Links and articles about technology, design, and sociology. Written by Rian van der Merwe.

Want to do something? Begin now.

Who doesn’t love Ira Glass? What a legend. His I’m Ira Glass, Host of This American Life, and This Is How I Work feature in LifeHacker is really good:

I’d just say to aspiring journalists or writers—who I meet a lot of—do it now. Don’t wait for permission to make something that’s interesting or amusing to you. Just do it now. Don’t wait. Find a story idea, start making it, give yourself a deadline, show it to people who’ll give you notes to make it better. Don’t wait till you’re older, or in some better job than you have now. Don’t wait for anything. Don’t wait till some magical story idea drops into your lap. That’s not where ideas come from. Go looking for an idea and it’ll show up. Begin now.

I also loved this response to the question What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?:

I’ve got nothing. Reading other people’s answers to this question on your website today made me realize I live my life like an ape. I eat the same breakfast and lunch everyday, both at my desk. I employ no time-saving tricks at all.

So, I guess in related news, I bought and I don’t know maybe it will become something, maybe not…

Book culture everywhere

Hugh Howey is the author of WOOL, one of my favorite sci fi series. His essay Your Fear is My Opportunity is a rant on Amazon and self-publishing, and I really appreciate his perspective as someone who has gone through the hard process of self-publishing:

The things I advocate for: Reasonably priced e-books, for publishers to take risks and do exciting things, for us to embrace the future of storytelling and allow it to coexist with the past, to release all editions of a work at once, to get rid of DRM, to mix up genres and do something fresh and new … these are all things I’ve wanted as a reader for longer than I’ve been writing.

And this:

I am a reader first. And I want more readers. Selfishly, as a reader, I want more readers. I want to see airports full of people staring at books, e-readers, and tablets laced with text. Not people staring at cell phones, Candy Crush, Facebook, or authors’ blogs. I want book culture everywhere. I want interactions with strangers to be about what they’ve read lately. I want my social media feed to be all about books. I’m an addict, and I want to get other people hooked. Maybe that’s a bad thing. I don’t care.

If you haven’t read WOOL you should give it a try. Great storytelling whether you’re a sci fi fan or not.

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The future of work is not jobs

A couple of articles about work and technology caught my eye this week. First, Claire Cain Miller describes how Technology, Aided by Recession, Is Polarizing the Work World:

[A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research], which analyzed data from the Current Population Survey from 1976 to 2012, illustrates that the recession had a disproportionately large effect on routine jobs, and greatly sped up their loss. That is probably because even if a new technology is cheaper and more efficient than a human laborer, bosses are unlikely to fire employees and replace them with computers when times are good. The recession, however, gave them a motive. And the people who lost those jobs are generally unable to find new ones, said Henry E. Siu, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia and an author of the study.

Now, combine that problem in the mid-paying job market with an issue Thomas B. Edsall pointed out a few weeks ago in The Downward Ramp:

Just one example: the drying up of cognitively demanding jobs is having a cascade effect. College graduates are forced to take jobs beneath their level of educational training, moving into clerical and service positions instead of into finance and high tech.

This cascade eliminates opportunities for those without college degrees who would otherwise fill those service and clerical jobs. These displaced workers are then forced to take even less demanding, less well-paying jobs, in a process that pushes everyone down. At the bottom, the unskilled are pushed out of the job market altogether.

So, college graduates are pushed into mid-paying jobs, and those jobs are being replaced by technology. Not good.

Meanwhile, in opposite world, Louise Aronson writes about The Future of Robot Caregivers (if you’re counting, that’s three for three on the New York Times):

We do not have anywhere near enough human caregivers for the growing number of older Americans.

Zeynep Tufekci’s excessively titled Failing the Third Machine Age: When Robots Come for Grandma is a good critique of that piece:

Let me explain. When people confidently announce that once robots come for our jobs, we’ll find something else to do like we always did, they are drawing from a very short history. The truth is, there’s only been one-and-a-three-quarters of a machine age—we are close to concluding the second one—we are moving into the third one.

And there is probably no fourth one.

Humans have only so many “irreplaceable” skills, and the idea that we’ll just keep outrunning the machines, skill-wise, is a folly.

Put all these pieces together and you get a very scary vision of the future of jobs. The good news — I think — is that job != work.

The future of jobs might be bleak, but the future of work certainly isn’t. Technology might be taking our jobs, but it’s also giving us new ways to be creative. To be entrepreneurs. To work. As programs like Girls Who Code continue to grow, I’m increasingly optimistic about my daughters’ futures. They might not get a “regular” job one day. But my role as a parent is not to prepare them for a job anyway. It’s to foster in them the tenacity and grit to learn how to think big and make things. I’m excited about that.

Graphic design is still a thing

Trevor Connolly breaks down the myth that the Post-PSD Era means that graphic designers will soon be out of a job if they don’t learn to code. From The Post PSD Era doesn’t want to kill designers:

Designers are more important in today’s digital world than ever. You are still responsible for creating flexible design systems and finding the styles that will connect with the user. Now you just have to do it faster. By ditching the PSD and streamlining the design process, you aren’t just providing the client the value of saved time, you are making yourself more valuable. And ultimately, the real goal of the Post PSD Era is about creating more value — for your customers, for your team, and for you.

The graphic designer’s outcomes are just different now, even if they still use Photoshop. Instead of producing pixel-perfect mockups, their time is spent creating visual inventories, style tiles, and other artifacts that are essential in an atomic design environment.

No pen could ever suggest

Clive Thompson’s “I can’t even” is easily my favorite essay of the week. Clive goes back 100 years and finds an author that excelled at… well, I’ll let him tell you:

It must be said: Lovecraft is not a great literary stylist. His prose is good, but not great.

The one exception? This linguistic subgenre—the craft of finding new ways to say that he can’t say something. When Lovecraft does describe a monster straightforwardly, he often stumbles, defaulting to pretty journeyman prose. But when he describes the way a monster can’t be described? He is endlessly inventive. I read and reread my collection of Lovecraft, slapping in a Post-It Note whenever I hit upon one of these I-can’t-even moments, and soon the book was crammed with stickies. I’m starting to believe these catchphrases may be his most enduring contribution to English letters.

My favorite example?

The frantic playing had become a blind, mechanical, unrecognizable orgy that no pen could ever suggest.

Masterful. Even better than my go-to “I can’t even” gif:

I can’t even

A history of autocorrect

Gideon Lewis-Kraus discusses The Fasinatng … Frustrating … Fascinating History of Autocorrect. Turns out there’s more to it than meets the eye:

A handful of factors are taken into account to weight the variables: keyboard proximity, phonetic similarity, linguistic context. But it’s essentially a big popularity contest. A Microsoft engineer showed me a slide where somebody was trying to search for the long-named Austrian action star who became governor of California. Schwarzenegger, he explained, “is about 10,000 times more popular in the world than its variants”—Shwaranegar or Scuzzynectar or what have you. Autocorrect has become an index of the most popular way to spell and order certain words.

This article also taught me that swear words are complicated. And I really like the cartoons of various autocorrect errors, especially this one:

Damn you autocorrect

“Making It Right” – a book about product management

I don’t know if I’ve always wanted to write a book, but I do know that I’ve been writing the one I’m announcing today in my head for many, many years. It’s called Making It Right: Product Management For A Startup World, and it’s my attempt at putting together a practical framework for building great products:

Making It Right

The book came about because I saw a lot of people in organizations perform some of the activities that make up the role of product management. The problem is that very few people take a holistic view of the product, and this is not a role that should be split up into tiny pieces. So, you see marketing people doing some design and research, business analysts doing some spec writing, developers managing the product backlog, and so on.

All this without a person who is responsible for the overall vision, prioritization, and execution of the product. With this book I wanted to provide a complete product strategy that is agnostic to whatever development process people use (agile, etc.).

So here are a couple of links to check out more detail, if you’re interested:

Smashing tells me that the Amazon thing, in particular, is important for the first couple of days after launch. So if you’re so inclined, please pick it up for 99c, and write a review. It will really, really help to give us a good launch.

Huge thanks to the Smashing Magazine team, and my technical editor Francisco Inchauste. They’re my heroes. And now I have to lie down.

The original OS: treating people well

Joel Spolsky:

Even though Fog Creek, Trello, and Stack Exchange are now three separate companies, they are all running basically the same operating system, based on the original microprocessor architecture known as “making a company where the best developers want to work,” or, in simpler terms, treating people well.

What a great post about a great product and a great outlook on corporate culture. I wish Joel would start blogging regularly again…

[Sponsor] Photo Book Flip: your iPad photos in a beautiful book

My thanks again to Photo Book Flip for sponsoring the site again this week. Try it out!

Photo Book Flip instantly turns the photos on your iPad into a beautiful photo book with a single tap. Unlike most photo apps that only let you browse photos one at a time, Photo Book Flip lets you flip through your photos in variety of layouts, so you can enjoy them in a delightful and different way.

How is Photo Book Flip different?

Photo Book Flip is not your ordinary photo book creator app. Every time you choose a set of photos, the app intelligently lays out photos into minimalist templates inspired by photo-centric magazines like Kinfolk. So every time you create a photo book, it’s going to be a different experience even with the same set of photos.

Photo Book Flip also works nicely with Apple’s Photo Stream. This means all the photos you take on your iPhone, you can use Photo Book Flip on your iPad to make them into a photo book with just a tap.

Lastly, we think the best part of Photo Book Flip is that it takes the hassle out of creating beautiful photo books for you to enjoy.

A sneak peak at what’s coming up.

We are hard at work polishing and making this app better. There are lots more features to come and here’s a preview:

  • Sharing features: Email, tweet, or post to Facebook individual photos as well as pages in your photo books.
  • Full screen photos: Tap on any photo to see it in full screen view.
  • More templates: We’re gradually adding more templates for more layout variations.
  • Flickr and Facebook Support: The feature we’re excited about the most! Create photo books from photos in your Facebook and Flickr account.

As you can see, lots of exciting features are coming to Photo Book Flip! Find it on the App Store and make sure to sign up for updates on our website.

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