2010

Three Best Things 6/7/10 - 6/13/10

THING: Copyright: The Elephant in the Middle of the Glee Club from Balkinization. Glee might be the most unrealistic show on TV, now that [something something Lost joke]. How is a tiny extracurricular group able to pay $150k copyright fines for releasing videos of their performances? Let us discuss copyright.

THING: Mind Over Mass Media from the New York Times. You may have heard that Twitter is making you dumb. (Yes, you also probably heard the same thing about mime in 450 BCE, and look how smart that’s made you.) Well, Harvard psychology professor and best-selling pop science author Steven Pinker says Twitter isn’t bad for you, which sounds kind of like Harvard psychology professor and best-selling pop science author Steven Pinker says Twitter is good for you to me!

In fact, there isn’t anything — except for, like, helmetless motorcycling — that can make you dumber or smarter at anything else, so to speak:

Music doesn’t make you better at math, conjugating Latin doesn’t make you more logical, brain-training games don’t make you smarter. Accomplished people don’t bulk up their brains with intellectual calisthenics; they immerse themselves in their fields. Novelists read lots of novels, scientists read lots of science.

THING: Real Gardening vs. American Lawncare from Kitchen Stewardship.

Comment-Free Double Bonus Round

Being Wrong, Being Right, Being Informed, and Being Heard [Three Best Things 5/31/10 - 6/7/10]

As usual, three means more than three.

THING: Eat Your Words: Anthony Bourdain on Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz. Anthony Bourdain, host of the Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations (first four seasons currently streaming on Netflix), is notorious for challenging his own strong opinions. In this interview he discusses the value he’s gained from his willingness to be wrong, whether by traveling the world or preparing for fatherhood, and what doing it wrong can teach us:

There’s enormous respect and a romanticized reverence for what’s considered the “right” way—meaning, the classic way—and I think most chefs feel powerfully that one should know that before moving on. Like, “I’ve researched this, this is the way they were making it in 1700, goddamn it, and that’s the way it should be made.” Or: “This is the way they make laksa in Kuching and Borneo; that stuff I just had on Ninth Avenue is definitely not the same; ergo it’s wrong.” But, you know, what does “real” or “authentic” mean? The history of food is the history of migrating ingredients and occupation and foreign influences and accommodation.

Somebody who’d be very interesting to speak to on this is Grant Achatz [one of the pioneers of molecular gastronomy]. Here’s a guy who’s been trained in the classics, who knows the quote-unquote “right” away to do everything, but made a very deliberate decision to subvert it all. I think that’s admirable. We need people like that. We would never have had Jimi Hendrix if he’d stuck to the right way to play guitar.

THING: Wooden and Love by Joe Posnanski. John Wooden, the most successful coach in major American sports, died this week at 99. Though he once won 10 college hoops national titles in 12 years, he was even more beloved away from the game. Wooden famously wrote a love letter to his wife every month after she passed 15 years ago, his former players talk about him as if he’s their own grandfather (mixed with Moses or Ben Franklin), and his thoughts on life have become a rolling motivational quip factory over time. Posnanski looks through the lens of Wooden’s coaching style at the Pyramid of Success, a fifteen-block pile of Wooden aphorisms that appears to be a stack of pure cheese at first glance, and finds nothing short of a life plan.

THING: Clay Shirky: What I Read from the Atlantic Wire. Clay Shirky, described by WIRED editor-in-chief Chris Anderson as “a prominent thinker on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies,” details his reading priorities as part of a great series on media consumption by people you’ve heard of.

THING: Great African Singularities by Appfrica. Appfrica, a Ugandan software company, shows how African presence, language accommodations, and representation are alarmingly absent from otherwise globally focused pages by tech giants like Yahoo!, Google, Apple, Facebook, and more. Blogger Jonathan Gosier sees one solution:

The business world (and in this case tech companies) needs to be constantly reminded that they need you with cold hard facts. There are no other arguments. Show them the numbers, the patents, the inventions, the talent, the enthusiasm, the courage…the success stories. Don’t open your mouth to tell anyone anything or ask them for anything ever again…show them.

Money Is For Saving Newspapers, Not For Paying Athletes [Three Best Things 5/24/10 - 5/30/10]

Thing 1: A Popular Understanding Of Sports Economics from SB Nation. Sports fans whine about how much money athletes make. They spend more time doing this than they spend enjoying sports or life.

I’ve always tried to discover where it is that these fans feel all the money should go. Major sports leagues make billions of dollars — if athletes are making, like, $90,000 a year, does that mean the other 99.9% of each billion should should go to team owners? It’s gotta go somewhere. Might as well go to the people who provide the entire product, right?

It’s hard to avoid thinking it might be a race issue, as we’ll all get worked up about a guy named Rodriguez earning $25 million for 162 games, yet nobody complains about Tom Hanks making $25 million for doing one movie.

Thing 2: Flash Marketing by Grant McCracken.

What’s the hardest thing in the world to market?
Exactly.
Opera.
It can be difficult, elitist, inaccessible, and as if this weren’t enough, it’s in a foreign language.
What do you do?
If you are the Opera Company of Philadelphia, about a month ago, this is what you do.

Thing 3: Google Fonts API - time to Drupal market - one day by Acquia.

Google announced their API and directory on May 19, 2010. On Thursday, May 20, 2010, a Drupal module was released that gives you all the tools you need to display Google Fonts on your Drupal website. Time to market - one day. In the first week after its release, the module has already been installed on over 50 websites, kick-starting the virtuous cycle of testing and feedback that is the hallmark of open source software …
The lesson here is clear: you can move at web speed by using open source tools. Stop waiting for your proprietary vendor to add it to their product, Drupal let’s you use tools like Google Fonts today.

Elsewhere in new, efficient, and agile vs. old, wasteful, and sluggish: The Government Wants To Save Newspapers And Media Moguls from Silicon Alley Insider (via Rafi Kam). A recent FTC report on how to save journalism ignores blogs and other independent media, instead cooking up schemes that basically amount to newspaper industry bailouts. (What else can you call “a 5% surcharge on consumer electronics to raise $4 billion for public funding of news”?) There’s too much astounding stuff to summarize in a short space; go read it for yourself.

Like There’s Not A Bonus Section

Cell phone in microwave. Yes, it’s worth watching. With your speakers on.

Ground Control to Major Kelly [Three Best Things 5/17/10 - 5/23/10]

THING 1: Help me help my friend in DC from MetaFilter. An internet forum takes on the Russian mob… no, that’s literally what happened. The dad in Taken could’ve saved a whole lot of trouble if he’d simply paid the $5 MeFi registration fee.
THING 2: New Social Networking Site Changing The Way Oh, Forget It by the Onion. This is exactly what you think it is, and you will not regret reading it.
THING 3: I knew it was coming, and it still got me. That means it’s like a dry heave, but in a good way:

Bonus Thing

The perfect soundtrack for old footage of NASA missions? Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone,” chopped & screwed. This video simultaneously makes no sense and is the most fitting depiction I’ve ever seen of everything about outer space. The glory and horror and striving and solitude — who would’ve ever guessed we’d need an American Idol to soundtrack space travel?

I’ve watched this thing every day this week. I could hammer out 10 pages on it by tomorrow night, but I’ll spare you that if you at least watch it through the 1:53 mark.

QUICK QUICK BUSY BUSY Edition: Three Best Things 5/3/10 - 5/10/10

THING: Color Survey by XKCD. Men and women see color differently. Everyone accepts this. But according to science!, some things about the effects of gender on color perception aren’t quite what you’d think. And other things are exactly what you’d think. So.
THING: Why Is It Always Minority Players Suffering From Lack of Hustle? by Walkoff Walk. Certain sportswriter cliches — deceptively fast, great motor, reminds me of Wes Welker — have long been suspected of being applied much more frequently to white athletes. Well, somebody finally put it to the test. As Walkoff Walk proves, at least one descriptor, lack of hustle, is almost exclusively reserved for black players. I tried Googling up some football-related racial code language. The most common recipient of Wes Welkerousness as bestowed by pro writers? Looks like it’s Golden Tate, a black player. (If we’re counting message boards, then it’s Jordan Shipley, a white player who’s taller, skinnier, much less agile, and a little slower than Welker — plus they play in very different offenses. Nevermind all that; Jordan Shipley Wes Welker is a Google suggested search at this point. I just football-nerded all over the place, and I apologize.) For whatever reason football writers seem to be less influenced by race than baseball writers. I know, I couldn’t believe it either. Fans and TV announcers, on the other hand…
THING: Local boy with cancer turns into a superhero for a day by the Seattle Times. Half the town of Seattle conspired with Make-A-Wish to give superpowers to a 13-year-old with life-threatening liver cancer. If you can make it through this article without misting up, your not-crying muscles have superpowers of their own.

Bonus

This piece is entitled “Tea with Tyson,” as in Mike Tyson, and as in discussing tea with him. The following three minutes will rank among the best fifteen minutes of your day, unless if you’ve saved Seattle from Dr. Dark today:

New Drupal Nonprofit Project -- Redesigning the D.C. Open Government Coalition's Web Presence

D.C. Open Government Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing government transparency, hired us to redesign their Drupal site. They had been using a theme very similar to the stock Drupal theme and needed a visual identity that also helped tell the story of what they do.

Using the colors most commonly linked with the United States government seemed like the right idea — with the most space devoted to white to take advantage of the obvious associations between clean and open. We also used rocket-glare red to draw attention to the Report a Violation item, creating a call to action that stands out without stealing the show.

To streamline the experience for both visitor and editor, we also modified several content types and consolidated some navigation items. For example, combining several of the site’s dynamic content avenues (News, Announcements, etc.) into a single Blog cuts down on clicks — plus readers are much more likely to use RSS when looking at something that acts like a blog instead of a news section.

As a side note we’re very proud to be a part of this project, as we wholeheartedly support efforts to increase government openness.

Three Best Things 4/26/10 - 5/2/10

Thing: The Revenge of the Brands: How corporate America turned Naomi Klein’s anti-branding manifesto on its head from Reason. Intended as an anti-marketing call-to-arms, Naomi Klein’s No Logo has actually wound up as the blueprint for modern branding. When corporations are tripping over themselves to seem as uncorporate as possible, what’s left to subvert, anyway? Reason argues that, for Klein, “Writing about branding was only an excuse to talk about politics,” which explains her present lack of satisfaction at seeing corporate America playing by her rules. ELSEWHERE IN BRANDING: Ice Cube on co-opting the Los Angeles Raiders brand by force in the early ’90s.

Thing: Riders on the Storm by the New York Times. David Brooks, fresh off a 15-minute break spent dumping on Sandra Bullock for being the victim of infidelity, gets back to work by linking to some studies that declare internet users to be surprisingly open-minded clickers. “People who spend time on the most liberal sites are more likely to go to foxnews.com than average Internet users,” and vice versa. Sure, most of that cross-traffic can be chalked up to troll exchanges, but it’s reassuring to think more and more people might be finding common ground every day simply by being adventurous surfers. ELSEWHERE IN VIEWPOINTS: Design for the First World, a new blog that flips the “Design will save the world” notion — the idea that well-meaning while perhaps patronizing designers can solve developing-world problems just by being great designers who care really hard. DFTFW is soliciting solutions from developing-nation designers for first-world problems like obesity or having nothing to whine to Twitter about.

THING: Super Mario Bros Crossover via Rock Paper Shotgun. You can play through Super Mario Bros, warps and all, as Mega Man, Link, Metroid person, Castlevania man, or Contra guy. This is all you need to know. ELSEWHERE IN RETRO: The Industrialization of Traffic: Why Bicycles Are Faster Than Cars by No Tech Magazine.

BONUS!

You’ve seen parkour videos before, and some of them were ok, but none of them were as good as this one is:

The University of Washington's Latest Drupal Project, Assisted by ENGINE

The University of Washington’s Career Center needed some help with its Drupal site. The Dawgs rank among the many, many esteemed universities using Drupal*, and their entire web presence needs to reflect the university’s standard for excellence — U Dub is one of the world’s 25 best and most prestigious universities and the world’s best medical school.

As a brief overview of our role in this project, we:

  • Coded the theme, based on a design by UW staff, to fit the main site’s new look.
  • Rebuilt the site’s dropdown menus to work like the main site’s.
  • Upgraded from Drupal 5 to Drupal 6.
  • Imported all content (including most recent webform submissions and what have you).
  • Adjusted inline page tools capabilities, including the arrangement of them all into a single tidy block.
  • Reworked a custom Trumba calendar module to be Drupal 6 compatible.
  • General blocks, menus, templates, and modules Drupalery.
  • And so on and so forth.

Here you can see the site’s old header, which didn’t match the rest of the university website’s layout, menu functionality, and visuals. Its many orange elements veered from the classic Husky purple and gold — and web-friendly gray — color scheme, leaving the Career Center’s decor looking a little wrong. (The new header can be seen in the image above.) Note that we didn’t design the new header and footer; we implemented it into CSS:

This is the site’s former footer:

And this is how the footer, redesigned by Career Center staff, looks after ENGINE’s assistance:

Bottom line: we’re very proud to now be associated — even if it’s in a very, very small way — with one of the nation’s oldest, most productive, and largest universities. If we may be so bold, we’re already looking forward to getting our next chance to lend our skills to another incredible academic institution.

We leave you with this:

* Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Cornell, and others use Drupal for various subsites, while universities including Rutgers, Duke, Calgary, and Boston University trust Drupal with their main sites.

Apparently Stones Are for Drinking Now [Three Best Things 4/19/10 - 4/25/10]

Thing: Don’t throw that out! Editing like it’s paper destroys journalistic value by Jonathan Stray.

Thing: What’s in a Nickname? In Spirits World, an Implied Relationship by Ad Age. Coke. Jack (and Coke). VW Bug. Mickey D’s. Keys to the Beemer. The Big Apple, ATL, what happens in Vegas. A Louis bag and a pair of Chucks. Some brands have earned nicknames from their patrons the old-fashioned way, but the new marketing thing is to try and force nicknames on people, like this is first grade recess and Brand X is telling us we have to call it Musclebutt The Impossible because it climbed up the slide backwards woooooooo.

Corporations have successfully incorporated nicknames before, but only after the nicknames arose organically. Federal Express wouldn’t have changed its name to FedEx if everyone hadn’t already been calling it FedEx for years. Same story with the former Kentucky Fried Chicken. America Online. The obvious difference between these and Keystone Light trying to get you to call it Stones is FedEx and KFC and AOL didn’t force the change, as if they’re Brand Jœhanndreus X deciding to go by its middle name during its sophomore year because college girls seem to like weird names.

Who knows; maybe it’ll work. Seems more like they’re trying to fit in with Sam, the Captain, Heiny, Jager, Bud, Maker’s, PBR, Henny, and Natty. Also we’ve decided we want you guys to start calling us Eng.

Thing: As Australian comedy trio Axis of Awesome demonstrates, all you need to do to write a hit song is use the four-chord progression that’s used in every other hit song. Or just about. Medley us: [NSFW: Three cusses.]

Bonus Bonus Bonus

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