February 2013 Articles


Michael E. Kirkpatrick · YouTube ·

Paperman is an incredibly well done animated short from, not Pixar, but Disney Animation Studios. It’ll certainly make you smile and is — in my humble opinion — a great way to start Notional. Welcome.

Update (February 15, 2013) - The Paperman short has been made private on YouTube and is no longer accessible via the Disney Animation Studios channel. Bummer

“Let’s cut the crap. Life is short, you have less time than you think, and there are no baby unicorns coming to save you. So rather than doling out craptastic advice to you about Making!! It!! To!! The!! Top!!™, let me humbly ask: do you want to have a year that matters — or do you want to spend another year starring-slash-wallowing in the lowest-common-denominator reality show-slash-whiny soap opera of your own inescapable mediocrity-slash-self-imposed tragedy?…”

It’s seems the word “recycling” is no longer in vogue for non-profits that focus on sustainability. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation instead extolls the virtues of a a “circular economy” where “products do not quickly become waste, but are reused to extract their maximum value before safely and productively returning to the biosphere”. While the terminology is different, the idea seems to be the same: the Earth is resource limited and as stewards of this planet, it’s our job to use - and reuse - those resources smartly.

I stumbled across the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s report while crosschecking some sources in Kyle Wien’s recent Harvard Business Review piece titled “We’re Running Out of Resources, and It’s Going to Be OK”. He links to the foundation’s report when he wrote “…The average consumer buys over 2,200 lbs of material per year; 80% of these materials end up in incinerators, landfills, or as wastewater”. To quote the foundation’s report directly:

“The goods an OECD citizen buys for consumption annually—800 kg of food and beverages, 120 kg of packaging, and 20 kg of new clothing and shoes—are, for the most part, not returned for any further economic use. In the current ‘take-make-dispose’ system, around 80 per cent of these materials will end up in incinerators, landfill or wastewater. They come to a dead end.”

While Wien’s math is a little off (800 + 120 + 20 = 940 kg = 2,072.35 lbs) his point is well taken. Much of what we - consumers - buy, has a relatively limited lifespan in the big scheme of things. As such, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s circular model proposes that businesses look not only to the Earth for the raw inputs to their products but also to the world of used materials.

Buckle up if this sounds interesting to you; the full report is 111 pages. For those simply looking for a bit of education, you’ll be delighted to know the executive summary is only 6 pages in length.

Two definitions you should know before reading this article:

  • Verisimilitude (noun) the appearance of being true or real: the detail gives the novel some verisimilitude.
  • Ephemeral (adjective) lasting for a very short time: fashions are ephemeral. Ephemerality (noun)

And be prepared for similar dictionary-reach-requiring vocabulary. Jeremey’s article looks at Snapchat and the dichotomy between online services like Facebook and Twitter that save your posts eternally and services like Snapchat whose content lasts only a moment. Along with general philosophical musings about ephemerality and the Internet.

“…libraries are about more than just e-readers or any other media, as important as those things are. They are about more than just buildings…They are also about human beings and their relationships, specifically, the relationship between librarians and patrons.

“…In an environment where we are continually being solicited to buy, click on, or otherwise consume products selected for us by algorithms (which often make ridiculous and even insulting suggestions), the presence of a guiding human sensibility seems more valuable than ever. A good librarian, unlike the monetizing formulas employed by Google or Amazon or Facebook, is not only capable of independent thought, he or she is also committed to nurturing critical thinking in others. All the technological bells and whistles a library can employ are pretty much worthless if there’s no one minding the store.”

There are lot’s of ideas about what the Internet is for. And people, including myself, are using this worldwide-web for purposes as different as transforming personal PC’s into a super computer cluster1, to building community amongst a group of people.

I see the Internet as a tool to strengthen communities; to bring people together. Whether the tool a community needs is a message board to share updates about what’s happening at school; a way to send messages like you would paper mail across long distances; or a library to house ideas; the Internet can do it.

With this boundless potential comes the equally unbridled enthusiasm of onlookers to contribute their two cents about what the Internet can, or should be. Paul Ford furthers this by stating that the fundamental question of the web is “Why wasn’t I consulted?”.

To Ford, the Internet is a customer service medium, “whatever ‘customer service’ means when it comes to” an industry or group of people. His challenge:

“Turn your readers into members. Not visitors, not subscribers; you want members. And then don’t just consult them, but give them tools to consult amongst themselves.”

I hope that you, the reader, want to be included in this conversation I’ve started with Notional. And I hope I’ve given that conversation a start by sharing these articles and posts with you. And I look forward to your feedback and hope that you won’t mind being consulted2.

You can read Ford’s full post, The Web Is a Customer Service Medium


  • Grid computing projects, like the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC), allow you to install a piece of software on your computer that will make your personal computer part of a larger network of computers when your computer is idle (at night, while you’re at lunch, etc.).
  • If you don’t mind being consulted and want to get in touch, shoot me an email or we could even try communicating via Twitter.

“Somehow, unfiltered has become boring.” Cheri Lucas Rowlands recalls:

“I strolled underneath the iconic dome and gazed up, put the bulky Nikon around my neck, and reached into my purse for my iPhone to take the shot above me instead. Then I opened Instagram, ran a filter over it, and posted it — to send it off into the world to be liked and viewed for its moment of glory, and to shortly after join the stream of other Instagrams disappearing into our Internet wasteland.”

Not only is unfiltered boring, but everything seems fleeting; web content, uploaded photos, perhaps even this very article. And why wouldn’t Internet content be fleeting? It’s so easy to consume! News aggregator apps on our iPhone let us scroll through mountains of “news” each day. With increasing numbers of Facebook friends, or people you follow on Instagram or Twitter, you are provided with an ever-scrolling page of content to peruse.

Content on the web is everywhere — in fact the web is defined by content — and its proliferation and exponentially increasing output, seemingly day-by-day, is mind boggling.

But you probably already know this.

Collect Them All

Jon Seff · The Magazine ·

The Internet has changed the way we interact. It’s incredible really. Would you believe it’s true for tape collectors as well?

Jon Seff stumbled into the world of live music trading in the 1990’s when fans of live music would send tapes to each other; cassettes. And he writes about the experience in The Magazine. It’s fascinating to glimpse into the “old world”, where data - high fidelity recordings in this case - was traded and acquired via the mail.

“The transition from snail-mailed cassettes to high-speed BitTorrent downloads has changed the nature of trades. For one, it’s made it much easier for anyone with a decent Internet connection and basic understanding of P2P file sharing to access a treasure trove of live music…

“At the same time, it’s made the whole process much less personal. As with ATMs replacing bank tellers, there’s less human interaction. I built up friendships with several tapers and traders over the years as a direct result of our one-to-one dealings. Now the level of dialogue rarely goes beyond posting comments on download pages (mostly thank yous, with the odd bit of snark).

“And with official downloads, the relationship has changed from being between fans and tapers to being between fans and bands. Which, in many ways, makes a lot of sense since it’s their music in the first place.”

Seff writes a terrific story in which can be found many different narratives about culture and technology. If you’re a subscriber to The Magazine (it’s an iOS only Newstand app that requires a subscription), you can read the full article in the latest issue.

“I’m pretty mediocre. I’m ashamed to admit it. I’m not even being sarcastic or self-deprecating. I’ve never done anything that stands out. No “Whoa! This guy made it into outer space!” or, “This guy has a best selling novel!” or, “If only Google had thought of this!” I’ve had some successes and some failures but never reached any of the goals I had initially set. Always slipped off along the way, off the yellow brick road, into the wilderness…”


Alfred, Lord Tennyson · Poems ·

Many thanks to Captain Geo W. Batchelder.

Captain Batchelder , “killed at Antietam, Sept. 17, 1862, wrote on the previous day: ‘I wish my books to go to my father and mother, and after their decease to be given to Harvard College.’ His sisters accordingly completed the bequest, June 9, 1890, by letter.”

The Harvard College Library thereby acquired Captain Batchelder’s copy of Poems by Alfred Tennyson, Volume II. Many years later, Google helped digitize the holdings of Harvard’s library and made the contents searchable through their Google Books service. And today, upon hearing a quote from Tennyson’s “Ulysses”, I searched for the book online and came across Captain Batchelder’s 1855 copy.

Retyped here, as shown in Captain Batchelder’s text, is Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses”. You can also listen to my reading of the the poem.

*** It little profits that an idle king, By this still hearth, among these barren crags, Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole Unequal laws unto a savage race, That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me I cannot rest from travel : I will drink Life to the lees : all times I have enjoyed Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those That loved me, and alone ; on shore, and when Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades Vext the dim sea : I am become a name ; For always roaming with a hungry heart Much have I seen and known ; cities of men And manners, climates, councils, governments, Myself not least, but honored of them all ; And drunk delight of battle with my peers, Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy. I am a part of all that I have met ; Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades Forever and forever when I move. How dull it is to pause, to make an end, To rust unburnished, not to shine in use ! As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life Were all too little, and of one to me Little remains : but every hour is saved From that eternal silence, something more, A bringer of new things ; and vile it were For some three sums to store and hoard myself, And this gray spirit yearning in desire To follow knowledge, like a sinking star, Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.   This is my son, mine own Telemachus, To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle — Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil This labor, by slow prudence to make mild A rugged people, and through soft degrees Subdue them to the useful and the good. Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere Of common duties, decent not to fail In offices of tenderness, and pay Meet adoration to my household gods When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.   There lies the port : the vessel puffs her sail : There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners, Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me — That ever with a frolic welcome took The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed Free hearts, free foreheads — you and I are old ; Old age hath yet his honor and his toil ; Death closes all : but something ere the end, Some work of noble note, may yet be done, Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods. The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks : The long day wanes : the slow moon climbs : the deep Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends. ’T is not too late to seek a newer world. Push off, and sitting well in order smite The sounding furrows ; for my purpose holds To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths Of all the western stars, until I die. It may be that the gulfs will wash us down : It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles, And see the great Achilles, whom we knew. Though much is taken, much abides ; and though We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven ; that which we are, we are ; One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

“There’s been an unusual amount of existential angst among fashion critics lately. Yes, there may be more sympathetic groups of people in the world, but at this moment it’s hard not to feel bad for them. After all, a lot of us worry about new technologies making our jobs obsolete.

“Their authority had already been eroded by the advent of the style blog a few years ago. Now these writers worry they may become irrelevant as fashion brands begin streaming their shows online. Three or four years ago, runway video was a novelty move. Now fashion designers are starting to tailor their runway shows to it…”

Commentary on Paul Hansen’s winning Photo of the Year from the World Press Photo Contest:

“I think Paul Hansen’s winning image is fantastic. I personally like the ‘original’ better than the award winning image. But the more salient question is whether or not the original would have won…

“But why does it matter? He didn’t move elements around in the photo, nor burn elements out of existence.

“It matters because we are essentially saying as a society that reality isn’t real enough to garner our attention. The photo wasn’t intended as a factual statement.

Solving environmental issues caused by humans (transforming wetlands into crop lands) by using human waste (recycled plastics) to create “artificial” floating wetlands to reduce pollutants that run off from agriculture. Fascinating.

Fraindship Rings

Saba Imtiaz · The Magazine ·

“In the summer of 2011, I had a near meltdown as my then-cell phone — a MotoRokr that never quite lived up to its shiny, happy ads — would not stop ringing. It was like that episode of How I Met Your Mother when Barney Stinson advertises his number while at the Super Bowl and finds himself deluged with calls from women who want to sleep with him.

“But my ringing phone, and those of women across Pakistan, isn’t because we advertised our phone numbers. Instead, the ringing is a prelude to endless text messages, all from a series of unknown numbers from men who’d like to ‘make fraindship.’…”

“In the annals of middle-school mischief, the Facebook page Let’s Start Drama deserves an entry. The creator of the page—no one knew her name, but everyone was sure she was a girl—had a diabolical knack for sowing conflict among students at Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Middletown, Connecticut.…Wrapped in her cloak of anonymity, she was free to pass along cruel gossip without personal consequences. She started by posting a few idle rumors, and when that gained her followers, she asked them to send her private messages relaying more gossip, promising not to disclose the source. Which girl had just lost her virginity? Which boy had asked a girl to sext him a nude photo? As Drama Queen posted the tantalizing tidbits she gathered, more kids signed up to follow her exploits—a real-life version of Gossip Girl. She soon had an audience of 500, many drawn from Woodrow Wilson’s 750 students, plus a smattering from the local high school and a nearby Catholic school.…”

I love technology. As a third grader in 1995 I was using email and participating in remote video conferences (we were showing off to the school board a group technology project we did at school). And one year into Facebook starting up, I joined - or I should say a friend helped me join; they created my profile for me. Since that time, and after graduating from college, I’ve removed myself from Facebook and chosen to limit or not engage in many other online “social networks”. I tweet for #Notional, have dabbled in Instagram, and stay far away from Pinterest, LinkedIn and other enclaves of the social web. And much to the chagrin of friends who are trying to reach me at dinner or when I’m out, my iPhone remains on vibrate, tucked away.

I’m disconnected in many ways as many people I know have moved their social lives from in-person or telephone conversations to text messages, email, and sites like Facebook. I don’t usually know when more distant friends have gone on trips nor had major life changes (engagements, death in the family, etc.) because I don’t read about it on the web. I’ve made the conscious choice that I prefer to talk to people to learn about their lives.

The consequences of my choice go beyond being informed about my friend’s lives; it also means that I have fewer friends as I don’t maintain my friendships online. People I knew from college that have moved away and never called have fallen out of my social circle 1. Even friends who live an hour or two driving have become “long distance” friends that I catch up with once every month, or two, or three.

So who’s in my social circle? A few co-workers who I go to lunch with and talk with during the work day; a college friend who is still in the area; the handful of college friends I chat with on the phone and travel to meet up with; and my neighbors in my apartment complex.

Yet I don’t feel disconnected.

I think my dating pool is smaller as I’m not advertising to my 100+ Facebook friends that I’m single and instead rely on meeting people in-person through friends or on the occasions I go out.

Ultimately I’m happier living and interacting with the people around me and not constantly chatting via text or checking the headlines on Facebook. And a side benefit…friends will actually meet up with me for lunch or coffee to show me their photos from their latest trip, telling me about it and inserting side stories as we flip through their photo memories.

While it may sound like I reject “social” technology tools, in fact I’ve repurposed them as tools to help me engage with the social circle I’ve decided to stay connected to.

Web tools like Twitter are amazing in that I can reach out to literally anyone — regardless of our differences in geographical distance, or social, political or economic stature — and start a conversation. I think that is amazing. Though at the end of the day, I find what matters most to me are the relationships I’ve built using methods that feel comfortable and meaningful to me.

This post was inspired by an article in the Harvard Business Review by Tony Schwartz where he writes about “How to Be Mindful in an ‘Unmanageable’ World

“The addiction of our times is digital connection, instant gratification, and the cheap adrenalin high of constant busyness.…

“Paradoxically, the most important solution I heard is to use technology less frequently, and more intentionally.…

“My second revelatory experience was a lunch I shared with two new friends who were also attending the conference. We ended up spending more than two hours together, free of digital interruptions, just talking, reflecting, laughing, and hanging out. How often do most of us take the time to truly connect with work colleagues — much less friends — and how much richer are we for it when we do return to our work?”


  1. Or people that I’ve moved away from and haven’t called.