The Peekaboo Paradox

I just finished reading the best newspaper article I've read all year. Gene Weingarten profiles children's entertainer and compulsive gambler, The Great Zucchini, with a sensitivity and honesty that floored me.

The Great Zucchini actually does magic tricks, but they are mostly dime-store novelty gags -- false thumbs to hide a handkerchief, magic dust that turns water to gel -- accompanied by sleight of hand so primitive your average 8-year-old would suss it out in an instant. That's one reason he has fashioned himself a specialist in ages 2 to 6. He behaves like no adult in these preschoolers' world, making himself the dimwitted victim of every gag. He thinks a banana is a telephone, and answers it. He can't find the birthday boy when the birthday boy is standing right behind him. Every kid in the room is smarter than the Great Zucchini; he gives them that power over their anxieties.

The Great Zucchini's real name is Eric Knaus, and the last few analytical paragraphs will come as a surprise to him. Eric is intelligent, but he is almost aggressively reluctant to engage in self-analysis, even about his craft. What he knows is that he intuitively understands preschool kids, because he's had a lot of practice. He worked at Washington area preschools and day-care centers for more than a decade.

I saw more than a little bit of myself in this guy, some good (rapport with children), some bad (penchant for gambling and general disorganization).

Anyway, the article is long, but if you read just one story this year, this should be it.

Yours truly,
Mr. X



What is Design?

Joel Spolsky, author of Joel on Software and CEO of Fog Creek Software is writing a series of articles on "Great Design." The most recent installment, Great Design: What is Design? (First Draft), contains some good insights. First, for all of my graphic artist friends:

You know those gorgeous old brownstones in New York City? With the elaborate carvings, gargoyles, and beautiful iron fences? Well, if you dig up the old architectural plans, the architect would often just write something like "beautiful fretwork" on the drawing, and leave it up to the artisan, the old craftsman from Italy to come up with something, fully expecting that it will be beautiful.

That's not design. That's decoration. What we, in the software industry, collectively refer to as Lipstick on a Chicken. If you have been thinking that there is anything whatsoever in design that requires artistic skill, well, banish the thought. Immediately, swiftly, and promptly. Art can enhance design but the design itself is strictly an engineering problem. (But don't lose hope -- I'll talk more about beauty in future articles).

Also, for all those who question why design is more important than, say, adding the all important "features" to a product:

Design is something you only have to pay for once for your product. It's a part of the fixed costs in the equation, not the variable costs. But it adds value to every unit sold. That's what Thomas C. Gale, the famous Chrysler automobile designer who retired in 2001, meant when he said that "Good design adds value faster than it adds cost."

The whole article is good, as are most of his writings (available via email subscription at the bottom of the article, or via RSS feed).

Yours truly,
Mr. X

...back to blogging...


Law School Thoughts

A funny article for you to peruse as I leave for my cruise. Five days on a boat eating and drinking with abandon. Be jealous.

Boozie emailed me Miss Doxie's Law Students, You Are Asking For Trouble, And I Am Now Forced To Bring It, because "it reminded me of you."

She was right, especially this line, which is exactly how I felt about my Property final.

"Oh, God in heaven," you will think, staring at the dark ceiling. "I have forgotten what a fee simple determinative is. Surely I do not deserve to live."

Except for the 'God' part, that is.

Yours truly,
Mr. X