The personal site of Tom Coates, co-founder of Product Club

Help me decide what to write about…


I have an almost impossible amount of stuff to do this weekend, and a good block of them involve writing things for this site, and it’s already eight o’clock on Saturday evening. I don’t know where the time goes. I want to talk about my trip into the heart of government a week and a half ago (Andy Budd wrote a lot about it) and I want to talk about going to Our Social World a week ago and what I thought of that. And I want to put the presentations I did at each of them online in some form. I also want to remind people to get their ETech proposals in by Monday. That one’s very very important. There’s another post I really want to write about Microformats, and yet more about replacing controlled vocabularies with URL clouds, using pre-existing semantic structures to navigate around tagged content, and conceptual page-rank following on from Mr Biddulph’s post from the other day. And I have about a billion links to post – in varying levels of detail. And there’s at least one really big thing that I need to talk about that I’m not quite ready for yet. Oh and I really want to talk about the web-like qualities of Guardian redesign as well.

I genuinely have no idea where to start. I feel like I need a month off work to get everything out of my head and somewhere more useful. So in the absence of any discrimination from my side, and with absolutely no commitment from my side to actually write about any of the things above, what would be most interesting to you guys? I don’t really agree with the idea of a weblog having an audience, but I do believe in the idea of it being my voice in a community of peers. So what do you want to hear about?

Links for 2005-09-15


In which Google launches blog search…


Okay, so the big weblog news of the day is that Google have launched their Blog Search. First impressions are that it doesn’t feel right, that quite a lot of the spririt of the weblogs and the faces of the people involved come through better via Technorati, and it doesn’t seem to leverage as much of Google’s other functionality as you’d expect (when I do a search for Matt Webb for example, it doesn’t bring back as a recommended weblog, even though it’s the #1 entry for Matt Webb in their main index, and they already know that site is a weblog).

But of course they are going to have some advantages. Unlike Technorati I pretty much guarantee that they’re not going to suffer problems with scaling their infrastructure, and that’s going to make them more reliable. And of course they have the Google brand behind them. I suspect this one will go through a couple of iterations before it feels right. Makes me wonder if all the rumours about Technorati being about to be acquired were right, and – more interestingly – makes me wonder whether it’s less or more likely to happen now that Google have shown that large search engines should be interested.

Links for 2005-09-14


On redesigning icons, Superman and politics…


So it’s a rare week that sees me talking about the redesign of two icons – but with both Superman and The Guardian fighting for the little guy in brand new outfits, I couldn’t really not comment. My first reactions to theguardian‘s redesign – now that I’ve seen it in the flesh – are almost uniformly positive. But I think I’ll write about that more thoroughly later in the day when I’ve really had time to get my head around it. In the meantime, I don’t think you’ll find a more detailed or painstaking or (well) longer analysis of the whole thing than Dan Hill’s piece: Assessing the new Guardian, with brief nod to the avant-garde (aka Grazia, Heat and The Sun). Aggravatingly, he’s even thought to place the front cover on Flickr and annotate the bits he thinks are particularly interesting. I wish I’d thought of that. Maybe in a couple of days I will have done.

Anyway, despite the evident interest that everyone has in the Guardian, this post was about that other subject that no one but me appears to care about – the redesign of the Superman “S” logo that I wrote about earlier in the week. I can’t quite figure out why it hasn’t got the design / typographic community frothing in their lattes, but I guess that can’t be helped. I’m still fascinated by the cultural associations and design history of this particular logo. I can’t remember who said that decades alternated between ‘Batman’ decades and ‘Superman’ decades, with the popularity and reclamation of each character following cultural trends and cultural optimism, but it’s hard to deny that it’s true. The world of comic books in the eighties was dark and mercenary, the nineties optimistic and bright, and the most recent decade has seen an enormous swing towards darker stories and a more interventionist Dark Knight politics. What’s interesting to me then is how the evolution of Superman reflects these changes, how our delight in – and suspicion of – the idea of a super-powerful alien is reflected in the way his design is treated.

All of which is a pretext to link officially through to a site dedicated to the evolution of Superman’s “S”. And that link is itself a pretext to reproduce this image from the site, showing an enormous range of logo variation, way beyond the simple changes I indicated in my last post:

Links for 2005-09-12


On Ben Goldacre’s “Bad Science”…


While I’m talking about the Guardian (reports from friends within the printing presses are that it’s looks beautiful), i thought I should probably mention an article that I read on Thursday last week which I thought was one of the most important things I’ve heard people say in the media for a long time. Ben Goldacre’s piece on why bad science gets promulgated by the media hit more chords for me than any nearby troupe of jazz pianists could have accomplished in their natural lifetimes. And while I thought it was a little blanketly dismissive of ‘humanities graduates’, I do fundamentally agree that humanities graduates are now taught to mistrust science and push the idea of it as just one of many competing discourses. Over the last six or seven years I’ve become more and more suspicious of these rhetorics in the arts, and more and more aware of how they’re being appropriated by mystics and creationists in the States.

The other thing that frankly scared me was that the article – for the first time I think – really expressed the damage that the media can do with the rubbish it writes in search of a story. That I’m not sure I could stand up and point to one news organisation that takes their responsibility in this area particularly seriously really brought home Ben Goldacre’s point for me. If you can stomach it, you should read the whole damn thing: Don’t dumb me down – We laughed, we cried, we learned about statistics…

A close relative of the wacky story is the paradoxical health story. Every Christmas and Easter, regular as clockwork, you can read that chocolate is good for you, just like red wine is, and with the same monotonous regularity, in breathless, greedy tones you will you hear how it’s scientifically possible to eat as much fat and carbohydrate as you like, for some complicated reason, but only if you do it at “the right time of day”. These stories serve one purpose: they promote the reassuring idea that sensible health advice is outmoded and moralising, and that research on it is paradoxical and unreliable.

At the other end of the spectrum, scare stories are – of course – a stalwart of media science. Based on minimal evidence and expanded with poor understanding of its significance, they help perform the most crucial function for the media, which is selling you, the reader, to their advertisers. The MMR disaster was a fantasy entirely of the media’s making), which failed to go away. In fact the Daily Mail is still publishing hysterical anti-immunisation stories, including one calling the pneumococcus vaccine a “triple jab”, presumably because they misunderstood that the meningitis, pneumonia, and septicaemia it protects against are all caused by the same pneumococcus bacteria

Looking forward to the new Guardian…


So the big typographic / design story of the moment should be the redesign and resizing of The Guardian. But, I have to be honest, most of the design sites I normally visit don’t seem to be talking about it at all. The first newly-designed issue comes out tomorrow, and the last redesign was one of the most controversial and revolutionary of the last fifty years. You can see a version of the cover and a set of features about the redesign over on the Guardian’s site. I’m particularly excited about this after going to see an exhibition on Newspaper design a year ago (see the Flickr set) with Matt Webb, Phil Gyford and the rest of Map Club. After a few presentations, a discussion started about the Guardian’s move to the Berliner format. A year later, we’ll get to see what it actually looks like.

From the digital images I’ve seen so far, though, my initial impressions are mixed. I’m quite excited about the size and format changes and the typography sounds fascinating. I’m not completely convinced by the all lower-case logo though – it seems to me to be a bit sexygirl153 and not really serious enough. A friend reliably informs me that in the whole sub-dom culture, submissives often write their names entirely in lower-case. She suggested that perhaps this gave the wrong impression to a paper that aims to be authoritative. I think she might have a point, and fear that the branding might play right into the hands of people who think it’s a woolly liberal publication for spineless school-teachers. But then I haven’t seen it close-up yet.

One thing I think might compensate for that image is the new advert they’re running, which really pushes the whole dynamic change idea as well as the size shift and the increase in the use of colour. It’s a great little advert and might push the publication out to a whole range of new potential readers.

Links for 2005-09-11


In which it all starts to become real…


On May 17th this year, I took a very small step towards trying to find my biological father who I haven’t seen since I was about five, twenty-eight years ago. I rang up Traceline and the Salvation Army and started a process that is still going on today. On May 18th I filled in a form and sent it to Traceline. I didn’t hear anything for over a month and then it wasn’t solid or certain – Traceline thought they’d found him but weren’t sure. On June 27th I received a letter confirming that they were pretty solid, but it took me until July 30th to write my letter in response.

If you want to contact your lost relatives through Traceline, then they have to be sure first that your relatives want to be contacted. So they take your letter and they sit on it. And they send a letter to the relative concerned. And if the relative wants it, then they let Traceline know. If after three months, they haven’t heard anything, then they send you your letter back. I sent my letter six weeks ago. I’d pretty much given up on the Traceline experience.

And then I got a letter – a very very short letter. And not from my father, from Traceline. And it’s not the most exciting letter in the world. But it has meaning. It has resonance. And it bloody matters to me. It reads:

Traceline has been successful in contacting the above-named and your letter has now been forwarded.

If this means nothing else, it means that something I’ve said, some words I’ve written are now in the hands of my father. He knows where I am. He knows what I want and what I’m doing. He knows I have a younger brother. And he also knows – for good or ill – that I’m gay. You probably understand how great that feels – how much more real it makes the idea of having a father. But apart from the feeling of connection that I’m experiencing, there’s other less honourable stuff going on I think. I cannot tell you how good it feels – now that I’ve done all that I can do – for it now to be his responsibility to decide how to proceed. It’s now his turn to take this further, his fear to deal with, his responsibility to take up or fail. For a while, at least, I can do nothing more.

All in all though, it’s a step forward – another step forward in one of the longest and scariest personal projects I’ve ever engaged in. And now, I suppose, the worst that can happen is that I get the measure of the man – one way or the other. And the best is that maybe this is one more step towards having an opportunity to finally meet.

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