more on Mexican restaurants; planting a cactus in too small a pot

A few weeks ago I asked why Mexican restaurants are so often decorated like 19th century ranch homes when Mexico is a living, modern culture. Such decor perpetuates the lie that traditions are preserved in amber, when, in fact, they are preserved by usage and adaptation.

La Surtidora Abarrotera Mercantil “Julio Gabriel Verne” is the old-timey sounding name of a new restaurant which serves the most traditional and basic Mexican dishes as they are meant to be experienced: in the present.

It is, not surprisingly, located in Mexico.

While its quirky name and spare decor are just as affected as that of a restaurant named after a colonial-era landmark and decorated with hand-wrought ironwork, the social and political implications of its affectations are very different.

We use the word “nostalgia” to refer to a temporal longing – the desire to go back in time – but the root of “nostalgia” means literally a pain for returning home; from whence we came. It is an understandable desire: to undo the passage of time is to escape our certain fate: change, death.

Life is thus a journey away from our origins, away from sameness, towards difference and disruption. As much as we may want to end up where we began (an odyssey) the very journey transforms us – just as entropy and others will have transformed whence we came.

People have many reasons for becoming a steward of tradition – whether by preserving a recipe or a relic – but such traditionalism does a disservice to the very roots it seeks to preserve when it denies them a chance to grow, branch out and bloom anew.

should Mexican restaurants always be decorated like 19th century ranch homes?

Near our home is a newish Mexican restaurant that bills itself as a “modern Mexican delicatessen.”

Like many Mexican restaurants, it is decorated as if it were a 19th century Mexican ranch home. It has dark wood beams, stone and brick walls (they’re painted-on, like trompe l’oeil) and the shelves are lined with knickknacks resembling pre-Columbian icons and statues.

When you order chips and salsa at this modern Mexican deli, the chips come in a plastic basket woven to resemble wicker and the salsa in a plastic cup styled like a black rock molcajete. In sum, the interior is designed to create a feeling of a pre-modern life even if the ingredients are not.

Would a restaurant that bills itself as a “modern American delicatessen” be decorated with a wagon wheel and bales of hay?

Inside the Cracker Barrel
modern American deli Cracker Barrel

Would a bright, airy decor, light materials and/or photos of contemporary Mexicans and their homes make the food taste less authentically Mexican?

When is Mexico?

is it then?

or now?

Good graphic design can make the difference between a convert and confusion.

This morning, I saw the following text on an advertising poster in a parking lot in Glendale, CA:


The graphic designer chose to use the darker of two similar colors on the letters that spell out “NOTHING IS POSSIBLE”.

This is probably the exact opposite of what the client wanted to communicate given that the event being advertised is a motivational seminar / religious revival.*

What the graphic designer most likely meant to say was:


A simple inversion of color can make the difference between a statement of uplift and one of utter pessimism.

Graphic design matters far more than many business and organizational leaders realize.

It’s possible we have never lived in an age when graphic design was so ubiquitous and thus so important, whether outdoors in billboards or indoors on product packaging, from catalogs and magazines to the increasingly mobile web.

Within the next five years our society will experiment with augmented reality technologies whereby electronic signs are laid over the “natural” environment.

Argon, the augmented reality web browser, available now on iPhone

If design matters now in terms of the choices we make, it will surely make even more of a difference in the near future.

And yet I don’t know the last time I saw an ad by the AIGA or a similar trade group reminding executives just how much design matters.

*Unless, perhaps, the seminar organizers are postmodern theologians who wish to remind us that nothingness is the underpinning of everything. True that.

About a year of tweets, archived here for posterity.

I began this current journal, XSML, with the intent of reducing my own notes to extra small, XML-friendly updates. Increasingly, I have been drawn by the allure of the 140 character limit of Twitter. I may get a round Tuit and synchronize my use of Twitter with this blog. For now, here’s a dump of about a year’s worth of tweets in a single post:

  • Xavier: Glowing at the OK Corral
  • “Books don’t become best sellers because they are ahead of their time.” Stephanie Coontz on Friedan via Louis Menand,
  • Belgian students riot on Ryanair flight: Was civility a victim of more bad price signaling?
  • A juicy, meaty, tasty read on football, concussions, televised sports, journalism, money, race… etc! in The New Yorker
  • on dictatorships harnessing “self-pitying, bullying shitheads.” cf. Cuba’s “actos de repudio,” via Matthew Yglesias
  • “Three takes on JP Morgan and Madoff” is also a fresh take on how online competition is sharpening analysis in news.
  • yellow is the next purple. i’m pretty sure it’s not but i’m going to pretend it is and hope things break my way.
  • UCSB prof. on Egypt: “a return of very powerful and vastly organized labor movements, principally among youth.” via TPM
  • “As pro-Mubarak demonstrators roam Cairo, Egypt’s Internet roars back to life” – Foreign Policy’s Passport
  • A history of ideas: In the 19th century, scientists pointed an elaborate telescope at distant societies. In the 20th, they turned it around.
  • The Internet is not enough: Matthew Yglesias chimes in on stunted technological progress and economic bubbles.
  • The U.S. is often criticized for its military aid to illiberal regimes but with Egypt it’s been a progressive tactic
  • Why do we say “my God” and not “our God”? #foxholes
  • want to bite your nails to the raw? watch the astoundingly tense The Verdict with Paul Newman:
  • Magical. Chris Matthews grilling Tea Party Express co-founder Russo on Rep. Bachmann’s slavery denialism:
  • Did the Obama White House, as headed by Michelle and Barack, just launch what will be their legacy? WalMart goes healthy and localvore?
  • If heterosexuality is the key to raising healthy children, time to close every school and home run by asexual priests and nuns.
  • 10,000 species. Most of us can’t even keep eight things in mind.Climate Threatens Birds From Tropics to Mountaintops –
  • Pro tip to high schoolers: consider a career in & profit from global warming floods.
  • Lazy food service analogy: linear TV is omakase. Video on demand is buffet.
  • When all cars have smartphone jacks, how will broadcast radio (antenna and/or satellite) compare to personalized radio via mobile web?
  • Morbid coincidence: ill person shoots embattled healthcare access advocate, others. Are victims externalities of a patchy health safety net?
  • i love the days when everyone jokes “see you next year” or “see you in [currentYear+1]”. it’s like a big carnaval for the fiction of time.
  • In Hollywood and then Highland Park, passed two billboards en español for American Idol. The great brown hope.
  • El Bulli or Marinetti? Pieces of olive, fennel, and kumquat are eaten with right hand while the left caresses sandpaper, velvet, and silk.
  • Google Ngram for “father, mother”
  • Hunter climbs into bear’s den, kills bear, boasts about it. Controversy ensues:
  • Rainy weeks are first disorienting in Los Angeles. Then familiar. We are returning. The water drenched clouds envelop the earth like a womb.
  • Thoughtful, fun read on computer languages – really, on computer programmers and their dogmatism: The Semicolon Wars
  • Can the curiosity of different cities be compared by the length of delays caused by rubbernecking on its highways?
  • The ending of American Psycho the movie is even better than I remembered. The commercials that followed it were creepier.
  • Russia as the Baltimore depicted in The Wire, only with nukes and vast energy reserves: NYT on leaked cables
  • Some heavy, fun ish: Why Farmers Are Flocking to Manure | Atlantic
  • “Are you ready for an uneventful flight?” the passenger asked the captain. Wouldn’t it be better if he were ready for an eventful one?
  • One of the major political movements of our time is an effort to redefine selfishness as patriotic. Maybe that’s nothing new.
  • check the angle of repose: feeling awfully like this “fat monkey made of flip flops”
  • so very sad, Google StreetView images curated by Jon Rafman via @waxpancake
  • The majority of the audience at the Foals show was born after Nirvana’s Nevermind. #recalibrating
  • The more Spanish language TV shows Whitman’s former maid bawling, the more Whitman’s campaign has to pump money into Spanish language TV.
  • The singer for Junior Boys sounds a little like Don Henley after a swallow of helium.
  • “becomes more informed and demanding (thanks to the internet forums)”

    While reading up on a ridiculously high-performance kitchen appliance, I found this quote from a manufacturer:

    Between the year 2000 – 2001 the market conditions change, the end-user becomes more informed and demanding (thanks also to the internet forums) and a new class of consumer demands more performing machines

    I don’t see how this isn’t the case for every industry. Every consumer-producer feedback loop that is tightened by information technologies allows for both a more demanding consumer and a more efficient producer. Information, freely exchanged, is a net gain for the economy.

    Diagram as commentary: how Goldman Sachs circumvents SEC with Facebook offering.

    Reggie Middleton’s diagram for his post, Goldman Creates a Facebook Hedge Fund for HNW Clients Historically Ripped Off By Such Vehicles, Spits In Face Of SEC is not the prettiest or leanest of its kind but it’s probably a more effective device for communicating the same ideas to a wider audience than the corresponding number of sentences that would fit within its dimensions.

    Facebook + smart grids + cash prizes = It’s on! (and off!)

    I know my fellow consumers. We are a conspicuous competitive lot. Look at what I got. Also, free shit. Everyone loves free shit.

    I was just trying to remember whether or not you’re supposed to unplug a transformer after you’re done charging your phone when I was reminded that we’re supposed to be getting smart grids soon. Smart grids will allow us to monitor and share our energy performance.

    The competition between neighbors and/or between neighborhoods would be something. Especially if it’s for a cash prize, whether ala a state-run lottery and/or rewards at chain stores.

    Imagine Facebook + a tiered energy lederboard + prizes.

    The result might just help us decrease consumption of non-renewable energies as we ramp up the renewables market.

    Never mind the iOS “home” button. The whole screen should offer physical feedback.

    The “home” button

    Apple has designed the iOS devices (iPhone, iPad and Touch) with a single physical button for navigation: the round “home” button.

    When you press the home button, the concave surface “clicks” down on a spring. This physical behavior transmits important information to your brain, starting with the nerves in your fingertips. It says: “You have made something happen.” (By contrast, swiping or tapping the touch screen gives no such physical feedback. In computer terms, the touch screen lacks haptics.)

    It’s no accident that Apple has reserved this physical feedback for a very important function: launching the Finder or home window – the primary graphical user interface for the device.

    But because the home screen is also the first screen a user sees, pushing the home button can be perceived as returning to a prior state or “going back.” That Apple relies on a visual metaphor of zooming in and out of windows only re-enforces the notion that the user is going in and out or forward and backward.

    Aza Raskin wonders if this behavior – click home, jump back – should be expanded to include a new case: if you’re using an app and you push down hard on the home button you can still jump back to the iOS home screen. But if you push the home button softly (a half-step, as with the shutter in electronic cameras), you could take a single step back – to the app’s home screen.

    John Gruber, through whom I read Raskin’s argument, disagrees. Gruber argues that Apple should retain exclusive use of the home button for engaging the Finder. He’s right insofar as Apple has good reason to give users a simple and unambiguous way to quickly exit an app and/or load another one.

    But I wonder if as apps become more complicated and immersive (e.g., office tasks, games) we won’t want a deeper, more physical relationship with the iOS interface. As its functionality increases, we’ll start to really miss the information that can be relayed via the feedback of tactile buttons and keys.

    For years, Apple resisted consumer pressure to add a second button to its mice, the ancestors of the iOS “home” button. Eventually, it introduced multi-button functionality under a single continuous surface.

    Apple has already begun exploring technologies that would give its iOS devices a tactile screen using piezo actuators instead of springs. Thus, instead of adding one or two buttons, it would offer as many click-able buttons as the user might appreciate; no more and no less.

    previously on the complexity of iPhones as artifact, augmented reality in practice and in theory.

    Are there two types of feedback for ads, click-through and click-off?

    I’ve seen two electronic ads today I was happy to “reject”: one for a conspiracy video and the other for Meg Whitman. In the case of the former I was able to dismiss the ad. I hope that “click-off” information was sent back to Google, et al. In the second, I was only invited to click-through. Which is too bad because if I could have rejected it, I would have, gladly. Repeatedly. And that’s information surely more than a few people might value and/or be able to exploit.

    A total guess on Pandora’s “random walks”.

    My guess is that when you first launch a Pandora station it begins at the dead center of the Venn diagram created by all the people who have also endorsed/requested the artist / song you have requested. Pandora then begins to wander further and further away from that core. When you validate a song it presents in this outbound arc, you create a new center for it to branch out from.

    Will computers in 2050 finally look like the ones we imagined in the 1950s?

    A user on MetaFilter has argued that a well designed item is that which lasts a long time – or, perhaps, an item which the owner values for a long time.

    Here’s my response wherein I argue that if the item is fun to use, pretty to look at, and works well for many years after it was purchased, it will keep its value to its owner. (There are items that “work great,” are cheap to buy, but eventually are neither fun to use nor pretty to look at. These are discarded quite easily. Are they good design? Not really.)

    I also wondered if requiring 50 year-warranties on items with a certain footprint might be an effective way to promote innovation in the private sector?

    What would such a nudge mean for personal computers? They are currently problematic, to say the least, when it comes to waste. Mismanaged waste disrupts the environment, leading to global security issues.

    Could we reach a point in the current trend of mass computing where the Internet cloud is so powerful you won’t really need a new terminal every five years but rather can buy a terminal that works great, looks pretty and is fun to use for 20 years? What would computers look like if they came in truly classic and collectible varieties? A ’68 Mustang, an ’83 XJ-6.

    Such computers might look like the computers in science fiction movies prior to the 1980s: computers as home appliances, designs meant to last for decades.

    Essentially, talking furniture.

    While it’s possible to conceive of computers being omnipresent – contact lenses, ear buds – I think we’ll always want a physical anchor, even if it becomes purely symbolic.