2017 in Review

At the end of a year, I often like to summarize what I accomplished in it, because it goes by so fast it’s hard to realize how much I’ve gotten done at the time. This year was quite busy!

In January, I ran a Kickstarter to fund a project I carried out as Designer in Residence at the School of Visual Concepts (SVC) to print a letterpress book of my work. It funded quickly, I printed the book in the summer, and just mailed out 30 of the limited edition of 100 several days ago. It’s called Not To Put Too Fine a Point on It.

You can get an ebook version of this set of reported and researched articles on type, printing, and language directly from me. The ebook version is expanded to 10 from the 6 articles and essays in the letterpress edition. (Download a PDF excerpt.)

As part of this work, I went from someone who had had experience with letterpress printing to a reasonably competent not-quite-beginner at it. I’m pleased with what I learned and the projects I was able to create.

This residency led me to pitch and write many articles about design and type at several publications and launch another project:

I carried out a lot of other work, travel, and tasks, too:

While this seems like a lot, even to me who did it, it's still only a fraction. I also wrote somewhere around 300 other articles for Macworld, TidBITS, the Economist, and other publications, as well as kept an active blog on my letterpress book’s progress.

What’s in store for 2018? A few features are already on my plate for January. Finishing the writing of London Kerning and producing and having it printed. Seeing if a large book project I envision is feasible. Launching a Patreon to write more deeply and consistently about type, printing, and design. Producing a print version of an ever-larger version of the collection above. And likely writing hundreds more stories of all kinds!

Thanks to everyone who provided moral, financial, emotional, and other support this year! Despite the world burning down around us, I felt buoyed and was able to assert myself artistically in a way I haven't before in my career. My heartfelt thanks.

Twitter Hibernation

I'm taking a break from Twitter after about nine years, more or less, and—400,000 tweets. I used the last bunch of tweets as a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood, and I hope did some good! (P.S. It raised over $2,200!!)

Twitter as a company hasn't yet revised how it works to encompass disagreement and critique and yet let people block the asymmetrical harassment that regularly occurs. While I've only occasionally been a target, I see the regular toll on friends and colleagues. The lack of being able to engage simultaneously in a rich froth of discussion and yet not find yourself buried under endless messages (unable to sort friend from foe) that try to make you feel bad—it's got technical solutions, and Twitter hasn't (yet) deployed many of them. (I have some hope based on what people have said who have seen or heard glimmers.)

This fundamental problem of Twitter has caused many people I know and care for to withdraw, post only anodyne messages, not engage in conversation, or leave altogether. I find myself launching the app with dread about what I'll discover, and then wondering why I'm launching it at all.

The reason is, of course, camaraderie. Twitter is where you find friends you didn't know you had. I've made plenty, and some have become close pals. But, for me, the negative tone and dogpiling and worse outweighs the community I went to Twitter for.

Slack teams (for both work and with friends) have filled in part of what I was missing in Twitter. Perhaps Slack will expand to encompass more people and discovery and be more like a better Twitter? Hard to see. But Twitter either has to improve how people navigate interactions with those who engaged in serial or collective abuse or another service will ultimately rise and take its place for those, like me, who want community and conversation, not celebrity messages and brand advertising.

400,000th Tweet for Charity

Update: Thanks to everyone who contributed! I know many people told me they'd already given to PP in recent months, but folks still gave over $2,200! Wonderful and thank you.

Original post

I'm about to hit 400,000 messages posted on Twitter since I joined in August 2007. While a terrifying number, that includes retweets (those made by others that I repost), article tweets from news sites I'm reading, and the like. I've also long used Twitter as a kind of public chat room, so many of my tweets are conversations, not posted statements for everyone to read.

But I'd like to redeem the time spent by turning my run-up to 400,000 into a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood—you can contribute here.

It's been under attack for years, most significantly with an allegedly criminal effort (two perpetrators have been charged) to mislead about both its purpose (abortion is a small portion of what PP does) and the way in which fetal body parts were transferred (it happened at a few facilities under tight controls). And, hey, even Nancy Reagan supports fetal tissue research.

PP does so much good for so many women who otherwise have no access to healthcare that includes and goes beyond reproductive medicine. I hope they will work to better explain how they help women and non-gender-binary people across so many aspects of medicine tailored to the particular issues of female bodies.

What I'd like to do is raise at least 400,000 cents ($4,000) for PP, and make my 400,000th tweet be something picked by the highest-dollar donor. I'll thank everyone who wants to be thanked by name and handle after 400,000 tweets, but I'll use some of the run-up of the next 150 or so tweets to promote the fundraiser, and that big 400K to reward someone who goes the extra mile. This is in honor of the brave people who work at Planned Parenthood every day.

Not everyone feels like Planned Parenthood is the best place to give money right now, and so I'd also like to encourage people to donate to Flint to help people obtain water (via The Flint Water Fund), and to Black Lives Matter, which has brought to America's attention problems that have plagued America and can no longer be ignored. I'll honor donors to those causes, too.

I'll update this post with more detail as I set up the fundraiser and get closer. I have to set a deadline on PP's site to raise money with a goal, and I'm not sure how far off to set it at the moment.

You Never Know the Workings of Other People's Relationships (and Why Should You?)

The Ashley Madison data breach is a debacle for a site that advertised itself as a place for people who broke promises. But I've been watching the response from a range of people—those I know well, acquaintances, random folks on Twitter, opinion writers, bloggers, news coverage, etc.—and there's a lot of sniggering and moralizing going on.

You can never know what the inside of a relationship looks like unless you're one of the people involved. Further, it's none of your business, either. If you think otherwise, I'd like to understand why.

In countries in which eras existed or still do in which religious strictures bind people up, then marriage or similar institutions are enforced by the state. Some American states still have adultery laws on the books, although it's extremely likely none would pass a constitutional challenge today, given the privacy rights in the bedroom established by the Supreme Court.

In America, marriage is an institution that may be a sacrament of or endorsed by a religion, but it's also (or some an increasing number, solely) a legal structure for the state, which is often defended as a way to ensure stability, safety, and security for children and clarity about property ownership. This, in a time in which an increasing number of people born in America never get married and have kids or get married and choose to not have children. (Immigration remains an engine of population growth for the U.S., and a vital one when you look at what's happening in Japan.)

So the response to Ashley Madison disturbs me whenever it borders on judgment and prurience. Where public officials, members of the military, or public moralists are involved, one can argue there's a case for examination and exposure. Some could have been blackmailed (hard to do so now that the information is out there in searchable form); some could have privately traded information, money, or favors for sex; and those who decry a decaying morality while participating in acts they condemn and often try to get legislation enacted about have to deal with the consequences of hypocrisy.

That's a very, very small percentage of the many millions of accounts created.

Not everyone using Ashley Madison was married or in committed relationships (or ever did more than window shop). Of those who were, not all were lying to their partners or breaking promises. Polyamory is more widely practiced than a lot of people know or would like to admit: it's the open acceptance and even encouragement of people in romantic relationships to be non-exclusive. It manifests in many forms, like sets of two or multiple people all involved with each other. There's monogamish, which is maybe a subcategory of polyamory or maybe just a less-formal but honest acceptance of sex (but not relationships) outside a partnership. There can be a primary relationship for two people who have other partners, or a lot of more complicated arrangements.

I talked about polyamory with Sarah Mirk, author of Sex from Scratch: Making Your Own Relationship Rules, for an article and podcast at Boing Boing a year ago. In the book, she looks into being poly and many other kinds of relationships people form in a society in which old dogma has been stripped off, and people are trying to be true to themselves and others—hence the "scratch" part.

(I talk a bit in the article and more in the podcast about the particulars of being polyamorous, something I don't keep a secret, but like anything related to personal and sexual identity, it's not something I, you know, put on a business card. It involves a lot of honesty and self-reflection, and it doesn't seem easier or harder than monogamy. There's a lot more scheduling involved.)

But even those who lied: that's a matter for them and their partners, and at the extreme case, anyone else who relied on them to keep that promise. Some religious congregations and other groups do practice a public morality, and if a member privately breaks it, that member agreed to chastisement. That's a very small portion of all people who are part of that commitment, though.

You could argue that someone lying to a partner means they could lie to other people about anything. But romantic relationships are special, from how they change our brains to legal structures surrounding marriage or co-domiciling. If you read some of the many anonymous and some credited stories about people who used Ashley Madison, it goes far beyond "cheaters."

Glenn Greenwald, best known as a national-security reporter who helped Edward Snowden disseminate some of the information he obtained while working at the NSA, has written very kindly and subtly about the topic. In a piece today, he published an email from a woman in a loveless, sexless marriage, whose husband is dying from cancer and despairing. I like what this other Glenn wrote:

As I argued last week, even for the most simplistic, worst-case-scenario, cartoon-villain depictions of the Ashley Madison user — a spouse who selfishly seeks hedonistic pleasure with indifference toward his or her own marital vows and by deceiving the spouse — that’s nobody’s business other than those who are parties to that marriage or, perhaps, their family members and close friends.

I try not to judge anyone in life, except those people who are cruel or amoral, and misuse their power or time to inflict harm on others. I stay away from them if they're merely bad; shine a light on them as much as I am able when they target people.

Nearing 50, I know many people who have had relationships outside a committed relationship in all sorts of combinations, many times betraying their partner. Some people are hedonists, of course, but every person I know, the reason was pain not a pursuit of unbridled lust. There was something they couldn't give to their partner, get from their partner, or say to them—they were sad, empty, and depressed, and a connection with another person (or more than one) helped them get through life. It allowed them often to avoid admitting something to themselves. Some of my absolute dearest friends across my life have been on either side of this (or in some cases, both partners were); I love them, I accept them, I help when asked to be part of them getting to a place where they are happy with themselves.

That's not a knock on their partner or partners: it's not a criticism when someone finds something missing in themselves. When you're lucky, all the people in a relationship recognize when things have gone wrong and admit it on the path to resolving it. The exceptions is perhaps in the remote case in which a partner is torturing the other person emotionally. In which case, that person should leave that relationship if they can, and that's not always possible for financial, geographic, family, or other reasons. (I'm not even getting into physical abuse or intentional emotional abuse, which is a whole other category of not judging the person who is being abused.)

Rather, we are complicated people, and it's unclear whether monogamy is the right answer for most people or not, or at least not all the time or with the same other person forever. Look, the not-really-a-secret secret in America is that most people in relationships either once ever all the way up to daily "cheat"—somewhere from 25 to 75 percent, depending on the study, the gender, how a question is asked, and even the definition of cheating (does it have to be physically in person? does webcam sex count? how about an emotional relationship with no physical contact?).

I make no assumptions about you, the person reading this. Statistically, if you were, are, or ever find yourself in a committed relationship with one or more other people, you might or are very likely to be inside the scope of many people using Ashley Madison. And I would ask you if you forgive yourself or needed to, and whether you would accept the judgement of other were they to find out?

I suspect the Ashley Madison breach reveals the empathy of the person discussing it, as well as their life experience. For me, people's relationships are never my business, and all I know is what they choose to tell me.

Tim Cook Shares and Uplifts Us All

In a country in which you can be fired solely on the basis of your sexual orientation and on a planet in which some nations will imprison, beat, or kill you for it, Tim Cook publicly writing about being gay is a powerful thing. And it has nothing to do with Apple as a firm; rather, it's that he's the chief executive of one of the largest and most profitable companies on the planet, one that does business in almost every country. He didn't just say in public what he says was known more privately; he wrote that he was proud to be gay, "among the greatest gifts God has given me."

I was in tears reading his essay, not for myself, because I have a lot of checkboxes ticked off in my life that let me sit above the routine harassment, discrimination, and abuse that many people experience every day, and that deny them partners, security, housing, jobs, and happiness. I thought about the high rate of suicide that afflicts people who identify in the LBGTQ continuum, and of Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" campaign designed to give them hope and find mentors and peers and support. I thought about friends that have come out over the years, and the issues they faced in their families and among peers.

Tim Cook is saving lives by taking something that wasn't secret (as he describes it), but wasn't public, and letting the world in. He may not change a single mind about the acceptability of his orientation; i don't think that's what it's about. What it does is give hope and inspiration for people to be themselves, with no top on their aspirations. Barack Obama in the White House didn't solve anything to do with racism; in fact, some people are more deeply entrenched in their bigotry because we have a black president. But the fact that it happened, that it's no longer off limits — that's what unbounds the future.

By having someone powerful to point to, the powerless can identify and take heart, and that shakes the power structures in which shame and oppression harm all of us. There is so much more work to do; so much more injustice to fight and fairness to persist in insisting upon. But it's nice to have such a big line marked in the sand, and stride across it.

I read two wonderful, personal stories in the tech press about Cook's public announcement. One is by Casey Newton at The Verge:

It is one thing for the media to whisper to one another, or to post on their blogs, that the CEO of America’s most valuable company is a gay man. And it is a quite another for the man himself to step up to the microphone, with confidence and grace, and tell us himself. We knew Cook was gay; what we didn’t know is how he felt about it. Or, at a time when being gay is still very much a political act, what he planned to do with it.

Now we know.

Kara Swisher, arguably one of the most influential technology journalists in this country, and the co-founder with Walt Mossberg of re/code, has been public about her orientation for some time, and wrote about her complicated feelings over the years about how to discuss her expectation that Tim Cook was gay. She considered in 2013 asking him at the D conference, "What’s it like to be the most powerful gay executive in the world?" She opted against it:

I thought: Would this just be a sandbagging grab for attention? Why exactly did I care? Did it matter to his job if he were public about his sexual preference? And, while it is always a good thing to have another iconic gay person be public, wasn’t it his choice as to when that would happen?

It's a really beautiful essay, and she relates her own experience thusly:

It’s hard to explain to someone who has not had to come out what prompts that feeling, after living in the closet for a lifetime. While everyone searched yesterday for some kind of dramatic reason for the Cook declaration, it’s a fairly simple equation, even if you are out to friends, co-workers and family, as Cook apparently has been:

You get tired of lying. You get tired of hiding. You get tired of not saying.

I hope this makes a difference in the lives of people today — that it makes those who fear their own identities more confident to express them, and that people who could be their allies stand firmer in their support. I hope, but don't know, that Cook's essay is a watershed moment; history will tell us that. The spread of marriage equality at this point in time was something I never anticipated.

The best part, perhaps, was trying to explain to my children, ages 7 and 10, why I was sobbing over Cook's words. They understand some of what it's about, but with them growing up in Seattle in a polyamorous household and with friends who have two moms or two dads (or divorced parents with same-sex or more complicated partnership arrangements), they don't understand why it's a big deal. They're inside our privilege bubble, but also (at these ages, and I hope forever) don't differentiate other people by personal characteristics.

To them, Tim Cook is fine whatever part of himself he's shared with he world. "That's great," they said, and then asked about new iPads.

Disappearing Choking Black Men

A few days ago, our neighborhood mailing list lit up with a report of a violent crime. The location was in a park near our house on a paved road that is no longer open to cars, and on which I walk nearly every day to and from my co-working office. The first account was from a neighbor, who forwarded a note from "a friend" who had happened upon the police response to the crime. A woman was choked by a black assailant, tumbled down a slope, and fell unconscious.

This struck me as initially dubious. We were already at a thirdhand-ish account (neighbor's friend relating conversation with victim after assault) which involved a black man in a hoodie in a relatively well-trafficked area in the middle of the day. Perhaps in the Ferguson era, where details are scant except a black man (who hasn't been found) in a very white city, I'm sensitized to this sort of report.

I asked a contact at the Seattle Police Department's public affairs office if they had more information (as a citizen, not a reporter). They filed a police blotter account the next day.

The facts as the police represent them:

  • No sexual assault.
  • Nothing stolen.
  • No suspects found.

The blotter account is very carefully written. It attributes everything to the reported victim, except that her "skin and clothes" were soiled with dirt.

The Capitol Hill Seattle Blog offered a more expansive account, which reads as more authoritative, though appears to be relying entirely on the victim's account. It also published redacted excerpts from the preliminary police report. This includes that when the victim came to, she told police that she spotted two black men nearby, one walking briskly away, the other "staring" at her from across the road. She ran to a cross street, stopped someone (presumably not black), and was able to use that person's cell phone to call for help. The police reported no visible signs of an altercation on the ground nor of injury on the victim.

A neighbor (?) posted this sign on a kiosk at the park's entrance (via KOMO News). This sign is part of a telephone game. The victim's account is that she was choked by an unknown party and saw two men nearby when she regained her wits. She wasn't accosted; she was attacked from behind, says the police report of her statement.

Could this be a fabricated report? It has so many hallmarks of urban mythology that I did some digging to see if I could find an identical story elsewhere on the Internet and could not. The police were called, as was a medic unit, so there was an actual person who did make law-enforcement contact.

The woman can't identify her assailant, as she was attacked from behind. The two men she described to police were nearby when she recovered, but one was moving away and the other stood and stared, by her report. She did not ask the nearby black man for help, but ran to find someone else.

I recommend never reading the comments, but the remarks on all the local stories (Capitol Hill News Blog, Seattle P-I, Seattle Times, KOMO-TV News) show how readily commenters make racially biased statements about crime and culture.

The odds of someone filing a detailed fabricated police report seem slim. The notion that this woman slid down a slope and then ran out of the park, stopped someone, called 911, and went through this charade would require a high degree of mental instability or — something.

While the bits and pieces don't feel like they add up, it is most likely that this was a real attack gone bad and the victim is fortunate that she wasn't robbed or sexually assaulted. It's almost certain that unless either or both of the men the victim saw were assailants and commit further crimes, we will never get enough information for this to feel complete.

It Takes a Hidden Village

I love Kevin Kelly's work and life, and had a great talk with him months ago for my podcast, The New Disruptors. But during his talk at the 2014 XOXO festival a week ago, I felt a distinct chill when, in describing his book Cool Tools, he said it was the work of two people over a few months, and then went on to note their use of Elance and other distributed work tools.

Tim Maly felt the same chill, and wrote a very interesting essay riffing on that and related issue: independent creators are dependent on the work of so many others, most of whom aren't afforded the same opportunities at advancement and independence. Tim followed the thread of labor down to the Chinese workers referenced in another talk by the creators of the NeoLucida; the two guys behind that project traveled to China and spent two weeks in the factory that was making their gear.

I know that Kevin didn't mean to disparage or denigrate the work of the hundreds of people who put in minutes or hours through various freelance/contract aggregation services. In fact, in our podcast, he spoke specifically about these folks (full transcript):

In the end, I probably redesigned at least 90 percent of the pages, but they were delivered at such a stage that it was possible for me to refine them. We were generating I forget how many pages a day from all the freelancers. They were first class. They were really great.

He also noted:

What it is doing is arbitrage. It’s matching the needs of one person with the abilities of the other in a very low friction way. I think that’s what really comes forward. Sometimes you don’t need necessarily the design power. You want something a bit more modest, and this is a way to kind of connect with that person very directly, very quickly within a matter of hours. I think that’s really the beauty of this system.

He can speak for himself, but from a similar position, I know what he meant: it only required a couple of dedicated people, not working exclusively on the project, to coordinate and bring it into being; something that not long ago would have required a team of several and a year and maybe an order of magnitude or factors above that in cost. He was the motive force; without his interest, energy, and money, the book would never have come to pass.

When I created The Magazine: The Book (Year One) earlier this year, it was my idea. I came up with it, coordinated it, raised the funds, hired people, and handled nearly all the details. But, of course, dozens of people were involved in it directly, tens of thousands at one remove, and millions at another.

The book required the expertise of a graphic design and production team of three and my contract editorial team of two (managing editor and proofreader); a few dozen writers, artists, and photographers; paper and ink, printing presses, postal and shipping services. You can crank the aperture wide or small about how many people were involved depending on what level of detail you want to discuss. Someone had to mine ore, smelt it, refine it, and stamp out machine parts for the equipment that embossed the covers of the hardback edition.

We are ourselves often cogs in someone else's machine. The lower level the task, the less likelihood we have to control our own destiny. I don't think Kevin has lost sight of that at all — he began his life's work by traveling the world to find disappearing societies and met people forgotten by everyone else. But our independence is always positional, relying on the constraints of others to make the raw stuff on which we depend.

Making Lemonade out of #cancerlemons: Bid on a Drawing

Update! The auction is over. One fine person bid $150, and Matt Bors offered to donate the artwork. That $150 is now in Sloane-Kettering's hands, and I matched that with $150 of my own money.

You can still and always donate in many places to help fund cancer research. I'm donating to Sloan-Kettering right now through Lisa Adams fundraising page as a mark of respect to her.

Original post:

This last week, Emma and Bill Keller separately wrote horrible Op-Ed essays in the Guardian and New York Times, respectively, shaming cancer patient Lisa Adams about her openness in documenting her progress and about her medical decisions. The pieces were also riddled with factual errors, and the Guardian has retracted Emma Keller's article. I'm not even going to link to them.

To make delicious cancer-research fund lemonade out of these two lemons, I have purchased the original artwork from Matt Bors of his editorial cartoon about Bill Keller, shown below. I am auctioning off a set of the original, signed black-and-white ink artwork (8 1/2 by 11 on Bristol board) and a color print also signed by Matt, and 100% of the auction price will be donated to Sloan-Kettering, where Lisa is receiving care, through her fundraising page for the institution. (You can either donate directly and send me the receipt, or you can pay me directly, and I will donate and send you the receipt.)

We'll use the hashtag on Twitter #cancerlemons for the auction. You can bid just by stating an amount, and I will follow up with the winner. The auction will run 24 hours, ending at noon Pacific January 14th. If you don't use Twitter, you can still search on its site for the hashtag and email me or post a bid here, and I'll count it.