November 23, 2011

Regarding unreadable websites

Brent Simmons:

I made the mistake of going to a website today. It’s understandable, of course — everybody does it, from time to time — and I’m sure I’ll forgive myself, eventually.

I don’t mean just any website, of course, I mean a publication. A place where a business publishes interesting things that I like to read.

I couldn’t hit the Reader button in Safari fast enough. In fact, I couldn’t hit it at all, so stunned was I by the flickering colorful circus the page presented. It was like angry fruit salad on meth.

I was there because I just wanted to read something. Words. Black text on a white background, more-or-less. And what I saw — at a professional publication, a site with the purpose of giving people something good to read — was just about the farthest thing from readable.

The site has good writing. But the pages do everything possible to convince people not to try. “Don’t bother,” the pages say. “It’s hopeless. Oh — and good luck not having a seizure!”

They’re filled with ads and social-media sharing buttons — and more ads. And Google plus-onesies and Facebook likeys. And also more ads. Plus tweet-this-es. Plus ads. (And, under-the-hood, a whole cruise-ship-full of analytics. The page required well-more than 100 http calls.)

One of the things that I’ve always strived for with the various Opus designs is to make them as pleasant to read as possible, and this means making conscious decisions to remove anything that could add visual clutter to the page — and that includes the various “Share This”, “Like This”, and “Tweet This" widgets and buttons that are out there. I‘m not saying that they, and other things like them, will never appear on Opus, but I’ll only add them when the trade-off for adding more visual elements that detract from the actual content on the page is worth it. And right now, it’s not.

Via Daring Fireball

November 22, 2011

Regarding Kate Bush’s “50 Words For Snow”

Regarding Kate Bush’s “50 Words For Snow”

Lincoln hasn’t really received any snow yet, but that hasn't stopped me from constantly returning to the wintry climes that fill up Kate Bush’s 50 Words For Snow. I know 2011 isn't over yet, and there’s still plenty of time to discover lots of great music this year, but I feel pretty safe in saying that 50 Words For Snow is going to end up being high on my year-end list. It’s the sort of album that puts the rest of the year in context, or more accurately, in its shadow — little else I’ve heard comes close to being as enveloping an experience.

As I wrote in my review for Christ and Pop Culture, "...you could be forgiven for dismissing the album as pretentious. It is pretentious. It’s also otherworldly, delightful, and constantly arresting." I'm listening to the Stephen Fry-enhanced title track as I type this, in which Fry recites 50, well, words for snow (e.g., “drifting”, “swans-a-melting”, “icyskidski”)  while Kate Bush cheers him on (“C'mon Joe, just you and the Eskimos... C'mon now, just 22 to go... Let me hear your 50 words for snow”). It’s cheesy and goofy, and yet quite entrancing and charming all the same.

However, my favorite song on the album is likely “Snowed in at Wheeler Street”. I confess that when I first heard that Bush would be doing a duet with Sir Elton John, I just wrote it off as typical Kate Bush wackiness. However, “Snowed in at Wheeler Street” gives me chills every time I hear it. When John cries out “I don't want to lose you again”, it's the album’s most emotional moment, and one of the most emotional musical moments I’ve heard in a good long while.

But if you still need some additional convincing to pick up this album, here are what some others have said about it...

Josh Hurst:

Obviously, Bush is not setting out to wow us with volume here, but instead she lets these songs stretch out, their pleasures unfolding leisurely and luxuriously. None of the other songs are as fairy tale-ish as “Misty,” I don’t reckon — though there is one that’s all about the Yeti — but they are all about snow, one simple, physical object that unites each of these songs. The album is, in a sense, about snow as a symbolic, physical, historic, mythological, and sensual thing. It considers snow as an idea, and as a tangible object in a physical universe. What this means, I think, is that this is the strangest and most erotic holiday album of all time. I’m half joking — there is only one mention of Christmas here — but half not. The wintery mood here is unshakable, the unwavering focus utterly enthralling. This is a sublime album made of seven extraordinary songs, and it offers true delights of poetry and play that no one but Kate Bush could have devised.

Thom Jurek:

50 Words for Snow is such a strange pop record, it’s all but impossible to find peers. While it shares sheer ambition with Scott Walker’s The Drift and PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake, it sounds like neither; Bush’s album is equally startling because its will toward the mysterious and elliptical is balanced by its beguiling accessibility.

J. Edward Keyes:

The album’s fulcrum is, unsurprisingly, the title track, in which Bush counts slowly up to 50 as actor Stephen Fry runs through a list of names for snow, everything from the evocative (“whiteout”) to the poetic (“swans-a-melting”) to the ridiculous (“sleetspoot’n”). From a more ham-handed songwriter, the song would feel like an overt treatise on relativism, but from Bush, it feels slipperier, more magical — less philosophy than shapeshifting. Thirty-three years into her career that has been by no means ordinary, 50 Words for Snow does the unthinkable — it pushes Kate Bush into new territory. In doing so, she’s internalized one of its primary themes: Nothing is forever.

Big Boi:

Snow, Bush’s first album of new material since 2005’s Aerial, is a seven-track, hour-long, moody meditation on love (and of course, snow). “The album, to me, is just very somber and very chill,” he says. “Knowing her music and being a fan, it’s very, very deep Kate Bush for me. It’s concentrated. It’s raw emotion. It’s almost like a scene from her diary — she seems to be in love like a motherfucker. Really, really, really in love.”

Train up a child, #3: Little Gamers

Train up a child, #3: Little Gamers

Shortly after this photo was taken, my three-year-old son beat my wife at Marvel vs. Capcom 3. He was Spider-Man, natch.

Watch M83 perform “Midnight City” on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon”

And it features an epic sax solo, natch. The more I hear it, the more I think that “Midnight City” is my favorite song of 2011 (though Gang Gang Dance’s “Mindkilla” is giving it a run for its money).

Klout is evil

John Scalzi:

Aside from the occasional quid pro quo freebie, it seems that what Klout exists to do is create status anxiety — to saddle you with a popularity ranking, and then make you feel insecure about it and whether you’ll lose that ranking unless you engage in certain activities that aren’t necessarily in your interest, but are in Klout’s. In other words Klout exists to turn the entire Internet into a high school cafeteria, in which everyone is defined by the table at which they sit. And there you are, standing in the middle of the room with your lunch tray, looking for a seat, hoping to ingratiate yourself with the cool kids, trying desperately not to get funneled to the table in the corner where the kids with scoliosis braces and D&D manuals sit.

This is sad, and possibly evil. It’s especially sad and possibly evil because as far as I can see, Klout’s business model is to some greater or lesser extent predicated on exploiting that status anxiety. I clicked over to Klout’s “perks” section not long ago — “perks” being the freebie things the service wants you to market for them — and rather than being presented with a selection of perks available to me, I was presented a list of perks I wasn’t qualified for, because apparently I wasn’t smart and pretty and popular enough for them, although Klout seemed to suggest that maybe if I did my hair a little differently, or wore some nicer shoes (or dragged more people into their service, making myself more influential in the process) maybe one day I could get the cool perks. At which point I decided that Klout was actually being run by dicks, and getting let into Spotify a week early — or whatever — wasn’t worth being seen with dicks, or supporting that particular business model.

I have several co-workers on Klout, but I’ve never much seen the point in it precisely for the reasons that Scalzi mentions.

Handpicked jQuery plugins repository

A nicely curated list of jQuery JavaScript plugins, ranging from visual effects to form controls and menu/navigationsl systems.

Britain’s indie music scene thrives as its major labels suffer

The Economist:

Independent record labels are thriving. Beggars Group is the biggest collection of “indies” in Europe; its labels include XL and Rough Trade, an outfit that was born out of the punk movement. On November 15th Adele, a London singer signed to XL, became the first artist to sell a million copies of an album in Europe via iTunes. Even if her huge sales are stripped out, indie labels saw an 8% increase in album sales between January and September compared with the same period last year, according to Music Week, an industry magazine. The big four corporate labels — Sony BMG, Universal, Warner Music Group and EMI — have seen album sales decline.

November 21, 2011

Was Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” commentary on the sex industry?

Some fascinating cultural analysis of Hayao Miyazaki’s wonderful Spirited Away.

[It] frustrates me because so much gets lost in translation, and people see it as this cute childrens movie and this “master piece of animation” (which it definately is) instead of the real statement that it is.

How Google Analytics threatens anonymous bloggers

And speaking of Andy Baio, here’s a fascinating bit of internet sleuthing:

Last month, an anonymous blogger popped up on WordPress and Twitter, aiming a giant flamethrower at Mac-friendly writers like John Gruber, Marco Arment and MG Siegler. As he unleashed wave after wave of spittle-flecked rage at “Apple puppets” and “Cupertino douchebags,” I was reminded again of John Gabriel's theory about the effects of online anonymity.

Out of curiosity, I tried to see who the mystery blogger was.

He was using all the ordinary precautions for hiding his identity — hiding personal info in the domain record, using a different IP address from his other sites, and scrubbing any shared resources from his WordPress install.

Nonetheless, I found his other blog in under a minute — a thoughtful site about technology and local politics, detailing his full name, employer, photo, and family information. He worked for the local government, and if exposed, his anonymous blog could have cost him his job.

[...]

So, how did I do it? The unlucky blogger slipped up and was ratted out by an unlikely source: Google Analytics.

As Baio points out, this could be a huge deal for anonymous bloggers writing about, say, Chinese censorship or Mexican drug cartels.

“Don’t shoot students!”

Speaking of the UC Davis incident, Andy Baio took the four clearest videos of the incident and synchronized them so we can watch it from multiple perspectives. It's chilling to watch, from any perspective.