Design and research

Both the AIGA and the RGD were holding webinars today—at exactly the same time—, and since the RGD one seems to be directly related to my studies, I opted to go to the RGD one.

What I got out of this: I have seriously underestimated the amount of work I need to do to finish this week’s assignment. Not that I wasn’t aware of that yesterday when I went to the library to do a good read of the course material, but if there is no established database and no established list of design journals in existence, then I’m pretty much screwed unless I started last Thursday, which I did not.

Or unless the bibliography I should come up with would appear in a journal in a “related discipline,” which again is not going to be the case.

I don’t know what I’ll be able to come up with, but whatever I manage to do will, as it stands, not be very good.

Design and social change

I went to the “Navigating the World of Design (w/ Zahra Ebrahim)” forum today, without really knowing what it was before I went. So it was a really good discussion (not really a “presentation” in the usual sense of the word), and Zahra turned out to be really friendly and approachable. Too bad I have never been good at coming up with good questions to ask.

But in any case, the career related stuff aside, two things really struck me: how much her vocabulary overlaps our program’s (“disability” and “social impact” in particular, and probably a couple more, but I bet she’s unknown in our class), and her assessment on the state of graphic design.

A few days ago—in fact last week after that class that “accidentally” happened—Brandon was talking about graphic design being “dead.” I was not convinced. But today Zahra also mentioned the fact that traditional design firms—even large firms—are failing, and this is something I was not aware of. Her conclusion—if I am not mistaken—the value of designers is in design thinking and our process. (Ok, am I allowed to say “our”?)

Which is exactly what AIGA has been saying for the past two years. (And Ric Grefe calls it “craft.”)

So, there, perhaps this is why we have such divergent views: Brandon views graphic design as print; print is “dead” (or so they claim) and so graphic design is “dead.” But I view graphic design as more than print: My idea of graphic design includes print, web design, environmental grapic design, and video, and I was never convinced that graphic design is “dead” because even though people might argue that print is dying, web design, EGD, and video are obviously not dead.

But the essential question remains: Can I say I “get” the process? Can I say I “get” design thinking? I really don’t know but I suspect I might not like the answer.

The better thesaurus, revisited

Working through the source text of a translation contest, suddenly the inadequacy of ordinary dictionaries and thesauri was bugging me again. There are at least semi-usable thesauri for English, but for Chinese, there is virtually nothing usable.

(True, the Revised Dictionary of the National Language is somewhat useful as a thesaurus too, but it is not even comprehensive enough as a dictionary…)

So that quad that I drew in the summer semester (which I believe no one really noticed and so no one commented on) suddenly came back to me: We do need a better thesaurus, and in the fine tradition of Princeton’s WordNet, it should probably be an open platform where people can contribute.

We really need “a better thesaurus,” for both English and Chinese, where people can look up not only synonyms, hypernyms, hyponyms, and that vague notion they call “sister terms,” but antonyms, emphatics, and causatives (yes, those alledgely Semitic ideas). The lack of something that can jog our memory to come up with that elusive causative we invariably need is, in my humble opinion, a serious problem for translators.

Maybe that can be a project, or a paper, or something. I don’t know. Does this really have anything to do with my program? I never got that feedback I needed.

Too Big To Know, Part 2

I still have about 40 pages more before I can mark this book as “read,” but I am becoming less and less convinced of the validity of his ideas.

One serious problem with his arguments is that he seems to have absolute no idea what axioms are, as he talks about “axiomatic certainty” on page 45 while and on page 149 he talks about “making unfalsifiable claims is not science.” The thing is that anyone with a mathematical background knows that axioms are by definition unfalsifiable claims (and must be unfalsifiable in order to do their job), and yet any logical argument must begin with these unfalsifiable claims, or else it’s just “vacuously true.”

Naturally, then he continues to sing praises of evolution (page 150) as if there were no unfalsifiable claims, which is of course false, because if there were no unfalsifiable claims then there would be no axioms and therefore no logic to speak of. Evolution, if it really is science, must contain—and in fact must be based on—unfalsifiable claims.

Both evolution and creationism are based on unfalsifiable claims, and must necessarily be so because the laws of logic demand it. And creationism is in fact very much valid science. If he is not even aware of this, how can he persuade us to believe his other ideas?

Blind people not welcome?

“Crime prevention program in effect: For the safety of our customers and staff, please remove your hat, hood and dark glasses before entering this building. Your cooperation is appreciated.”

There is neither a braille nor an audio version of this notice anywhere.

So, in other words, “blind people and Muslim women are not welcome at our bank.”

Is such the attitude of our society’s institutions? Or are they just so insensitive that they didn’t know blind people exist?

Subtitle editors

We really have been introduced only to CapScribe and Amara, the latter of which I was deeply familiar. But is this really the limit of what’s available?


When I was looking for alternatives for our captioning assignment, by chance I found Aegisub after a long unsuccessful search for open-source MacOSX-compatible editors. It is MacOSX compatible. And it is open-source. But for a simple school project the interface looked far too complicated; it’s, however, probably going to be really useful if I learnt how to use it and a real project comes my way.

SubtitleEdit, Jubler, MPC-HC

A few days ago I was checking my site statistics and noticed an interesting backlink, which linked to this post which recommended a few subtitle editors that I didn’t know about:

Since I don’t have Windows, the only one I can check out is Jubler. I’ll do that some time.


The other day I landed on this post and a poster recommended InqScribe. It supports both Windows and MacOSX, but it’s a commercial piece of software.

So there seems to be really quite a lot of options other than just CapScribe and Amara. Maybe some time I’ll try them all and report back what I find.

What is the rationale behind timeouts?

I logged in to my course account yesterday, left it open, and today I found the login screen sitting where my studio course’s syllabus should have been.

Why is a timeout even necessary? To force students to take breaks? These annoying timeouts are there even if you saved the pages onto your hard disk.

Why is this happening in this program in particular? Isn’t our program the unlikeliest place on earth that this happened? I am sure this is an act of exclusion at least for blind people, people with learning difficulties, or people with motor impairments. Did the programmer even try out that green dot computer interface thing? Are they telling us to block the timeout code as if it were a virus?

Why are all web sites getting less and less usable? What is it, really, that we—the design, IT, and engineering professions on the whole—are striving towards? Isn’t our goal usability and not uselessness?

Too big to know

I read our assigned reading—chapters 4 and 5 of David Weinberger’s Too Big To Know (ISBN 978-0-465-02142-0)—on the train, so I didn’t have any “resources” when I thought something wasn’t right, but I still spotted three obvious problems while reading.

Weinberger argues that “mere diversity of ethnicity is not” relevant (p. 74, second-last line), which he based off Scott Page’s The Difference. While Page is someone I respect a lot, I have to disagree to the categorical claim that “mere diversity of ethnicity is not.” According to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, mere diversity of ethnicity (or rather the history of the person’s ancestors, even if the person’s life circumstances have been completely disconnected from those of their ancestors) can be relevant—for reasons that are not yet understood.

The second problem is that Weinberger quoted Howard Rheingold as saying “Even the mere presence of moderators—even if they never moderate a single posting—is enough to keep out the trolls” (p. 78, second paragraph, last two lines) and believed it at that. This might have been true in the olden days, but anyone who is on an open group on LinkedIn and plagued by a never-ending spam problem can attest that the “mere presence” of moderators is not enough; in fact even the presence of hard-working moderators who moderate hundreds of articles (as is the case of AIGA’s official group) is not enough to deter trolls.

The third obvious problem is that he stated that “of sixty randomly chosen political sites, only 15 percent put in links to sites of their opponents” (p. 82, paragraph 3, lines 4–5) and thought this signals a problem. However, whoever has worked in an organization knows that perhaps upper management is just apprehensive of linking to anything. The lack of linking is not indicative of a problem except if you consider ignorance of what links mean to be a problem (but I do consider this to be a problem, especially when many lawyers seem to count among the ignorant ones…).

In any case, I will continue reading after I get the urgent stuff done. Maybe my opinion of it will change, or maybe it will not; as for right now, I think while his argument has merit, it also has holes, and, judging from what these holes are in the two chapters I have read, probably quite a number of them.

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