Link: Bourdain Confidential

Found via Kottke, Maria Bustillos has an excellent interview with Anthony Bourdain, from not too long before his death. I’m late on the Bourdain train – I hadn’t really caught any of his shows or books, and only started exploring it all after seeing how impacted people were by his passing. By every account, though, he sounds like someone I would have sincerely enjoyed, and I always appreciate the stories and insights and approach he seemed to bring.

A few favorite bits:

I do not need to win. I am not a competitive person. I need to survive.

Were you ever?

Never. Sports, fucking hated them. Always hated sports. Again, it goes back to that Sixties thing… I just wanna fucking survive. I don’t need to be number one. I don’t need to beat the fuck out of somebody. I don’t need to be ahead. I just want to still be here at the end of the fuckin’ day, doing what I’m doing, without anybody hassling me.

(I hear ya. I’m inherently not a competitive person — which isn’t to say that I don’t like to succeed, but it’s almost never a competition for me, and trying to turn it into one is a surefire way for me to stop giving a shit.)

I also really liked:

Look, the minute everybody in the room agrees with you, you’re in a bad place, so I’m a big believer in change just for its own sake, just to show that you can change, to move forward incrementally, but ain’t nobody gonna make everything better. Whoever has the intestinal fortitude or the megalomaniac instincts, uh, sufficient to lead any kind of a revolution will inevitably disappoint horribly.

And, of course, talking about the sublime little human moments, the ones that immediately become special to you but are so hard to describe why:

I do find that my happiest moments on the road are not standing on the balcony of a really nice hotel. That’s a sort of bittersweet—if not melancholy—alienating experience, at best. My happiest moments on the road are always off-camera, generally with my crew, coming back from shooting a scene and finding ourselves in this sort of absurdly beautiful moment, you know, laying on a flatbed on those things that go on the railroad track, with a putt-putt motor, goin’ across like, the rice paddies in Cambodia with headphones on… this is luxury, because I could never have imagined having the freedom or the ability to find myself in such a place, looking at such things.

To sit alone or with a few friends, half-drunk under a full moon, you just understand how lucky you are; it’s a story you can’t tell. It’s a story you almost by definition, can’t share. I’ve learned in real time to look at those things and realize: I just had a really good moment.

Link: Patterns for Organization of Writing

Over at A List Apart, Richard Rabil writes Order Out of Chaos: Patterns of Organization for Writing on the Job, which drills into some of the core concepts behind organizing your writing. Considering my current profession (and continuing interest in information architecture), I found it pretty topical.

Recently I had an extremely frustrating user experience. While consulting some documentation to learn about a new process, I encountered a series of web pages that gave no introduction and dove straight into undefined jargon and acronyms that I had never heard of. When I visited related pages to get more context, I found the same problem. There was no background information for a newbie like me. The writers failed in this case to anticipate my questions and instead assumed a great deal of prior knowledge.

Don’t make this mistake when you design your structure. Like a journalist, you need to answer the who, what, where, when, how, and why of your content, and then incorporate the answers in your structure. Anticipate common questions, such as “What is this? Where do I start? What must I know? What must I do?” This sort of critical reflection is all the more important when organizing web content, because users will almost certainly enter and exit your pages in nonlinear, unpredictable ways.

Link: Balancing Time

Over at CSS Tricks, Sarah Drasner has a nice article going over some productivity tips (in particular if you’re the type of person who likes to have a lot of projects happening at once). For instance:

Push outside of your comfort zone, but slowly

Work on a few things that you know and understand, and a few things you don’t. We should foster personal growth in our projects, but without some semblance of comfort, it’s easy to get discouraged. Let your projects push the limits of your boundaries, but don’t go overboard. Give yourself a foundation to spring off before floating into space.

Megaquests and Goals

William Van Hecke has an evolving article discussing their approach to productivity called Megaquest. The name may sound a little silly, but the concept is a good one. Read the article for details, but the gist is to have a large, long term goal (intentionally abstracted into a perfect moment or period of time) that informs the other work you take on. That jives with my own views on broader goals, and feels good to have some validation from others who’ve come to the same conclusion.

In particular, I really needed to hear this:

The moment can be specific or fuzzy. You might already have an idea of the details you want to realize, or you might just know the kind of things you want to have in place later in your life. The megaquest can come in and out of focus as your situation and your values shift. But it should always give you something distant and meaningful to hang quests on.


You might not get the moment. Plenty of things won’t go as expected. Plans will change. Your ideas about what you really want will change. Some variables might never fit perfectly into place. The moment is, in fact, a macguffin — a catchy plot device to keep you moving toward putting everything in its place. So the secret, which you shouldn’t think about too hard, is that it doesn’t really matter if you get it. What matters is that the more earnestly you pursue a truly perfect moment, the more you put everything in its place, the more nearly perfect moments you’ll have along the way.

I’ve been feeling kind of aimless lately, and struggling to figure out whether my idea of who and how and where I want to be is still what I want. It may be that I never actually get to that exact moment, falling into sync with myself in an Ohayō moment, and expecting to do so is unreasonable. At its core, it still feels like a good moment to strive for, but are some of the surrounding details changing? Maybe. I need to do some long thinks, I’d say. But maybe that’s okay.

The Rise of the New Aristocracy

Out of The Atlantic, a lengthy but worthwhile piece on how The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy. If you’ve been paying attention, the concept probably isn’t a new one to you, but it’s still alarming and eye-opening to see it all laid out at once.

Some choice bits:

The sociological data are not remotely ambiguous on any aspect of this growing divide. We 9.9 percenters live in safer neighborhoods, go to better schools, have shorter commutes, receive higher-quality health care, and, when circumstances require, serve time in better prisons. We also have more friends—the kind of friends who will introduce us to new clients or line up great internships for our kids.

These special forms of wealth offer the further advantages that they are both harder to emulate and safer to brag about than high income alone. Our class walks around in the jeans and T‑shirts inherited from our supposedly humble beginnings. We prefer to signal our status by talking about our organically nourished bodies, the awe-inspiring feats of our offspring, and the ecological correctness of our neighborhoods. We have figured out how to launder our money through higher virtues.


You see, when educated people with excellent credentials band together to advance their collective interest, it’s all part of serving the public good by ensuring a high quality of service, establishing fair working conditions, and giving merit its due. That’s why we do it through “associations,” and with the assistance of fellow professionals wearing white shoes. When working-class people do it—through unions—it’s a violation of the sacred principles of the free market. It’s thuggish and anti-modern. Imagine if workers hired consultants and “compensation committees,” consisting of their peers at other companies, to recommend how much they should be paid. The result would be—well, we know what it would be, because that’s what CEOs do.


Nowhere are the mechanics of the growing geographic divide more evident than in the system of primary and secondary education. Public schools were born amid hopes of opportunity for all; the best of them have now been effectively reprivatized to better serve the upper classes. According to a widely used school-ranking service, out of more than 5,000 public elementary schools in California, the top 11 are located in Palo Alto. They’re free and open to the public. All you have to do is move into a town where the median home value is $3,211,100.


With localized wealth comes localized political power, and not just of the kind that shows up in voting booths. Which brings us back to the depopulation paradox. Given the social and cultural capital that flows through wealthy neighborhoods, is it any wonder that we can defend our turf in the zoning wars? We have lots of ways to make that sound public-spirited. It’s all about saving the local environment, preserving the historic character of the neighborhood, and avoiding overcrowding. In reality, it’s about hoarding power and opportunity inside the walls of our own castles. This is what aristocracies do.

Also, he got the automatic defensiveness spot on:

In part what we have here is a listening problem. Americans have trouble telling the difference between a social critique and a personal insult. Thus, a writer points to a broad social problem with complex origins, and the reader responds with, “What, you want to punish me for my success?”

In part, too, we’re seeing some garden-variety self-centeredness, enabled by the usual cognitive lapses. […] Human beings of the 9.9 percent variety also routinely conflate the stress of status competition with the stress of survival. No, failing to get your kid into Stanford is not a life-altering calamity.

It’s a lot to take in, but there’s a lot there that needs to be thought about. I’m not entirely sure what the answers are — as the author points out in the article, historically when things get this unequal, the leveling process is violent and destructive. Ideally, we’ll find ways to get back to greater social and economic equality and mobility that don’t require bloody revolution or total economic collapse, but the only ways I can think involve people getting over themselves and not being selfish assholes to each other. That seems naively idealistic in an era where self-centered sociopathy seems distinctly on the rise. Sooner or later (and I suspect sooner), something is going to have to give.

Instagram “Flops”

Just to get this out of the way: when I say “flops,” I’m not talking about posting a picture that gets no likes or anything like that. I’m talking about a new type of account/method of communication that’s been popping up. The Atlantic has an excellent article talking about this: Teens Are Debating the News on Instagram.

It’s interesting. On one hand, I’m fascinated by just how much each generation strives to find a place of their own, to discuss and grow among their peers. It’s like weeds — life will find a way, and will make use of whatever environment they have available to them. Couldn’t they use forums, or Facebook groups, or blogs, or tumblr, or any of the other tools that have already come up that are arguably better suited for discourse and sharing thoughts? Maybe, maybe not. Many kids have very limited spaces for a sense of autonomy and privacy. Their web browsing is monitored by schools and parents, their phones have parental controls on what can and can’t be installed. So they make do with the tools they have available. There’s a critical mass of their peers on Instagram, and it’s generally accepted by parents and schools to have on your phone. So you use the tools you have. A big part of me says “fuck yeah, good job kiddos.”

But then there’s the other hand. The approach leaves a lot to be desired, and the limitations of the tool they chose to use create some inherent flaws in what’s happening. You are effectively signal boosting hateful things by posting them as flops, and only those who bother to read the comment beneath the image will even know that you are posting it to call out the behavior rather than to endorse it. It requires inside knowledge of what a flop even is in order to understand the context, in a medium that is far more broadly shared (it’s not like the images are segregated, they’re woven right in with the rest of your feed or in discovery). There’s also the factor of the psychological impact of immersing yourself in the negative – it has a toll.

A lot to mull over, here.

Comparing Localizations of Final Fantasy VI

Over at Legends of Localization, there is an amazing article (potentially series of articles) discussing localization by comparing, line for line, multiple translations of the same game (in this case, Final Fantasy VI). It uses the official SNES translation, the GBA translation, one of the more popular fan translations, and if you just tossed the original Japanese into Google Translate.

Well worth the time to read if you’ve ever been curious about the localization and translation process.

Link: The Missing Building Blocks of the Web

Over on Medium, Anil Dash talks about The Missing Building Blocks of the Web, which is actually an article I’d meant to link to ages ago, then forgot until Kottke linked to it. There’s no magic-bullet for solving the internet-mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, but there’s a lot to be said for “back to first principles” thinking. Some of it is going to be more realistic than others — getting “View Source” back to something useful, given how complex web development has become, is a bit optimistic, though I do agree with the notion of finding ways to improve it, given our multi-component sites. A core through-line for a lot of this post is getting back to the idea of everyone having their own stake in the internet:

There’s no reason it has to be that way, though. There are no technical barriers for why we couldn’t share our photos to our own sites instead of to Instagram, or why we couldn’t post stupid memes to our own web address instead of on Facebook or Reddit. There are social barriers, of course — if we stubbornly used our own websites right now, none of our family or friends would see our stuff. Yet there’s been a dogged community of web nerds working on that problem for a decade or two, trying to see if they can get the ease or convenience of sharing on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram to work across a distributed network where everyone has their own websites.

Now, none of that stuff is simple enough yet. It’s for nerds, or sometimes, it’s for nobody at all. But the same was true of the web itself, for years, when it was young. This time, we know the stakes, and we can imagine the value of having a little piece of the internet that we own ourselves, and have some control over.

Link: The Trust Spectrum

Raph Koster has a great writeup of The Trust Spectrum, which is a design framework he worked on in collaboration with Google’s ATAP group and Aaron Cammarata. It examines how we build (and break) trust in games, though you could extend a lot the examinations of trust to community in general (which is sort of the point: the goal was to see how we could better build social connection in games).

It’s a good read, in particular if you’re remotely interested in game design, online communities, and online games. (In a similar vein – and mentioned in Raph’s article – is Dan Cook’s article, Game Design Patterns for Building Friendships, which is also worth the read.)

Link: United States of Workaholics

Over at Medium, Melody Wilding has a piece on the United States of Workaholics, which is worth a read.

A few notable things: turns out statistics show the trope about millennials being being lazy/not working is bullshit, which I find entirely unsurprising for a variety of reasons. Also, we’re doing this to ourselves, fostering a culture where taking time off is frowned upon (though rarely explicitly), and things like unlimited-time-off policies end up causing people to take less time off than they would otherwise. We already have less time off than many developed countries, and then we culturally place pressure to not even use what we have. (This came up again in a recent Verge article about toxic management practices in the game industry, also worth a read.)

One fascinating study found that many top performers fake long hours to meet expectations. They simulated work martyrdom to preserve their reputation as a model employee. Those who chose honesty and instead formally requested lighter workloads were denied or punished for it, according to the study.

But how do we deal with it? How do we overcome decades of systemic cultural mentality that one must always be busy, and that more hours means more productivity? (Not even getting into the notion that we must always be producing more, which is itself problematic.) I don’t blame the folks who faked how long they worked, but I don’t think lying about it is a real solution.