A Decade at the Berkeley J-School

In November of 2001, after working for several years as a freelance technology writer, I took a job as webmaster at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. I was led to a humble wooden desk in a converted boiler room, half-underground. Light poured in from a door open on to nearby Soul Road, and the sound of students yammering about engineering problems over cell phones filled the air.  Had no idea at the time that I’d be sitting at that desk for the next ten years, or that it was about to become one of the richest, most interesting periods of my life.

After a decade in that position, I’m about to move on, with extremely mixed feelings, and will be taking a job as web developer with campus’ central Educational Technology Services (ETS) department later this week. Before I go, wanted to spend a few words digesting my years at the J-School and Knight Digital Media Center.

Continue reading

DIY Chess Set

Over the past week, Miles and I have spent our evenings sketching out and making our own chess set, using Crayola’s borderline surreal synthetic clay-like substance Model Magic (we bought it in bulk at a craft supply store). It’s really weird stuff – feels light, almost like foam or fluffernutter. It stiffens up after a few days, but never gets completely hard. Easy to work with, super clean.

We decided to each design and create our own side of the chess board, but helped each other with some bits. Miles is a brilliant chess player at age 9, and it takes some serious concentration to not be beaten by him – he seems to see every possibility, every opening. Either that or I’m oblivious. Finally had our first real game with our new set last night and he kicked my butt!

Fun project.

Flickr set

Raising #OWS from Protest to RealPolitik

The goals of the #ows movement have been well-communicated by now, and continued encampments are starting to do more harm than good in the public perception. It's time for an effective political movement to grow from this soil, and seeds for the real politics of #ows may lie in Lawrence Lessig's new book,

Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress — and a Plan to Stop It

which apparently gets both parts right – what corruption is, AND what to do about it. Lessig's book could become the "manual" for the future of #ows. Sounds like a great read.

Embedded Link

Has a Harvard Professor Mapped Out the Next Step for Occupy Wall Street?
His call for state-based activism on behalf of a constitutional convention could provide the movement with a political focus

Google+: View post on Google+

El Caminito del Rey

"El Caminito del Rey (English: The King's little pathway) is a walkway, now fallen into disrepair, pinned along the steep walls of a narrow gorge in El Chorro, near Álora in the province of Málaga, Spain. The name is often shortened to Camino del Rey (English: King's pathway)."

Reshared post from +Kevin Bourrillion

An old favorite. You haven't lived died a thousand gruesome deaths inside your mind until you've seen this video.

Google+: View post on Google+

Added to my Bucketlist! (check the amazing videos there).

Abandoned Cabins

Wonderful day hiking backwoods Pioneer, CA with Dad, where we discovered an old abandoned cabin in the woods. Appeared to have been built in the 1920s and last occupied in the 1960s. Haunting, sad, beautiful, and scattered through with interesting junk. A poster showing all the presidents shows that JFK was still in power when someone last lived there. Outdoor shower powered by old riveted boilers, an unopened box of Kleenex from the 1950s, spiderwebs coming out of the taps, a dead bat in the sink… the place was visually amazing.


Flickr set

American Censorship Day

On 11/16, Congress holds hearings on the first American Internet censorship system. This bill can pass. If it does the Internet and free speech will never be the same:

“These bills were written by the content industry without any input from the technology industry. And they are trying to fast track them through congress and into law without any negotiation with the technology industry.”

Please sign up and do what you can to help oppose this draconian and pointless bill.

The Invention of Cut-and-Paste

How do you design a computing interface for six seven billion people? There’s no single app or operating system that everyone uses, but there are computing paradigms that are literally universal. One of those is the simple ability to cut-and-paste text – something so fundamental that it seems to always have been there. But it wasn’t – it had to be invented, had to evolve, like everything else in this world.

Fascinating talk by Larry Tessler at the Bay Area Computer Human Interaction last night. Tessler was at Xerox PARC and Apple in those legendary early days when the computer was being elevated from a purely command-driven interface to GUI systems. The computer mouse had just been invented, but since it was a newborn, no one yet knew exactly how it would be used. Engineers fought over how many buttons it should have, and what those buttons should do. And it simply hadn’t occurred to anyone yet that dragging the mouse over text could do something interesting.

Tessler was working on the Gypsy word processor, and struggling at every turn to eliminate blocking “modes” from computer interfaces. Deleting a word from a sentence had involved complex verb -> noun -> action sequences, as in “Delete word #6… OK do it.” The paradigm of selecting text and then acting upon it (noun -> verb) hadn’t been invented yet. But while the very concept of text selection was being imagined and implemented, the mice of the day were clunky and difficult to aim. Dragging out selections was an erratic process, and the software already had to employ predictive algorithms that figure out what you meant to select rather than what you actually did select.

To early users, the concept of an invisible clipboard was strange, so a strip at the bottom of the screen called the Waste Basket held cut text; you could pull cut text out of the Waste Basket and place it elsewhere in your document at any time.

Over time, concepts of text selection and the invisible clipboard spread to other software, then to other operating systems. Today they work identically in virtually every computing environment, so welded to the fundamentals of user experience that we never even think about them. Eye opening to learn how much thought, how much trial and error went into the development of these basic concepts.

Also interesting to hear how Apple ended up with the one-button mouse, even though the mouse started off as multi-button. The key, as Tessler described, was that 99% of end users of the time had never touched a computer in their lives. A multi-button mouse introduces complexities we don’t think much about today – should the 2nd / 3rd button emulate the Cmd key or the Ctrl key? Should one of the buttons be for un-do? Etc. etc. In the absence of the common right-button paradigms we have today, multi-button would have introduced a lot of unnecessary confusion. Ironically, Tessler described a meeting decades later in which he and a fellow engineer who had fought for multi-button back when reversed their positions – Tessler admitting that maybe they should have launched with multi-button, and the other guy admitting he should have fought for single button from the start.