Serendipity

It’s been a few weeks since I was able to kick back on a sunday – today, I basically forced myself to. And now at the end of the day, it is easy to quickly glance back and realize how much pleasure I took out of going through all the things I wanted to read, watch and hear in the last few weeks and couldn’t. It’s like my brain finally caught air, after weeks trapped in work and routine. Here’s a few of the things that caught my eye today – I leave them here, hoping that you the reader, may go through them one of your free sundays too.

“Destroying Mercury to Build a Dyson Sphere is a Bad Idea”, an article penned by Alex Knapp for Forbes, is a great read if you appreciate people who think about the future, unconcerned about the limitations of the present. If you don’t know what a Dyson Sphere is, there’s a ton of great resources I’ll gather one day (drop me an email if you’d like an unfiltered list).

The always inspiring James Bridle gave a great talk titled “We fell in love in a coded space” about digital storytelling, sentience and robots at Lift 2012, and the video is now up. If you have around 20 minutes, go check it out. On the talk, he mentions Argot and Polari, two languages within other languages. What us programmers might call DSLs.

Spent quite a bit going through some of the things already being planned for @notch’s next game, 0x10c, a game with a CPU (specs) inside a computer inside a spaceship, inside a game, inside your computer. I guess we’ll see where this one will end up, but judging by the community around minecraft, I suspect we’ll see much here too.

This SXSW, Jason Hreha (also at 500 Startups) gave a talk titled “Applying psychology to web design”, but the things he said can be very much applied to other things. Make sure you do listen to it (slides here) if you do user experience design for products and/or services.

I don’t know how Craig Mod does it, but his most recent essay on the translation between the digital and the physical (and specifically about designing Flipboard for the iPhone) is beautifully written – perhaps as beautiful as the idea behind it, and the book created to collect the development process of the app. 8 pounds, is how much the process weighs.

Have a great week.

Google.

There was meaning to Google. I’m quite sure my friends who work there now will say there still is. But I will argue that much of that meaning has faded away, at least temporarily, in the last few months and years while the company struggled to find its post-social identity.

The signs are quite evident, for anyone who’s looking in the right direction. You’ve certainly noticed the slow cluttering of their once sacred homepage, the increased complexity of their always-redesigning navigation bar (first white, then black, then integrated, then black, now black with a Play link adorned with “NEW” in red). You’ve seen the odd product launches, and the sad product “sunsets”. You’ve struggled to comprehend Google+’s direction, and probably never really used a “Hangout” even though the idea of one sounds “okay”.

If you remember the early days of Google, you know exactly what is fading away. The idea of a large company with a minimal approach to engineering, management, product and design. The idea that your experience using their services (particularly search) was more important than anything else they did. The perhaps naive impression that you mattered more to them than the ads they ran along your search results.

Google is still a stellar company, employing stellar people and working on solving amazing problems – I can’t begin to say how important it is that there is a company out there trying to figure out things like cars that drive themselves, or how to – actually, no-bs – organize the world’s information. But I wish they found themselves again amid all their new services, offerings and changes. While it is easy to understand that as a public company they need to keep value to shareholders in mind, fanning out into a ton of things has made them masters of none.

Someone out in Mountain View should be very uncomfortable about the fact that *hackers* (in the good, true sense of the word) are actively looking for an alternative to google in Search. *Search* – what got Google where it is today; their core public-facing service. Early adopters, current and future opinion makers, are looking for alternatives to it. This is not good.

Now I could say “Google, listen to your users”; and from Mountain View, the word back could be “but we are”. But you truly are not. Because people want the old Google: the company that fought over the pixels in its homepage, stellar search results, sheer speed. The company that was solving great, insane problems through computer science. The company that people, hackers, would never, *ever*, consider trying to find (or build) alternatives to.

And I write this because I care – because Google was for many years a huge inspiration, to me and countless others. And quite honestly, I want to see them going back to kicking ass and taking names.

Inventing on principle

Some people and things make you change your perception of yourself and what drives you. There have been a few things throughout the last few years that have done that for me – like steps in a ladder I’m still unsure how to climb. I remember a few: Matt Webb‘s “Products are people too” presentation from Reboot 8, Steve Jobs’ Stanford 2005 commencement speech at Stanford, Wilson Miner’s “Why we build“, and today, I add to that list the video below of Bret Victor at CUSEC 2012:

The first part might make a little more sense to you if you dabble in code – but you will be fine even if you don’t. It’s an amazing talk, by someone who has been doing amazing work throughout the last few years. One talk I will definitely revisit.