Cartoon Image of Justin Andersun

Social Media Mortuaries

29 June 2015

What happens when Facebook has more dead users than living? Should we include Twitter handles in our wills? Does digital death deserve a tombstone?


There was a funny picture posted on The Verge concerning the quantified self after death. Social network stats and other numbers tell much about contemporary people. But can we be diminished to our number of tweets, Tinder connections, and Reddit karma?


For those unfamiliar, the quantified self is a trend that seeks to create self-tracking tools and help people find meaning in their personal data. It’s becoming popular in health and finance realms; with wearable tech like FitBit, money management applications like Mint, and dozens of other products and services.


The quantified self is interesting. It temporarily turned into an obsession for me. I’ve externalized some of my mind onto digital platforms—recording books I’ve read, movies and TV shows that have influenced me, philosophies I’ve grown to adopt, categorizing life events and key experiences, and the logging of my possessions former and current. It’s an ongoing project that helps me reflect. Of course, I’m not that important—most individuals aren’t—but I like to record things and think that the quantified self can provide a form of longevity that prior technologies have not enabled over human history. While the quantified self can seem extremely egotistic (to an extent, it is), I like to think that it supports the public good. I view it as the externalized mind. By making your mind available to others, you are providing them with resources that may be beneficial. The logistics of this are fuzzy, but I believe knowledge transfer, both in industry and personal matters, is the foundation of civilization. Libraries were founded under this ideal.


With the Internet pulling information from innumerable sources, the publishing barrier has been lifted from the masses. Now, all minds can contribute to the knowledge base. Platforms for the quantified self are means to growing this base. The number of steps you take each day are primarily useful for a select few: you, your doctor, and some loved ones. But when your data is added to the pool of millions, more publicly-useful information can be garnered. Basically all user-centric Internet services can serve ulterior purposes.


Facebook, for instance, would make a mighty-fine history book and ancestral log. Currently, when users become deceased, friends may contact Facebook to request that the account is memorialized. The user’s profile then becomes a means for friends to leave notes, children to look at old pictures, and so forth. While this is important to some individuals and a nice service that Facebook provides, it’s not prioritized. What if Facebook retroactively created accounts for important figures in history? Combining with, Facebook could craft profiles and add pictures of deceased members of history to better showcase networks and connections. It could be a crowdsourced project to illustrate social history. There would be obvious gaps, but the project could improve with the future deceased—if their profiles were properly memorialized.


So I’m proposing a new startup. Since the absent penultimate -e is so trendy (probably hackneyed), let’s call it “Undertakr.” The company could be the first e-mortuary, providing archival services to the digitally deceased. It could ensure proper memorialization of Facebook profiles, manage the termination of email accounts, turn off automatic bill pays, queued Tumblr posts, and more. Since good Twitter handles are becoming increasingly rare, Undertakr could manage digital wills so children could inherit their parents’ handles or return them to the public. When new users select a handle, they could see the recorded history of all those who had held it before them. They could become part of a trivial legacy. Or maybe something more.


People are more than their data. From data, stories can be formed and legacies written. But without the data, people are only memories. They affected a few, but when those few pass away, they’re forgotten. The value they could’ve added to future generations is lost. Humans can do better.


Digital death deserves a tombstone.

Bring on the Apocalypse

23 June 2015

Zombies, aliens, nuclear fallout, cultish dystopias…


We’re obsessed with the apocalypse. Our obsession may be nothing more than a fad in the entertainment industry and byproducts a marketing scheme, but it’s still worthy of questioning. Perhaps we’re growing concerned for our dependent state in the first world? The disconnection from our food and resources makes us uncomfortable with our reliance on advanced systems. Perhaps it’s our lack of knowledge or skills in survival? AP Psychology has replaced woodshop in high schools. Our computerized cars are becoming less capable of DIY repairs. Or maybe we just like gory zombies?


Whatever the root for our obsession, I think we’re ready for the apocalypse. Our imaginations have worked to develop many possible scenarios for the world’s end. We’ve fantasized for countless hours about how we’d overcome them. Such a mental project could not leave us helpless.


Awareness implies safety.


This statement has obvious holes. Simply being aware of danger will not prevent it from happening. But awareness is the first step toward safety. Being aware of bears in a forest will help you take precautionary measures—stringing your food in trees, carrying bear spray, not walking alone at dusk—and could help mitigate the risk and increase your chances of survival. This implies safety.


In regards to the apocalypse, imagining how we’d interact with alien invasions helps us form strategies for if it came to fruition. Of course, implementation is more difficult than the plan in many cases, but the mental prep work is important. The ubiquitousness of apocalyptic media has more-or-less forced itself upon society’s mind. The influence of the media is a discussion for a separate field of study, but the mind work imposed upon society is useful. It is the hero’s mentality.


Heroes are often characterized by their imaginations. Their ability to mentally depict crises and how they’d act within them. By society depicting various apocalypses, we are preparing for one and imagining how we’d act within one. This pre-mortem technique is suggestive of positive future outcomes.


So keep fantasizing about dystopias—where you’d build a bunker, which weapons you’d construct, and how you’d help others—because being prepared is the basis for heroic behavior. When the situation arises, we’ll be ready to take action.


Enough with the zombie movies, bring on the real deal.

Poetic Ooze

17 March 2015

A few months ago, I began writing phrases and unbaked thoughts on scraps of paper and taping them to my wall. The result is a cluster of chaos. An orphanage of ideas unfit for another medium.


Tweet Wall


These things normally appear on notebook columns, napkins, and Twitter. They’re undeveloped seeds for something or nothing. I compiled a mess of them, called it poetry, and entered it into a writing contest at my university. The reader will probably think I’m an idiot, but I hope she’ll appreciate one or two of my “poems.”


I think its good, clearing this mental clutter. I’ve found a few gems in the mess that could be useful at some point. I think brain-dumping is good, especially for creative or artistic pursuits. Like brain-storming, it’s fun and feels good. It’s a bit self-indulgent, but there’s something about the tactile process. Rather than tweeting off-the-wall nonsense, writing on cut-up notecards and placing them on a physical wall is therapeutic. It’s fun to look at on occasion, and I may do this project again.


For now, the project is paused/temporarily finished. Minimalism got the best of me, so I cleared the wall to work on something else. Heck, painter’s tape can turn anything into a tabletop.


If you’d like to try it out, here are some self-explanatory directions:


1. Find an open surface.

2. Cut up some paper in a variety of shapes and sizes. I used colored notecards and scrap paper.

3. Start carrying scraps of paper and a pen(cil). Whenever you have a thought, write it down. At the end of the day, add them to your collection.

4. Keep a roll of painter’s tape, a pen(cil), paper, and scissors near your surface. As you affix ideas from the day, you’ll probably generate new ones too.

5. Consider using yarn to connect related ideas. I started, but then had this idea:


Yarn is a Schizophrenic Medium


6. Watch it grow. Don’t censor yourself: whatever comes, let it come. Don’t limit yourself to words, include sketches and doodles too.


Give it a try. Maybe you’ll secrete poetic ooze?

Korvodjur: An Ikean Legend

15 March 2015

On the island of Ikea, there lived a nation of furniture makers. They were a kind folk, soft-spoken and constructive—never engaging in war or drug use—and spent their time redecorating their modular apartments. They were a tall and small-handed people that lived in close proximity but enjoyed privacy behind curtain walls. They loved storing things on high shelves and having three-plus uses for every stick of furniture. Although Ikea was a small island, the Ikean village was large, so there was no logistical reason for the inhabitants to live in small apartments. But a sign of honor in Ikean culture was how little square-footage one could reside in. Their perpetual state of redecorating enabled them to generate more efficient space use. Trimming a few square feet from one’s apartment could raise one’s social class. The chief elder lived in fifty square feet.


Throughout the year, the Ikeans would maintain their steadfast work ethic and innovative drive in rain or shine. But they maintained a Zen-like balance of work and pleasure. Their blue eyes were never afflicted with blood vessels of fatigue. It was an easy feat when one’s pleasure was one’s work. But once per year, the work would pause. The nails and screws would be placed in small compartments beneath the sink. Schematics would be rolled into retractable curtains. Saws would be stored in an ottoman. During korvodjur season, production ceased.


Each autumn, before the onslaught of snow, the Ikeans would set out to kill a korvodjur. A korvodjur was a large monster. It was long and tube-like, akin to a furry salamander that stretched the length of five dinner tables. It had sharp claws and fangs and ate a wide range of animals—from pigs and goats to chickens and turkeys. Korvodjurs were not picky eaters, neither in animal nor part—whatever they ate, they finished, hooves and all. As a result, the korvodjur was meaty creature. It wasn’t the tastiest—it certainly wasn’t a delicacy to the Ikeans—but it was a staple. A korvodjur could provide enough meat to feed the village through winter.


Hunting the korvodjur was a tradition deeply rooted in Ikean culture. As with furniture-building techniques, parents told stories of korvodjur hunts to their children, who passed them on their children. Each year, the oral history changed, but the impact remained. It was an event that united the community and turned boys into men. For the weeks leading up to the hunt, fathers spent evenings with their sons and a knife, whittling away scraps of wood to form spears. Maps were spread across desks to plan routes and plot traps. Hunting cloaks were patched. Boots were laced. Children cast aside their plush vegetables and sharpened their meat knives.


Once per year, the Ikean furniture builders became monster hunters. They would set out at dawn and head toward the coast, where korvodjurs lurked in caves and grottos. Where their logging routes ended, their hunting grounds began. The young boys, in their pursuit of manliness, would run ahead of the pack and perform a dance before the caves. They’d clank kitchenette-sized pots and pans and bounce on the balls of their feet. Irritated by the noise, a korvodjur would emerge from its rocky home and swipe at the young Ikeans. Nimble and quick, they’d dodge the korvodjur’s blows. The meaty beast would writhe in confusion while the men pierced it with sharpened sticks. The korvodjur would screech and retaliate. Its tail would knock the wind out of many. Its claws would gift battle-scars to some. But when it collapsed, the Ikeans would deliver the korvodjur a quick death.


The men, new and old, would dance in excitement before hauling the beast back to the village. There, the women would clean it and slice the meat for all to share. It was a great festival with much joy and feasting. When the festivities subsided, the korvodjur was portioned out per living unit. Once each household had enough to sustain themselves through winter, the excess meat would be given to those with additional storage space. She who could store the most meat in her apartment demonstrated utmost space efficiency—not only could she fit her essentials, but she had room for more. It was a great honor. While square feet determined social class, economic status was determined by pound of korvodjur meat per square foot.


But Ikeans didn’t always measure their worth in pounds per square foot. Like any normal nation, they once used the decimal system. But as globalization struck, the English measurement system shamed their culture. A humble fifty square meter apartment became a gluttonous 164 square feet. The Ikeans couldn’t stand to be dishonored by English numbers, so they promptly reduced their spaces.


Trade vessels passing through the Retailian Sea noted this act of conformity. Dozens of ships passed Ikea en route to Kirkland—a mega-continent where everything came in bulk. Kirkland seemed to have unending exports of trail mix and canned chicken. It was the first nation of Retailia to sign a trade agreement with the United States. After Kirkland broke the seal, even the small island of Ikea succumbed to foreign trade.


Ikeans began selling their furniture to the Swedes who later opened a retail franchise. The franchise appropriated “IKEA” and grew in popularity in the U.S. The large sales of furniture allowed the Ikeans to purchase higher quality tools and materials not afforded on their island: granite, bamboo, mahogany, and more. The Ikeans began working longer and harder. They were no longer building furniture to maximize their small apartments but to minimize McMansions. The businesspeople required documentation for each piece of furniture they produced. Since the Ikeans had no written culture, they drew ambiguous drawings on paper leaflets. They became sick and weary. Bags developed under their new red, white, and blue American eyes.


But progress continued. Ships formed harbors along the shore. Office buildings rose out of the forest. The businessmen and women marveled at the quaint village and indulged in the culture. When the men returned with the korvodjur one year, the businesspeople joined the village in their festivities. The Americans found the korvodjur meat delectable. They placed it on a large bun and drowned it in ketchup and mustard. They told the Ikeans that it was an American pastime and insisted on sharing its goodness in IKEA warehouses. The Ikeans, not wishing to be poor hosts, obliged and offered them excess meat.


Business moved fast and soon jumbo korvodjur bratwursts were advertised in IKEA warehouses nationwide. They sold for a meager fifty cents. The Americans needed more meat, so they harvested as many korvodjurs as they could find along the Ikean coast. The Ikeans were alarmed by the excessive hunting practices, but an American anthropologist pardoned their concerns: ‘We’ll provide the Ikeans with enough meat for their annual festivities.’


As the Americans demanded more than the Ikean Island could supply, the korvodjurs and Ikean men were driven into extinction. Although the Americans preemptively created life-size advertisements—massive 30-foot bratwursts of korvodjur meat—they decided to maximize their return on investment. Instead of removing the large korvodjur billboards, American IKEAs began selling ‘beef hot dogs’ and aptly placed the ‘*not actual size’ clause in the corner of each billboard. Warehouse culture killed the korvodjur.


Years passed and the Ikeans transitioned from depressed to oppressed. The men took up drinking and the woman weeping, and together their productivity diminished. The people lost interest in building furniture. They curled up in their lofted beds and kicked down the ladders. IKEA suffered as a business, and the businesspeople left the island. They established provenance in Sweden and hired second-rate designers to rekindle the ashes of their home furnishings enterprise.


IKEA regrew as a business, using the robust Swedish culture as a backdrop to American retail. But as IKEA blossomed, Ikea wilted. Material for cribs was used to build caskets. The culture was warehoused and the people diminished to their square foot homes.


In the future, when Americans feel guilty for the global crimes their ancestors committed, they’ll visit Ikea. Study aboard programs in Kirkland will take a day trip to the Ikean Island and discover the source of the giant hot dog advertisement. They’ll learn that it wasn’t a hot dog at all. They’ll marvel at the tiny caskets and skeletons scrunched inside. Maybe they’ll write a sentiment to honor the Ikean people? They’ll put it on a plaque in front of each warehouse. It’ll read something like this:


Even in death, the Ikean affinity for small spaces lives on.


It continues to live on today.



What’s an Informatician?

21 February 2015

Informatician /ˌinfərˈməˈtiSHən/

(n): a practitioner of information science.


Well, that’s anything but informative. An informatician deals with information. Okay…but don’t we all? Information science is an interdisciplinary field involving the collection, analysis, storage, retrieval, protection, dissemination, and more of information. That’s a lot of information. But what does it mean?


In a broad and contemporary sense, the information field is related to computers. If you’re an informatician telling your screen-phobic grandmother what you do, tell her its “computer stuff” (apologies to all techy grandmas out there). If you’re telling your e-friendly uncle what you do, tell him its “Internet stuff.” If you’re telling your tech-savvy sister what you do, tell her its “top secret.” Or you can try to explain this blog post. By the end, I hope to have a distilled definition.


Put simply, an informatician does a lot of things. And it’s important to know that an informatician is never called an informatician–practitioners hold a cornucopia of diverse titles and they’re always changing to sound more important or marketable. But at the end of the day, they are all informaticians. It’s an interdisciplinary role that requires a decent balance of left- and right-brained thinking. It takes creativity, critical analysis, immense flexibility, a wide perspective, and a bravery to organize chaos.


But how does this “top secret” work manifest itself? At a high-level, all of this sounds great and employable, but it’s not clear at a working level. That’s because the work is always changing. New technology is introduced and your hard skill-set is forced to adapt. For this reason, informaticians are not designed to be doers. They aren’t supposed to know the ins and outs of software development, graphic design, accounting, or marketing. They aren’t experts. They may have some specialty, but they’re intended to be generalists. They’re clever and adaptable jacks-of-all-trades. Most seem to have a particular knack: UX design, web development, project management, information architecture, data science, stakeholder analysis, digital strategy, communications, contextual inquiry or many others. These skills differentiate them from traditional IT drones: troubleshooters and glorified secretaries. The informatician is not a middleman between business and engineering, but rather a facilitator throughout a problem-solving process. The informatician uses his diverse skill-set to help make decisions and design solutions.


A good informatician is not technologically-deterministic. She is empathetic and human-centric. She seeks to gather information and determine avenues toward a solution. She may find herself building a website: mapping out the architecture, coding the infrastructure, designing the interface, or collecting user-feedback. Or she may find herself speaking with community members to arrange a gathering to discuss neighborhood problems. She may reach out to politicians to make decisions about public policy or encourage citizen engagement. She is open to many types of solutions and is skilled at planning and implementing them.


But most importantly, an informatician should be organized–both in her work and mind. A strategy to organizing a large amount of information is reductionism. The most common form is embodied in a list. So, let me define an informatician in this manner.


An informatician is a professional that

1) analyzes a problem,

2) gathers information relating to the problem,

3) weighs stakeholder interests,

4) and designs a solution using his or her social and technical skills.


The information field is dynamic and exciting, and those trained to adapt will be the future leaders.

Christened for Launch

14 February 2015

And we’re off!


I’ve launched a few blogs before, but none of them were proper ships. They floated along alright but didn’t meet my expectations. This won’t be problem here: There are no expectations. This isn’t to say I don’t have goals–I do–but they aren’t tied to lofty outcomes. Some wise person said something along the lines of “We’re not entitled to the fruits of our labor, but we’re entitled to our work.” I’ll stick by that.


The primary goal of this blog is learning. It will never be finished and will never fully satisfy me, but I’ll keep iterating to improve it. Throughout the process, I could learn about proper blogging principles (if they exist), spruce up my coding, and stick to a writing schedule. I’ll share my thoughts to anyone who cares to read, and if nobody does, they’ll be archived for my reference. This blog will serve as a mental mirror, so to speak.


Starting this blog, I wanted to have something that was clean–both on the back-end, front-end, and in the content. Not something that was pure and perfect–I’m not looking for expectation hangovers–but something that was wholesome and tidy. Before I understood coding, I used consumer-facing blog machines–Blogger,, Tumblr, etc. They’re great for focusing on content, but their lack of customization was crippling. After I learned some web development basics, I began using on one of GoDaddy’s shared servers. This was messy. The server was slow, my code wasn’t clean, and the cPanel interface was limiting. Also, GoDaddy isn’t a nice company. They have that early 2000s “I can be a jerk because I’m on the Internet” vibe. I’m giving them the web-equivalent of a cold-shoulder by not linking to their site. Their SEO can starve.


So I’m moving my domains elsewhere. Namecheap seems like a good alternative. They sponsor hackathons and give back to the developer community. If you’d like to move from GoDaddy to Namecheap, this is a helpful guide. For this blog, I’m hosting with DigitalOcean. They’re a more-socially conscious company. They have decent documentation and are working to teach less-back-end-oriented people (like me) how to properly serve a website. Making a WordPress blog with them is pretty straightforward. offers a nice, open-source content-management-system (CMS) and a thriving community to help customize your site with countless themes and plugins. If you understand basic PHP and MySQL, you can build a pretty decent blog in a short time. While PHP isn’t the most beautiful language, it’s reliable and get’s the job done. If you’re more of a hacker than I, consider using GitHub’s Jekyll framework for a light and easy blog platform. Since this blog isn’t a tech-blog–at least in the hacker sense–WordPress is a more fitting CMS. Plus it’s fun to mess with CSS, build out themes, and tinker with SEO. Again, this is learning experience.


You can join me for the ride! I’ll be writing about my interests: Design, fiction, and the ever-dynamic information industry. I may veer off-course with stories of my projects, adventures, and micro-epiphanies, but we’ll find new seas. This ship isn’t perfect, but here’s to perpetual beta. For now, it’s time to break the bottle.


Ship Launch


Bon voyage!