san francisco's building-street interface

Benjamin Grant, writing for Spur, on the downsides of San Francisco's urban fabric. A beautiful city, with a thoughtless approach to public space:

In a typical San Francisco street, both of these transitions [parking lanes and stoops] are absent or compressed. Curb cuts often preclude trees, curbs, and parking, exposing pedestrians to traffic and preventing the definition of a distinct pedestrian space. Buildings often lack a setback, reducing the privacy of residents and the comfort of pedestrians. Stoops and entry stairs are usually articulated inward, creating deep, cave-like spaces with poor security and no social use.

And, as San Francisco has a deeply ingrained relationship with its past, it seems unable to break the pattern.

The thoughtless and precipitous upheavals of mid-century urban renewal have made San Franciscans especially protective of the past. But the historic patterns of this city’s residential neighborhoods don’t offer especially good models for livable streets. And to a surprising extent, these patterns continue to be replicated in new construction as designers, developers and policymakers look to the city’s older neighborhoods as points of reference. Even as architectural styles, building codes, parking requirements and other parameters evolve, the urban fundamentals have remained surprisingly unchanged. It’s as if this pattern is woven into the city’s DNA, as if we are a city congenitally predisposed against good streets.

good design

Dieter Rams, speaking about his design principles:

Good design is innovative. Good design must be useful. Good design is aesthetic design. Good design makes a product understandable. Good design is honest. Good design is unobtrusive. Good design is long-lasting. Good design is consistent in every detail. Good design is environmentally friendly. And last but not least, good design is as little design as possible.


Earlier this week the NY Times' Nick Bilton published this piece (originally titled “Could Wearable Computers Be as Harmful as Cigarettes?”). It drew quite a bit of criticism. Rightly so.

Today, the editor appended a note to the column, saying:

The Disruptions column in the Styles section on Thursday, discussing possible health concerns related to wearable technology, gave an inadequate account of the status of research about cellphone radiation and cancer risk.

The note goes on to say that more background should have been provided on the current state of scientific research into the topic and on the background of one of the experts quoted in the piece.

It also says:

An early version of the headline for the article online — “Could Wearable Computers Be as Harmful as Cigarettes?” — also went too far in suggesting any such comparison.

I expect this type of hyperbole and casual relationship with reality from television news. (Who doesn't any more?)

But not from the New York Times.

the plan

The other day someone asked me what I was going to do next. I said, “for the first time in my life, I haven’t really thought about that… for over a year.”

My philosophy on career planning is this: always be open to options. When an option presents itself, discern whether it is more interesting than the current path. If it is more interesting than the current path, pursue the option. If it is not more interesting than the current path, stay on the current path. People who are most interested in and engaged by what they are doing are the most successful. (And happiest.)

This philosophy is directly opposed to the career planning advice I got in college and grad school: make a 10 year plan and then follow it.

If you had told me 10 years ago that I’d be doing what I’m doing right now, and all that I’ve done along the way, I would have laughed all over you.


My generation suffers from a path addiction. (No, not that Path.) Thanks, in part, to over-parenting, we are placed on a path from the moment we can walk and we follow it. And it becomes delightfully comfortable.

We get put in preschool, then grade school, then we are prescribed extra-curriculars. Then we go to junior high school. High school comes next and then after that college. Always working toward the next step on the path. In college we are coached to develop “10-year plans.” Super-paths! And then we graduate. Real world. Shock. Horror.

Lately, as I have counseled friends on career decisions, and as I’ve started offering advice to recent college grads, I’ve learned something: we spend way too much of our early years knowing (and being prepared for) what’s coming next. When we finally get to the part where we have to fend for ourselves, develop a course of action and then execute, we fall down. Hard.

When offering guidance, I’ve too often been met with “but I’m not qualified for that” or “nobody would believe I’m capable of that.” We believe that, because someone else is doing something, they must have been anointed to do so. We think, “someone, somewhere validated that role.” I’d offer that the opposite is more likely true: most people aren’t qualified to be doing what they’re doing. Instead they were presented with an opportunity, and rather than waiting to be told they were ready, they simply jumped at the chance and figured it out as they went.

There’s a favorite passage from The West Wing:

Leo McGarry: Because I’m tired of it: year after year after year after year having to choose between the lesser of who cares. Of trying to get myself excited about a candidate who can speak in complete sentences. Of setting the bar so low, I can hardly bear to look at it. They say a good man can’t get elected President. I don’t believe that. Do you?

Jed Bartlet: And you think I’m that man?

Leo: Yes!

Bartlet: Doesn’t it matter that I’m not as sure?

Leo McGarry: Nah. “Act as if ye have faith and faith shall be given to you.” Put another way: Fake it ‘til you make it!

Fake it ’til you make it. Or: put down the path. Step away from the plan. Blaze your own trail. You are what you say you are – and nobody else needs to validate that. In fact, nobody else can.