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The Upstream

This time-lapse capture of snowflakes forming is hypnotic and beautiful.

There’s No Upside To Joining the Fray

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So you’re good at social media, right? You know what not post. No obnoxious comments, nothing overly political, keep deep personal stuff to a minimum. We all know that. It should be a given by now. Everything you post has the potential to become public. Watching the demise of those who make mistakes can be fascinating. It happens so quickly and in real time. Often without the whole story.

As a culture, we are still learning the boundaries of this new form of communication. People make all kinds of mistakes using Social Media. It’s gotten people into a lot of hot water, some even deserved.  One woman found judge, jury and executioner waiting for her in the airport after a thoughtless tweet right before an international flight. A New York Hedge Fund analyst thought he could have some fun spreading false information during Hurricane Sandy behind a thin veil of anonymity, he was wrong. The CTO of a major online publication had quite the lively twitter feed, full of his personal musings, many of them offensive to a variety of social groups. Sometimes these people get called out and a Twitter-storm can arise from a single tweet. Suddenly the topic is trending, it’s all over your feed, everyone is commenting, re-tweeting, putting in their two cents. The online mob picks up their pitchforks and torches and storms the castle.

It can seem fun, to be part of a world-wide conversation. You feel vindicated joining the angry mob online. After all, that person is (insert insulting term here) and deserves it. But what does it do for you? Are you a pundit or expert on the issue? Then sure, weigh in carefully with a response, but keep it professional. Are you a journalist? By all means, write something. However, if you are just the average joe on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or whichever network is exploding, wait a day. Chances are your urge to fire off a tweet will disappear.

Not only is there no upside, there is a downside. Twitter histories can be dredged up. That tweet you re-thought and deleted can be recovered. Heck, that tweet you thought was funny and would only be seen by your friends can be discovered by someone who has a major influence on your life. In a tough job market the last thing you want to do is be looking for work and have your social media history tank your chances at your dream job. The reality is, you don’t know who’s watching or will be scouring your history in the future. As job searches become more competitive and Social Media background checks become ubiquitous it pays to be smart and stay above the fray. Because they aren’t just looking to see what you say, they are looking to see if you know when to shut up.

Twitter-storms can come from anywhere. The PR Executive who tweeted before her international flight, she was tweeting from her personal account with about 200 followers. Her tweet spread like wildfire and found herself the subject of a hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet and over 40,000 tweets before the landed. I will admit, her comment was extremely tasteless and she was stupid to post that and then jump on a plane and be offline for hours. She obviously didn’t expect the furor when she landed. But regardless, she was out of a job. As a PR Executive, she should have known better. Yet I didn’t join in the fray and tweet about it. Why? I had nothing to add that wasn’t already being said, attacking people on a social network is not in my DNA, and frankly, I don’t think the people piling on with insults nor the people defending Ms. Sacco did anything to help their own image.

Do you find yourself tempted to join in flaming these people? If so, my advice is, restrain yourself. And who knows, someday it could be you. Nobody is perfect.  Remember to ask yourself before you share something on social media. Where’s the upside? 

Nikola Tesla Quote


Great illustrated Nikola Tesla quote from The Oatmeal.

Why Do We Need The Liberal Arts? Because it Gives Us Sci-Fi

This article is a good intro to a post I’m working on about why everyone should read science-fiction. I’d be curious to hear what you think. Feel free to leave a comment in the comment section below.

And Martians Shall Save the University
Why do we need the liberal arts? Because it gives us sci-fi
by Judith Schulevitz

The liberal arts are very old and very distinguished, and those who teach them are among the bitterest people I know. University presidents, trustees, and state legislatures are slashing their funding or getting rid of their subjects altogether. (French, German, Italian, and the classics will likely be the first to go.) Governor Rick Scott of Florida thinks that state universities should charge higher tuition to students who choose majors in fields that don’t lead directly to jobs. Even the social sciences are endangered: Republicans in Congress have been trying to pass an amendment to an appropriations bill that would forbid the National Science Foundation from funding any research in the human sciences not considered essential for America’s security or economic interests. Meanwhile, in their pristine new laboratories, the natural sciences thrive. “Spending for the humanities research in 2011 amounted to less than half of one percent of the amount dedicated to science and engineering research and development in the United States,” English professor Homi Bhabha said at a gloomy conference on the future of the humanities at Harvard this April.

How does one make the “clear and compelling case for the liberal arts?” asked an alarmed report submitted to Congress a couple weeks ago. It’s not hard. The most popular case, at the moment, is the preservationist one: The job of the humanities is “understanding, curating, and transmitting the first four thousand five hundred years of human consciousness,” as Columbia Sanskrit professor Sheldon Pollock put it at the Harvard gathering. Cultivating political character is another defense. The liberal arts education is said to give future citizens the historical perspective and ethical bent required to uphold democracy and avert totalitarianism. Then there’s the answer that flips the question on its head: The humanities are good for questioning whether knowledge has to be good for anything. Personally, I find all of these arguments “clear and compelling,” but I worry that budget-conscious politicians and the heads of cash-starved institutions won’t. If the criterion for funding areas of study must be that they add to American wealth and competitiveness, then I’d like to offer my own only half-unserious case for the liberal arts. I propose that they should survive, and thrive, because they give us science fiction, and science fiction creates jobs and makes us rich.

Read the rest at the New Republic

Email is Dead, Long Live Email

Email is Dead, Long Live Email

I’ve been spending time in the Boston start-up community and have met some very interesting people working on exciting projects. Raffaele Colella & Jim Caralis are working on making email manageable again. Cannonball is their brainchild and I got to take a look at an early prototype on the iPad. I liked what I saw so much I’m now waiting eagerly for a beta version I can use and help them test. Sign-up here to get the inside track on when it will be available.

An email app may not sound very exciting but Raffaele and Jim approached the problem from an ingenious but simple paradigm. Think about what you do when you get your pile of snail mail out of the mailbox. You sort it into useful piles. Catalogs go in one pile, bills in another, personal letters in yet another and junk goes right into the recycling bin. Sorted piles are essentially what they are creating with Cannonball. The way they’ve designed the interface is clean, elegant and smart. They use the gestural interface opportunities the iPad provides to make navigation and taking action on things easy and quick.

Many smart people have tried to make email simpler, but many of those attempts are based on better algorithms for sorting or giving the user more control with folders, tagging, or relational management tools like Xobni. But the bottom line is we all get a ton of email and only some of it actually gets read. Most of those interfaces still manage to give you a list, a linear sorting of all the email we get. Even with smart lists and good search, finding what’s important is hard and things slip through the cracks.

Spam is also a constant problem, spam creators are getting increasingly savvy at getting through filters. It’s the little dutch boy with his fingers in the dyke. Primarily because of spam there has been a generational move away from email to using social media accounts like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Tumblr to communicate with friends. When’s the last time you sent an email with photos of your vacation to your nearest and dearest? Many people use Facebook instead. Social media, instant messaging and mobile to mobile messaging services are all expected to grow through 2016 according to a study by the Radicati Group, yet Consumer email is expected to decline by 3-4% year over year. Email is dying, but it will never go away. Cannonball aims to make email useful and simple again.

There are a number of exciting tools Raffaele and Jim are building into Cannonball that will be useful to both users and retailers/online services:

  • Subscribe to only the promotional content you want and view it with ease. 
  • Retrieve important information with one touch.
  • Visual based user interface design will save us from the grind of wading through lists.

There were a number of other features I asked about, apparently I’m a super user, we had a good laugh over how I’m ahead of the curve and very few people have made those feature requests. Regardless, I’m looking forward to signing up for my favorite online brand’s promotional updates when I have Cannonball. Until then I’m on the spam warpath and endlessly frustrated trying to access important information buried in my inbox. I can’t wait to get my hands on Cannonball and start using it to simplify my life.

A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design by Bret Victor

“As it happens, designing Future Interfaces For The Future used to be my line of work. I had the opportunity to design with real working prototypes, not green screens and After Effects, so there certainly are some interactions in the video which I’m a little skeptical of, given that I’ve actually tried them and the animators presumably haven’t. But that’s not my problem with the video.

My problem is the opposite, really — this vision, from an interaction perspective, is not visionary. It’s a timid increment from the status quo, and the status quo, from an interaction perspective, is actually rather terrible.

This matters, because visions matter. Visions give people a direction and inspire people to act, and a group of inspired people is the most powerful force in the world. If you’re a young person setting off to realize a vision, or an old person setting off to fund one, I really want it to be something worthwhile. Something that genuinely improves how we interact.

This little rant isn’t going to lay out any grand vision or anything. I just hope to suggest some places to look.”

Click to read the rest of the article and watch the video.

“Psycholinguists argue about whether language reflects our perception of reality or helps create them. I am in the latter camp. Take the names we give the animals we eat. The Patagonian toothfish is a prehistoric-looking creature with teeth like needles and bulging yellowish eyes that lives in deep waters off the coast of South America. It did not catch on with sophisticated foodies until an enterprising Los Angeles importer renamed it the considerably more palatable “Chilean sea bass.”

Hal Herzog

Emily Pilloton: Teaching Design for Change

TED Talk - Designer Emily Pilloton moved to rural Bertie County, in North Carolina, to engage in a bold experiment of design-led community transformation. She’s teaching a design-build class called Studio H that engages high schoolers’ minds and bodies while bringing smart design and new opportunities to the poorest county in the state.

Denis Dutton: A Darwinian Theory of Beauty

From a recent TED Conference - TED collaborates with animator Andrew Park to illustrate Denis Dutton’s provocative theory on beauty — that art, music and other beautiful things, far from being simply “in the eye of the beholder,” are a core part of human nature with deep evolutionary origins.

We have to be fearless. We have to take chances. We can’t live life just being afraid of what comes next. That’s not what living is about.

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