On a type walk we will go

What advice would you give to a designer who’s looking to embark on her or his first type walk?

Look up! But also look down! Take your camera with you, and always, always, take a picture if you see something worthy—it might be gone tomorrow. If it is still there the next day, you can go back with your good camera and lens.

Perambulate. There is no need to go to a particular place. Repeat places—you might see something new each time. Just open your eyes and start reading the city. Books on basic architecture and local history could be good starting points. Most importantly, enjoy it.

On a Type Walk We Will Go | Communication Arts

Designer Elena Veguillas discusses the decline of ‘vernacular lettering’: “lettering on manholes, pipes, posts, etc. They are particular to and enrich each city or area, even if we don’t notice them at first.”

How machine learning finds your new music

I’m a sucker for technical dives into Spotify’s Discover Weekly, and this is a great one.

In the article, Sophia Ciocca gives three types of recommendation models that are used to generate the playlists. The first is collaborative filtering: crudely, your friends like this, you might like this too. Digging deeper, the mathematical modelling sounds fascinating. The third is raw audio models: analysis of the audio tracks themselves. This is why Release Radar works so well, despite the tracks not having been played many times.

But I didn’t know about the second one, the emphasis Spotify puts on natural language processing, or NLP:

Spotify crawls the web constantly looking for blog posts and other written texts about music, and figures out what people are saying about specific artists and songs — what adjectives and language is frequently used about those songs, and which other artists and songs are also discussed alongside them.

While I don’t know the specifics of how Spotify chooses to then process their scraped data, I can give you an understanding of how the Echo Nest used to work with them. They would bucket them up into what they call “cultural vectors” or “top terms.” Each artist and song had thousands of daily-changing top terms. Each term had a weight associated, which reveals how important the description is (roughly, the probability that someone will describe music as that term.)

Spotify’s Discover Weekly: How machine learning finds your new music

Unlike many others, I’m a fan of the Apple Music UI and implementation. But I’ve not had terrific results with their recommendation engines. The opposite is true for Spotify. It’d be nice to save some money by cancelling one or other of the services, but they do such different things for me that I can’t see that happening any time soon.

The unpredictability of Medium

“Ev Williams is trying to brute force his way through the problem of publishing and monetization,” said Choire Sicha, cofounder of The Awl network, which migrated a handful of its sites onto Medium during its publisher partner phase in late 2015 and early 2016. “In doing so, he has upended people’s lives — he has upended good publications.”

“I understand the desire to be agile and to pivot, and to try new things when things aren’t working,” Sicha continued. “But it’s destructive — you can’t try people and things on, then discard them. It’s not how a media company or a publishing company can work.”

Ev Williams Wants To Save Media — Again. But Some Writers And Publishers Are Skeptical.

I have mixed feeling about Medium. I launched a publication for work, and that’s gone brilliantly well; I get mostly interesting things delivered to me in the digest emails; people I follow on other platforms (Twitter, mostly) surface great Medium content.

Increasingly, I read a headline and think “that sounds interesting”, yet I can’t read the article, as it’s for members only. But will I subscribe? No, because I’m not confident that this membership model will exist in 6 months. Something will change. The baby will get thrown out with the bath water. It’s not worth the bother. (I hope I’m wrong.)

Identifying motifs in Wes Anderson films

The writer Michael Chabon likens the films of Wes Anderson to “scale models” or “boxed assemblages” built from “the bittersweet harvest of observation and experience.”

These “models” are carefully constructed out of wood and paint, text and image, long tracking shots and carefully framed subjects. Anderson is a meticulous world builder in both visual and thematic construction.

The Life Aquatic was the first Anderson movie I really fell in love with, and as I continue to watch more of them, I find myself pondering just what it is that makes an Anderson film Andersonian. Is it the carefully chosen color schemes or the symmetrical compositions? The recurring themes of family and fracture, of discovery and triumph? Or is it the brief magical flashes of the surreal?

Anderson certainly has a style, and his visual motifs are what I want to explore in this essay.

Machine Visions

This is a fascinating look at how to perform machine learning on a data set: in this case, the visual motifs of Wes Anderson films. Nicely presented too. Better on desktop.

A plea for The Replicant Edit – Snakes and Ladders

Alan Jacobs:

I do not believe that there are any exceptions to the rule that big-budget Hollywood action movies today — within which I include many SF and all superhero movies — possess the following traits:

  • They’re at least 30 minutes too long;
  • Most of that excessive length results from the decision to stage one massive action set-piece too many;
  • The decision to stage one massive action set-piece too many stems, in turn, from the catastrophically erroneous belief that raising the stakes — putting a city or (better) a country or (better still) a planet or (even more better) the universe or (best of all) ALL THE UNIVERSES THERE EVER WERE OR EVER COULD BE at risk — will increase viewers’ emotional investment in the story;
  • In order to turn the screw of tension ever tighter, some characters will be made to behave in ways wildly inconsistent with what they appear to be throughout most of the movie, while other characters will be pressed towards the absolute extremes of heroism or wickedness.

A plea for The Replicant Edit – Snakes and Ladders

Impossible to disagree. I’m yet to see the new Bladerunner film, to which the rest of the short post is concerned, but Jacobs confirms these traits still apply.

That time I was on Halt and Catch Fire

*record scratch*

*freeze frame*

Yep, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up back in the 1970s with such a sweet jacket and bitchin’ mustac— Ok all jokey tropes aside, I got to appear on AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire last night as a background extra. (Mild spoilers follow.) This season of the show is set in the 90s, but this episode flashes back to the 70s when Gordon and Donna first meet. My scene takes place during this flashback and is pretty short. Gordon is at a gas station, waiting to use the pay phone. A man (that’s me!) exits the station with a 6-pack of beer, gets into his car, and drives off after Gordon crosses the pavement to the phone. And that was it! But as a big fan of the show — and I refuse to have any chill about this — it was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in forever.

My favourite blogger got to be an extra on his favourite TV show.

How Dictionary Editors Find Meaning in the Age of Internet Speak

It is the role of modern lexicographers, according to Brewster, to track these changes—to wade through a near-infinite pool of formal and informal discourse, and, in the process, differentiate fleeting trends from substantive shifts in usage. Whether these shifts are annoying or welcomed is inconsequential—once they reach critical mass, ubiquity eclipses controversy. “What was once shunned and disparaged,” she says, “has a good chance of joining the ranks of the unremarkable.”

As a prime example, Brewster points to the word “negotiate.” In the early-20th century, journalists and orienteers began using the term as a verb meaning “to successfully travel along or over.” Grammar pedants took great umbrage at this usage and soon brought their fight to the mainstream media. A writer’s use of negotiate in a 1904 edition of The Saturday Review inspired one critic to fire off a letter to the editor. “Surely no purpose ornamental or useful can be served by this unwarranted extension of the sense of a familiar word,” he sassed. “Do the spoilers of English negotiate the English dictionary?” Despite similar complaints elsewhere, the new sense rapidly gained currency and eventually clawed its way into acceptance.

How Dictionary Editors Find Meaning in the Age of Internet Speak – Motherboard

Domino’s Instagram Is Gross

The Domino’s feed is not appetizing by any objective measure. But if you look at it long enough, over enough time, the cadence of grotesqueness begins to sink in. The studio lighting and Photoshop-enhanced pepperoni of Papa John’s and Pizza Hut start to look like the culinary equivalent of a French manicure and a spray tan. Fake.

Instead of employing professional photographers, Domino’s relies on its digital marketing team to update the social media feeds. The cinema verité approach began in 2012, when Domino’s launched the Show Us Your Pizza Campaign, and shared the (often ugly) food photos taken by its customers. After that, the aesthetic just stuck. And today, the pizzas Domino’s photographs are all real, either pulled from a test kitchen oven, or delivered by an employee, no food stylist required. And, clearly, there’s no sweating the need for natural light or perfect post-processing by Domino’s employees who will sometimes even take photographs in their own suburban homes. Domino’s is a living embodiment of a #nofilter brand.

Domino’s Instagram Is Gross. That’s By Design

An Ode to Reading on Public Transit

It’s easy in our fast-paced digital age to forget how expansive time can be. An hour can zip by if you’re scrolling through Twitter or drag on for days during an exam. Once I started carrying magazines, my bus rides began to feel longer; the 45 minutes to Station North felt like 45 minutes. Soon, I began carrying books again, a habit that felt as comfortable as muscle memory. My progress was slow at first. I traveled with Swing Time for three months (and wrote a review that you can read here). I carried Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland in my tote during January. I devoured Song of Solomon in a week and God Help the Child after work one night. In the past six months, I’ve finished 15 novels, a record beating last year’s two—excluding every novel I skimmed or never completed for school. My thoughts have since kaleidoscoped; my dreams have evolved; my concentration has slowly but surely fortified over time. My political convictions deepened and expanded like the Texan sky. I use social media less and less each day, all because I stopped looking out the window on the way home.

The Millions : An Ode to Reading on Public Transit

I need reminding of this sort of thing once in a while. I’ve read quite broadly and deeply this year, but I could with unfollowing a few people on Twitter and subscribing from a handful of RSS feeds.