Fiddly

I got up this morning and, like on most mornings, one of the first things I did was brush my teeth. It’s a simple process, just part of the minutiae of daily life. But as with so many of those little things we do every day, it’s a less-than-ideal experience. After fumbling to pull the toothbrush from the cup — where its bulbous, rubberized handle was wedged against the bulbous, rubberized handles of the other toothbrushes necessary for a household of four — and nearly dumping them all into the sink along the way, I took my frustration to Twitter:

It got me thinking about a recent post on Daring Fireball, where John Gruber expressed his frustrations that some people — even Apple Store “geniuses” — were telling iPhone owners that they need to occasionally force-quit all of the apps in their recently-used items tray. He followed up on that post on his podcast, The Talk Show, where he described the experience of operating systems where you are expected to manually monitor and adjust their states as being “fiddly.”

I’ve been thinking about that word, “fiddly,” a lot since then. I think it applies to a lot more than smartphone OSes. I’ve spent a great deal of my life dealing with overwhelming frustration at the clumsiness, the fiddliness, of everyday objects: cheap plastic toys that break easily, things that stick to other things when they shouldn’t or don’t when they should, tools that cannot adequately perform the tasks they are expressly intended for, etc.

As someone who’s not inclined to tinker with objects, much less invent solutions to their shortcomings, that frustration usually just burns off as simmering rage. But as I pondered the nature of fiddliness, and the ideal of the iPhone as a “non-fiddly” object, a couple of thoughts occurred to me:

1. It is the purpose of design to reduce the fiddliness in the world.

2. Very few makers of physical objects today follow #1.

Gary Hustwit’s documentary Objectified is focused on the design of everyday objects, and those who have excelled at creating objects that are, for lack of a better word, as non-fiddly as possible. Two people featured in the documentary are Dieter Rams, the legendary German designer who led Braun’s industrial design team in the 1950s and 1960s, and Jonathan Ive, the head of Apple’s industrial design team today. Both Rams and Ive share a passion for making objects that work. Form not only follows function, form is function. It’s a seamless integration of purpose and style that makes the objects a delight to use.

And that’s a very rare thing today, indeed.

Graphic Design: Now in Production

Link

Graphic Design: Now in Production
I finally made it to the Walker Art Center on Saturday to check out this great exhibit, but my ability to enjoy it was hindered somewhat, being accompanied by an enthusiastic 5-year-old who wanted to make felt puppets. SLP and I will be going back today, sans les enfants, so we can take it in at an adult’s pace. The exhibit closes on January 22, so if you haven’t seen it yet, you better hurry!

Remove the info “bubble” from embedded Google Maps

What web designer/developer hasn’t had to embed a Google map at some point? If you’ve noticed, like I have, that recently it’s become impossible with Google’s generated embed code to keep the huge white “speech bubble” of location information from appearing (and always being cut off at the top) on your map, here’s an easy (if slightly tedious) solution, courtesy of Harry Bailey:

To remove the pin, you can now add &iwloc=near to the end of the iframe src attribute.

In the process of working out this issue I resolved another on my own. If you want to change the default zoom of the map, look for the &spn query string variable in the Google Maps URL. In my particular instance, it was zoomed in way too tight, with a value something like this: &spn=0.0006125,0.0006125. The exact value you’ll want to use will probably vary, so experiment, but I was able to get good results with: &spn=0.04,0.04

(And as a final aside… I hate how query strings now have to have & as the delimiter instead of just &, for reasons I don’t even totally understand — something to do with XML, I guess — but that I feel underscore the fundamental flaw of ampersand codes in general. A much less commonly-used character should have been chosen if we needed one for embedding extended characters. And now with the proliferation of UTF-8, we shouldn’t really need ampersand entities at all!)

I think the Luddite is right

Ron PaulSpending as much time as I do online, I often forget that most people do not, and that the distribution of political opinions of other members of the general “online community” does not necessarily correspond to those of the much broader “real world.”

In particular, I’ve observed the disproportionate number of libertarians (and Libertarians) online. There are many ways in which I agree with libertarian views, especially to the extent of individual freedoms, inasmuch as if what you’re doing doesn’t hurt anyone else, the government shouldn’t be telling you not to do it. (However, I think the libertarian view often struggles with looking beyond the end of one’s nose regarding the impact of individual actions.)

And so, in this election year, we come to Ron Paul.

Judging by the range of discourse you’ll find on a lot of websites, you’d think Ron Paul has secured 98% of the Republican vote and probably about 60% of the Democratic vote as well. And, based solely on opinions on the issues (as indicated here), even I agree with Ron Paul a lot more than I do with any of the other Republicans. (I have to wonder how many online libertarians really agree with Ron Paul on evolution, though… but I am guessing most of his tech-minded supporters don’t know he doesn’t believe in it.) But the issues don’t tell the whole story, as Wired’s blogger Tony Long (a.k.a. “The Luddite”) explained well in his recent post:

He almost sounds rational. But he’s not.

Like all absolutists — and make no mistake, libertarianism is absolutism as surely as atheism is faith — Paul is ill suited for this particular job. He’s running for president of the United States, remember, not for a seat in some gerrymandered Texas congressional district. If elected, he would be leading the most powerful nation on earth, one whose every action has repercussions in every corner of the world.

The biggest problem I have with libertarianism is its exaltation of absolute, Ayn Rand-esque individualism. Again, the Luddite:

There are 300 million of us now, not 30 million, and we can’t all go running around unsupervised. This is where libertarian ideals get a little unwieldy. Besides, we’re not all John Waynes, saddled up and gazing with flinty eyes across the prairie. Some of us can barely cope. Sometimes, Ron, them dad-gum polecats in Washington jest have to step in and take charge. Dang it all.

And so, we reach the great chasm between my personal beliefs and those of libertarians: individual freedoms are incredibly important, but we don’t all live in our own little, disconnected bubbles. We’re sharing this planet with every other human being (not to mention lots of other species of life — dismiss that if you like, but let’s see how long we can last on our own without them; Soylent Green won’t feed us forever). The things we do affect others, whether we realize it or not, and will continue to do so for generations to come. That’s a heavy responsibility. Perhaps the average online propeller head can dismiss it, but the President of the United States cannot.