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Morbius Re-Release: What Did You Think Would Happen

Elizabeth Technology July 5, 2022

Memes are beginning to shape the perception of movies in a way movie studios can’t cope with.

Memes Rule The World

You’ve probably heard of ‘The Snyder Cut’. Back when Justice League was being filmed, Zack Snyder had to step away from filming due to family troubles, and he wasn’t able to return in time to finish directing. The movie we got as a result could have been something great, but lacked polish and vision. Fans online demanded the Snyder cut! The Snyder cut would have been great! The studio, realizing the could capitalize off this meme without losing face, partnered up with Snyder to make this happen. Fans got what they wanted, over online streaming services, but the Snyder cut ended up being five hours. Online, people seemed to like it a lot! But was it actually good? Or was it better only because they’d written five hours of script and tried to cram it into half that for a theater release? It was a poorly conceived project, and needed a re-write. In a world without memes, they wouldn’t have gotten away with re-framing the project parameters to turn a movie into a show.

Compared to the original shortened version, where character development and breathing room were cut to fit, the five hours of movie pulled out of the Snyder cut was better, but still suffered from some of the same problems Batman V. Superman did. By having a direct comparison, and by giving fans what they’d asked for, the Snyder cut of Justice League earned a higher rating than it probably actually deserved and would have gotten if it came out by itself without all the baggage. Once you, a fan, has asked for something, it would be rude to say you didn’t like it, right? A similar meme led to a very hideous Sonic from the Sonic movie getting a total overhaul into a much cuter Sonic, and people pushed each other to see it because the studio had gone through tremendous effort to make their movie watchable. The least you can do is go watch it, right?

Memes played a crucial role in ‘fixing’ both of these movies, giving fans a voice and letting DC and Sega know that the path they’d started down was not one they could continue on.

However, you can’t be ‘in’ on the joke if you don’t have any goodwill around your brand. People like Sega, and they liked Zack Snyder. DC has stumbled a few times since the release of Justice League, rusting out fans’ goodwill with controversies like cutting Ray Fisher (who played Cyborg) for speaking out about poor treatment of the character, but keeping Ezra Miller (who plays Flash) despite Miller assaulting more than one person in Hawaii while filming.

DC doesn’t have much goodwill left from non-fans. They stop listening to memes when those memes might cost them money. Sony, however, does not have their experience. This is what lead to ‘Morbin’ Time’ and a thousand-theater re-release nobody actually wanted.

Morbin’ Time

The first meme to refer to ‘morbin’ time’ came off a tweet that said you, the reader, couldn’t say that it wasn’t his catchphrase because the reader didn’t see the movie, either. Immediately, this should have been a hint to Sony that it was funnier if you hadn’t seen the movie. The perception of Morbius was a lot like the perception of the Green Lantern movie, except in a future where people know the Green Lantern movie isn’t good.

 “I loved it when he said ‘It’s Morbin’ Time!’ and morbed all over those guys.” “Stand Back, I’m beginning to Morb!” “What are we, some kinda Morbius?” “True Morbheads know what it means to morb and be morbless.” Et cetera. On Tumblr especially, the point of being a Morbhead was that you hadn’t seen the movie. You could ‘morb’ someone by flashing them with a very compressed, very pixelated two-minute gif of the entire movie. I got morbed on Tumblr and TikTok. People were streaming Morbius illegally on Twitch, a livestreaming platform usually used for gaming. Pirating it so you could show it to friends against their will was funny. Morbing someone was a punchline. You didn’t want to watch the movie. Sincerely watching movie outside of those gifs would ruin the fun of not knowing he didn’t morb all over those guys. Worse was paying for the privilege to do so after it was clear the movie was just another trash film.

Unfortunately, Sony misunderstood that the memes were laughing at them, not with them, and attempted to re-release the movie and double-dip on their opening weekend. Their first weekend was fine and made back the movie’s budget (meaning it didn’t actually bomb, despite the memes), but this second, undeserved re-release only earned them an additional 85,000$ across 1000 theaters in the US. It also soured people on actually watching it even more. Would they have done this without the memes? Absolutely not.

People who were interested would have seen it the first go-round. Online moviegoers realized how terrible of a precedent allowing Morbius to succeed on it’s second weekend would set. Companies could make a bad movie, and instead of fixing the issues that lead to the bad movie, they could instead manufacture memes about how bad their movie is, generate hype online for it, and then re-release it for people to laugh at how bad it is, at full price, of course. This would reward studios for producing lackluster content and rushing production. Morbius is alright, a little cheesy, but not the worst superhero movie, according to reviews – when Sony so much as thought they were in on the joke, the meme turned cold and cringe, and they lost all of that organic marketing they could have watched roll in on streaming services, rentals, and dumb merch. All to re-release a movie ‘nobody even saw’.

The Idea of the Movie

Morbius is one of those characters that’s just sort of there. He’s not one of the big, popular, everyone-knows-and-likes him kind of characters by default the way Spiderman is. Still, being a relatively unknown side character in today’s day and age is not a movie’s death sentence. Few knew who Iron Man was before Robert Downey Jr. turned him into one of the most well-known Marvel characters of all time in a movie that most critics expected to bomb. Instead, it set off a chain reaction that led to one of the biggest, most profitable, most-beloved and well-known cinematic universes the world has ever seen.

It didn’t seem preposterous that Dr. Morbius, a vampiric character that’s often pitted against Spiderman and co. could eek out a worthwhile movie and set himself up for a sequel and some merch. Unfortunately, the movie was nothing special, and the actor playing Morbius himself wasn’t helping matters.

The Guy in the Movie

Jared Leto has had good roles that he played well. He was in American Psycho, Blade Runner 2044, and a handful of other big movies. Unfortunately, he became better-known for his role in 2016’s Suicide Squad, another superhero movie about a handful of side characters that was poorly received by critics and the internet. Leto’s idea of the Joker, to use a phrase I stole online, is like a pizza cutter – all edge, no point. He’s kooky and cringey, and has a set of lines straight off of Reddit’s r/ImFourteenAndThisIsDeep. The movie failed because the script was really bad and had too many characters competing for screentime, a common DC issue, but Leto’s Joker stood out as one of the worst parts of the movie, remembered alongside iconic lines like “What are we, some kinda… Suicide Squad?” and “This is Katana. I would recommend not getting killed by her, her sword traps the souls of her victims.” (Are you seeing the setup to “It’s Morbin’ Time” in these lines?)

To make matters worse, Jared was also notoriously creepy and rude to his costars for the sake of ‘method acting’, going so far as to send Margot Robbie a rat, which then had to be re-homed because it’s a living animal and not a prop. He couldn’t seem to distinguish between press that said he’d gone too far in a good way and press that said he’d gone too far in a bad way, either, which egged him on in interviews after the fact, further solidifying his reputation as a jerk online. The poor performance in the movie made many people question what Jared actually thought method acting was – are you turning Jared Leto into the Joker, or are you turning the Joker into Jared Leto’s Joker?

Aside from that, Jared’s got some weird thing going on with a bunch of young women and an island that he’s kind of hinting might or might not be a cult, but not in a way that couldn’t be plausibly denied.

And On Morbius

Now that I’ve told you all about Jared’s weird behavior to get into character as the Joker, you’ll be ecstatic to know he did it again with Morbius, and used a combination of crutches and wheelchairs to adapt to the character. That in and of itself is actually good method-acting: playing a disabled character accurately as an able-bodied actor means putting yourself in their wheels or crutches, experiencing the world as they do. You have to learn to hold your weight differently, at the very least. You learn things like motion-activated sinks and sinks that are too high aren’t mobility-aid friendly. Heavy pull doors suuuck. These are things you don’t think about until you have to live with them. Unfortunately, Leto took this to such an extreme that filming would come to a halt as he used the crutches to get to the bathroom and back, taking up to 45 minutes to do so.

 To strike a deal, the director had someone backstage wheel him to and fro in a wheelchair so the bathroom breaks would stop eating up so much time, which is where it became bad method acting. Jared was sort of parodying what an able-bodied man thinks crutch-users have to go through to get to the bathroom, not actually experiencing it, because the set has to stop because he’s the star and he can take however long he wants. He never had to learn to hurry on the crutches like real people often do, or like someone like Dr. Morbius would have had to, or how to actually handle things like opening doors and washing hands, or using mixed physical aides to do all of this in a reasonable time frame. Instead, he can flail through it, doing it the long way, instead of doing it the way crutch users actually do it. Because he’s Jared Leto and he’s the star. Thus, he’s not portraying a man on crutches accurately.

All of this is a lot of work for very little payoff – Morbius is a movie about a doctor who cures his own illness by becoming a vampire, so between you watching him decline and then recover, the part of the movie where he’s on crutches is maybe a 6th of the film at best.

The Movie Itself

The movie itself was nothing special. It’s a Sony movie. Fans have spent a long time watching Sony movies about superheroes miss the mark, so viewers are wary. People who liked Superman were willing to watch Man of Steel, but Morbius had very little built-in fanbase who’d go see it no matter what.

All this said, Morbius is allegedly fine, but not something you’d go out of your way to see unless the movie you were actually going to was sold out and nothing else was close in timing. Jared Leto delivers a passable if dramatic performance, the movie has good action scenes that are almost comically splattered with CG effects, the plot makes sense, it’s fine. Not good, not Iron Man or Wonder Woman, but not Batman V. Superman or Justice League.

It did fine too. It made its money back. But because it wasn’t the huge blockbuster comic book movies tend to be, and a lot of comic nerds avoided a movie they’d normally watch because it was from Sony, there were rumblings online that ‘nobody had seen it’, which started the memes. The movie itself could have gone down as one of Sony’s more passable movies if the studio hadn’t tried to hijack the memes into advertising.

Sources:

https://www.grunge.com/215715/the-truth-about-jared-letos-bizarre-cult/

https://www.slashfilm.com/802232/jared-leto-repeatedly-freaked-out-the-morbius-crew-with-his-method-acting-to-no-ones-surprise/

https://www.ign.com/articles/morbius-bathroom-breaks-jared-leto

https://www.thegamer.com/its-morbing-time-morbius-first-person-meme-origin/

Scalable Vector Vs. PNG

Elizabeth Technology June 30, 2022

What is a scalable vector image, and why is it preferable to PNGs for advertising? Scalable vectors are just what they sound like – vector graphics, which retain their information by referencing polygons and attaching them to each other proportionally using a plane of space. If the vector image says square 1 is always X distance from square 2 in relation to the size of the image, then the image will always be recreated exactly the same. This prevents the common issue of graininess or over-sharpness in resized images.

If you’ve ever sent off a picture for printing only to get something blurry and unreadable back, that’s because PNGs and JPGs follow different rules than vectors do! PNGs and JPGs are raster based – they store information via pixels, not planes, and as such can’t be endlessly scaled up and down. If an image has 300 pixels, and you scale it to 1200, 900 more pixels have to come from somewhere! The software you’re using is instead doing its best to duplicate the right colors in the right areas, thus leading to that 300 pixel image becoming very blurry and grainy as it increases in size. On top of this, SVGs are also much smaller than PNGs and JPGs are by default.

Scalable Vectors – Downsides

Scalable vectors are not all pro, no con though – many programs struggle with them! Mailchimp, a popular mailing software program, can’t handle scalable vectors, and neither can most art programs because they aren’t rastered images. This means that to make or edit one, you’d have to download a specialty program. That’s not necessarily a dealbreaker if you really need a product that can be up- and downscaled near infinitely, but it can get annoying. It also means that most people will have to take a screenshot or otherwise change the formatting of the image if they ever need to print it. While this is still miles easier than ‘fixing’ a low-quality image in a photo-editing application, doing that becomes infeasible for poster-sized logos. If the printmaker can’t help, then the average person, who may have purchased this SVG from a designer, has to find a printing service that can. If the person with the SVG just needs a PNG and doesn’t have an end service that can help them, well – off to Google they go, with mixed results.

Another problem is that the format itself keeps the pictures simple. While they’re smaller than PNGs, they also rely on different mechanisms to create the actual image. That’s that non-rasterization mentioned above, instead of painting with pixels, you’re painting with shapes. You can still create a slow-to-load SVG if the image itself is too complex, because every time you resize it, it’s calculating out where pieces go based on other pieces, not on the preexisting map of pixels a PNG would have. In that same vein, any lossless product can DDoS a printer accidentally, but some are easier than others – SVGs, which are simultaneously simpler and more technologically complex, may create the illusion that the product is smaller than it is. While they are almost always less storage space than PNGs… that doesn’t mean they can’t take up a lot of space by themselves!

In Short

SVGs are a cool specialty file type that’s good for logos, great for logos on websites, fast-loading, and generally pretty easy to use, given you have the programs necessary to convert or alter them. If you don’t, then a PNG might be a better bet – most art programs can churn out PNGs by default!

Don’t Put Too Many Popups on Your Site

Elizabeth Technology June 28, 2022

Users get frustrated and stop reading.

The Popup

Popups are associated most strongly with ads and then secondarily by requests for cookies, which is already a rough start – ads are annoying and sometimes dangerous, and cookies are an unwanted reminder that the website is in fact looking back at you while you look at it, especially in today’s internet.

 Some sites try to be helpful by providing pop-up tips and tutorials for their own features, while others insist you notice the chatbox. Some even offer up coupon codes – Burpee Gardening Supply has some new offer for me every time I open the page! All popups serve the function of forcing the user to look at one function, right here, right now. This is a powerful tool. Your user is immediately derailed from whatever they were doing to come look at what you want them to look at. However, with great power comes great responsibility! It is very easy to overuse this feature. Done too much, users will stop looking at your announcements altogether!

Boy Who Cried Wolf

The best site pop-ups are the rare ones. Major announcements? Deserve a pop-up, especially if it changed the layout of the site. However, most other announcements don’t warrant such a direct demand of the user’s attention. Minor ones should be reduced to a notification at the top of the home page, a banner, or in a user’s inbox (not email) if possible as a heads-up message. If every announcement is a major announcement, none of them are. Users simply become less likely to pay attention to any of them.

For example – Microsoft sends frequent emails about Major Updates, but only some of them are major for the user, only some are immediately relevant, and only some apply to certain licenses and operations anyway. The end result is that only 20% of the emails I get regarding major messages from Microsoft end up being relevant to me, so I just… stopped clicking them. Why bother? The same goes for popups!

 And then there’s the stuff that’s not an announcement, per se. Coupon codes? Sometimes. There’s statistical evidence that new-user coupon codes encourage conversions, but if the user has to wait for the pop-up to load every time, even with cookies on, they’re going to stop looking at it before they exit it. To reference Burpee again, I got the first-time user coupon for signing up in the email popup. That’s good; now they have my email. That’s a successful popup for them. But after that, the next pop-up was a seasonal one, and I didn’t end up reading the one after because I assumed it was also seasonal. There comes a point where coupons should be put in a large banner at the top, under the menu but before the search feature, so customers who scroll past might actually see it for what it is and not just exit out of it the second it blocks their vision.

Banners Instead

Banners are perfect for many of the things popups are overused in. They can alert users of minor changes to the website. They can hold coupons. They can hold information about restocks. They can be eye-catching or low-key. Look at Burpee again – the banner at the top of the website announces the season, and if you click it, it takes you to the vegetables the website has available for said season. When they have a coupon for a small sale, they put it in large text in that same banner so users don’t have to wait for a pop-up to start factoring a sale into their shopping. Big sales and coupons get a popup (sometimes too often) small sales get the banner treatment.

This is the best of both worlds, and prevents user fatigue. You have to tell customers about sales, otherwise they won’t look at them, but you don’t have to present them with every sale in a popup, and not every sale is equally great enough to demand the customer’s full screen and all of their attention!

Applying it To Sales Emails

There’s a gap between what the sales department does and what the customer wants. The customer will tolerate a lot before unsubscribing, but there is a point where too many emails is too many emails, and the customer stops opening them (reading the headline still accomplishes the goal of reminding the customer that the brand exists) or starts marking them as spam (much worse). For example, Bath and Body Works. I will admit to enjoying their products, but their email campaign can be aggressive. However, Bath and Body Works will also allow customers to pick how often they want emails. People who want to be notified when there’s a major sale don’t also have to receive notifications about new scent launches.

Allowing customers to throttle back is the equivalent of using banners and popups together instead of using just popups for everything. To go back to Burpee (I swear I don’t have a grudge) I was getting all kinds of emails, including emails inviting me to take a second look at a product… that I hadn’t ordered because it was out of stock. I did want it, and I’d clicked a button that said it would notify me when it was back in stock, but the email system didn’t connect these dots and kept prodding me to buy something I simply couldn’t because it wasn’t in stock. While funny, it was also frustrating, and it happened more than once because berry bushes are only ready to ship in spring and fall. This eventually lead to me unsubscribing from their emails altogether.

BitCoin Dip – What Happened?

Elizabeth Technology June 23, 2022

Terra’s “StableCoin”

A stablecoin is, in theory, just that – stable. It’s a crypto coin that is directly tied to a country’s unit of money on a one-to-one ratio. Terra’s stablecoin was equal to exactly one U.S. dollar before it tanked. Terra’s stablecoin was also tied to Luna – instead of being backed by a reserve of fiat money, stablecoins were produced out of coin mines, and Luna was backed by the stablecoin. Double-layering coins like this would, in theory, prevent wild fluctuations. It’s meant to serve as an anchor to the ‘real’ investment.

However. Being equal to a dollar does not mean it was backed by a dollar. If the stablecoin fails, then so does the real coin, and the stablecoin can fail for a number of reasons. In Terra’s case, it was a lack of liquidity.

Terra has had to dig itself out of holes before, but it never lead to the stablecoin failing. One time, they magicked a bunch of coins into existence to lower the rising price of the coin and reestablish stability; another, they absorbed a bunch of investor money to buy coins back and keep it from tanking. Terra had been fighting an uphill battle for a while now, but because it labeled itself as stable and kept afloat, investors and coin purchasers had no idea what the situation was, and that alone kept it up. Of course, if Terra had been honest, the market would have tanked sooner due to a loss of faith and a run to sell before it was worthless, so once they were underwater on their investment trying to buy up coins and keep the price stable, the end had already begun, and Terra tanked. As one of the oldest, stablest coins on the market, crypto forums began to panic.

The BitCoin Drop

Bitcoin has a history of soaring highs and trench-like lows. Famously, someone on the web sent 30 Bitcoins to pay a delivery driver for a pizza worth approx. 8$ some time in the 2010s. In 2010 proper, a Bitcoin was worth just 8 cents. When it skyrocketed to a whopping 250$ from 10$ in 2013, people who’d bought some couldn’t believe it. Many sold; many bought. The price continued to rise, going from 450ish to 900ish across 2015 to 2016, and then from 1,000ish to ­18,000ish in 2017 thanks to media attention and a growing awareness of the product. Of course, this high lead to a low as people sold and didn’t rebuy, and Bitcoin hit a low of 3,000ish in 2019 before going up, down, and up again across a handful of months before briefly stabilizing. Most recently, in the 2020’s, Bitcoin’s chart has looked less like a mountain range and more like a seismograph, with it’s value doubling, halving, doubling again, and then halving again across just months. As it stands now, in May of 2022, Bitcoin’s dip to less than half of it’s most recent high (now at approx. $29,000) means that companies who invested in it and who took it as payment have had a significant portion of their gains wiped. Tesla lost half it’s theoretical gains for the year in a few days purely by Bitcoin’s fall.

Along the way, other cryptocurrencies saw the potential in cryptocurrency, and started creating their own coins. The problem is that cryptocurrencies, which aren’t backed with much of anything at all, are prone to these extreme fluctuations by nature. One big investor selling a little too much at one time can completely wreck the coin’s value by creating a run on the coin. New entrants to the market are also notoriously prone to pump and dump schemes, further encouraging investors to sell at 10% down instead of waiting for it to recover.

All this to say that the big coins, Terra Luna, Bitcoin, Ethereum, and a few others were the most reliable, and if they’re tanking, everything else is tanking with them. Additionally, most people want the number to stop falling, or at least slow down, before they buy. Ironically, this makes reversal take longer: the more supply as people sell, the less demand there is to go around as people try to wait it out. If the coin isn’t well-known, today’s market won’t rebuy – people are sick of pump-n-dump schemes. The coin never goes back up. Bitcoin and Terra are well-known, but every dip is heartstopping because the gaps between spikes are getting bigger and bigger. Buying during the dip might mean spending 2,000$ on something that drops to 500$, and then doesn’t rise again for a year or more as was the case in 2018. Why buy something that has no brakes and continues to fall?

Doge

Bitcoin is not a canary in the coal mine – when things get to Bitcoin’s size, they become miners themselves. Doge, on the other hand, was a joke coin that turned serious when it’s value spiked and then became a sort of bitter aftertaste to a joke when the price dropped again. A well-loved canary choked to death by the mine operator that is crypto markets. Logically speaking, not every coin can go to the moon. People were seeing something in Doge that simply wasn’t there. Some investors treated it like a pump-n-dump with an uncooperative creator (who was generally not interested in being a public face for his coin and also didn’t want to defraud anybody, because he made the coin as a joke) others treated it as a hidden gem that could quintuple their worth after it spiked suddenly from less than a cent each to 63 cents over the course of a day or two. 20 doge coins worth a total of 16 cents were now worth 12.60$. for anyone who’d dropped 20$ on Dogecoin as a joke, that was a huge jump.

This ruined the doge coin community. At first, there was some idea that this would work out, they’d all have a good time with it and hold so it didn’t result in the death of the coin like it did for so many others, and then Elon Musk commented on it, and the coin blew, deflated to 30 cents, and then 20, 15, 10,  and now down to 8 cents. While that’s still 16x more than the coin was worth at the start, it’s not the epic peak devoted Doge fans believed they’d earn if they just held on in the face of an unforgiving crypto market.

Doge is not a victim of the Bitcoin crash because it already crashed- it was a harbinger of what would happen to Bitcoin if things continued as they were. Continue they did, and Bitcoin’s Doge-crash happened on a longer timeline. Will it bounce back? Will any of them? Nobody can say for sure. Terra, though, may never re-earn the trust it once had even if it does recover.

“Apple’s Walled Garden” And the PG-13-ification of The Internet

Elizabeth Technology June 21, 2022

Tumblr

Tumblr is the most famous app to struggle with Apple’s obtuse clearance system. Since Tumblr seems to be making a bit of a comeback, it’s a good place to start the story. In 2018, the beginning stages of the NSFW content ban were beginning to wreak havoc on the site – Apple wasn’t going to allow specifically nudity-based NSFW media on any apps in the app store small enough for them to jerk around, and Tumblr had shrunk.

 NSFW content would be officially banned on December 17th, 2018, and any blog with any NSFW content would be put in the shadow realm, where they’d be impossible to search, and the posts that put them there would be removed.

 I can go on and on about how badly this screwed up Tumblr – there are a lot of artists who were making art that complied with Tumblr’s statement on what was allowed only to end up with their posts in review anyway because the auto-filter Tumblr used didn’t know the difference, there were people who reblogged something from a shirtless artist two years back, didn’t realize it was still there because of how much stuff they’d reblogged since then, and then ended up shadow-realmed with seemingly no way to figure out what got them in trouble, there were people who’d built entire careers out of shirtless art who got chased off to Twitter and took their followers with them, and there were people who were, quite frankly, only there for the shirtless art in the first place.

The ban was a huge mess and forced a lot of users off the site, including people who met all the requirements to stay but lost all of the blogs they followed to the ban. What do you do but leave when all of the people you were there for, are gone?

And it gets worse: some art was supposed to be allowed, but it de facto wasn’t. Museums were getting swept up! There are a lot of anthropologically important statues, paintings, and other representations of men and women, and not all of them are exactly dressed for church. Nobody is arguing that the Statue of David is not art, but there’s an argument (a bad faith one) that the statue is Not Suitable for Work. Automated filters can’t tell the difference between marble, paint, and flesh, anyway, so on Tumblr, pics of the statue were shadow-realmed unless they were censored. Appealing the post meant the post would be in limbo for days, if not weeks, and you may have to re-appeal it if the moderator who saw it didn’t recognize it as art at first. Combined with an overworked team of staff behind the scenes and general site-wide chaos, fixing the museum issue on top of fixing the spam bots and fixing the website and fixing the mistakenly-banned accounts and fixing the filter itself and fixing the – etc. felt like it was years away. So art where the subject happened to be nude was no longer present on the site, full stop.

Steve Jobs Hates Nudes

Which is just what Apple wanted. Steve Jobs was notoriously prudish. Steve Jobs did not like NSFW content. He did not want it anywhere near his beautiful, sleek app store. From TechCrunch: ‘When questioned about Apple’s role as moral police in the App Store, Jobs responds that “we do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone.” Better, is what he said next: “Folks who want porn can buy and [sic] Android phone.”.’ Well, fine, but – again – ordinary, culturally important art got swept up in that too, and he didn’t seem to mind. A number of apps just aren’t allowed on the store because they’re icky, not because something is actually wrong with them beyond that ickiness. You can extrapolate from his entire personality, his fear of buttons, his minimalist philosophy in design – he had a real problem with existing as a human and wanted to be something cleaner.

That philosophy has infected every app that wants to be on the Apple app store, because if they don’t tow the line, they get kicked. In a world where Apple is a billion-dollar company and a huge number of consumers have an iPhone, avoiding the Apple app store is shooting your app in the foot before it even gets off the ground. However, making an Apple-specific window into your app can actually help you out quite a bit. To go back to Tumblr, the app was wrecked. When the app was up for renewal, and thus had to go through the opaque approval process again, the person reviewing the app had spotted NSFW content under otherwise innocuous tags. So it was going to be wrecked again. To be clear, that’s mostly the spam-bots fault: spam-bots looking to get people to click their ads and links would tag their posts with every popular tag they could, resulting in innocent tags like #girl, #selfie, #boy, and more being attached to gifs of banned content.

However, this time was different. Tumblr only banned the tags for Apple because the Google app store had no such requirement upon renewal. Apple Tumblr users were understandably a little weirded out that their innocent K-Drama tags were no longer allowed, but at this point they were in it for the long haul, and communities built new tags instead of wondering too hard about the old ones. Apple’s app renewal process is difficult to navigate on purpose because Apple holds all the power!  They can declare arbitrarily that because its inspector found art under a tag in the app’s tagging system (that rightfully should have been caught by the filter, but wasn’t, because the filter sucks) Tumblr will either no longer have those tags or Tumblr just won’t be renewed, full stop. Every app is subject to this. If NSFW art can be found by an Apple app inspector, the app has to deal with it right then and there. Tumblr’s two-prong method was an interesting solution to the issue, but the result is an inequal app experience. For small developers, this may not be an option.

The Web Was A Wasteland

There was a time where the web was for adults, whether it be news, forums, math, or games, and if kids saw something gorey or scary when they weren’t supposed to, that was their parents’ fault for letting them be on there. This changed when kids were encouraged to use the internet for research, and websites acknowledged that it was possible to click an innocent-looking link on Google and end up somewhere horrid. Websites introduced the “I verify that I’m over 18” button, Google introduced Safe Search, and kids were introduced to the idea of ‘safe browsing’ in general, which curbed a lot of the issues parents had with the way the web was. Most normal people were happier with the web when they couldn’t accidentally stumble onto something gross, as well.

But then things changed. Kids were expected to have smartphones or other devices. Social media sites took root and became cool. Youtube, Twitter and Reddit set a lower age limit of 13, which tacitly said that children at age 13 or older would be accepted (at least, that’s the argument they’d use when people called them out for being kids arguing with adults). Before, minors would have to at least behave like an adult or get ridiculed online. Adults who were able to assume they were talking to other adults on forums could no longer assume that was the case. You started seeing things like ‘Minors DNI’ (DNI stands for Do Not Interact) on Tumblr profiles because a blog owner would discover, three hours into a basic philosophy argument, that the other person they’d been arguing with was actually 14. Obviously, teens aren’t stupid, but they’re also not just underaged adults!

A couple of legal cases where children were exposed to things they shouldn’t have been then led to a change in online responsibility. Anybody making that shirtless art from before could get in trouble if they learned kids were following them but didn’t do anything to prevent them from seeing said art (you can block people on most sites to prevent them from seeing your stuff, for instance) so they’d warn kids to stay away and avoid the trouble altogether. Reddit demands you make an account to verify age if you want to see NSFW subreddits, and Twitter allows adult artists to flag individual posts as NSFW, which was good for both adults who liked the artist but didn’t want to accidentally see something inappropriate for the subway while they scrolled through their feed, and kids who didn’t want or need to see it in the first place if their artist of choice retweeted the original artist.

 The reverse applied with ‘Minor – Adults DNI’,  where kids were looking for other kids to talk to online and didn’t want to accidentally talk to a predator. This wouldn’t stop an ill-intentioned adult, but it kept well-meaning adults from accidentally stumbling into a Chris Hansen situation due to a misunderstanding. Would it be better if kids weren’t allowed on the sites at all? Enforcement is the issue, not shoulds and woulds. It is extraordinarily difficult to prevent kids from pretending to be 18. Anything that actually worked would violate privacy and thus limit its own userbase.

As such, a lot of smaller sites PG-13ified themselves to avoid getting in trouble for accidentally distributing NSFW content to kids, whether it be gore or nudity, and the big social media apps began toning it down as much as they could without turning into Tumblr. Museums and other such places that had depictions of human bodies were further cornered by auto-filters.

Sometimes Art Is Not Accessible to Children… and Sometimes It’s Not Meant to Be

Some art is not meant for children. Some art is aimed at adults who have struggled in ways that adults do, and to water that art down so kids understand it would be destroying the art in the process. Its why people are angry that Disney is buying up so many properties – it means you don’t get to see superheroes rising above situations if those situations aren’t easily explained to a kid.

Imagine trying to make something like Moby Dick child-friendly in content, or A Tale of Two Cities: you’d end up with a Marvel story. Worse, think of the recent controversies over stories like ‘Maus’ – because a 13-year-old isn’t allowed to read it, now the 14-17-year-olds still in high school can’t find it in that Pennsylvanian library. For context, I read it sophomore year in high school, and it didn’t spark rebellion in me, as the argument that got it removed said it would. That argument and the inappropriateness argument is a smokescreen to remove a book that made them uncomfortable.

Allowing a small minority of parents to dictate what an entire population of schoolchildren shouldn’t read because it’s ‘inappropriate for kids’ is also a significant problem, one tied into the general censorship of the web. When parents are allowed to jerk around the people making art because the art is inappropriate for their children, you end up with bland retellings of fairy tales because anything else might offend. You end up with the Hayes Code. You end up with Holocaust deniers who never had to learn about it in high school and thus think it’s a conspiracy. You end up with kids that grow up into adults that can’t think critically about the media they consume or about the stereotypes and biases that may be hidden inside, because art for kids has to be perfectly clear about who’s right and who’s wrong so as not to confuse them with things like gray areas, which art and content for adults features all the time. Nobody’s perfect, except for in fairy tales.

Apple’s censorship of the web and the resulting child-friendly attitude that followed it has haunted the internet ever since.

Sources: https://techcrunch.com/2010/04/19/steve-jobs-android-porn/

Seth Green Lost His Bored Apes NFT

Elizabeth Technology June 16, 2022

And it’s kind of funny.

What is an NFT? And Why Do So Many People Hate Them?

An NFT is a non-fungible token. Essentially, it’s a unit of blockchain attached to something unique, like an image, as opposed to a blockchain coin, which is just a coin and can be exchanged with any other coin (fungibility). There are dozens upon dozens of people making really good arguments for why NFTs  shouldn’t exist and how their energy demands are ridiculous, but just know that every single layer of what an NFT is has some kind of tomfoolery going on within it.

Starting at the top: the art.

Art NFTs, which are non-fungible, can be any kind of art at all so long as it’s digital. Literally anything. Since the image isn’t actually stored on the blockchain (because there isn’t enough space for something hi-res) the blockchain is generally leading to a link to the image on the actual server where it’s stored (which is a whole other thing). Meaning you can link to huge impressive projects that someone may genuinely want to own an NFT of even though other people can see it, just because the project is that impressive. Like funding an art gallery IRL – the art inside is beautiful, and everyone who walks up knows you own it and you shared it with them.

Instead, we get bored apes and all sorts of other cookie-cutter Picrew dressup dolls with swappable details for easier selling, used mainly in Twitter avatars for clout. There’s also quite a bit of art theft going on, where people who published art online find their art later on NFT brokering websites and have to tell the staff that their picture was put up there illegitimately. It’s very annoying and difficult to combat, so much so that Deviantart created a tool for users to cross-check their art.

But Wait, There’s More

But the same doesn’t apply in reverse. Left-click-save people aren’t violating the rights of the purchaser or the creator unless they use that unedited image commercially. However, if someone does use it commercially, the creator has the right to legal action – not the buyer. Turns out, NFTs don’t confer copyright unless explicitly stated by the seller, so if you don’t clarify that you want to own that art and make stuff with it, you just don’t! The original creator of the NFT could double-sell the picture, and now there’s two Diamond Blunt-Smoking Bored Apes out there, and there’s nothing you can do except tweet about it. Generally speaking, an NFT is like a baseball card, in that you don’t own the art on the card or NFT just because you purchased it, and the original owner can pump out so many cards that the card you have is worthless. All of that blockchain does not prevent this from happening. A 2 where a 1 was earlier in the chain means those two diamond apes are technically different entities.

The blockchain is the whole point, too. Can you imagine someone buying a Bored Ape for an avatar and spending more than 20$ at most on it if it wasn’t blockchain? Much less thousands? They wouldn’t, that guy would have been laughed out of the room. Because him and other people like him successfully convinced people that the blockchain has inherent value, a bunch of people bought these blockchain collectibles for significantly more than anyone would have had it not been. To be clear, the blockchain is not inherently valuable no matter what product it’s representing. It’s a technology, not an investment in and of itself. Cryptocurrencies crash and burn all the time because investors lose their faith in the product’s value.

All this to say that the blockchain creates this illusion of exclusivity over an image when you don’t have exclusivity by default and the images used by the most popular NFTs are stock images with stock details that look like they’ve been run through an RNG. It’s a common joke that you can just left-click and save these images, and it’s funny because there’s really no rebuttal. If you don’t care about the blockchain, if the other person doesn’t have copyright ownership, and if you’re not using it for commercial reasons, why can’t you left-click and make the Bored Ape that guy owns your profile pic? Literally nothing is stopping you at that point except for respect. The image is not actually on the blockchain, most of the time – usually it’s a link.

I’m going to skip all of the stuff about electricity consumption and money laundering, but know that those are issues too.

Seth Green’s Bored Ape

There’s a lot of fraud in the industry. You can steal digital art and use it illegitimately, but most of the time you have some way to stop that from happening so long as you notice it’s happening – you can copyright strike on most websites that do art, for instance, and that will put the brakes on the art being used illegitimately. Unfortunately, the same is not necessarily true for NFTs. Not only do you not have the copyright by default (which is a huge, confusing mess to navigate when someone is using your lion on a T-shirt but you have to contact the Lazy Lions guy to actually get something done) but when you have a penumbra of the copyright, you still don’t have all of it!

Bored Ape owns the copyright to their apes, but they’re fairly generous with what users can do with said apes as long as they’re apes the user has bought, and not someone else’s apes or an ape that doesn’t exist yet. They seem to know that tightening the collar too much on copyright issues would make some of their buyers question why they had the ape at all, and as such give users a wide berth to do their own thing with it. It also acts as great free advertising. However. The issue with that system is that once you lose your ape, you can’t make things with your ape. That makes sense for legit sales but is a total nightmare for theft, which is what happened to Seth Green. Many NFT sites (and the NFTs themselves) don’t have any way of distinguishing a sale from a theft – they can only record that the token moved from one wallet to another on their chain. The non-famous and famous alike who bought these things and then clicked a scam link have no recourse but to publicly ask for the NFT back from the thief, or whoever bought it off the thief, which has mixed results and sometimes ends in a ransom to get the thing back. In Seth Green’s case, the new owner who bought it from the thief doesn’t want to give it back at all!

But wallets are secure, you may say. How could this have happened? Besides the whole Smart Contract issue (which is an entire article by itself, but is also discussed here: https://elixistechnology.com/?p=7187 ) humans are still humans, and can commit human errors.

 Phishing scams are a huge issue in the industry, for example. None of the websites being used have been around for longer than NFTs themselves have been, and the side of the industry that wants to get these tokens out there to begin accumulating worth are not on the same page as website developers, so they end up with these huge, ungainly URLs that are indistinguishable from phishing scam pages. Some of the projects aren’t even made by a team – one guy is generating the pictures, making the advertising happen, running events, etc. and also making the website. Those projects are as legit as any of them are, and some blow up because of one big buyer – if you can score a 10$ NFT that turns into a 400$, it’s worth buying from those janky sites. Unfortunately, this means that the fake sites and the real sites that haven’t gotten their feet under them look too similar for comfort, but big risk, big reward, right? Even if the site looks good, that doesn’t stop someone from abusing the URL thing from before to make an identical page that steals data. This is regulated by an outside force– but you have to get into contact with the website hosting service to keep people from domain squatting on similar names, which most don’t. This exact thing happened to the Neopets NFTs, which was run by a big, well known company called Solana. If Solana couldn’t keep it from happening, what shot do the small guys have?

Anyway, Seth was trying to mint an NFT from GutterCats, and he clicked a phishing link instead. He’s probably going to get his NFT back (even though the person who has it says they don’t plan to return it – I suspect that’s a bluff to get a ransom out of him), but until it happened to him, the possibility of this bizarre penumbra-of-copyright thing happening hadn’t been considered. Because he’s famous and his show will act as free advertising, I doubt the Bored Apes guys would throw a fit even if he didn’t get his token back. However, the other Twitter nobodies? Who knows what would have happened if one of them was tackling a project as ambitious as an animated show only for the rug to be pulled out from under them? There’s no safety rails! If this hadn’t happened to Seth, the issues this creates wouldn’t have been discussed at all. Theft of the image is not supposed to be theft of the copyright too! In a digital world, that’s completely nuts – even real, physical art doesn’t work that way!

Sources:

https://decrypt.co/101283/seth-green-nft-show-bored-ape-stolen

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/sarahemerson/seth-green-bored-ape-owner

Meme Foods – Bacon?

Elizabeth Technology June 14, 2022

Why did bacon pop up everywhere? What was the deal with baked beans in places they didn’t belong?

Bacon – And Ads Ruin Everything

Bacon has an incredibly distinctive smell. Even if you don’t regularly eat it (or at all), the odds are that you’ll still know what you’re smelling when you walk into a Denny’s. The color and proportions of a slice of American-style bacon are also immediately recognizable to Americans no matter the art form. Abstract, pixelated, you name it, Americans have seen it. The breakfast food industry in America is partly to blame for bacon’s recognizability – most cold cereals are unhealthy by themselves, so every advertising campaign must include the phrase *part of a balanced breakfast to avoid being sued (thus including the classic picture of a glass of OJ, bacon, and eggs on the side next to the cereal, which is a meal already).

A much bigger part of the blame lands on the pork industry, which deliberately began pushing bacon after a nation-wide misunderstanding that ‘eating fat makes you fat’ was causing the public to shift away from the fattier parts of the pig. People went for leaner cuts, or if they still wanted their bacon and didn’t want to risk their cholesterol, they’d buy turkey bacon instead of the real stuff. Big Pork, with a ton of unrealized potential profits, partnered with fast food chains to make bacon cool again.

Internally Generated Ads

 Ideas such as “Fast food is already bad for you – why not go all out?” and “Dieting is something women do, and you’re a man, so go eat bacon” scattered ad campaigns and then trickled down to the web. Compounding this was an emerging reliance on headline-science, which are science articles boiled down to a headline on sites like Digg or Reddit. There is no room for nuance in 50 characters, and thanks to the already budding love of bacon created by advertisers, the people posting bacon research articles were siding with bacon. Headlines like “fat is not making you fat, sugar is” got mistranslated and misunderstood into “bacon is good for you, sugar is the enemy”, when the actual article talked about things like caloric density and glycemic index to indicate that fats shouldn’t be cut out entirely, like they had been a decade earlier, not that adding excess fat to your diet is a good idea unless it was already missing. Only a small portion of the people who read the headline click through to the article, though – many just scroll on after absorbing this ‘news’, and some go to the comment section for a synopsis made by someone else because they don’t want to leave Reddit itself. 

Bacon’s reputation recovered. Bacon, now, was a buddy. It just so happened that this new friend bacon was being puppeteered by an industry.

Rise and Fall

Bacon then crept in on the Cheezburger network (a collection of sites most famous for Reaction Animals memes and Fail blog), Buzzfeed, and other content websites from there. Bacon and bacon fat, of course, are perfectly valid ingredients, and in moderation are fine… but people took it to an extreme. Suddenly it was funny and popular to make things baconated. Bacon-scented candles. Bacon-flavored lip balm. Bacon-scented dryer sheets. Bacon-flavored candy (and candied bacon). Bacon cupcakes, bacon deodorant, bacon sunscreen. Everything. Could be bacon. And big pork was loving this, because it meant their ad campaign had become self-sustaining.

People didn’t want to be a buzzkill by mentioning that bacon was sort of bad for you, and if you eat too much of it for a long time, weird stuff starts happening to your heart and colon because of the salt and preservatives. Even if they did want to be a buzzkill, other people would shout them down with some variation of ‘we know, but it’s just a joke, man’ when they’d made an Epic Meal-Time style bacon burger with two packs of bacon to post online. Before millennials truly came to understand the all-consuming power of the market and big businesses, it was funny to buy and own these things because everyone else was doing it. It was easy to connect over bacon. The ad campaigns worked, and they didn’t connect the dots that the idea had been advertised to them on TV. Bacon was made a personality type, and it’s easy to advertise to ‘person who likes bacon’. Just sell them more bacon things. They’ll buy it.

This started dying down later in the 2010s for a number of reasons – bacon got more expensive, more extensive research on the negatives was published and because the internet had changed people finally listened, a growing awareness of the obesity epidemic, the aging of the core demographic that bacon mania hit, etc.. Bacon remains in recipes and artisanal shops just like it did before all the memes. It’s tasty! It’s just not an ‘everywhere, everything, all of the time’ food.

Baked Beans – The Opposite Effect

And then some time in the late 2010s to early 2020s, baked beans proved that the internet could make its own memes about food without outside adverts subliminally convincing them, thank you very much. Baked beans aren’t a universally liked food. Especially canned. Homemade baked beans, with real brown sugar, bacon, and a lot of tomato paste? Delightful. At worst, tolerable. Canned baked beans, barely heated and not dressed up? Has the texture of gluey applesauce and a lack of real flavor besides some vaguely molasses-ey sweetness. They’re not good. I think anyone who had TV in the late 2000s-early 2010s zone remembers the Busch’s Baked Beans dog, and yet baked beans are not anywhere nearly as loved as bacon is.

Unlike bacon, baked beans never appeared on national fast food menus en masse, and if it did, even regionally, it didn’t stay there. This is because unlike bacon, baked beans are messy and difficult to cook and serve if a restaurant doesn’t already have the infrastructure to do so. Waffle House could have done it, a lot of sit-down places could have done it, but places like Hardees and Wendy’s that got bacon to blow up wouldn’t be able to without a lot of extra expense. Baked beans didn’t have some gigantic industrial machine behind them to finance it, anyway, so they never tried! Baked beans, for a lot of people, appeared at barbecues during the summer and almost nowhere else. There is no Big Baked Bean machine working behind the scenes to make them cool.

This led to a bizarre sort of alienification of the food. Off the top of your head, what kind of bean is used for Busch’s baked beans? If you don’t already make them yourself or if you don’t have an allergy that forces you to look at the back of the can, it’s just “beans”, isn’t it? Generic. They’re a weird color. They have a weird aftertaste. The texture is like nothing else on Earth, a weird grainy texture that’s not quite like egg white but not as rich as a real gravy. They’re also immediately recognizable despite this, a bizarrely colored pale brown fluid with small misshapen orbs in it. It’s a food that could be mistaken for some weird marine lifeform’s eggs in the right context. Thus, the anti-baconification of baked beans took place.

Baked beans started appearing where they didn’t belong. Popsicles. Cereal boxes. Gas tanks. PC Towers. Ice cubes. Envelopes. Planted items in grocery stores. Kiddie pools. Hats. Anywhere that they’d be gross and unwelcome, somebody would put them there for a picture or a prank. Baked beans companies just sort of stood off to the side watching it happen. It was selling beans in a generation that was less likely to buy them, after all – and as long as the older folks didn’t see this happening and become disgusted by the trend, not much was lost.

It’s a perfect anti-bacon meme. The purchasable item is not made more desirable by the memes, and the companies making the product had no hand in how this meme took off – it just sort of did by itself. The product itself is pretty harmless (outside of the sugar content) but obnoxious. It’s not a personality type, either. Even the people making most of the memes approach it with a kind of self-aware irony, and they wouldn’t call themselves total bean fanatics or bean lovers unless it made a joke funnier. Shirts with the product on it are not worn unironically or around strangers that the wearer might see again. It’s come full opposite in a world where adverts have become the enemy.

Is it Better to Completely Drain a Battery Before You Recharge it?

Elizabeth Technology June 9, 2022

A piece of old-fashioned advice for old-fashioned rechargeable hardware was to completely drain the battery before recharging it, to ‘stretch’ it, the way you’d stretch socks to fit on bigger feet.

Where Did the Myth Come From?

While you’re not necessarily stretching the battery by waiting till it’s drained to recharge it, you are saving its capacity. If you charged your Nickel-Cadmium battery rechargeable phone before it was completely drained, it would lose capacity. Manufacturers were doing the best they could with what they had, and the next generation of battery, the Nickel-Metal-Hydride battery, didn’t have the effect as strongly (although it still had it) but the shelf life of the phone while not in use wasn’t great, so users continued to fully drain their devices before each recharge. To make matters worse, it’s possible to overcharge these batteries too, which also reduces capacity. When overcharged, the battery begins to heat up, and water inside the battery that’s normally carrying electrolytes begins to degrade, meaning it can’t do that job as efficiently. So yes – in these early phones, you had to completely drain it, monitor it while it was charging, and then completely drain it again if you wanted it to last as long as it did when it was new.

This overcharging is part of the reason small electronics batteries (like AA, AAA, 9-volt, etc.) have warnings on them telling you that they’re not rechargeable. While in a purely chemical sense, they could be recharged, the danger of overcharging the battery, having that battery behave unpredictably, and then exploding or leaking battery acid when you’re not expecting it to is simply not worth the risk. And the chemicals inside a battery are nasty – sulfuric acid is one of the critical ingredients. (Seriously. Don’t recharge non-rechargeable batteries!)

And then we got to Lithium Ion batteries. Lithium Ion batteries dominate the market because they hold a lot of charge, they don’t have the memory problem (meaning they won’t lose capacity if you charge them at the wrong time), and they’re lighter and flatter than the other kinds of batteries are at the same capacity. That being said, older devices may still lose their charge faster, not only because the battery is older, but also because it was designed in a time before manufacturers knew how long-lived Lithium Ion was going to be. We’d gone from the infamous brick phone to handheld, lightweight Nokias within a generation. Of course they were designed like they’d only last 5 years, because that’s historically been true!

Be Careful Charging!

Speaking of charging, faulty chargers can do more harm than good. A man discovered that Amazon was not vetting USB-C sellers effectively when he plugged one into his Apple computer and watched it short out the USB port. The phone itself was fine because it’s designed with this problem in mind (and the computer itself wasn’t damaged outside of the now-defunct port) but the USB port was simply designed to put out all the power it could. Normally cords restrict this flow, because little desk trinkets like fans don’t have those same guards. USB ports, however, are programmed to put out as much power as the cord will allow, which is how you get some cords that can quick charge and others that can’t. Old brick- and flip-phone cables also lacked anything telling them to stop when full.

Electric flow needs some sort of resistance. If it doesn’t have any, the flow of electrons across metal or wiring can generate heat and eventually catch fire. This is why you don’t plug two 9-volts into each other even though the bits at the top fit. It will create a lot of heat, and in a worst-case situation, could even catch fire!   

Chobanification of Logos Online

Elizabeth Technology June 7, 2022

Logo art, just like any other art, goes through cycles.

The Fashion of Fashion

Fashion is cyclical. At first, something is new and fresh – after the excessively large straight leg or bell-bottomed jeans of the 90s, the low-cut tight-fitting jeans of the 2000s were a refreshing new silhouette. This continued into the 2010s, where the waist got higher but the jeans remained tight, and then finally the pants relaxed in the later 2010s with the revival of ‘mom jeans’, which are jeans that are less tight and higher-waisted by design. While this wasn’t full out JNCO jeans level pants, it was a reference to earlier designs, a sort of remix, old and new together. You see these cyclical design choices everywhere, not just clothing, and what was tacky and outdated five or ten years ago will no longer be tacky in twenty!

The principles of designing a web page are also cyclical. Some things will always remain the same – hamburger menus have stayed in fashion the same way buttons on jeans do. Others are constantly in flux – font choices, color rules, and general ‘feel’ come and go just like colors and fit of denim do.

Minimalism

The web went through a period where everything cool was minimalist. Every design website suggested that a minimalist design was more professional, and so many small up and coming businesses kept things narrow, black-and-white, and hidden until moused over. This is in heavy contrast to the free-for-all of the 2000s, where websites could be neon pink with blue text and totally unreadable. Customers, understandably, did not want to stare at that while reading blog posts or debating what to buy, and so breakout websites that made things somewhat less painful to look at ended up flourishing.

Of course, just like any trend, people were doing things outside of it and alongside it that accomplished the goal of a readable website, so not everything was minimalist, and the definition of ‘minimalist’ in a totally new space isn’t the same way you’d define a minimalist website today, the same way mom jeans are not JNCOs or bell-bottoms even though they meet the criteria of ‘not-low-cuts’.

Where 2000s minimalism was ‘there are no images, the website is nearly entirely black and white text’, 2010s minimalism was ‘all the buttons are hidden, the background is one large image, and the text is almost unreadably narrow, except sometimes for serif text which has broad diagonal lines’. This is also difficult to read in a different way. While users may spend more time on this site, they’re going to be spending that time looking for the button they need because it’s hidden by design, to minimalize the site.

Chobanification

Understandably, users get sick of this taken to an extreme. Just like jeans, it is possible to design a website that’s too tight, that’s too minimal. Fashion tends to lean harder and harder into an idea, taking it to an extreme beyond recognition, until it either mutates or someone comes up with something totally new and counter-culture. Websites that dared to stray from minimalism without looking like the sites of the 90s and early 2000s become the trendsetters, and thus Cooper Black begins to take over. Cooper Black is a fairly well-known font – it’s the same font on the Chobani logo, and it’s one of the defaults for Microsoft Word. While not perfectly readable (especially when small) it’s easier to spot when it’s just floating in space thanks to the line weight.

Just as more relaxed jeans were a response to pants getting tighter and tighter, seemingly with no rhyme or reason, this wide text is a response to websites doing the same with ever thinner, ever taller Calibri sans serif fonts that disappear into nothing on small screens and mobile.

The only problem with Cooper Black is that it’s incredibly recognizable. A lot of the tall, narrow fonts used on minimalist websites look similar, but not exactly identical. Even if you can tell that they’re approximately the same, the font itself is so ultimately brandless that it’s not noticeable. Like jeans, as a generic term – jeans are made of denim, and most are a shade of blue. When Cooper Black comes swinging in, the shape of the individual letters beyond the thickness of the lines is an immediate tell for the font. It’s the equivalent of one designer using teal instead of the standard indigo blue for jeans, and everyone else replicating that exact shade of teal. And it’s a nice shade, there’s nothing wrong with it, but when it’s used everywhere alongside beige, it can get kind of repetitive. Small companies use it. Large companies use it. It’s got a kind of 60’s vibe to it thanks to the mild warping of the letters, which leads to it being used in a lot of ‘feel-good’ brands that advertise their products for self-care. It also calls to mind the décor of the 60’s, so people working with wood and leather can also use it without it feeling out of place. For as memorable and striking as Cooper Black is, it’s surprisingly versatile!

As a default font, it’s also more accessible than a number of professional fonts that could substitute it. For someone designing a brand logo for their microbusiness, the twenty dollars you’d have to spend on a font pack only to use exactly one of the fonts inside it is money that could have been saved with the use of Cooper Black.  

The Next Big Thing

Cooper Black rides a wave of non-minimalism in websites. It’s not obnoxious, but it’s not the same super-skinny fonts that came in reply to obnoxious websites. When people making their websites, logos, and other digital items get bored, I expect to see something thin and a little blocky come to the limelight in it’s place – cyclically, people aren’t going to go back to ultra-narrow, ultra-tall type fonts, but they may start using a similar font that’s less difficult to read in small sizes. Cooper Black hasn’t peaked, even though website designers and online denizens alike are beginning to notice how often it’s used.

F-Shaped Scanning

Elizabeth Technology June 2, 2022

Design

Web pages have many rigid requirements. Some things need to be at the top, no matter what, or the user won’t be able to find them, even if it doesn’t necessarily mesh with the vibe of the page. Others need to be at the bottom, but if the page is especially long, users may be tricked into thinking there’s no ‘bottom’ to the page – some blogging websites, for instance, allow for forever scrolling because it makes it easier for the user to just keep scrolling mindlessly.

Things like contact buttons need to be in multiple places for service sites, but may only be needed at the bottom for content sites (for legal reasons). Many service websites actually take it a step further and include a chat that automatically opens when the page loads. That, too, is subject to the concept of F-shaped scanning!

F-shaped scanning essentially says that a user is going to start at the top edge of whichever way their language reads. English readers start at the top left and move right, while in a language like Arabic, readers start at the right side and move left. Users then track titles, scrolling to keep the relevant title header or bullet point at or near the top of the page while reading. They also glance down to the next title or header, creating an F-shaped scanning pattern as they look from side to side.

The Search Bar

You may notice that Google puts its search bar left-of-center after searching. Most search websites follow this formula – it allows your eyes to continue straight down to the results. While not strictly necessary any more, when Google was just starting out, people didn’t know what to expect. You went straight to a website from an address you already knew, you didn’t have to search for it. It was alien. It had to be as user-friendly as possible to make itself viable against paper competitors like Yellow Pages.

This all makes sense, right? Yet Wikipedia puts the search bar on the right of the page, not the left. And where Google puts the search in the middle on Google’s home page, Wikipedia actually puts it near the bottom. Why?

In certain cases, familiarity and usefulness of a brand make it possible to break rules. Most everyone knows what Wikipedia is, so they’re willing to stay on-site for 2 more seconds to locate the search bar! For smaller businesses, they have an extremely short window to make their functionalities obvious. As in seconds. Sometimes not even that! If the customer has to search for the search bar, and the website isn’t an essential one, they may just up and leave!

Text Alignment

Most websites in English-speaking countries align their text to the right – meaning the text forms a flat line along the right side’s margin, and the left side is sort of deckled. Some books space the words so that both sides are flat, but that can look a little strange when there are three big words in a sentence and so the         w e b p a g e   o r   b o o k   h a s     t o     o v e r c o m p e n s a t e    to make the words fit in that format. That’s sort of a pitfall no matter which direction the language goes – if you want equal kerning, you can’t have straight lines on both sides of your text. Make the leading edge of your text straight, and it will only be off on one side.

Rarely, you’ll see the text centered in a page – this is a pretty distinctive look because it makes the sentences in the page more symmetrical, and highlights both the really long sentences and the really short ones. Commonly, you’ll see this on websites that are only one page long, and as such don’t need to gear themselves for long-term reading. IsMercuryInRetrograde.com is one of my favorite examples of the concept.

A factor that also needs to be considered is the margin. When you go to a professional news site like the New York Times, the margin is smaller on the left than it is on the right. This is because they’ve put their secondary links to the right of the page – you look there second (because of F-shaped scanning!) and they don’t want to distract you from the article you’re currently reading. Having a straight line next to the side you start reading from also helps you orient yourself to the paragraph. However, as you get further and further down into the article, it begins to look a little silly – there’s a large blank area on the right for no visible reason once you get past those links and ads.

The Atlantic, another news site, fixes this by making the margins equal and simply narrowing down the side-link area. Is it better? It’s more balanced, but now both sides have a chunk of white space, and while the text is not unreadably small, it is noticeably smaller than, say, Mozilla Firefox’s Pocket articles, which enlarge the font and still manage to get those related articles tabs in on the side.

Long story short: organize your website with the important stuff either right, or centered, up top!