Brian Feeney

Cult of Ignorance

John posted this Isaac Asimov quote on Daring Fireball, and it's worth sharing further:

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge”

The current state of this country leads one to assume a quote like this is a partisan attack. It's not. But it does accurately describe the position a troubling number of Americans have taken.

November 30, 2020


Door to the Unknown

“Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go.”
— Rebecca Solnit

(via Tina)

September 28, 2020


Anti Anti-Heroes

As I've walked deeper into my fandom of Marvel comics, I've stayed cognizant of why: pure escapism. The comics aren't just a trip into science fiction and fantasy, but also into the minds of people living in the 1960s and dreaming of future possibilities. They invent dystopias as often as utopias. Aliens invade Earth nearly every month. Strange villains appear from the weirdest corners of the planet. Threats jump from other dimensions or even different time streams. For the last four years, the real world has been hellish, making these comic baddies truly comical.

What I find reassuring in the comics is the insistence that science and invention will always save us. Society-saving devices or machinery are often devised and constructed within minutes of someone running into a lab. Absurd, but inspiring nonetheless. Scientists and inventors are heroes just as much as brawny super-powered people. Most of the original super-heroes were in fact also inventors, doctors, or scientists themselves: Hulk/Banner, Iron Man/Stark, Spider-Man/Parker, Mr. Fantastic/Richards, Ant-Man/Pym, or Thor/Blake. Sixty years ago, the most educated Americans held positions of esteem and honor in our country. It made sense to pair intelligence with science with heroism.

I don't believe in utopias, but I do want to live in a world where doctors and climate scientists and NASA engineers are considered among our leading voices. It is intolerable living among Americans who sneer at and reject them. The QAnon nonsense is related to this rejection of truth and standard virtue. How do we get back to a time when our best and brightest are again revered? I'm not about to say that decades-old comics have the answer. Nor do I believe that the popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies are going to sway opinion in this way. But I do think we should work our way out of the era of the anti-hero. If we can start reforming our cultural role modals after those who unreservedly deserve it, we might have a better chance at a brighter future. Maybe Hank Pym's Ant-Man is actually exactly what we need right now.

September 18, 2020


Never Ending Gorillaz

Damon Albarn talks about his new working process for Gorillaz tunes:

Did you realise you were creating a potential new business model?
“It was an opportunity to be more fluid, be able to change track, sidestep, do anything that you want to do and not get bogged down with one trope. React, evolve, react, evolve. And I suppose that now seems to be a good model! I’ve really enjoyed listening to the Song Machine album, it’s like listening to an entirely different entity. I’d just been concentrating on each episode so to hear it like that was a joy. But it also exists in these episodes, so it’s not tied to that, and every song will have been listened to a lot by the time the album comes out, so it doesn’t matter. That’s for people who like that and the other way is for people who like that.”

So will there be a Song Machine Season Two?
“Yeah. The first season is going well so there’ll probably be demand for a season two. And the lovely thing about it is, you don’t have to wait until it’s all finished to start rolling it out.”

So it could go on forever, like a TV show?
“Basically, yeah, that’s the idea. And the thing is, we can work with anyone. Maybe we’ll do a season where it’s just completely unknown people because I’d love that. In multiple languages, all over the world. It would be nice to distill all that into a Gorillaz project; disparate, obscure folk artists, somebody in Paraguay or Iceland, someone in South Korea… North Korea even. I don’t know how that would go down but hey, anything is possible now.”

This sounds amazing to me. We get about one new Albarn track a month as Gorillaz, and he will still likely put out one or two album-sized projects a year, as well. It's always been a great time to be an Albarn fan. It's even better these days.

September 17, 2020


No Likes, No Worries

This website has no Likes, Faves, Reposts, or Comments. It's a refreshing way to post stuff online. When I open up the site, I don't want to see who liked what or how many kudos a post received. To me, "engagement" is distracting. It's also less honest than you might think. Once I realized how compelled I was to heart every Instagram post I saw from friends, I became less interested in doing so. I resented feeling shame for not "liking" posts from friends. So I left Instagram entirely. I had stopped using Facebook years before that.

I still feel bad for not clicking that heart icon when I do occasionally scroll through Instagram (via Safari). I still hate Instagram for making me feel that way.

I'm now treating this site as my own personal Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Anything I'd want to post there, I post here instead. And you don't have to like it! But I'm happy you're here. :)

September 09, 2020


The Next Reconstruction

Just last week, I had been wondering what Adam Serwer had been up to. We hadn't seen anything from him in awhile. Now he's back with an excellent long read in this week's Atlantic: The Next Reconstruction. With characteristic talent, he frames our current elevated focus on racial justice inside a larger historical context.

Here is where we were in the early 20th century, says Serwer:

As the freedmen sought to secure their rights through state intervention—nondiscrimination laws in business and education, government jobs, and federal protection of voting rights—many Republicans recoiled. As the historian Heather Cox Richardson has written, these white Republicans began to see freedmen not as ideal free-laborers but as a corrupt labor interest, committed to securing through government largesse what they could not earn through hard work. “When the majority of the Southern African-Americans could not overcome the overwhelming obstacles in their path to economic security,” she wrote in The Death of Reconstruction, “Northerners saw their failure as a rejection of free-labor ideals, accused them of being deficient workers, and willingly read them out of American society.”

This is where we are now:

A majority of Americans have accepted the diagnosis of Black Lives Matter activists, even if they have yet to embrace their more radical remedies, such as defunding the police. For the moment, the surge in public support for Black Lives Matter appears to be an expression of approval for the movement’s most basic demand: that the police stop killing Black people. This request is so reasonable that only those committed to white supremacy regard it as outrageous. Large majorities of Americans support reforms such as requiring the use of body cameras, banning choke holds, mandating a national police-misconduct database, and curtailing qualified immunity, which shields officers from liability for violating people’s constitutional rights.

The progress is promising, but the failures glare brighter. Not nearly enough has changed. It can be argued that almost nothing has changed. Serwer then presents Biden as a flawed but suitable politician to lead us through to a more equitable America.

As for the Democrats’ presidential standard-bearer, Joe Biden has struck an ambitious note, invoking the legacy of Reconstructions past. “The history of this nation teaches us that in some of our darkest moments of despair, we’ve made some of our greatest progress,” Biden declared amid the Floyd protests in June. “The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth Amendments followed the Civil War. The greatest economic growth in world history grew out of the Great Depression. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of ’65 came on the tracks of Bull Connor’s vicious dogs … But it’s going to take more than talk. We had talk before; we had protest before. We’ve got to now vow to make this at least an era of action and reverse the systemic racism with long-overdue concrete changes.”

Hope. Be anti-racist. Support and dignity for every American.

September 08, 2020


Links for 8/31/2020

Street photos of every building in New York City in 1939/1940.

The NYT published a well-edited photo essay on NYC during the first five months of the pandemic.

Really enjoyed browsing Craig Reynolds photography work.

Colly shares all the videos from this year's New Adventures conference. I attended this year in January, and learned tons about empathy, the limits of empathy, and the power of intentional consideration.

Nitch is a nice resource for quotes by writers and artists.

Tim Burgess (of The Charlantans) started a quarantine album listening party on Twitter and it took off. Some of your favorite records are in here for replays.

I'm really moved by the photographs of Benedetta Ristori

The Black Music History Library. Awesome resource.

Looking for puzzles with amazing art? Here they are.

August 31, 2020


Hope and History

History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.

Relieve your body and your soul.

— Seamus Heaney

August 21, 2020


Yearly DNC Events

Obviously genius idea by Robin Rendle:

[W]hy do we have to wait 4 years for a moment like this? The Democrats should hold an event like this every single year; educating the public about the state of Senate and House races, about the Democratic legislative agenda, about what was accomplished over the past year, and how to make this country a more just place.

It would be an E3 or Nintendo Direct or an Apple keynote but far, far more important. No celebrities, no propaganda. But just like this: talking about empathy, discussing how to fix the economy

We desperately need more celebratory events for our country to rally around. More days for sharing our goodness, kindness, and caring. More opportunities to exhibit on a national stage the fruitful outcomes of successful liberal and progress policies. The Democratic Party would do so well to institute things like this.

August 20, 2020


How Design Systems Can Fail

Marissa Christy had some smart thoughts on how design systems can fail (way back in 2018).

A project can go awry for a number of reasons — budget, resources, time, mismanagement — even turnover. But even successful design systems with organizational buy-in can fail. The pitfalls I am about to highlight feel inherent to the very idea of a design system, even in the most ideal of scenarios.

The entire article is worth your time. I felt a particularly strong resonance with these paragraphs:

When the timeline for implementation gets spread out over multiple months (and more likely, quarters or years), a lot can change. And from an implementation standpoint, front-end development is changing more quickly than ever before. The past few years have seen paradigms shift from utility-like reusable classes (think .margin-sm) to BEM syntax, from monolithic sass outputs to scoped styles within React components. And as the CSS spec adds more and more functionality, from grids to variables, the future is far from fixed.

I’ve seen several implementations of style guides fail because they simply couldn’t keep up with the front end. Bloated bootstrap-like files when everyone is worried about performance. A ruby gem at the moment that node was taking off. And even though React seems almost designed for componentized design systems, the changing nature of tech makes the whole notion of creating a permanent, forever system unlikely.”

It's important to remember that a Design System is a tool. It helps you build your product faster and more coherently. But, like everything else having to do with the internet, it's a tool with eventually diminishing usefulness. The more you keep that top of mind, the better off you'll be when it comes time to start over. At some point, _you will need to start over_. That's the straight truth of building software.

I've been thinking a lot about which kind of design system is better: A design system tightly entwining design and code documentation? Or a DS which is just design, agnostic to the code framework used? I lean towards the former: it provides the most immediate beneficial returns; but it requires constant maintenance and dedication to one framework. The later is great because it can outlast any one framework, but it doesn't save engineers much time.

There are clear cut trade-offs for either path you choose. But you have to choose one. You can't have both. And, eventually, either will fail. So it goes.

August 19, 2020