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An endless loop

Just finished the article “Ontological Design Has Become Influential In Design Academia – But What Is It?” by JP Hartnett for AIGA Eye on Design, via the Feminist Open Source Investigations Group chat.

This is somewhat related to the previous post, the “we are our experiences” concept. But much more formal than my ramblings, better philosophical underpinnings for sure!

I’d heard of ontological design but hadn’t really dug in to it. This article is a useful dive in.

In very few words (specifically professor of design theory Anne-Marie Willis’s words, not mine): “Design designs us”. In more words, from Hartnett’s article:

A human being cannot exist independently of its surrounding environment — it is not possible to be without being-in-the-world. Being, then, is always relational: with everything that surrounds us, including the full complexity of the completely designed worlds that we inhabit. This point is crucial for ontological design theorists: design doesn’t just perform certain functions — a car transports you from A to B, a poster displays information, etc. — the interrelated totality of designs construct the world through which humans are brought into being and come to be defined through. Human beings, in turn, design the world, which, in turn, designs them… and so on. The process is circular, like an endless loop.

And on the consequences of embracing ontological design in practice instead of relegating it to theory and academia:

One welcome outcome of an embrace of ontological design theory would be the death of the individualism that has plagued the design profession — “iconic” designs, individual designers, celebrated in isolation as they usually are in design publications — don’t make any sense in this context.

That would be welcome indeed.

I don’t quite see how it can happen unless there is a true revolution in the way we talk and think about design—more holistic and less about singular problems, more collective and less individual—but maybe circumstances are ripening for such a change.

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“Who gets to be a revolutionary?”

“Who gets to be a revolutionary?”

Writer Dayna Evans asks this partway through her Eater article “The Women Erased From the Story of No-Knead Bread”. It’s a good question. Who gets top billing for a semi-simultaneous invention or a collective idea?

It reminds me of discovering Louise Brigham’s box furniture while doing some research on Gerrit Rietveld’s crate furniture.

Read more

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“I hope I’m pleasing David”

GP It felt like… he was trying… for me to be myself. Whatever that is. But I know that’s one of the hard… I mean, I always get very anxious when somebody says “be yourself”. Because that assumes that we know who we are. We’re just a collection of how other people see us a lot of the time, I think.

DB I didn’t tell you to be yourself.

GP No you didn’t. I just felt like that’s what you wanted.

DB Mm.

GP But in the end I’m just this sort of nervous construct of who I hoped I am. And that I hope I’m pleasing David.

Laughter

DB I’m very pleased!

Grayson Perry talking to photographer David Bailey about his experience being photographed. From Grayson’s Art Club, series 2 episode 1, around 15:30.

Grayson’s Art Club has been such a lovely watch recently, so wholesome, funny, and touching. Philippa Perry’s presence throughout is a huge plus.

Available on Channel 4 in the UK and possibly BBC Select in the US. Not sure how BBC Select has it though since it’s a Channel 4 show. There are a lot of clips on YouTube as well.

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Identity wrangling

A hand cupping some water from a stream

Cupping the water in Spicey Gill coming down from Ilkley Moor. Photo taken a year ago today.

“You are not your emotions.” Well you are, but you are not only your emotions. And you can choose not to be controlled by your emotions.

Life is made up of micro and macro decisions, and their consequences.

I chose to move back to the US, and now I am grappling with the reality of that decision, amongst other things. It has made life easier in some respects, and harder in others. Do I regret it? No. Will we be here forever? Magic eight ball says 🎱 “Concentrate and ask again”.

Read more

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Maintenance is everything

I don’t expect most of the opinions that I hold now to have the same shape in 10, 20. years. I don’t think any of us is the same person every day, identity shifts with every tiny experience, so it’d be a silly thing to suggest or expect.

But one that I think might stick, the thing that might last if I ever wrote a manifesto: Maintenance is everything.

Bikes, physical health, mental health, roads, relationships, furniture, websites, clothing, parks, plants, sewers.

If it’s worth creating/buying/doing in the first place, it’s usually worth maintaining. And I love maintenance, fixing things, so that’s lucky! (Don’t like cleaning so much, which is another major part of physical maintenance, but I’m working on that.)

The problem is that new/shiny is a lot more lucrative than old/broken (more on this). How do we shift that mindset?

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it’s a wild world

A woodcut by Albrecht Dürer of the northern hemisphere celestial globe, from the Minneapolis Institute of Art collection

Albrecht Dürer, The Northern Hemisphere of the Celestial Globe, woodcut, 1515 | (CC-PDM) Public Domain, Minneapolis Institute of Art collection (source)

Came across two tweets today that have jointly taken up residence in my head. This tweet:

i don’t want a career, i want whatever bilbo baggins and the rest of the hobbits had in the shire

And from this tweet, a short clip of Ethan Hawke’s TED talk:

I think that most of us really want to offer the world something of quality, ☝️something that the world will consider good or important☝️. And that’s really the enemy, because it’s not up to us whether what we do is any good. If history has taught us anything, the world is an extremely unreliable critic.

The shire is tiny, quaint, communal. That’s part of why it “works”.

Our world, on the other hand, is enormous and increasingly fractured. We can be exposed to nearly every possible facet and product of humanity via our phone screens. The desire to make a mark is as strong as it has ever been, but it’s hard to do anything that feels of real consequence when you’re effectively a sea-monkey navigating the Pacific Ocean.

You can make it feel smaller by limiting media consumption (traditional and social), but it has to be a daily, conscious action. And the pressure to engage can be enormous depending on your age and career. It just wears you down.

I suppose the goal is a balance, cultivating a smaller, more meaningful personal world (friends, collaborators, family, acquaintances) that you can retreat to and just occasionally reaching out in to the hurricane. But when making a decent living feels tied to the hurricane, or the hurricane seems like all you have left… it’s not an easy truce.

This is why the silent retreats, the off-grid living, the hamlet cottages are so compelling. It’s easy to think that physically moving somewhere less frantic will automatically offer peace, but unless you can temper the virtual arena that makes up your world, it’s just more of the same.

No answers here, as usual. Just more thoughts for the whirlpool.


Edit: I just re-read this and it makes me cringe a bit. It’s so obvious, and it has occurred to me a thousand times before. Why is it an epiphany every time I think about it? I always forget, it’s like Groundhog Day. Maybe this is what mantras are for. Something like the perennial I am enough, but more My sphere of influence, the way I define it, and the way I engage with it is enough. Ugh I don’t know!

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More books for the never ending list

More books for the never ending list.

  • What Tech Calls Thinking, Adrian Daub, 2020 (read introduction)
  • The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track, Thomas E. Mann & Norman J. Ornstein, 2006 (read excerpt)
  • The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin, 2020 (read excerpt)

And a few excerpts / quotes from current reading that I’m finding extremely useful and relevant.

The cover of the book “The Modern Temper” by Joseph Wood Krutch, designed by Paul Rand with four zig-zag shapes in beige, white, black, and blue

If the gloomy vision of a dehumanized world which has just been evoked is not to become a reality, some complete readjustment must be made, and at least two generations have found themselves unequal to the task. The generation of Thomas Henry Huxley, so busy with destruction as never adequately to realize how much it was destroying, fought with such zeal against frightened conservatives that it never took time to do more than assert with some vehemence that all would be well, and the generation that followed either danced amid the ruins or sought by various compromises to save the remains of a few tottering structures. But neither patches nor evasions will serve. It is not a changed world but a new one in which man must henceforth live if he lives at all, for all his premises have been destroyed and he must proceed to new conclusions. The values which he thought established have been swept away along with the rules by which he thought they might be attained.

To this fact many are not yet awake, but our novels, our poems, and our pictures are enough to reveal that a generation aware of its predicament is at hand. It has awakened to the fact that both the ends which its fathers proposed to themselves and the emotions from which they drew their strength seem irrelevant and remote. With a smile, sad or mocking, according to individual temperament, it regards those works of the past in which were summed up the values of life. The romantic ideal of a world well lost for love and the classic ideal of austere dignity seem equally ridiculous, equally meaningless when referred, not to the temper of the past, but to the temper of the present. The passions which swept through the once major poets no longer awaken any profound response, and only in the bleak, tortuous complexities of a T. S. Eliot does it find its moods given adequate expression. Here disgust speaks with a robust voice and denunciation is confident, but ecstasy, flickering and uncertain, leaps fitfully up only to sink back among the cinders. And if the poet, with his gift of keen perceptions and his power of organization, can achieve only the most momentary and unstable adjustments, what hope an there be for those whose spirit is a less powerful instrument?

And yet it is with such as he, baffled, but content with nothing which plays only upon the surface, that the hope for a still humanized future must rest. No one can tell how many of the old values must go or how new the new will be. Thus, while under the influence of the old mythology the sexual instinct was transformed into romantic love and tribal solidarity into the religion of patriotism, there is nothing in the modern consciousness capable of effecting these transmutations. Neither the one nor the other is capable of being, as it once was, the raison d’être of a life or the motif of a poem which is not, strictly speaking, derivative and anachronistic. Each is fading, each becoming as much a shadow as devotion to the cult of purification through self-torture. Either the instincts upon which they are founded will achieve new transformations or they will remain merely instincts, regarded as having no particular emotional significance in a spiritual world which, if it exists at all, will be as different from the spiritual world of, let us say, Robert Browning as that world is different from the world of Cato the Censor.

As for this present unhappy time, haunted by ghosts from a dead world and not yet at home in its own, its predicament is not, to return to the comparison with which we began, unlike the predicament of the adolescent who has not yet learned to orient himself without reference to the mythology amid which his childhood was passed. He still seeks in the world of his experience for the values which he had found there, and he is aware only of a vast disharmony. But boys—most of them, at least—grow up, and the world of adult consciousness has always held a relation to myth intimate enough to make readjustment possible. The finest spirits have bridged the gulf, have carried over with them something of a child’s faith, and only the coarsest have grown into something which was no more than finished animality. Today the gulf is broader, the adjustment more difficult, than ever it was before, and even the possibility of an actual human maturity is problematic. There impends for the human spirit either extinction or a readjustment more stupendous than any made before.

The final pages of the first chapter, “The Genesis of a Mood”, from The Modern Temper by Joseph Wood Krutch, first published in 1929

I picked up a copy of this and a few other great secondhand books from the Alley Cat Bookshop in the Mission.

I understand that The Modern Temper has a pretty pessimistic outlook overall which might make it tough to finish, particularly in the current circumstances… But I’d like to finish it. Even though it was published almost a century ago, the feelings and psychological maladies that Krutch describes are more relevant than ever. The painful, unending cynicism. That unchecked growth and progress have incalculable ramifications on human consciousness, that we must be more wary of the consequences.

I’d like to follow it up with his book The Measure of Man from 1954 where he supposedly considers the modern world more optimistically, and possibly with the nature books he wrote later in life while living in Arizona.

What follows is a Duchampian door, at once open and closed, logical and whimsical, focused and drifty, academic and anecdotal. Part explanation, part justification, part reification, and part provocation, it’s a memoir of sorts, an attempt to answer a question I often ask myself regarding UbuWeb: “What have I done here?” Is it a serendipitous collection of artists and works I personally happen to be interested in, or its it a resource for the avant-garde, making available obscure works to anyone in the world with access to the web? Is it an outlaw activity, or has it over time evolved into a textbook example of how fair use can ideally work? Will the weightlessness and freedom of never touching money or asking permission continue indefinitely, or at some point will the proverbial other shoe drop, when finances become a concern? The answer to these questions is both “yes” and “no”. It’s the sense of not knowing—the imbalance—that keeps this project alive for me. Once a project veers too strongly toward either one thing or the other, a deadness and predictability sets in, and it ceases to be dynamic.

From the introduction to Duchamp Is My Lawyer: The Polemics, Pragmatics, and Poetics of UbuWeb by Kenneth Goldsmith, published this year

But there is so much more that I’ve underlined and noted in this book. Very worth reading, particularly for anyone dealing with creative copyright and / or the web these days. Get it from Columbia University Press.

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On personal sites, and adios analytics

I’ve been getting approached more and more by people that want to put a link to their company’s content on specific pages of my site. I’d be up for it if the linked content was super relevant and unique, the sort of thing I’d bookmark, but it never is. The link usually leads to a generic article filled with ads, pop-up newsletter requests, trackers, etc on some faceless blog. Often the actual link they send me has a URL parameter to track whether or not I’ve clicked it (where is the self-awareness?!). I get that their employer is probably making them do it, but it feels pretty icky.

Alongside that uptick in ick, I’ve felt my relationship with my site shifting over the past few months. I loved cultivating my own little slice of the internet for so long, and some of that joy is slipping away. Some of this is probably related to the pandemic, some of it is busyness and stress, and some of it is for sure related to our SF move.

I came across this tweet from @lil_morgy, she’s definitely identified part of the problem. I’ve spent more time on Twitter in the past few months due to both moving and the pandemic. While it has introduced me to some great people, it has also started warping my idea of what success can look like. Does it mean having at least 2k followers and firing off hot takes? Sure as hell feels like it when I open up Twitter. I don’t have hot takes, my brain isn’t wired that way and they leave me with a bad taste. I like the ones that simmer, a messy family-sized stew as opposed to a perfectly formed amuse-bouche of a thought. Where does that leave me?

On a separate topic, a few days ago I came across Jim Nielsen’s post Comparing Data in Netlify and Google Analytics. (To be honest, I came across it via @davatron5000, probably wouldn’t have seen it otherwise. So there are good sides to it…) It reminded me of the often-futile role of analytics on so many sites. So many of my clients have added analytics because they thought they had to have it, or they’ve been forced to have it by some public funding body. But more often than not they have no time or inclination to make use of the data they collect and even if they did, how accurate is it actually in the end? The analytics platforms usually get so much more out of that data than they do.

Anyways, this is a roundabout way of saying that I just pulled the plug on my self-hosted Matomo analytics instance. Feels good. Consider it a first step towards repairing my relationship with this site that I have cared for over many years.

Note: I still feel like Matomo is one of the better options out there if you must have client-side analytics (more on this), but it was just pointless for me. I rarely looked at it, and I think even the presence of it was pulling this site father away from what it is at its core.

At its core, this is a personal site. A personal site, to me, is a website whose primary editor and intended audience is one and the same, a single, solitary, individual. My personal site is a repository for my memories, experiences, feelings, recipes, tips, photos, and more. A lot of it stays private. The things that might be interesting or useful to others are made public. Regardless, it is an ever-growing extension of myself that I have total control over, my mirror and memory aid. I want to be able to look back at this when I’m eighty and thank my past self for surfacing things that I otherwise would have forgotten, the good and the bad.

But a personal site can be anything, and that’s the beauty of it. This is my site, long may it change.


An additional thought.

What is yours?

I love coming across personal sites, and I love helping people set them up. If you give it a stab and run in to trouble, or just have no idea where to start, reach out to me and I’ll try to give you some pointers or at least bore you to death with some worthwhile questions.

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Decentering Whiteness in Design History, an annotated bibliography in progress

Check out Decentering Whiteness in Design History, an annotated bibliography in progress.

One of the great FemOS ladies shared the above resource recently. She came across it via the Simply Secure Slack chat. It seems like a strong doc, I hope that the researchers and others continue to add to it.

If you’re looking for resources on a particular topic like typography or graphic design, it’s best to refer to their hashtag list currently on page 8 (search the doc for “Hashtag Authority List” if it moves). Then find a tag you’re interested in and search the doc for that tag.

Below is a list of a few resources that caught my eye and I’d like to follow up on. These are all freely available online in one form or another or could likely be loaned from a library.

  • “The Font that Never Was: Linotype and the “Phonetic Chinese Alphabet” of 1921”, an article by Thomas S. Mullaney. The article is behind a paywall, but he also presented it at ATypI 2016 (see video).
  • Saki Mafundikwa’s TED talk Ingenuity and elegance in ancient African alphabets
  • Chromophobia by David Batchelor published in 2001. The editorial description: “The central argument of Chromophobia is that a chromophobic impulse—a fear of corruption or contamination through colour—lurks within much Western cultural and intellectual thought. This is apparent in the many and varied attempts to purge colour, either by making it the property of some ‘foreign body’—the oriental, the feminine, the infantile, the vulgar, or the pathological—or by relegating it to the realm of the superficial, the supplementary, the inessential, or the cosmetic.” Purchase from the publisher, buy it secondhand, or look for it at local library.
  • “New Blackface: Neuland and Lithos as Stereotypography”, an essay by Rob Giampietro that was originally published in the journal of the Type Directors Club (an org that has been been in hot water over the past few months, incidentally…). It’s available to read on his website.
  • Design in California and Mexico 1915–1985, the catalogue for the exhibition “Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico 1915–1985” at LACMA in 2018. Purchase from the LACMA online store, buy it secondhand. Feel like this is unlikely to be in a local library unfortunately.
  • “Violence and Economic Growth: Evidence from African American Patents, 1870–1940” by Lisa Cook, published in the Journal of Economic Growth in June 2014. Cook analyzed over two million patents, cross-referencing with Census records to track Black patent activity over time. From the bibliography: “Her data suggested something huge happened after 1921 that caused the rate of Black patenting to tank after that date; it turned out to be the destruction of “Black Wall Street” during the Tulsa massacre.” Available in full as a PDF via Cook’s website.

Time to reintroduce a whole lot of color on this site, I think!

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“I propose to take our countrymen’s claims of American exceptionalism seriously”

America believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation ever to exist, a lone champion standing between the white city of democracy and the terrorists, despots, barbarians, and other enemies of civilization. One cannot, at once, claim to be superhuman and then plead mortal error. I propose to take our countrymen’s claims of American exceptionalism seriously, which is to say I propose subjecting our country to an exceptional moral standard.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Many passages in Between the World and Me are worth quoting, but this one really hit home. Coates also brands this “patriotism à la carte” in his Atlantic article “The Case for Reparations” (see below).

This blind national pride has been particularly painful to many people recently with the wildly inadequate pandemic response, the killing of George Floyd, unmarked federal officers’ violence in Portland, and so many more recent events.

I’d forgotten about how very pervasive it is until I got back to the US in early June. It’s insidious, sad and borderline delusional. And it’s not just a right / conservative thing.

It’s all well and good to be proud of your accomplishments, but if you can’t identify and work to rectify your failings then what the hell is the point?


I’ve been speaking with some friends about this book, they mentioned a few resources I’d like to follow up on.

And I’m still working through my previous list.


I just finished “The Case for Reparations” and learned so much.

Coates weaves together individual and collective experiences, history, and data to connect the dots between the Jim Crow South, the Great Migration, redlining by the Federal Housing Association following the New Deal, the efforts of the Contract Buyers League, Belinda Royall’s early and successful petition for reparations in 1783, John Conyers’s HR 40 bill, the early history of slavery in the US, the failure of Reconstruction, the levelling of Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street” and its subsequent suppression in law and the media, the myth of fatherhood as the antidote to Black poverty, the fuzziness of affirmative action, the “gulag of the Mississippi” Parchman Farm, the impact of Germany’s post-WWII reparations on Israel and the evolution of contemporary Germany, the prevalence of subprime lenders preying on Black home buyers in the run up to the 2008 crisis, and so much more.

He argues for the cooperation of every aspect of society in a real discussion and debate about reparations to “reject the intoxication of hubris” and bring about “a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history”.

HR 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans “to examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies”, has progressed since Coates wrote “The Case for Reparations” in 2014. Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee is now first sponsor of HR 40 having taken over from John Conyers in 2018. There has been some progress with the bill, but a vote has not been set.