30 July 2012

Organizational power

I was struck by this passage in a kvetch from Sean Oliver about the new Apple Genius TV ads:

Collateral like this happens when there is no creative vision coming down from senior leaders. When leaders delegate the vision downward, middle managers end up having to make the final call, but in almost all cases they don’t have the power to do so alone. So, they go about securing buy-off from multiple teams, and the result was leadership by committee.

I'd say this principle applies not just to advertising collateral but to almost everything the organization does. My interests lie in product & design, so I see this pattern all of the time in that domain, but I feel confident in presuming that it applies to just about anything an organization does.

Oliver implies that organizations need more creative vision coming down from senior leaders. That's great when you can get it, but I propose a better alternative: empower those middle managers so that they can make the final call alone.

27 July 2012

Diversity of tactics

Facebook event discussion:

Yeah, that's the problem right there.

Update: More from Eric Throw Molotov:

Let's be clear about something here.

Every time the POLICE MURDER SOMEONE and there is a call to action, you have a certain group of people that have their own agenda and are not interested in anything but preserving the existing social order be it the police state or the everyday normal function of capitalism. Watch out for these people:

  1. Peace Police: nu-protester/stranger who uses violence against anyone in order to maintain the safety of the police, banks, corporations and the mass media.
  2. Conspiracy Theorists: nu-protester/stranger who assumes anyone challenging the system outside of the law is not a revolutionary but somehow an agent of the state. Just because you don't believe in the American Dream. Just because you don't believe in government. Just because you hate the capitalist system. Just because you won't follow governments rule and refuse to obey the American way of doing things. These people really need to WAKE THE FUCK UP put down the Alex Jones garbage and pick up the ------"St. Paul Principles". Seriously. Wake the fuck up!
  3. Aggressive Pacifists: people who are quick to shutdown their emotions against cops and direct their emotions at those who use direction action and condemn anyone who does not do the same when ever some fucked up shit like this happens where cops kill and you know the outcome will be a slap on the wrist unless there is backlash on the street.

    (I have a question? ) What brings you nu-people out here thinking you can control other people and snitch and turn people in? It looks to me like you are on a mission to defend the interests of the police by scaring anyone who dare to rise up and then when the police get off the hook, you subtly walk back into the shadows and we never hear from you again until the illusion of peace is broken by the sound of a gun sending a bullet into someones head or back and more rounds of projectiles for anyone who dare questions that sort of conduct. NO ASSHOLE, THE REAL QUESTION IS WHO THE FUCK DO YOU WORK FOR? You're the one shouting down at people who are angry at the police instead of shouting at the police WHO ARE THE REAL FUCKING TARGET!
  4. Standard Pacifists: these type don't really bother anyone from the radical community but don't really help either. They are the least of your worries.

This is the world that we are being forced to live in and it sucks so bad I wish I could wish it away somehow but it is always going to be here so long as we allow it to exist. I feel the same frustration as all of you out there in Anaheim and all those who truly believe there is no way to co-exist with the state because it is the enemy no doubt about that anymore. It does not work to keep you safe. The police are not your friends. Anyone protecting them right now is either a snitch or a careless idiot.

Good luck to everyone else out there tonight. Times are rough and their only going to get worse and the police grow more hostile everyday knowing this system can't sustain it self any longer. FUCK COPS! FUCK THE SYSTEM! FUCK THE USA!

Syrio Forel's prayer

There is only one god.

And his name is Death.

And there is only one thing we say to Death.

Not today.

19 July 2012

Peak Oil is wrong, alas

George Monbiot reports that there's plenty of oil after all, if we are willing to spend enough money and wreck enough of the environment.

The automatic correction resource depletion destroying the machine that was driving it, that many environmentalists foresaw, is not going to happen. The problem we face is not that there is too little oil, but that there is too much.

We have confused threats to the living planet with threats to industrial civilisation. They are not, in the first instance, the same thing. Industry and consumer capitalism, powered by abundant oil supplies, are more resilient than many of the natural systems they threaten. The great profusion of life in the past, fossilised in the form of flammable carbon, now jeopardises the great profusion of life in the present.

There is enough oil in the ground to deep-fry the lot of us and no obvious means to prevail upon governments and industry to leave it in the ground. Twenty years of efforts to prevent climate breakdown through moral persuasion have failed, with the collapse of the multilateral process at Rio de Janeiro last month. The world’s most powerful nation is again becoming an oil state and if the political transformation of its northern neighbour is anything to go by, the results will not be pretty.

Update: A lot more information about the data and the implications.

12 July 2012


Programmers often talk about a “SMOP”. It's an exceedingly useful expression. Here's Eric Raymond's instructive Jargon File on the subject:

Simple (or Small) Matter of Programming
  1. A piece of code, not yet written, whose anticipated length is significantly greater than its complexity. Used to refer to a program that could obviously be written, but is not worth the trouble. Also used ironically to imply that a difficult problem can be easily solved because a program can be written to do it; the irony is that it is very clear that writing such a program will be a great deal of work. “It's easy to enhance a FORTRAN compiler to compile COBOL as well; it's just a SMOP.”
  2. Often used ironically by the intended victim when a suggestion for a program is made which seems easy to the suggester, but is obviously (to the victim) a lot of work.
Compare minor detail.

It's a handy expression for an interaction designer to know and use. If a designer says things like I'd rather not break the user's address into a bunch of fields in the UI; let's provide a single big open text box and parse it into name, street, city, state, and zip on the back end and then adds it will be a Simple Matter Of Programming, taking care to pronounce the Capital Letters, the development team will appreciate the designer speaking their language and recognizing that she has proposed that they do so a significant chunk of work.

In that spirit, I'd like to offer the world an expression that I occasionally employ which should really get out more often.

SMOUXD (smucks-dee)
“small matter of user experience design”
  1. A user experience problem resulting from deep in the structure of the system which people naïvely propose could be corrected with simple changes to the visual presentation of the UI.


    Product Manager: Our customers are complaining that our order processing system is confusing. Can we fix it by redesigning the input form?

    UX Designer: (Rolls eyes) Sure, fixing the consequences of our broken supply chain spilling out onto our customers is just a Simple Matter Of UX Design.

  2. An opportunity to save a great deal of programming effort though a cunning bit of UX design.


    Software Engineer: I think we could spot this pattern in the data using Markov chain analysis and throw errors when we suspect that there's a significant outlier. We will need to get a bunch of our customers to share their back-end data so we can tune the system.

    UX Designer: SMOUXD! We can graph the data in the right format and users will easily spot the cases they care about.

09 July 2012


The long Esquire article The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama is an important piece of journalism. It's written as a letter to the President.

This is not to say that the American people don't know about the Lethal Presidency, and that they don't support its aims. They do. They know about the killing because you have celebrated — with appropriate sobriety — the most notable kills, specifically those of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki; they support it because you have asked for their trust as a good and honorable man surrounded by good and honorable men and women and they have given it to you. In so doing, you have changed a technological capability into a moral imperative and have convinced your countrymen to see the necessity without seeing the downside. Politically, there is no downside. Historically, there is only the irony of the upside — that you, of all presidents, have become the lethal one; that you, of all people, have turned out to be a man of proven integrity whose foreign and domestic policies are less popular than your proven willingness to kill, in defense of your country, even your own countrymen ... indeed, to kill even a sixteen-year-old American boy accused of no crime at all.

I'll say it again: when Obama was elected I was prepared to be disappointed but I was not prepared to be horrified. Yet here we are.

Version 1.0

This article from Matt Buchanan at Buzzfeed is framed as advice for consumers, but the important lesson is for tech product and service companies. Yes, you should start by releasing the “minimum viable product”, but that product must in fact be viable. If you find yourself saying “sure this stinks, but we are just releasing it as the 1.0 version”, you're doing it wrong. You won't be able to fix it.

“Just wait for the update” or “just wait for the apps” or “there's more launching soon” has became so pervasive that when I was at Gizmodo we had a badge for it in reviews. Do you know how many products I reviewed that evolved past the “half baked” status into “must buy”? None. Ever. Ever.

Via Daring Fireball.