Reality Check.

HERE’S A REALITY check for those of us who can’t believe fax machines are still necessary in 2011. I have just learned, to my astonishment, that half the lawyers in New York create their documents in WordPerfect. That is not a typo.

The version of WordPerfect they use saves in its native format. It can also save as RTF, but it loses formatting when it does so. It can save as a particular version of Word ’97 for Windows which is not compatible with other platforms, and which also loses formatting. And it can save as ASCII, because, well.

If the lawyer wishes to preserve the document’s formatting while saving a copy for someone (say, a client) who doesn’t own WordPerfect and hasn’t seen it since DOS ruled, said lawyer and said client are out of luck.

But what of PDF, you ask?

There is no option to save as PDF. Maybe Adobe charged a licensing fee that the makers of WordPerfect weren’t able to afford (hampered as they are by the fact that nobody besides New York lawyers buys their product). Or maybe the makers of WordPerfect died before PDF became ubiquitous.

Advanced Windows users can probably finagle a PDF out of WordPerfect, say, by buying Adobe Acrobat Pro and installing a plug-in, but the lawyers in New York do not seem to be advanced Windows users.

Oh, also, IE6 is the cat’s pajamas in this world. Twenty-three skidoo!

And you ask why we still use fax machines.

Foreknowledge of things trivial – or, the lamentable desk clerk.

I KNEW THAT MORAL PIPSQUEAK of a desk clerk would forget my wake-up call. Knew it, knew it, knew it. When I told him our room number and said we’d need a wake-up call at 7:00 AM, and he said, “No problem, sir,” but didn’t look me in the eye and didn’t repeat my room number or the requested time, I knew what I had told him would not lodge in his small, distracted brain. Knew he would forget. Knew, knew, knew. And sure enough, there was no wake-up call. If my internal clock hadn’t alerted my unconscious, causing me to have nightmares about adultery, I would not have awoken and we would have missed everything.

Because that bloody teenage desk clerk didn’t give a shit and is going on to bigger and better things someday and this is a nice hotel that subsists on a prep school parent business and wasps don’t complain when fucking desk clerks fuck up their wake-up calls. (Wasps never complain; they just quietly buy your company to destroy it, or, with a mere gesture, make sure your kid never gets into the university she’s qualified to attend. But I digress.)

Might have missed our morning appointment. Might have missed our train. But desk tosser cares fuck-all and will never be called on it. Certainly not by me. I’m not going to be the one guest here in 100 years who complained. (“Did you hear? The man in Room 211 actually lodged a complaint.” “No, really? I thought there was something, well [John Cleese eyebrow gesture] about him.”)

And I knew when he didn’t meet my eye that he was not going to write down anything, not going to take care of it. Knew when he said, “No problem, sir,” like the thing he wasn’t even going to bother to do was a favor to me instead of his job. Knew from his fucking haircut.

But I didn’t want to be the jerk who says, “Would you mind repeating my room number and the time I’ve requested?”

If I’d done it, the fucking prick would have done his job and my phone would have tinkled at 7:00 AM on the fucking dot.

But to do it, I’d have to be a testosterone-fueled middle-aged self-entitled business prick, and I’m not that. Not externally, anyway. I pride myself on being nice. Or stoic. Or self-effacing. Or something. They gave me lollipops for it at the pediatrician’s. What a good little patient, didn’t even cry when the nurse jabbed him over and over again. You could see his little eyes watering but he didn’t say a word and didn’t even complain to his mother. Have a lollipop, you’ve earned it, son.

That’s the deal I’ve made with life. I’m nice. I don’t confront. I don’t demand. I don’t judge, at least not publicly, except right here where I’m publicly judging jurying and executing this poor pimply fuck of a desk clerk. Who, had he raised his eyes, would have seen a harried traveler and his adorable, exhausted daughter. And if he possessed an ounce of desk clerk skill or even a jot of humanity, le clerk manqué would have smiled and exchanged a pleasantry with the little girl—bringing a moment of real human connection to the simple business transaction of setting a wake-up call, which he would have been sure not to fuck up, because you don’t want to disappoint or inconvenience a nice little family like that.

Now I understand how Laurence Sterne wrote Tristram Shandy.

Anyone still here? So the moral, I guess, is two-fold: 1.) Trust your judgement, and if you know the desk clerk isn’t paying attention, exert the necessary moral pressure. 2.) Create a web app that tracks hotel wake-up call failures (or help someone add this feature to a check-in app) because it’s a real problem for business travelers. Who are probably smart enough, unlike me, to travel with clocks.

P.S. The iPad alarm clock app failed also. La de da.

Pixy Stix | Jason Santa Maria

I wrote a true story of  love, obsession, heartbreak, and candy and my friend Jason Santa Maria art directed it. I’m proud of this tiny, fast-reading story, which is like condensed essence of me (and all these years later, nothing has really changed) and I love what Jason’s done with the page. Please enjoy Pixy Stix, the October 19th Candygram.

iPad as the new Flash

Jeffrey Zeldman Presents

iPad. Never have so many embraced a great product for exactly the wrong reasons.

Too many designers and publishers see the iPad as an opportunity to do all the wrong things—things they once did in Flash—without the taint of Flash.

In the minds of many, the iPad is like Flash that pays. You can cram traditional publishing content into an overwrought, novelty Flash interface as The New York Times once did with its T magazine. You may win a design award but nobody will pay you for that content. Ah, but do the same thing on the iPad instead, and subscribers will pay—maybe not enough to save publishing, but enough to keep the content coming and at least some journalists, editors, and art directors employed.

It’s hard to argue with money and jobs, and I wouldn’t dream of doing so.

Alas, the early success of a few publications—publications so good they would doubtless survive with or without iPad—is creating a stampede that will not help most magazines and interfaces that will not please most readers.

Everything we’ve learned in the past decade about preferring open standards to proprietary platforms and user-focused interfaces to masturbatory ones is forgotten as designers and publishers once again scramble to create novelty interfaces no one but them cares about.

While some of this will lead to useful innovation, particularly in the area of gestural interfaces, that same innovation can just as readily be accomplished on websites built with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript—and the advantage of creating websites instead of iPad apps is that websites work for everyone, on browsers and devices at all price points. That, after all, is the point of the web. It’s the point of web standards and progressive enhancement.

Luke Wroblewski’s Touch Gesture Reference Guide gives designers plenty of ammunition to create dynamic user experiences that work on a wide variety of mobile phones and devices (including iPad) while these same sites can use traditional desktop browser effects like hover to offer equally rich experiences on non-touch-enabled browsers. Unless your organization’s business model includes turning a profit by hiring redundant, competing teams, “Write once, publish everywhere” makes more economic sense than “Write once, publish to iPad. Write again, publish to Kindle. Write again, publish to some other device.”

I’m not against the iPad. I love my iPad. It’s great for storing and reading books, for browsing websites, for listening to music and watching films, for editing texts, presentations, and spreadsheets, for displaying family photos, and on and on. It’s nearly all the stuff I love about my Mac plus a great ePub reader slipped into a little glass notebook I play like a Theremin.

I’m not against iPad apps. Twitterific for iPad is by far the best way to use Twitter. After all, Twitter is really an internet service, not a website; Twitter’s own site, while leaps ahead of where it used to be, is hardly the most useful or delightful way to access its service. Gowalla for iPad is my constant companion. I dread the idea of traveling without it. And there are plenty of other great iPad apps I love, from Bloom, an “endless music machine” by Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers, to Articles, which turns Wikipedia into an elegant reading experience, to Mellotronics for iPad, an uncannily accurate Mellotron simulator packed with 13 authentic voices—“the same production tapes featured on Strawberry Fields Forever” and other classic tracks (not to mention tracks by nouveau retro bands like Eels).

There are apps that need to be apps, demand to be apps, and I admire and learn from them like every other designer who’s alive at this moment.

I’m just not sold on what the magazines are doing. Masturbatory novelty is not a business strategy.

Blood and Bone

Jeffrey Zeldman Presents

MY EX-WIFE is one of my heroes. Six years ago today, during 33 hours of labor in a stiflingly hot room, she brought forth our daughter. When my body rebels in the gym, I think of her courage and push out another rep. When a lift or stretch hurts, I remember what she did and breathe through the pain. From her and those long moments, I learned mind over matter. From witnessing and helping during those 33 hours, I learned that life is blood and bone, and that we can achieve anything if we push hard enough.

Thank you, Carrie, for that lesson and for this girl. Happy sixth birthday, dearest Ava. And, by wonderful coincidence and similar courage and marvels, joyous first day on earth, Nash Thomas Hoy. Fill your lungs and holler, boy!