Harmonia is billed as an interactive utopian tale, and is one of those rare instances of interactive fiction being both well-constructed and well-written.
We resort to foreign words for a number of psychologically interesting reasons. A lot of them, I’d argue, are rooted in the middle class aversion to bluntness or crudeness. When what we’re saying has an underlying tone that may cause embarrassment to either the speaker or listener, we borrow from Latin or modern European languages (often French) to give a veneer of refinement, glossing over what’s crass, base, or stark.
For example, on the use of entre nous: “I want to gossip but gossiping is common so I’m going to get away with it by using the pretentious French phrase for it.”
In an otherwise boring conversation about some press release or another, a Spotify PR person mentioned to me that an artist who had a big hit on the platform’s Fresh Finds playlist was discovered when one of the curators just happened to see them play a show in Bushwick. I was as surprised as anyone really can be by an email from corporate PR.
Fresh Finds is one of Spotify’s prized products, a weekly playlist crafted from a combination of two different data inputs: it identifies new, possibly interesting music with natural language processing algorithms that crawl hundreds of music blogs, then puts those songs up against the listening patterns of users their data designates “trendsetters.” What’s going to a show in Bushwick have to do with it? I had visions of a bunch of suits using their business cards to get into cool shows for no reason other than to feel like Vinyl-era record execs for a night. It seemed extremely redundant, and more than a little like posturing. Why bother?
“It’s basically their job,” I was told. Okay but, excuse me, how is that a playlist curator’s job? To find out, I asked if I could tag along with on a few of them on their nights out. I did not expect the answer to be yes, mostly because I thought it should be obvious that my intention was to point out how weird the whole thing was.
But the answer was yes. So, for three weeks, I went with Spotify playlist curators to live performances in Chinatown, Bushwick, and an infamous club on the Lower East Side. I got dozens of half-answers to the question: Why are you here?
Spotify traditionally focused on using data and algorithms to surface new music. Apple Music, when launched, made a big show of their human-curated playlists. With the former’s interest in IRL listening, and the latter’s acceptance that computer-generated playlists can be good at scale, it seems like the differences are receding.
Technology is a constant source of new vocabulary – not just new words but new ways of using existing words. One I’ve noticed this year is ratio as a verb in internet slang, which I’ve bundled here with the more familiar take as a noun.
Ratio entered English in the 16thC as a noun borrowed from Latin, gaining its familiar modern sense decades later in a translation of Euclid. About a century ago – the OED’s first citation is from 1928 – ratio began life as a verb meaning ‘express as a ratio’ or similar. Here’s an example from Harold Smith’s book Aerial Photographs (1943):
Each print which departs from the average scale or shows any apparent tilt is rectified and ‘ratioed’, or corrected for scale, by means of a projection printer.
And now a new sense of ratio as a verb is emerging on Twitter.
Here’s an intro, if needed, to the use of ‘ratio’ on Twitter to describe Tweets which have disproportionately more replies than retweets or likes. And, after that, an exploration of how it is used as a verb.
See also nominalisation: how verbs become ‘zombie’ nouns. I’m particularly bothered by two (at the moment): ‘bake’, as in the thing that was baked; and ‘ask’, as in the instruction.
One should read the classics in winter, because then one’s mind is more concentrated; read history in the summer, because one has more time; read the ancient philosophers in autumn, because they have such charming ideas; and read the collected works of later authors in spring, because then Nature is coming back to life.
This, by Chang Ch’ao in the 17th century and via Austin Kleon, has been on my mind recently. I don’t subscribe to the principle anywhere near as rigidly as this, but I do see patterns in the types of books I read across a given year.
Also, increasingly: non-fiction during the day, fiction once the sun’s gone down.
Kickstarter seeks to take on the likes of Patreon, Flattr et al:
Kickstarter’s hesitance to launch new products over the years gets back to this same apprehension. “Once you start to have some success, everyone, both inside and outside the company, starts asking, ‘Why don’t you try this or launch that?’ I’ve seen how that can be insatiable, and we’re always trying to watch out,” Chen explained. “Very quickly through inertia, you can end up at a place where you don’t have control.” For many employees, this restraint became a point of frustration. “We’re falling behind the competition, and we’re at risk of losing our lead in some key categories,” a current staffer told me.
This is fairly extraordinary: an interactive presentation about generative music, in which notes and rhythms are chosen according to a set of pre-determined rules. Fun to learn about and play with the various tools along the way.
This is where the design challenge comes in: How can we make a UI that communicates these different character constraints that is still easily understood globally? Simply replacing the number doesn’t work because we can’t be certain which language you’re going to be Tweeting in. We could guess which language you’ll use, based on your location or system language, but that falls apart quickly, as many people live in foreign countries or travel regularly. Additionally, many people Tweet in multiple languages, sometimes within a single Tweet. Because we count dense alphabets differently than non-dense, mixed language Tweets can result in some intricate math that we want to be able to abstract away. The challenge here was to create a design that adapts to different character limits without relying on a number, works with the many ways people compose Tweets, and is intuitive enough that people don’t have to spend time thinking about it.
A recap of some of the UX decisions made to show that Twitter users now have 280 characters with which to compose their post, not 140.
Cooking would have remained a hobby if I hadn’t stumbled across old footage of Michelin chef Marco Pierre White preparing a stuffed pig’s trotter on YouTube. It was an audacious dish and maybe even a bit sinister. It looked a little like a stubby, sun-baked human hand on a platter. I loved how the deft skill of an unlikely genius and a few choice ingredients transformed a cheap cut of meat into a beautiful plate. The dish was transcendent to me, and in a rough kind of way, so was its creator. White smoked. White sneered. White swore. He was handsome. I could envision him swaggering around his Hampshire restaurant, the Yew Tree Inn, dropping exquisite plates of food in front of wealthy customers with all the bombast of a star footballer. As he got older and no longer cooked in the kitchen, he was known to hang about the bar and drink cider with customers, at times with a .22 rifle close by in case he had the sudden urge to go rabbit hunting. To me, Marco Pierre White was inspirational. I wanted to be him. And I wanted my own Yew Tree.
It’s safe to say that this plan—starting a restaurant off the back of being a bit interested in food—doesn’t go quite as well as the author would like.