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Simplicity, Marmite, and ‘Getting Real’ with Don Norman

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Marmite’s high zinc content could be the catalyst that helps solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, or so Edward de Bono suggested to the UK’s Foreign Office back in 2000. The so-called reasoning behind this is that on both sides of the conflict unleavened bread is a staple foodstuff – a staple foodstuff that’s considerably lacking in zinc; a deficiency of which can cause aggression.

This was my most recent introduction to Edward de Bono; the father of ‘thinking outside the box’, and the pioneer of ‘lateral thinking‘: a creative problem-solving technique that involves looking at a given situation from unexpected – and often unusual – angles.

I was first introduced to de Bono in university when his theory of ‘thinking hats‘ was introduced to us as a way to acquaint us with parallel thinking to expand the way we look at information systems. It was an interesting 10 minutes, but after that I had completely forgotten about these techniques ’til now, when I happened upon de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats when brainstorming for books to add to my 2008 reading list.

Reading more about de Bono I find that in another of his books – Simplicityhe argues that the subject of simplicity should be taught in schools as a defining characteristic of quality, something I wholeheartedly agree with. Look at the themes running through the design of most of the successful Web 2.0 (and 1.0) companies and you’ll see that simplicity and usability are at the forefront of every design decision. Look at the design of really great ‘real-world’ objects – simple, right?

Of course, simplicity isn’t everything, and it depends somewhat on your definition of the term. To me simplicity is about delivering more from less by focusing on what’s important to the end-user: a simple – yet effective – strategy which appears to be midway between ‘Getting Real‘ and Don Norman‘s idea of user-centered design.

So, Six Thinking Hats and The Design/Psychology of Everyday Things are on my to-read list (I’ve only read extensive excerpts of the latter) – if I hadn’t already read all of it, Getting Real would be too. I guess all that’s left to ask now is; what does Simplicity/Usability mean to you, and could Marmite bring peace to the Middle Yeast? It’s definitely food for though. (Puns – unfortunately – intended. Sorry.)

The Girl in the Café – Click!

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Lawrence is a man who personifies how I feel when I’m around new people: he is a man who is slightly uncomfortable in his own skin, a man who hopes others won’t notice this, and is a man who doesn’t do a great job of exactly that. For a lot of people, staying quiet and listening is just… easier.

“Don’t think because I’m not saying much that I wouldn’t like to say a lot.”

Of course, Lawrence isn’t anyone I know; he’s a character played by Bill Nighy in Richard Curtis’ The Girl in the Café and – unlike the films Curtis usually pens – it isn’t so much a rom com as a rom pol – a word I would like to take credit for, meaning romantic-political-drama.

How I came to watch The Girl is almost as interesting as the film itself: randomly traversing the Interwebs one day I passed through LifeHack and onto Ingrid’s wonderful online home. Captivated by her quirky, funky e-cards and her beautiful photographs, I read on and duly added the site as one of my regular reads, soon succumbing and joining The Girl on Tour. I’ll let Ingrid explain:

I think this is a wonderful and important film that needs to be seen by as many people as possible. That’s why I decided to send my The Girl In The Cafe DVD on a tour. The Girl has been on tour for more than a year now, she has visited more than 60 people already, and is planning to visit people in 20 (and counting) different countries. If you want to participate all you have to do is send an email to be put on the list. And when the film gets to you, you watch it, write a review on your blog and send it to the next person on the list.

The mighty Bill Nighy has called this project “very cool” and “very admirable”.

So, what’s it about, and is it any good?

In short, the film charts the unlikely and troublesome relationship between Lawrence (a high-profile civil servant, played by Nighy) and Gina (the delectable Kelly Macdonald – Trainspotting and No Country for Old Men). In truth, however, it’s a story about standing up for your beliefs no matter what the consequences, governmental bureaucracy as an inherent problem within the G8, and the ongoing struggle of trying to solve one of the most important global problems of our time: extreme poverty.

Lawrence works for the Chancellor of the Exchequer as part of the British contingent working on solving the first of the eight Millennium Development Goals. As the film progresses we see Gina confront a number of high profile politicians over what she sees as their lack of action, and it is here where the film turns into not-so-much a political drama, as an advert for the admirable MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY campaign (or the ONE campaign, as it is better known in the U.S.).

I’m unsure about the numerous confrontation scenes and the over-simplification of such an important issue, but I suppose it is a film and as such it has to make economics and politics enjoyable! The message, of course, is much more important than any film can be: if you read at an average pace, 40 people have died of causes directly linked to extreme poverty since you started reading my post. That is what the film is about.

4 / 5

“Look, you wouldn’t care, perhaps, to meet again?”

A Month Without E-Mail

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In April I’m going to be kicking it old-school; 30 days and 30 nights without sending a single personal* email. I’ve primed my pen and paper and I’m ready to be “sooo 2oth Century!

Why am I doing this? I feel the proliferation of e-mail and instant messaging in my life has disconnected me from the close relationships I had with people who I once lived with and was close to. I hope that this romanticist approach to my communication can help me reconnect with, and mend, these relationships.

It may not be easy, but it’s going to be an interesting experiment nonetheless. I’m not just replacing e-mails with letters – I’m planning on sending letters to people who I haven’t spoken to in a while – if you want a letter, send me your address!

*In our paperless office it would be impossible for me to go an entire workday without sending an e-mail – I’m not going to even attempt it for ‘official’ work e-mails… and emergencies, if one should unfortunately arise.

(1), 2, 3… and Relax

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All I need to relax after a hectic day:

Bialetti Moka Express - Espresso Diptych

PBJ Toast Triptych

And yes, this is just an excuse for me to post these pictures!

I’ve been experimenting in Photoshop recently (I’m disastrously unskilled at present) and this is my first attempt at a triptych, a diptych, and at selective colouring.

It’s true, though: I find that to relax there’s nothing better than half an hour of doing nothing with only an espresso (or Americana) and PBJ on toast for company.

“A heart that sighs has not what it desires” – Even More Films of 2008

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My film watching has slowed considerably of late, but those films that I have seen since mid-to-late January have been unusually good (give or take the odd bad apple). Here, take a peak:

Beerfest 2 / 5
The problem with Beerfest (and Broken Lizard in general) is, in my opinion, Super Troopers. If you start your comedy career creating a cult-classic, pretty much everything else you do is going to have to either live up to that or be better. The chances of that are obviously pretty slim, and with Beerfest they were way off. It could have been an enjoyable film – the premise sets the scene for a great no-brainer comedy and there’s enough of a storyline to keep you watching – if only for the next ‘joke’. However, I think Ty Burr from The Boston Globe said it best: “Making a comedy that celebrates binge drinking and cretinous behavior isn’t a crime against nature. Making one that’s as brutally unfunny as ‘Beerfest’ is.

Knocked Up 3 / 5
Not your typical straight-laced comedy, Knocked Up definitely doesn’t fit into the ‘teen movie’ genre, even though it comes from the same team that wrote and produced Superbad and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. In my opinion it’s midway between both of these films; nowhere near as funny and witty as the former and (thankfully) not as base as the latter. It reminds me of Melinda and Melinda – but a more male-centric version.

Sunshine (2007) 3.5 / 5
One of the most impressive science fiction films I’ve had the pleasure to watch in a long time.
You can tell it comes from the pen of Alex Garland (The Beach) and was created under the direction of Danny Boyle (Trainspotting and 28 Days Later) – and they are both definitely good things. The problem with it, though? I think the ending was completely unnecessary.

The Simpsons Movie 2.5 / 5
Blasphemous, I know – but in my opinion The Simpsons definitely didn’t translate well to the big screen. I would have much preferred to have created a 90 minute playlist of my favourite episodes and watch them all consecutively. It’s not that it was bad; it was disappointing because I was expecting great things.

Juno 4.5 / 5
At first I couldn’t think of a single reason not to give this film five stars – it’s an incredibly beautiful and hip comedy/drama. With an amazing cast astonishing in their idiosyncratic youth; cinematography that’s as funky as hell; and with a flawless script to boot (the dialogue’s intelligent, quirky, and ever quotable), Juno was a pleasure to watch. However, I always reserve an entire star to be given on the basis of whether or not I think about the film days, weeks, or even months later. With Juno, I told people it was awesome, but a week or so later I stopped thinking about it: for that it gets half a star taken off. I’ll be watching it again though – it’s too human not too.

10 Items or Less 3.5 / 5
Everything I could say about this film has already been said perfectly on Metacritic. To save you a couple of clicks, here are a few choice critical quotes:
Ty Burr, Boston Globe: “10 Items or Less is nearly an acting class exercise.
Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader: “An amiable demonstration of how two charismatic actors and a relaxed writer-director can squeeze an enjoyable movie out of practically nothing.
Ruthe Stein, San Francisco Chronicle: “Proceeds at that pace to an ending that is as inevitable as it is poignant.

Away From Her 4.5 / 5
As the feature debut of a 28-year-old, Away From Her is an incredible achievement. I could list a thousand adjectives describing this film: beautiful; haunting; unafraid; comforting; the list goes on. This film of love lost – and love found – is a poignant reminder of how fragile the human spirit is and the sacrifices we will all – at some point in our life – have to make. It shows that letting go is the hardest thing to do, but a necessary step, nonetheless.

Me and You and Everyone We Know 4 / 5
Damn, Miranda July is so cool! Billed as “a poetic and penetrating observation of how people struggle to connect with one another in an isolating and contemporary world“, Me and You has triggered something in me – it has made me realise how fragile relationships can be. I’m taking drastic steps because of this film – you’ll see… in a couple of days.

Thank You for Smoking 4.5 / 5
A textbook example of critical thinking, perfect retorts, negotiation, spin, and satirical dark comedy. Smoking is a hilarious look at the life of a tobacco lobbyist. I loved this.

La Science des Rêves (The Science of Sleep) 4 / 5
Distinctly Gondry, this is one of those films that changes dramatically depending on your current ‘real life’ circumstances (just like his previous feature, Eternal Sunshine). In that vein, I think I was at the perfect time of my life for The Science of Sleep when I saw it for the first time about a month ago (as I was when I saw Eternal Sunshine just over a year ago).
Gael García Bernal (Amores perros and The Motorcycle Diaries) does a great job portraying a young man whose dreams are greater, more fun, and happier than his less-than-perfect reality.
Finally – like Juno – it is ever quotable, and I leave you with a few of my favourites (in addition to this post’s title):
In dreams, emotions are overwhelming.
Things will turn out the way you want, if you just stop doubting that I love you.
You have a serious problem of distorting reality. You could sleep with the entire planet and still feel rejected.
‘The Goat on the Cliff’, remember?
This girl is at once all the women that broke my heart. She is so beautiful and generous, and she’s asking me to leave… because she is dumping me. She’s dumping me because I am a cheap drug dealer, and I am a drug dealer because she wants to leave me. The police are going to get me now, this is all my fault.