TEDTalks: Tony Fadell: The first secret of design is ... noticing

I listened to Tony Fadell's TED talk yesterday. Tony designed the first iPod before leaving Apple to design the Nest thermostat.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • "We get used to everyday things really fast." Tony uses an example of stickers on fruit. When he was growing up, fruits didn't have price stickers. The only reason stickers came about was to make the piece of fruit scannable at the grocery store. But when you ate the fruit at home you always had to scratch off the sticker. It sucked but you got "numb to it over time." Stickerless fruit are now the exception today.
  • "Humans have limited brain power." When you learn something new, like driving for instance, you pay attention to everything. But then we habituate the activity, and we start flipping radio stations and thinking about stuff other than what's in front of us.

So how do we avoid habituation?

Tony outlines three ways for keeping that beginner's mind so you can notice the details.

  1. Look broader. Thermostats always wasted energy. Nest learns your habits and adapt its algorithm to control the AC when it's actually needed. If you want to make something better, change the way it works.
  2. Look closer. People shouldn't have to be professionals in order to get something done. Nest offers one screw that mounts to all walls.
  3. Think young. Kids ask a tons of questions. They point out flaws in the obvious and ask why? Kids question the status quo which makes adults rethink their approach. A lifetime of habits sit in our way.

The more we're exposed to something the more we get used to it. "How can I experience the world better," Tony asks the audience, so that we can "get rid of these dumb stickers."

The Paradox of Thoughts💭

Unthink

Unthink

They can ephemeral but potentially sticky, pervasive, and annoying.

Thoughts are like magnets. We can't turn them off. We're always thinking about something.

Try to go a minute without thinking about a white bear. It's impossible. Thoughts lead us right into the thing we're trying to avoid, even that pot hole.

Thoughts depend on the chaotic connectivity of neurons. But the chaos is why it all works.

We can meditate and try to inculcate certain thought patterns like positivity. But the process is mostly futile. Controlling thoughts is exactly what gives them strength.

Beats, a Soundtrack to Life

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  • They'll make you unthink
  • They'll make you fearless
  • They'll make you move

Beats take the brain somewhere else. They stir up emotion and propel action.

Balearic beats can you free your mind up to the oceans.

Hip hop beats can make you nod your head.

Alternative beats can make you tap your feet.

Music untethers the brain. It dissipates blocks, and lets the blood flow.

What you listen to also depends on what you want to get out of it. If you want to get work done, listen to music you can ignore. If you want to run, choose something uptempo. If you want to relax, go with something ambient.

The mind is a reflection of its external input. Beats help jog and calm the brain. They can even help cure it.

The Internet Is TV, Again

Autoplay on Facebook and Twitter is distractive eye candy. How can you avoid looking at something that's moving as soon as you log-in? It's already bad enough that every time I log into Facebook I forget why I went there in the first place.

The internet hasn't gotten any faster (at least where I live) but the UI design has. These networks are competing for eyeballs. They'll make ads move faster to guarantee advertisers more impressions.

But as a user these conditions make me second guess logging in. The Internet is TV, for real this time. Tumblr TV is already a thing.

They say you lose the ability to multitask with age. Having videos and GIFs move as I shift through the feeds is like having little birds flying by as you walk.

There's no way to switching off autoplay and reverting back to static opt-in. The social networks are making attention impossibly sticky. What's the Internet's version of cord cutting?

Newsletter: The Picasso of Legos, Tumblr is MTV, using modern technology to tell stories, the paradox of content abundance, and more

Arts & Culture

A Legoland Builder Turns Her Childhood Hobby Into an Adult Art Form

Constriction forces creativity. In the case of 23-year-old Veronica Watson, she recreated Picasso's "Guernica" using Legos. Now she's being recognized as the 'Picasso of Legos.' Lesson: use what you have and build something remarkable, even if it's a remix.

““With Lego, you have a limited palette, so to make something you have to analyze it to its simplest form,” she said. “You ask, ‘What is the most important thing?’ So when someone looks at it, they recognize it and fill in the blank.””

nytimes.com

Social Media & Technology

Technology and The Evolution of Storytelling

Technology inspires creativity. When Pixar's John Lasseter discovered computer generated animation he helped to create the first CG movie Toy Story. He shares the same excitement today for iPhones and GoPros for production. Like all good stories though, the technology should be in the background.

“It’s not the technology that entertains people, it’s what you do with the technology.”

medium.com

How Tumblr and MTV Killed the Neon Anti-Corporate Aesthetic of Vaporwave

I want my MTV, or shall we say, Tumblr. Tumblr rebranded itself as MTV by building a platform on flashy/retro 90s looking GIFs. At the same time, MTV is morphing into the hyper-visual Internet candy that are Tumblr vaporwaves. The Internet and TV are one, technologically and culturally.

“Logos, primitive 3D “net art,” TV shows, movies, and video games have all been turned into a cough syrup-fueled visual smorgasbord and subsumed by vaporwave.”

vice.com

Search, discovery and marketing

It's not a bad thing that there's too many websites, apps, music, etc. People are creating. We just need more curators. We don't need any more mass retailers though, as the likes of Gap and J Crew are facing competition from personalized fashion boutiques. Benedict Evans breaks down search, discovery, and marketing the age of excess.

“That’s what the new generation of internet retailers are trying to do - to scale curation instead of catalogues.”

ben-evans.com

In the kingdom of the bored, the one-armed bandit is king

There used to be something called scarcity. You couldn't listen to all the music in the world. You had to go the record store and pick from the bins. It was actually a meaningful experience. But the Internet and mobile technology are reshaping our value of content. We'd rather tinker with the widgets like slot machines.

"And so, bored by the content, bored by the art, bored by the experience, we become obsessed with the interface.”

roughtype.com

New Music

Episode 58 | Tunes of the Week

This week's recipe: Hip Hop > Beats > Electronica

  1. Nü Age Syndicate - Breeze x Kahmi // Pro-gram [Prod. Art Vandelay]
  2. World's Fair - n1go
  3. Glenn Astro - Computerkiller
  4. Toro y Moi - That Instead of This
  5. Synkro - Heros
  6. FRKTL - Descent

Listen here

soundcloud.com

Thought of the Week

“You need to press the buzzer before you know the answer.” - Seth Godin

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My Blog

Social Media Digest #2: Brands Capitalize on Gay Marriage, Disney Bans Selfie Sticks, Snapchat Focuses in on Vertical Ads, and more

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This is the second consecutive week of my social media digest. I welcome take any feedback related to content and design. Hit me up on Twitter.

  1. Brands capitalized on the marriage reform announcement yesterday afternoon.  Here are some of the best. My favorite brand interpretation was the fan created one for Apple as shown above. Tim Cook tweeted in celebration. The Terminatoreven got in on the action. But the Capital Hill interns made the day impossible to forget. So good!
  2. Disney banned selfie sticks from its themes parks. I wonder how many other companies (stadiums, retail stores, etc) see the sticks as a liability issue and will do the same.
  3. Uber expands its services to water taxis in Istanbul. Somehow, Uber missed the boat on developing a same service for the Bay Area. How about a similar service for NJ-NY commuters back and forth over the Hudson? You can uberize anything.
  4. Instagram redesigned its Explore tab, adding trending topics, places, and better search. This is Instagram's attempt to close in on Twitter as a source of breaking news. Your best discovery still lies within the home feed.
  5. Snapchat is building its own advertising platform tailored for vertical advertising on mobile phones. I wonder how much of the growth in time spent holding the phone vertically is attributable to Snapchat. Nonetheless, I almost always hold my mobile vertically unless I'm reading a book on the kindle app, then I go horizontal. 
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My social media think pieces:

I have a newsletter that goes out every Sunday that dabbles into art, culture, tech, and new music. You'll probably dig it if you like the content above, or if you're simply a curious person. Sign up right here.

Kill Switch

Every home and hotel room should have a kill switch to power down all gadgets.

Turning off technology allows you let go of distraction and pursue boredom. Boredom leads to curiosity, which leads to thinking which is the litmus for creativity. You do your best ideation with pen and paper to instead of a screen full of apps.

Handwrite to think. Type to produce.

The problem with the computer is that it's for consumption and production. We tend to get stuck in the former. We like and swipe and search into an sea of endless, uncurated Google results.

The kill switch exists to sign off from the world and recharge the mental a batteries. Digital diet aside, silence is just a healthy practice. For best results, go off the grid.

From Social Networks to Niche Networks

Social networks may come and go but Facebook is permanent. However, that doesn't mean more provincial, niche-operated networks won't show up and gain a decent following.

Social networks are places. And the digital world is becoming more like the physical world. People want to hang out where they feel accepted and get positive feedback in return.

FaceGloria is one of those places. It looks like Facebook and acts like Facebook, the like button is an amen 🙏 button, but people go there to avoid bad words and nudity, almost like a church.

There will always be new and emerging cut-down and mobile first versions of Facebook like Snapchat and Instagram that go mainstream. There will also be duds like Ello. All these networks will become more like public squares to spread awareness for the smaller, niche networks.

Social networks are places. You're best bet in finding real connections is where you want to see yourself reflected in others.

"The mirror we hold up to the person next to us is one of the most important pictures she will ever see." - Seth Godin

The Grand Central Astronaut

Moon landing in Grand Central Station

Moon landing in Grand Central Station

Last Friday, I exited the Apple Store and took this picture of a man wearing a spacesuit in the middle of Grand Central. I waited a few days to share it on Instagram because I had other images to share in the queue and because I wasn't sold on the shot. That lady with the purse also taking a mobile photo threw me off: get out of my picture! I also had a difficult angle to play with since so many people were also huddling on the same staircase to snag the same photo.

But then I realized a couple things:

  1. I should make this picture black and white so the spacesuit pops more and that lady I just mentioned fades out.
  2. The picture met the rules of thirds photography guidelines. The astronaut sits right on the intersection where the eye naturally meets a photo.

On Monday my phone started to blow up. WNYC had shared the image on Twitter. Grand Central Station asked me if they could share it on their Instagram account. Go for it! This lady also wanted to buy it. Ok, cool!

I tend to stay from the obvious images, basically anything that can be Googled. I also don't like it when everyone's taking a picture of the same thing. But this astronaut sighting may be the exception. Got to love New York for being weird.

Don't forget to follow bombtune on Instagram.

Voice Acting

Voice is mutable. You often change your voice to meet the requirements of your surroundings. If you grow up in Texas, you're going to have a Southern drawl. If you move to the New York, you may get used to saying "cawfee" instead of "coffee."

Whether your voice is monotone, raspy, or squeaky, or you're in church, at school, or at home, you always consider the audience and try to match their style. We're all voice actors, especially the woman behind Siri.

🔃 Recycling the Hits

  • New devices
  • New cars
  • New tunes

The obsession with new and wanting more of better is only as good as its objective: to increase happiness. Most of the time, it's the emotional desire that needs to be fulfilled rather than the utility of the product.

Materialism scratches the itch and brings initial happiness but perpetuates dissatisfaction in the long-run.

But what if you repurchase the exact same product to replace the one you lost or beat up? It's not exactly recycling but at least the product means something to you, in either utility or comfort.

What's new is only needed if it's desired again, to replenish what's essential to one's well-being.

Newsletter: Why humans run the world, the case against subwoofers, the positive impact of bibliotherapy, Oliver Sacks's mishearings, and more

Arts & Culture

Why humans run the world

What releases humans from the prison of biology is the brain. Humans run the world because they use their imagination. Humans make up stories such as human rights, religion, money, and nation states to create systems of governments, beliefs, economics, and borders to compel people to obey and cooperate. Humanness works.

“Put 100,000 chimps in Wall Street or Yankee Stadium, and you’ll get chaos. Put 100,000 humans there, and you’ll get trade networks and sports contests.”

ted.com

Drop the Bass: A Case Against Subwoofers

Subwoofers were originally created to support Hollywood movies and video games, not music. Only later did subwoofers support concerts and become a staple for EDM. This musician argues against subwoofers, concluding that they're not made for all forms of music, particularly rock and folk music which are all about the "mids."

"Without that bass boost, you’ll hear the low end with greater clarity. And you’ll have a better chance at feeling the music’s intended physical and emotional reactions.”

pitchfork.com


Philosophy & Productivity

Can Reading Make You Happier?

Do books have healing power, like medicine and religion? Bibliotherapy prescribes literature (fiction, not self-help books) to help people cope with their personal issues.

“A book may be a stimulant or a sedative or an irritant or a soporific. The point is that it must do something to you, and you ought to know what it is. A book may be of the nature of a soothing syrup or it may be of the nature of a mustard plaster.”

newyorker.com

Mishearings

Freudianism says that when we mishear something we're injecting our own "deeply repressed feelings and conflicts." But how can that be when we what we hear makes no sense, even if it were a possibility. Oliver Sacks writes about his experience and enjoyment in mishearing things:

“Only in the realm of mishearing — at least, my mishearings — can a biography of cancer become a biography of Cantor (one of my favorite mathematicians), tarot cards turn into pteropods, a grocery bag into a poetry bag, all-or-noneness into oral numbness, a porch into a Porsche, and a mere mention of Christmas Eve a command to “Kiss my feet!””

nytimes.com


Social Media & Technology

A New Theory of Distraction

We live in a distraction economy. But that's because we haven't carried mobile computers up until now. So, are we dangerously distracted or is viewing life through the looking glass the new normal?

“We should grow more comfortable with our unfocussed selves, and, instead of repudiating them, reclaim them.”

newyorker.com

New Music

 

Episode 57 | Tunes of the Week

This week's recipe: Beats > Electronica > House

  1. Kansado - Journey To The One
  2. Dirtydicedubs - The Struggle
  3. Romare - Rainbow (Club)
  4. Lakker - Milch
  5. Bodhi - Haute (Original Mix)

Listen here

soundcloud.com

Thought of the Week

“Innovate as a last resort. More horrors are done in the name of innovation than any other.” - Charles Eames

tumblr.com

Social Media Digest #1: Twitter's Project Lightning, Facebook's Latest Algorithm Changes, and more

I used to write about social media all the time. Then I started integrating it into my everyday think pieces, aka blog posts. But I'd like to get back to recapping the news on the weekends, preferably every Saturday before I launch my newsletter on Sunday. So let's keep this brief and informative.

  1. Twitter is launching Project Lightning, a human curated feed showcasing the top stories Twitter thinks its reader would be interested in. Snapchat does this now with its own Stories feature, aggregating photo and video content around marquee world events. Twitter continues to experiment with ways to appeal to a wider audience. But as I wrote this week, I'm not so sure it needs to.

  2. Facebook changed its algorithm again, this time to factor in time spent on browsing and reading content as opposed to liking and commenting. As William James once said, "What holds attention, determines action." The same rule applies to algorithmic content.

  3. Buzzfeed launched Buzzfeed News this week in its attempt to become a legitimate news organization. This app competes with the many other digestible news apps include Economist Espresso and The New York Times Now.

  4. Vimeo released the Cameo app this week to make it easy for people to shoot, edit, and publish short films on their phones. Naturally, I experimented with it right away. Check it out.

  5. Spotify introduced "Taste-Rewind" this week, a new feature that recommends old tracks its listeners should check out. Who doesn't love digging in the crate to discover or rediscover old gems?

Warm Coffee ☕️

At some point it becomes less about the taste and the experience and more about the effect. People get straight to the point. They drink their coffee black so they can wake up faster. They take a shot of whiskey so they can relax.

The same people also get more blunt. They tell it how it is. Their emails get shorter and more succinct. They remove the fluff in exchange for clarity.

Some people just want to get on with the business of living. Whatever is faster is better. Sugar coating the experience is a waste of time.

But shortcuts to productivity don't necessarily lead to more output. Black coffee, shots of alcohol, and straightforwardness save time but devalue the experience. All the time extra time spent between those extended moments inspire new conversations, new ideas, and new thoughts. Nothing gets wasted.

Care to stay for an Americano?

Twitter: The Long Game

Twitter:  More important than money

Twitter:  More important than money

Twitter works. Just look at Instagram. It's all you can eat Twitter without the words. Images only.

The only reason Twitter is struggling is because it can't make money. Other than that, it's an invaluable service. It's an extension of my online education. If you follow the right people you can learn more about your work and yourself. You can connect with people whose style you admire. One day, you'll meet these people face face to face and it'll feel normal. Twitter helps bridge the online and offline personas. You are what you share.

I'd pay to use Twitter. I wouldn't pay for Facebook. I might pay for Instagram although I can get the same satisfaction from Tweeting images or putting them elsewhere like Flickr or on the VSCO Grid. It's still too early to asses Snapchat's value-add to the online world but it works like a private and public Twitter that communicates real-time moments through images and video. Its Stories feature has opened up a window to events across the world. If Snapchat disappeared tomorrow, it would've trained me to use iMessage with more playfulness.

Twitter's scale isn't the issue. It's the people that can't create their own Tweets that shy away from participating that undermine the growth of the network. So don't expect for Medium, Twitter's long-form baby, to be widely adopted either.

Maybe all Twitter needs is its 300 monthly active users. That's a massive niche that doesn't need to market to the macro.

Creative Genes

Photography is one creative outlet

Photography is one creative outlet

There's no such thing as a creative gene. Creativity starts with inspiration and imitation. The teacher shows the pupil how to be creative and the student decides to pursue it.

You can't fake creativity. Nor can you just turn it on. Creativity comes with the practice of being curious and producing something in response: a piece of art, a lyric, a joke. Creatives produce as much as they consume. Output equals input.

Creativity runs like a gas tank. One day it's full, the next day it's running on fumes. Nothing comes out except the frustration of feeling stuck. Seeking inspiration can get you over the hump or out of a slump.

Creativity ebbs and flows. But the feeling is always there, as long as you want to be expressive. The alternative to creativity is banality. Once you decide to impress others and conform you're done.

The Fractured World of Sharing and Storing Photos

Facebook's Moments, yet another photo service

Facebook's Moments, yet another photo service

If you think the music streaming business is fractured, look at the photo business. There are countless places to share and store your photos: Google, Facebook, Dropbox, iCloud and Flickr, to name some.

Facebook's Moments launched yesterday. It promises to do what Google announced last week: offer a safe place to privately upload your photos and make it easy to identify the people, animals, or other things in them.

As Om Malik writes in the New Yorker, every tech company is copying each other these days in the name of mimetic desire.

"Sometimes, I wonder if Apple and Google are like Vitali and Wladimir Klitshcko, the Ukrainian brothers who have, for past decade, made the heavyweight boxing championship a very boring family affair."

There isn't any reason we should trust these services with our content, even if they purportedly act for the greater good. As if Snowden's revelations need to convince us otherwise.

There's too much choice in the photo space. It's confusing, even to someone who considers himself an amafessional photographer that's cloud-savvy. Let's go back to basics. Let's store our favorites offline and share only what we think each other should see.

Newsletter #9 | How to design a metaphor, Paul Ford on code, How to get yourself to do things, and more!

Below are my favorite reads and tunes of the week. Check the past issues for more.

Arts & Culture

How to design a metaphor

Metaphors can be ugly. They can make no sense. But they also simplify our understanding of things. The challenge is in creating them, which according to one metaphor designer, requires mapping two concepts through a series of deliberate mistakes.

“...the thing that lets us make sense of ‘paintbrush as pump’ – or ‘lawyer as shark’ – is that ‘pump’ is the name of a category for liquid-moving mechanisms, just as ‘shark’ is the name of the category for predatory individuals.”

aeon.co

'I've Never Thanked My Parents for Anything'

We say "Thank You" a bunch in America, perhaps so much it's hard to tell when it's sincere. An Indian expat dissects the strange paradox of showing gratitude in India vs America, where saying thank you "is like a period at the end of a sentence."

“In America, by contrast, saying thank you often marks an end to the transaction, an end to the conversation, an end to the interaction...“Thank you for coming to my home” actually meant, “It’s time for you to get out of my house.”

theatlantic.com


Philosophy & Productivity

How to Get Yourself to Do Things

The key to eliminating anxiety is to simply get started and be productive. The longer you wait the more tension/anxiety that builds. Start with something achievable, even if it's one push-up or writing one sentence. Trust me: You can do it.

“The moment you start acting on something, you are at the beginning of the end of the anxiety associated with that thing.”

raptitude.com

Lament of an educator/parent

Let's face it: school (and work) can burn down the imagination, replacing it with standardized tests. How can schools better promote curiosity so that students start more questions with 'what if' rather than demanding answers. One mom, also a teacher, criticizes the modern education system. Cue Pink Floyd.

“Igniting imagination is, or should be, the purpose of education, as this provides the impetus to explore what lies beyond known experience.”

oup.com


Social Media & Technology

What is code? If you don't know, you need to read this:

Code runs the world. The TV, ATM, and Facebook are all powered by code which gets packaged up as software. In code, everything connects. Mistype a character will yield a drastically different result, if not complete error. I like to think of code as a series of "if, then" statements but then I probably just misunderstood all of Paul Ford's epic piece on code.

“Coding is a broad human activity, like sport, or writing. When software developers think of coding, most of them are thinking about lines of code in files. They’re handed a problem, think about the problem, write code that will solve the problem, and then expect the computer to turn word into deed.”

bloomberg.com


New Music

Episode 56 | Tunes of the Week

  1. Stray - Movements
  2. Sam Gellaitry - Paper
  3. Hudson Mohawke - Scud Books
  4. Halogeniz - Beyond (also in last week's playlist)
  5. Kasra & Enei - Overthinking featuring DRS
  6. Hubert Daviz - Joi
  7. Nils Frahm - Them

Listen here

soundcloud.com


Thought of the Week

 “I don’t want them to follow me. I want them to follow themselves, but to be with me.” - Ornette Coleman #RIP

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My Blog


Carrying Crayons into Adulthood

Creativity is the only way to escape the dangers of ennui. Learning how to express yourself instead of impressing others liberates the inner child.

bombtune.com

Can Data Predict Creativity?

Data is both a boon and a bust. It can tell us we've got 2k steps to go to get our 10k step daily requirement. But it can also be manipulated to predetermine our mood and what we engage with, scan, and buy online.

We all knew we were being tracked prior to Snowden's revelations. We just refused to admit it. Mark Cuban thinks our social data is already being mined to predetermine what kind of person and worker we are. In other words, our retweets are endorsements that can prevent us from getting the job we want, let alone getting paired with the right (or wrong) mate.

But what the data can't do is predict creativity. The creator is unpredictable. They take influence from an array of sources and combine it with their own vision to produce something original.

"You are what goes through your mind. If you can express it, you're an artist." - Agnes Martin

Track our steps. Track our cookies. Track what we read and engage with on Facebook. The algorithms can only make suggestions. It doesn't know what's going to make someone curious, emotional, or get up and dance. Data fails at predicting the random.