Monday, November 21, 2016

The Cyclotron

Toured the Cylotron at Texas A&M this weekend. So impressive how foundational low-tech tools are for high-tech applications. In this case, old peripherals and diagnostic tools for studying radiation exposure on electronic components.

And a real treat for me, after spending my whole day in front of web interfaces and deeply derivative skeumorphics, to see analog and gen 1.0-style dials, switches, guages, peripherals.

Some of my favorites:

Friday, October 21, 2016

How to roadtrip

Lauren and I have a foolproof method for roadtripping and staying fresh. We switch off every hour. Even if the driver feels alert, we find it's safer and more enjoyable to keep switching off.

It goes something like this. I always drive first while Lauren keeps me company. We'll talk about our business and big plans on the horizon. An hour flies by in what seems like only a few minutes and we'll pull over at a Starbucks for Lauren's first shift.

I usually get a treat for myself too. Then we're back on the road. Within minutes I'm asleep. No matter how much coffee was in that little treat, it's the sleep of the dead for me. I start to drool. I get the drool everywhere, on my shirt, in the seat stitching, the door handle; it gets in the cd player. I basically drool through the entire hour. Lauren's probably playing a podcast and will usually run over the hour to catch the end of it. And besides, I look so peaceful there in my slobber. Finally, though, it's time for a switch.

A quick swap on an exit ramp and I'm back in the driver's seat. Lauren starts to tilt her seat back, but not so fast. I've got some big ideas and somebody needs to hear them. This is a great opportunity for Lauren to hear how my opinions have evolved on transportation infrastructure, the size of the military, how the wealth gap is manifesting itself in various sports, and my predictions for upcoming elections.

All that talking typically wears me out in about 30 minutes so we pull over for a nap. If we're in a time crunch, Lauren'll pull one for the team and start her shift early. This part is a blur for me because I usually curl up in the back seat with a fleece blanket and travel pillow. I tend to wake up about half an hour from our destination. Just enough time for me to take care of the tricky bit.

No matter where we're headed, it typically never feels like more than a couple hours and I always arrive refreshed.

Friday, April 29, 2016

If roads were code

I work in code all day and so I make mistakes all day. But I also fix mistakes all day. And this makes me think why doesn't everyone else also fix mistakes all day, specifically why don't we fix mistakes with roads. I mean, seriously, wouldn't that be wonderful? So many roads are poorly designed, or they were reasonably designed, but are now out of date.

Can't you imagine if we could just take an old road, save it as south-lamar_archive.road, move it to our archived roads folder and then quickly design up a new one. What would be possible? We could rapidly prototype new (or new to a region) ideas: super-wide highways, traffic circles, Michigan Lefts, multi-level, toll and HOV, peak demand flow.

We could burn through all kinds of civic trends and start getting a real understanding of what patterns work in different regions, and then refine them. And, of course, change it all as the region changes, as it grows in size and density, as technology changes, as patterns change.

Imagine if we had road building materials that we could lay out, drive-ready, at 10 miles a day. Imagine if you could re-do entire highway as it passes through a town over a weekend. You could try out all kinds of designs. You could start addressing needs and goals beyond throughput.



Instead of building to some grim calculus of cars-per-hour-per-lives-lost, you could engineer roads that made everyone safer, that actually promoted safety. Roads that reduced conflict, connected communities, re-opened regions to wildlife migration. You could have modular sections built off-site and then assembled. Roads could have integrated signs with digital paper; and cable car / moving walkway for cars style hookups that would turn existing cars into driverless; and built in lighting so we can drive without headlights; and rapid draining; and sound dampening. Roads could be built with clearance so people and animals can easily cross under the street; and to protect pedestrians (even if they're not paying attention) as a default; and to allow easy access to utilities without shutting down lanes.

I'd love if we could approach transportation infrastructure with hope and curiosity. And if every time we got it wrong, or not right enough, we could etch-a-sketch it and try again.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A coding isogloss

Every site I build uses html, css, and javascript; liquid too if I'm building an ecommerce shop. It's easy to forget that each of these is a language rather than a library of tools, and that proficiency can be thought of as fluency.

When I look at a design in photoshop, I immediately translate what I'm seeing into its component languages — the structure and content into html, the style into css, the interaction into javascript and the data into liquid. It's like seeing an object and imagining how it's said in English and Spanish and Russian. And why; how did each of these cultures build this word? What does it mean to them?

Sometimes I lament that a particular coding language can't perform a function that is routine in another, and it makes me think of words that don't translate from one spoken language to another. Like how the King James Bible both "agape" and "phileo" are translated as "love."

Moving between these languages ultimately becomes fluid. I write the content and structure code of the site while including classes that I intend to use for style and functionality, or write a data loop that contains displayed content. But as much as these languages work together to present a unified picture and experience, they're still separated within the code. The style code has its own files. Javascript too has its own files or is relegated to the bottom of the document.

And so the file organization ultimately draws a map of languages — here style is spoken, here is spoken the language functionality, and here you will read content with style and functionality accents.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Riding in Texas in Spring

In Mexico, they call the Texas bluebonnet el conjeo, the rabbit, for it's white tip like the cotton tail rabbit. And it's fitting, that a wild texas rabbit announces the Texas spring.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Road Trip Soundtrack

Soundtrack for our road trip tomorrow down to Bandera:

Stay Too Long — Plan B
Dreams — Youngblood Hawke
Shut Up and Dance — Walk The Moon
America's Son — Air Review
Got Love — Hedley
Oh, What A Life — American Authors
Brave — Sara Bareilles
And Run — He Is We
Pioneers — The Lighthouse and The Whaler
Devil — Lydia
Bowsprit — Balmorhea
When You Were Young — Ella Mae Bowen
The Boxer — Mumford & Sons
Go Your Own Way — Lissie

Sunday, October 12, 2014

For Chasmaporthetes ossifragus, they sent a poet

Chasmaporthetes is a genus of Hyena, extinct for the better part of the last million years. It's known as the American hyena, a dog-like hyena, and is the only hyena to have made it to North America, having crossed the land bridge over the Bering Strait.

Chasmaporthetes was discovered at the turn of the 20th century by a Kansas paleontologist and celebrity fossil hunter named Barnum Brown (named after the circus showman). But the hyena was properly identified and named 20 years later by Oliver Perry Hay. Hay was a curator of the United States National Museum, which eventually became the Smithsonian.

O.P. Hay gave the American Hyena the scientific name Chasmaporthetes ossifragus. Ossifragus means "bone breaking," which describes something the animal does, namely its bite. But he gave it the peculiar genus of Chasmaporthetes, which means "he who saw the canyon" referring to the Grand Canyon, as Barnum Brown discovered the hyena's bones in an Arizona copper mine.

Arguably Hay named the animal in reference to the location where it was found. This is the only of the Hyaenidae genera to migrate to North America, though subsequent species have been found across the globe from Spain to Tibet.

I like to imagine, though, that Hay saw in these old bones on his desk a fellow American, an explorer, a feisty dog who got to see the Colorado cut through billions of years of the earth. Perhaps Hays, from just the lower jaw collected by Brown, could trace the form of a running dog, the way our ancestors traced constellations, and imagined his story. Perhaps Hays could imagine this dog on the rim of the Grand Canyon, and see through his eyes a younger and rougher, but still staggeringly deep canyon.



From Wired

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Why we bought the new iPhone 6 [a coding post]

Lauren and I wanted to upgrade our phones. We didn't need new phones, but it's good for us to use the actual devices our clients use and what our client's customers use.

For testing, I spend a lot of time on my crossbrowsertesting account and in the google chrome emulator. But less so every day. There's nothing like testing with the real thing. iOS and Android render, function, and interact differently than emulated or framed iOS and Android. But more importantly, we need to be designing and building with the user experience on that device in mind, rather than just troubleshooting after it's already designed and built.

So we went to the store and looked at the array of new phones. The Samsung and LG were awesome phones and we seriously considered getting them instead of the new iPhones. But we decided to think it over.

We got home from the store and, mostly out of curiosity, looked up our clients' site analytics. We wanted to know what their customers were using. We'd read statistics that said Android has 80% of global smartphone market share and something like 60% in the US. It made sense, then, to go with Android to use what our clients and their customers were using.

But the analytics told an entirely different story.

We were seeing that Android users made up less than 5% of our client's customers traffic. And iOS users made up nearly 90% of traffic. We looked at site after site and found the same results across markets and ecommerce and information sites.

Here's an artist's ecommerce device statistics:



Barely over 2% from Android and over 89% from iOS. Makes me wonder why I bother testing for the Android devices.

We found the same results across all our client's ecommerce sites:

Here is another artist and two shops selling homegoods:





Of course, many of our ecommerce clients have design-focused boutique shops, so lopsided figures favoring Apple was to be expected, but we found the same results across industries. Here's a health care information site:



And here's two information sites for local service providers:




I figured there would be a clear winner; I just didn't expect it to be so extremely lopsided.