Being Weird

This morning I read two separate articles about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter that painted a completely different picture of who he was as a person. A story in the New York Times described him as a weirdo who doesn’t move his hands when he walks, doesn’t show emotion, and carried a strange black briefcase while making quick escapes out of class. The other article, from NBC News, has interviews of his friends who pointed out that he was smart, into technology, and had parents who pushed him to succeed. How did these stories end up being so different from each other?

The anti-bullying movement has a long way to go when the media continues to publish these bullshit stories that try to pick out what makes someone different and package him up as someone that’s not a part of the rest of society. It's completely irresponsible and I don’t think it’s going to help us figure out how to prevent more of these tragedies from happening in the future.

I have been the weird and awkward person to varying degrees throughout my life. When I was a kid, I had a lot of friends and was very happy and bubbly, but I was different from other boys, got along better with girls and ended up being bullied a lot because of it. When I got to middle school, I put up a wall and became very withdrawn. I spoke to only a handful of people I trusted by the time I was in high school, which made me all the more unsociably, awkward, and weird. 

But I did not become a mass killer. In fact, even though I was an outcast in high school, I never had any proclivities towards violence, no impulses that I was withholding, and I never thought about hurting anyone, not even the bullies that I would say made me the way I had become. Today I am still shy, but I embrace my weirdness (most of the time) and I make efforts to spend time with other people. I have a great job with co-workers that I get long with, a great boyfriend who I am engaged to, great friends (albeit a small number... I still prefer to keep my circle small), and overall I am a productive member of society.

What makes these people different is that they became murderers. That’s what we need to focus on. There are people who are even weirder than I have ever been who are not dangerous. And there are kids and young adults who are strange, but they need more people to treat them with compassion and respect, and extend an olive branch, rather than having their idiosyncrasies blown up in the news so clumsily every time something bad happens.

Who Cares About Someone's Sexuality

Something has always bothered me about the way that people say they ‘don’t care’ about someone’s sexuality after they’ve come out. I’ve been hearing this a lot about Anderson Cooper (not to mention the jokes about him stating the obvious). I know these people don’t mean anything negative when they say this, and that they are just trying to express their support, but on the other hand, I’m gay and I do care.

I care about someone coming out because I know it’s not easy. It seems like people who live in cities are especially prone to being in a bubble about this. But unlike them, when I step out of New York City, even the next beach over from the “gay one” on Fire Island, I don’t feel completely safe. In most suburbs in this country, there are huge chunks of people, if not the majority of people, that are not OK with me being gay and walking too closely to my fiancé. I still have to deal with people in my family not being OK with it and I can’t talk openly about my everyday life with them. And there are still major politicians with anti-gay platforms, corporations that donate to anti-gay organizations, religions twisting words in the Bible, and people who struggle with it enough to commit suicide.

When someone says they don’t care about someone’s sexuality, it feels like they’re not acknowledging that person’s feelings and the world that they have to live in, like a well-meaning friend who tries to make you ignore and brush off a problem instead of showing their symapthy (not that I’m saying being gay is a problem…). This is why I appreciated Kathy Griffin’s heart-felt article at The Daily Beast, where she expressed her worry and love for her friend.

To someone who doesn’t care about Anderson Cooper being gay, it’s not a big deal to them, but it is a big deal to Anderson Cooper. This is a man who’s career is based on him being in the public, and having people want to watch him on TV. He’s reported from countries like Iraq which are executing people merely suspected of being gay to this day, and interviewed religious leaders that are constantly saying people like him will go to hell.

I’m greatful that he’s chosen to deal with whatever shitstorm he gets from his conservative viewers, people who will recognize him on the street, and whatever risks he has to face in his career. And as a gay person it’s awesome to have someone say they’re on my “team”, say they’ve gone through the same things I've gone through, and end up a succesful person.

Back to the Web

It was funny to stumble upon MSNBC's GadgetBox blog and see a website using iOS's Add Bookmark/Print/Tweet icon for their share tools, instead of the green one from the Share Icon Project. At first I thought it was because I was looking at it on my iPad, but then I saw the icon on a desktop computer too (where they're serving a slightly different layout). Seems like they're trying a "mobile-first" strategy (iOS-first?).

Since then I've been keeping my eyes peeled for other sites that are using that icon. There's Canada's CBC Music, which doesn't appear to have been designed for iPads (they hide their music player for iOS users). And there's also Guys With iPhones (NSFW), which is a better fit since their site is dedicated to photos taken with an iPhone...

For the next version of OS X, Apple is touting a feature they're calling "Share Sheets" and adding a dedicated Share button to Safari and other programs throughout the OS (it's already in iPhoto). I wonder if that's going to help make their icon more ubiquitous than the green one, or hopefully other browsers will follow suit and sites will finally stop needing to put all these icons into their layouts altogether.

Side note: I was reading about the Share Icon Project and they have a strange history. The icon was originally created and open sourced by Alex King, but then sold to ShareThis. They pledged to keep it open sourced, though I'm not sure why a company would buy an open source logo, and it turns out they may have been sending take-down notices to prevent other sites from using it (according to a poorly-cited Wikipedia entry, and of course so many sites use their code that it's impossible to find articles about the company).

Disconnecting Social Networks

Usually the best way for me to get eyeballs on something I'm doing online is to funnel it through Facebook or Twitter. And if I want to keep getting people to see my things, I have to keep on posting them there. When I started using Instagram, it was the first time I didn't need to do this anymore. And I think that's getting at the reason why Facebook acquired them.

Most new social apps try to get people to auto-spam their Twitter and Facebook followers. I find it really interesting that Instagram has tools to let me connect to those networks, but every single time I post a photo to them, it turns those options back off. And because of its popularity, it didn't take me long to seed a base of Instagram followers and stop needing to scrolling down to tick off the options; I was happy enough with the number of responses I got directly from Instagram users. Maybe they have other reasons for doing this, but I wonder if it was a deliberate choice on their part, a confidence in their product being able to grow its audience on its own (Earth to Foursquare).

This actually got me thinking about being happy enough with my activity on other social networks, rather than being greedy and leaving their connections to each other indefinitely. I've been trying to use Facebook less and recently decided I was satisfied with my activity on Twitter enough to stop sending my tweets there (even though I mostly have a different set of people on Facebook). And with this site, for now I'm seeding my posts to Twitter, but I hope to grow an audience where I can say I'm OK with it standing on its own. This feels more manageable than paying attention to follower/visitor counts (as much as I try not to take all of this too seriously...).

Home Purchasing Agent

There are many good websites for looking at real estate listings, but the home buying process itself is in dire need of modernization. My boyfriend and I have been trying to buy our first apartment recently, and every step has taken an excruciatingly long time. All the professionals involved, including the listing and buyer agents, banks, lawyers and management companies, find this normal, while the non-professionals that this entire process is for (the buyers and sellers) have to bite their nails for an estimated "two to three" months after the apartment search is over. 

To fix this, there should be a website that can do the following:

1. Document Management

We are constantly receiving poor scans of xeroxes of various documents, each of which take several days for one of the parties to retrieve and send to another. It would be great if the site already had standard, digital versions of all these documents that the lawyers could go in and modify and everyone could review, search and annotate when it's their turn in the process. I'm not sure how binding e-signatures are these days, but they'd be extremely useful here.

2. Information Management

This website should be able to store all the basic information about the property, including its address, selling price, financial history, and also the names and contact information for the buyers, sellers, lawyers and agents, mortgage officer, etc. A calendar would be helpful for scheduling any necessary meetings and important dates, including co-op interviews (which can set you back if a co-op only meets once a month!) and, most importantly, the closing date. Having all this in one place would make it easier to pre-populate all the various forms automatically too.

3. Money Management

The toughest part might be dealing with financial institutions, but if this website could eliminate the need to wait for checks to be sent and deposited by handling all the various transactions electronically, that would help streamline the process too. At the very least it should be able to give banks access to the information and documents they need to approve a loan (and would be more proactive than waiting for the bank to request a single document every few days...).

The best part is that a lot of money already gets thrown at various fees and listing agents that sometimes do nothing but stand in one place when you're looking at a property. If this website acted as an agent of sorts, there is plenty of room for the site to get a cut of the final sale of the property.

I wonder what effect it would have on the mortgage financial crisis if all this could be streamlined to 2-3 weeks or less. Are all these inefficiencies and artificial delays what's kept the business churning for so long?

Plastic Bags

I am amazed at the amount of resistance I get at grocery stores when I tell the clerk I don't need a bag, or when I politely ask for my things not to be double-bagged. They often ask "are you sure?", sometimes more then once, even when I'm not buying much or when I'm not buying anything with sharp edges.

Maybe it's because I'm breaking their routine, but I would expect stores to train their staff to be supportive of customers that are saving them money (and the environment!). This happens even at places like Duane Reade and Whole Foods that have been heavily promoting their own re-usable bags.

I learned to say no to bags from my old co-worker, Jeremy. Sometimes we would get a sandwich or salad from a place like Pret-A-Manger, and he would just carry it in his hands. Most of us don't give it a second thought, but the food is already packaged, and we only needed to walk a few blocks back to our desks.

Ever since I started doing this myself, it's made me extremely conscious of how frequently I come across plastic bags every day. No matter how small of an item I'm buying, even something that I can easily put in my pocket, I have to stop people from putting it in a bag. The only exception is if I already have a bag on me; people are happy to let me put something in another plastic bag.

UPDATE: Just saw this great documentary called Bag It about plastic bags and other single-use plastics in our lives. The beginning of it has the main narrator trying to tell a cashier he doesn't want a bag and even she nags him about it. It's available for instant streaming on iTunes, Netflix and Amazon.

Rainbow Start-ups

Last week, Read It Later (an Instapaper competitor) rebranded themselves as Pocket. When I heard about the app and tried it out, I thought I was looking at a new product from Google. It has a lot of light grays, flat icons and a thin green-blue-red-orange strip at the top. That's the same set of colors in Google's branding, albeit not the same shades of them.

Transient

Vimeo also started allowing more people to test their redesign.  Their old design riffed off of TV test patterns with vertical rainbow stripes inside little TV icons and rectangular placeholder graphics. The new design moves most of the site's bright colors up to a strip at the top of the page. 

Transient

A few days ago I also learned about a startup called Gumroad, by Pinterest designer Sahil Lavingia, that offers a way for people to sell products without setting up entire storefronts. I found a Dribble page where he posted his version of a "Hello, My Name Is..." sticker, replacing the red strips with rainbow-colored ones. I wonder if the site's design was already in place when he made the dribble, or if he got the idea to add the strip to the site by making it?

Transient

Am I spotting a trend? Maybe designers are taking the baton from Gowalla? It's been a few months since they were bought by Facebook. They were finally shut down in March. Before then, rainbow strip:

(Gowalla screenshot via iPhone Screen Dumps)

(Gowalla screenshot via iPhone Screen Dumps)

New Blog

I recently read You Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier, a book that advocates for using technology to help individuals, and enhance individual self-expression, rather than the "wisdom of the crowd" mentality that has sprung up around sites like Facebook and Wikipedia. There is very little in the book that I disagreed with (though I'm trying to find one that directly tries to refute the arguments he makes) and it has gotten me to think a lot. I hope to use this blog to put down some of those thoughts, and also write more about my life, design, technology and other observations.