I trust. This is completely essential to me. During these peak news cycles is also a good time to discover new bloggers (or twitterers) whose voices may otherwise get overwhelmed by the volume of the surrounding noise.
You may not have heard of these:
Droplr. Select a file or take a screenshot, and it's on the Internet behind a private URL. Simple and essential, Droplr is basically what everyone loved about skitch. They just have to avoid the trap that Skitch fell into of adding stuff. Dear Droplr, do not add any features! Thanks.
Papertrailapp is a system for aggregating server logs in one place. When you are pinched for time and servers are under duress from news events (like a hurricane!) being able to see what's going on in a simple web interface is really critical. We've upgraded our account twice in the past two weeks already. Of course, logging is such a critical part of development that the vendor lock in here is fairly ironclad. I'll never tail -f again.
tender is an IRC bot which helps us moderate our meetings in IRC (really). It's more helpful than it sounds.
Not exactly software:
Cookies-as-a-Service, electricity, water, internet. Things that perhaps people take for granted! Greg sent us cookies (delivered last Friday). They were delicious. And of course I'm grateful to be at work today, that's a luxury most people have. Blake's parents visited us today (since they have no power in their east-side apartment), and their presence, as well as that of other close friends has helped my spirits tremendously.
I highly recommend 722 miles, a book about the engineering and political machinations that went into one of our country's great civic achievements — the New York Subway. Our transit system is over a century old!
Rebecca Mead notes: "Commentators already calling this the 'storm of the century' are hopelessly optimistic." Sadly I agree.
When we finally left the house around noon, we were met with damage much worse than I thought we'd encounter. Obviously the pictures that play on the internet are the flooded streets, downed trees and floating cars, but the level of incidental damage was breathtaking. Some scaffolding on our building had blown clear across broadway, which up here means six lanes of traffic and a wide median. Seemingly every other tree was down or much shorter do to the loss of major branches. It goes without saying there were no leaves left on the trees, bringing an end to our brief Fall. Lev insisted on walking down the subway stairs — you try explaining to him why no train is coming! Four MTA workers were actually on the tracks surveying damage. The tracks and platform were visibly flooded. Lev yelled "Hello!" and one of them offered back "We're closed."
When will there be a course in sign-language conducted entirely in animated gifs?
I'd like something similar to what Lifeprint offers, but with a larger vocabulary and modern web capabilities.
Related, Flying Words:
In 2003, Slope, an on line poetry journal, published a special issue devoted to American Sign Language (ASL) poetry. The issue featured the winners of the 2003 Heart+Express National ASL Poetry Prize and presented their work in video format. There is no other way to "read" this work. Unlike Deaf poetry, which can be signed and/or written, ASL poetry is in, and only in, ASL. At first, I assumed that the videos would feature subtitles, some printed "translation" of what the poets were signing. This wasn't the case. Instead, the videos are completely silent--that is, to someone who doesn't know ASL. But it's clear from the careful hand, body and facial movements that a great deal is being expressed, and it is maddening not to be able to understand the poems. On the other hand, I think that the decision made by the Slope editors was brilliant. ASL isn't simply a way of "miming" or literally translating English, rather, it is its own language and needs to be approached on its own terms…
We are lucky to have power, internet access, cell service and water. I would say most of our friends are without at least two of those, and thankfully almost everyone we've checked in with has water. Also getting sporadic reports of landlines being out, but for the most part that seems to remain the most stable piece of infrastructure in a disaster. Where we live (108th & Broadway) it never rained quite as hard as I feared it would, but the wind was whipping fiercely, so fiercely I expected one of our windows to break or blow in. The Hudson was visibly higher and audibly louder than usual. We can actually hear it in our apartment as I write this, which is hard to believe.
In An Oyster in the Storm, Paul Greenberg makes the point that an intact Oyster bed would have helped to lessen the surge of waters that overwhelmed the city:
Until European colonists arrived, oysters took advantage of the spectacular estuarine algae blooms that resulted from all these nutrients and built themselves a kingdom. Generation after generation of oyster larvae rooted themselves on layers of mature oyster shells for more than 7,000 years until enormous underwater reefs were built up around nearly every shore of greater New York.
Just as corals protect tropical islands, these oyster beds created undulation and contour on the harbor bottom that broke up wave action before it could pound the shore with its full force. Beds closer to shore clarified the water through their assiduous filtration (a single oyster can filter as much as 50 gallons of water a day); this allowed marsh grasses to grow, which in turn held the shores together with their extensive root structure.
Regarding Mayor Bloomberg's infamously poor Spanish, I had this exchange with my friend Angela Tucker:
Bloomberg, just get a translator to speak Spanish for you. Come on!— tuckergurl (@tuckergurl) October 30, 2012
@djacobs I know but my concern is that his Spanish is so bad that they might be getting all of the info they need.— tuckergurl (@tuckergurl) October 30, 2012
Like I said, I could go either way! But I will also go on record about "El Bloombito". I understand why people look for humor when they are anxious or afraid, but who can't read those tweets with a sober eye and see some racism? We get it, you don't speak spanish and Bloomberg barely does.
The best source for up-to-the minute news is the Gothamist. I expect the Times & the News to be able to cover the city with reporters & photographers, but what the Gothamist team has been able to view by combining direct reporting, leads off of social media and direct tips is pretty amazing. That's the newsroom of the future, blending twitter, IRC, IM, blogging, phone and shoe leather all at once.
Power & internet are still on over at 29th Street Publishing, but our (mostly Brooklyn-based) team has been working remotely in IRC. I am thankful to be surrounded by my family. Lev has finally figured out Magnatiles!
Tim suggests today's announcement will go as widely predicted. Totally disagree!
Smaller iPad, the ePad. e for education.
The ePad will feature Sub-pixel cameras. We know all about the screens, but one advantage of them not being retinal is that there is more room between the LEDs for cameras, which will make FaceTime truly FaceTime. I have been predicting this since the first iSight in 2003. Just as we are four years closer to Iran having nuclear weapons, we are also nine years closer to sub-pixel cameras in all Apple devices.
iBooks 3, with deeper video & iCloud integration than ever. Better payments, smoother production, epub export for iBooks creator. All of this is a no-brainer. Smaller iPad is for education. We at 29th Street Publishing are very happy to have the world of publishing go down the road of more bells and whistles while we focus on the the written word.
Apps on iTV. This isn't as far off as you think, and the reason is, as above, education. Many more schools have TVs hooked up to VCRs & DVD players than projectors, and replacing that with an Apple TV that can pair nicely with Airplay enabled ePad apps is probably among the most disruptive technologies that Apple could bring to the classroom. This is absolutely core to Apple's DNA, and you are going to hear those words come out of Tim Cook's mouth today.
Boom.Proofread by Blake Eskin
We assume that there are some very smart people at places like Google or, if you're feeling lucky, Facebook who are hard at work unravelling the mystery and meaning of all those overlapping patterns. It's worth remembering, though, that these are all companies whose purpose is to service what are basically singular and selfish motives. They are building better tools to automate already learned behaviours. Patterns.
Aaron Straus Cope, James Bridle and Joanne McNeil revisited the new aesthetic last week at the New Museum. The above is an excerpt from Aaron's slides, but along the way he touches on drones, roombas, instagram and Google's self-driving cars. You'll be able to read the post quickly, but you'll find yourself returning to it for days - so only read this if you have time to think about new ideas.
… so now, instead of hunting down design jobs, i hunt down people who have bigger communication problems. i include all the clever bits of design and code trickery that su and i are interested in messing with in our proposals, and i do not involve the client in much of that creative process. that is incredibly counterintuitive to me, because i was trained to treat the client relationship as a hand-in-hand creative journey with reviews along the way to define the client’s desires. but in doing that, i am constantly making things i don’t think are right because of possibly incorrect creative input from mr. or ms. client—so by removing them from the process, i retain a lot of my own autonomy, and their peace of mind. it cuts down on a lot of pain points for both me and the client.
this struck me as crazy talk when i first started doing it, but it actually works in this day and age, when people need things fast, and they’re used to shopping for fully fleshed-out pieces of design on the web, like tumblr and wordpress templates. the idea of a custom process to them is kind of nuts, and incredibly intimidating from a financial point of view—an ever-present cartoon thought bubble over their heads with the words “how much more does this cost?” in it.
Nice blog post by Patric about his ongoing evolution as a designer. I have a bunch of thoughts about this, but I will save them for later in the month when I get to talk to Patric & Su directly during their visit to NYC!
The "Place the States" game has generated some fun conversation over IM and twitter, so I figured I had to blog it.
First up is Michigan, which is no help, since the Great Lakes frame the surrounding states quite nicely. Next is Missouri, which is a nemesis of mine. I can see Missouri in my mind, but my actual placement is 162 miles off. Which is not much on the map considering, but it really blows out my average.
Texas, Oregon, Virginia, Missippi, Hawaii, Iowa, North Carolina, Alaska, Illinois and Alabama are all guided by the coastline or directly neighboring states. Kansas, Arizona and Pennsylvania all fall into place nicely. Then I'm faced with South Dakota:
Major brain fart on my part. I'm not sure what I was thinking, except that "South Dakota isn't that far East, is it?"
Maine, South Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Idaho, Connecticut, North Dakota, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Ohio. No sweat. I drop Wyoming slightly off-kilter, simple laziness on my part:
At this point, there's not much suspense except in which order the states arrive: Washington, Nebraska, Maryland, Delaware, Minnesota, Florida, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, New Jersey, Tennessee, Nevada, California, New York, Indiana, Vermont, Rhode Island, Utah, Colorado, Utah, West Virginia, and Kentucky. Final score: 47/50, with an average error of 12 miles.
"If y'all can't cook, this doesn't concern you."
— Kevin Garnett