ExactPic: A Shortcut for Precise Image Outputs on iOS

ExactPic Shortcuts Icon

There are plenty of tools to edit photos on iOS or iPadOS but surprisingly few to help you edit them to exact pixel dimensions. This is a particular source of pain for me because I do a ton of work on my iPad, which is otherwise my favorite productivity platform. To fix this, I created a tool called ExactPic; it’s actually a suite of Shortcuts that work together seamlessly on your iPad and your iPhone. You can download it here, free.

I made ExactPic because I regularly find myself needing to output images with precision for this blog, or needing to resize or crop images for smaller downloads, or needing to add a frame or a letterbox to a photo. I’ll also occasionally need to size a profile or background picture to specific requirements for upload to various sites or services. On an iPad it’s also harder than it should be to save a JPG as a PNG or vice versa, or to increase or decrease the compression of a JPG. And performing multiple combinations of any of these edits on an iPad or iPhone usually requires several steps and saving out various versions of a single image. That’s just a lot of friction for anyone who works with images regularly.

Over the past few years I’ve created specific shortcuts to solve various of these editing challenges. I made one to resample an image, another one to add a frame or letterbox to an image; I even made one to rename an image in a specific format and upload it to WordPress for me. They all did their job but in isolation of one another, with none of them able to pick up seamlessly from where another left off. ExactPic fixes all that by bringing them all together into a single, comprehensive suite that, within the capable but fairly bare bones constraints of Apple’s amazing Shortcuts platform, unites them into a single cohesive experience.

The principal shortcut is called simply ExactPic. When you run it from the Photos app or your Files app or anywhere you can work with image files, it will quickly present a simple info window like the one below. Then it presents four options for editing that picture, each one launching a separate shortcut:

  • Resize the image
  • Crop the image
  • Frame the image
  • Save the image

When you run each one for the first time, you’ll be prompted to download that shortcut to your device. (If you have iCloud syncing turned on for your Shortcuts app, downloading these on your iPhone makes them available on your iPad too, and vice versa.)

Once they’re all installed, you can run multiple of these shortcuts on your image in just about any order (though the last one, “Save the image,” exits the suite when you’re done). This makes it possible to perform several sequential operations to get exactly the image file you want in basically one session.

Cropping an Image with ExactPic

How might you use this? Let’s say you take a picture on your iPhone, which produces fairly high resolution images in HEIC format. From your Photos app, you could use ExactPic to resize or resample that image so that it’s lighter weight; then crop the image to a specific dimension and preview that crop so you can be sure you’re isolating the area that you want (see image above); then add a black, white, gray, red or even transparent frame or a letterbox to the image: then compress it as a JPG to make it as small a download as possible; and finally name it and save it back to Photos, out to Dropbox or iCloud Drive, or even upload it directly to WordPress. All in one go. Here’s a video that demonstrates this in action.

I readily admit that a good deal of the motivation behind creating ExactPic was just the fun of nerding out with Shortcuts for a while. ExactPic is in fact easily the most ambitious shortcut I’ve ever created. To make it work, I had to learn how to read and write dictionaries, pass multiple variables from one shortcut to another, create an ersatz while loop and various other programming techniques that are usually way over my head but are made incredibly approachable by the Shortcuts framework. Though it’s lacking in some usability affordances for both makers and users of shortcuts, I’m endlessly impressed by the power and elegance of what Shortcuts can do today. It’s easily one of iOS’s crown jewels (if hidden in plain sight), and its potential to grow in capability and scope is awesome.

Technical Notes

Again, you can download ExactPic for free here. If you’ve never downloaded a third-party shortcut before, you might want to read this article about so-called “untrusted shortcuts” first. It explains how to work with some simple guardrails that Apples puts around Shortcuts for novice users.

To make installing ExactPic as easy as possible, the suite automatically downloads some assets (very small PNG files to serve as image shims) from a GitHub repo to your device, so you’ll need to give it permission to access iCloud Drive. ExactPic also reads and writes to a JSON file that is automatically created and stored on iCloud Drive. As you run each of the shortcuts for the first time, you’ll also be asked for various permissions to access certain websites, run other shortcuts, save to Dropbox etc.

Another caveat: working with large pictures, especially when performing multiple operations on them, can push up against the memory limitations of Shortcuts. I’ve found it reliable on my iPad Pro, but on my three-year old iPhone X, resizing then cropping then framing a large image can cause the shortcut to quit unexpectedly.

Finally, ExactPic was built on iOS 13 but I’ve been able to test it on public beta releases of iOS 14 too, and it seems to work fine. Of course if you run into any issues there or in any other aspect, or if you have any thoughts on using ExactPic, please let me know.



Wireframe S3E2: Design Is Why Your Parents Can’t Figure Out Zoom

Wireframe Season 3 Episode 2

The second episode of our third season of “Wireframe” is out right now. You can listen below or in your favorite podcast player, and you can subscribe at adobe.ly/wireframe.

At some point or other we’ve all been guilty of poking fun at the inability of older loved ones to grasp various technical concepts or navigate various apps or websites. It would be funny if it weren’t so frustrating—and tragic—for everyone involved. This episode digs deep into the generational divide that often determines the usability of tech products and tries to understand the role that design plays a role in perpetuating this difficulty. From the episode notes:

Your dad’s dog is barking in the background, but he doesn’t know how to mute his video chat. Your uncle can’t get Netflix working on his new SmartTV. And grandma still can’t find where her favorite songs are stored on her tablet. Why is your family always depending on you for tech support? Sometimes design, technology, and getting older doesn’t add up. And if design is failing older generations, it will eventually fail us all.

We’ve got some really insightful commentary on this subject in this episode from folks like famed designer Don Norman; UX researcher Michelle Brown; Dr. Jeff Johnson, University of San Francisco professor and co-author of “Designing User Interfaces for an Aging Population”; and designer Sophie Kim from Studio Red.

You can find Wireframe at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, PocketCasts, Castro or wherever you download your favorite shows, and you can listen to previous episodes and find out much more at adobe.ly/wireframe. Episode three will be out in two weeks!



Wireframe S3E1: COVID-19, Social Unrest and Design

Wireframe Season 3 Episode 1

Here’s the first of six episodes in our third season of “Wireframe,” the podcast about the stories behind product and UX design, hosted by yours truly. You can listen below, in your favorite podcast player, or subscribe at adobe.ly/wireframe.

This episode is a little different than all the rest. Rather than digging into specific design stories like the UX of dating apps, why digital products all look the same or the design of your electronic health records, we took a look at the practice of design itself—and at how recent events like the global pandemic and the seismic shift in public opinion on police brutality are impacting the way designers do their work.

We’ve got some amazing guests weighing in on this topic, too, including: Erika Hall of Mule Design, Deroy Peraza of Hyperakt, and designers Doug Collins, Sarah Foster, Kevin Twohy, Paola Mednoza-Yu and Jessica Gaddis.

This season also marks the debut of our new collaboration with the amazing team at Pacific Content. They bring the editorial and production firepower that make each episode’s reporting, research, interviews, storytelling and sound production so uniformly excellent. Every episode is a massive undertaking for the producers at Pacific and I’m so lucky to be working with such an amazing group of people.

And as a special bonus, you’ll notice new, bespoke show artwork for each episode, courtesy of the amazing Łódź, Poland-based illustrator Klawe Rzeczy.

You can find Wireframe at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, PocketCasts, Castro or wherever you download your favorite shows, and you can listen to previous episodes and find out much more at adobe.ly/wireframe. Next episode in two weeks!



Movies Watched, June 2020

Photograph of “The Power Broker”

Before I run down what I watched, let me talk about what I read. After about two long years of good intentions and sporadic attention, I finally finished Robert Caro’s monumental biography of Robert Moses, “The Power Broker.” I’m embarrassed by how long it took me to do it but that’s only because the book itself is 1,200 pages long and weighs over four pounds and it’s not available on Kindle or iBooks or even in reliably readable pirated e-book form (I tried). When I did pick it up though, every page was fully transporting and engrossing, so vivid and luxurious is Caro’s deeply researched, minutely detailed writing.

Who knows if an ambitious director or an enterprising star will ever make the mistake of trying to adapt “The Power Broker” as a narrative feature, but I would bet money that there will never be a documentary made from it. The sheer richness of detail and expansiveness of the story that Caro tells would break any documentarian. There would just be no hope of capturing in a measly two-hour documentary the scope of Robert Moses’s life and work, especially the way Caro tells it, when even the wide physical expanses of the entire New York region itself could barely contain the breadth of the master builder’s creative and destructive genius.

All of which is just a roundabout way of making the point that, over the years, I’ve lost interest in the documentary as an art form. Like most people, I’ve enjoyed my share of them in the past—“When We Were Kings” and “Gimme Shelter” come to mind as standout film watching experiences for me—but these days more often than not I find documentaries intensely dissatisfying. They’re either too short, in which case they never seem to get to the level of detail in their subjects that I as a viewer want to see, or they’re too long, in which case they’re probably still too superficial for my taste while also managing to be boring.

If I’m going to watch a movie, I’d much rather watch something that’s declaratively fictitious, that has no pretenses to being factual. This isn’t about a bias against non-fiction, either; in fact what I find most frustrating about documentaries is that they’re not as rigorous or detailed as any given feature article in any give issue of say The New Yorker.

What’s worse, there are so many diverse and frankly elastic interpretations of what a documentary is, and so when it comes to journalistic integrity, I rarely know what I’m getting into. It’s obvious to say but worth repeating because so few people seem to acknowledge this, but documentaries are not journalism. They’re not fact checked and multiply sourced and in fact they’re more often than not opaque in their methods and research. And yet because they have the veneer of reality, they’re presented as fact much more often than they should be.

All of this came to mind as I finally finished “The Power Broker” mostly because reading it felt very much like experiencing something truly cinematic, where “cinematic” connotes a level of fulfilled ambition and emotional impact so overwhelming that you have no idea how it was ever done, much less dreamed of. There’s not a single documentary that I can think of that comes close to that, except perhaps for Ric Burns’s eight-part mini series “New York: A Documentary Film.”

If you enjoy documentaries, then more power to you. I acknowledge that there are things that the documentary form can do that the narrative form can’t, and I know that my aversion to them means I’ve missed out on some truly good ones every year. But for me watching documentaries just doesn’t seem like the best return on my time investments. I’d seriously rather be watching some silly popcorn fare or reading a real piece of journalism.

Okay, now on to what I watched in June which, ironically, included a documentary! That was “Kedi,” which tells the “stories” of several street cats in Instanbul. Intellectually I justified the time by reminding myself that “Kedi” makes no pretenses to being factual and also it’s freaking adorable, people.

The rest of what I watched, frankly, wasn’t all that impressive. In total I managed to see only thirteen films, only one of which was a new release. That was Cory Finley’s “Bad Education,” a black comedy about a Long Island superintendent of schools who meets with scandal. It was a fun ride that didn’t quite stick the landing, and also a bit of a letdown after Finley’s very impressive 2017 debut “Thoroughbreds,” which everyone should seek out.

The real standout for my June was probably the little-noticed but crackerjack 2018 thriller “Arctic,” which follows in the man-versus-nature tradition of “All Is Lost.” (At the risk of belaboring my point from above, I’d much rather rewatch these two fiction films than have to revisit a totally bogus man versus nature documentary like say “Free Solo”.)

Halfway through the month I discovered that my AT&T cellular plan entitles me to a free subscription to HBO MAX, so that’s my excuse for rewatching three of the horribly misconceived Batman movies from Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher. It’s a kindness to say that they haven’t stood the test of time; even Burton’s “Batman Returns” is awful. I thought I was going to work my way from the worst of the series to its “best,” Burton’s 1989 “Batman,” but after the first three, I couldn’t bear to do it.

Here’s the full list.

  1. Kiki’s Delivery Service” (1989) ★★★
    Cute as a button.
  2. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” (2011) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Expertly balanced between adventure and humor throughout.
  3. Arctic” (2018) ★★★★
    Sturdy man versus nature drama.
  4. Bad Education” (2019) ★★★
    Superb direction can’t quite save this script from itself.
  5. Ali” (2001) ★★★★
    Rewatched. A bit meandering but nevertheless mesmerizing, especially the first ten minutes.
  6. Fast Color” (2018) ★★★
    Promising cast and premise, flat production.
  7. Spirited Away” (2001) ★★
    Yes it’s amazing! No it didn’t work for me.
  8. Ip Man 4: The Finale” (2019) ★
    Cheap, sentimental conclusion to a franchise that deserved better.
  9. Kedi” (2016) ★★★
    Irresistible documentary somehow manages to render street cats in Istanbul as more vivid characters than most movies starring people.
  10. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986) ★★★★
    Rewatched. What the grown up world was supposed to be like.
  11. Batman & Robin” (1997) ½
    Entirely deserves every last bit of scorn ever tossed its way.
  12. Batman Returns” (1992) ★
    Rewatched. Tiresomely fetishistic, and largely forgettable.
  13. Batman Forever” (1995) ★½
    Rewatched. Not a good movie, but the costumes were ace.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I watched in May, in April, in March, in February, in January, and a full list of everything I watched in 2019, in 2018, in 2017 and in 2016. And, if you’re really interested, you can follow along with my movie diary at letterboxd.com.



Wireframe Season 3 Coming Next Week

Wireframe Season 3 Cover Art

After many, many hours spent recording in my basement, we are just about ready with a new, third season of “Wireframe,” the podcast I host about how design shapes technology to fit into our lives. The first episode launches next Monday, 13 July. Until then, you can listen to the trailer below and you can subscribe at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, PocketCasts, Castro or anywhere you get your favorite podcasts.

This season we’re looking at how design is changing in a world that is itself undergoing massive change. We have episodes about designers coping with the pandemic and social unrest; about the UX decisions that make it hard for families to connect in a world of social distancing; about the design of crowdfunding and charity platforms in a time when giving is more vital than ever; about whether user experience makes a difference in the streaming platforms that we’re all glued to; about how design might—or might not—help increase mindfulness; and about the design of elections, which is probably another fun surprise that 2020 has in store for us.

It’s a lot of really terrific stuff. As usual, we’ve got great guests, it’s all deeply researched and thoughtfully reported, and it makes for fascinating listening for anyone who practices, consumes and/or thinks about design. I’m incredibly proud of this new batch of utterly unique design stories and I think you’ll enjoy them too. Subscribe today, and if you haven’t listened before, you can catch up on the previous two seasons at adobe.ly/wireframe.



A Scholarship for a More Diverse Design Industry

2020 Adobe Design Circle Scholarship Winners

During much of the five years or so I’ve worked at Adobe, alongside my “day job” leading the design team behind Adobe XD, I’ve also been pursuing an unusual “side hustle.” It was a bit of a far-fetched idea that was almost completely outside of my expertise, and one that very likely would not have been possible at any other company except Adobe: the creation of a scholarship fund specifically to help aspiring designers from diverse and underrepresented groups pursue design educations.

After several years of planning, persuasion and paperwork, a few of us dedicated to this idea managed to put together the Design Circle Scholarship, announced late last year in this blog post by my colleague and collaborator Kari Norder. We were incredibly moved to receive over a thousand applications from new, vibrant talent all over the world. We were also lucky enough to get a generous contribution of time from the members of our Design Circle forum of industry leaders to carefully and thoughtfully review each application and portfolio. Today, Adobe announced the ten lucky, deserving, promising, amazing winners. You can see their pictures above and read more about them in this blog post at XD Ideas.

Of course, a cohort of ten scholarship winners is a modest start and it’s not going to change the industry overnight. But it’s a meaningful one for these students: they’ll each receive up to US$25,000 for four years of undergraduate study in design. The fund is intended to allow young designers to access the education they deserve, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, age, economic or cultural background.

For me, the animating idea is that if we can open the doors wider to those seeking to enter the design field, if we can make design education more affordable and accessible to more and different kinds of people, then we can make a material impact on who ultimately gets to practice design. That is the difference between a design industry that wants to be more diverse and inclusive and a design industry that is more diverse and inclusive. We have a lot of work to do still, but these ten burgeoning talents are proof that we can change this industry if we match actions to our intentions.

Read more at xd.adobe.com.



Movies Watched, May 2020

Still from “The Assistant” Directed by Kitty Green

Sometimes when I watch a movie I feel the urge to write about it immediately, but events rarely allow me to act on that. In the case of director Kitty Green’s “The Assistant,” which I watched early last month, that time gap is a particular shame. It’s a very good movie, a superb one, even. And yet, writing about it now, in late June, feels like a real disservice to a film that might already have missed its moment in time.

“The Assistant” is a fictional take on life in the orbit of a Harvey Weinstein-like character, seen through the eyes of his executive assistant, played by Julia Garner. It follows a very long, ostensibly routine and casually horrific day in the life of Garner’s character, allowing us to experience the myriad indignities, humiliations and crushing disappointments of life in the employ of a powerful psychopath.

This is likely the very best narrative film to come out of the #MeToo era, but its release in the spring of 2020 feels unfortunate. Even if it had been released just half a year earlier, say at about the same time that Ronan Farrow’s book “Catch and Kill” came out, it might have really found an audience. But when I watched it in early May, still in the midst of quarantine living, when it had gone straight to video-on-demand and without a theatrical release, it felt like few others were talking about it, much less watching it. And now, with the civil unrest over the killing of George Floyd, time really seems to have gotten away from the filmmakers.

Which is a tremendous shame. Not only does “The Assistant” offer an incisive commentary on the power structures that enable abusive men, but it does so with an extremely deft level of artfulness. There’s a unique quality to the whole film that’s weirdly vague and almost blurry. Characters don’t get names—Garner’s character is only named in the credits, and her employer is only ever referred to by his pronouns—and actions aren’t explicit. At a pivotal moment in the film, the protagonist can’t even describe the principal conflict she’s experiencing in any material detail.

At the same time everything in this movie still somehow manages to be incredibly specific and even unambiguous in its emotional power. The film is never less than direct in its commentary, and is even unflinching in addressing the complexities of the abuse. Nothing is named, but no one in the film—or the audience—is under any misapprehensions about what’s happening and who’s involved. Superficially, it bears the hallmarks of a small, independent feature film—it was filmed in just a few, modest locations, without any major set pieces. But it’s constrained and succinct not necessarily because that’s all that its budget allowed, but rather because that narrow focus allows the story to be told with exactly the incisiveness and searing accuracy that the filmmakers intended.

As for the rest of what I watched in May: I managed a bit of a comeback, fitting in twenty-two movies watched, up significantly from April’s total. Here is the full list:

  1. Sonic the Hedgehog” (2020) ★
    Mercilessly pointless.
  2. The Assistant” (2019) ★★★★
  3. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” (1985) ★★★
    Rewatched. Better than I remembered.
  4. The Lion King” (1994) ★★★
    First time seeing this.
  5. The Avengers” (2012) ★★★
    The only Marvel movie with a real script.
  6. Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours To Kill” (2020) ★★★½
    Sharp as ever.
  7. The Incredibles” (2004) ★★★★
    Rewatched for the umpteenth time and at first reluctantly, but by the end I remembered why this is so great..
  8. Moonraker” (1979) ★½
    Rewatched. Punishingly plodding.
  9. Ash Is Purest White” (2018) ★★★
    Quietly epic travelogue of change in modern China
  10. Bringing Up Baby” (1938) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. My kids did not really appreciate this, but I did.
  11. Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. More and more, this seems like the best film of the last decade.
  12. Incredibles 2” (2018) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Doesn’t live up to its predecessor, but very good nevertheless.
  13. Tigertail” (2020) ★★
    A short film stretched to feature length and without good reason.
  14. Charlie’s Angels” (2019) ★½
    A disservice to women.
  15. Groundhog Day” (1993) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. Perfect.
  16. Onward” (2020) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Don’t sleep on this one. It’s great.
  17. Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai” (2011) ★★★½
    Worthwhile if not entirely successful remake of the original 1962 masterpiece.
  18. The Gold Rush” (1925) ★★★★
    Charlie Chaplin goes prospecting in Alaska, digs up remarkable pathos.
  19. Kuffs” (1992) ★
    An embarrassment to the 1990s.
  20. Kubo and the Two Strings” (2016) ★★½
    Compellingly mythic until its Hollywood ending.
  21. Apollo 13” (1995) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Irresistible confidence porn.
  22. Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound” (2019) ★★½
    Documentary about audio production for film is revealing but rarely inspiring.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I watched in April, in March, in February, in January, and a full list of everything I watched in 2019, in 2018, in 2017 and in 2016. And, if you’re really interested, you can follow along with my movie diary at letterboxd.com.



What Police Stories Teach Us

TV Police

What we choose to watch in film and on television says so much about us because these stories offer up, in plain sight, an encoding of our values in narrative form. If you want to understand the hopes, dreams, anxieties and fears of a people, just look to their entertainment.

The past several weeks since the killing of George Floyd have coincided with a cultural realization—a frustratingly belated one, for many—that the stories we watch about police and the criminal justice system are crucial and even overt pillars in our society’s structural racism. And we’ve all been okay with it, even enthusiastic about it, for as long as these stories have been told. Two recent examinations of police portrayals on television bear this out.

Fiction vs. Fact

The first is a report released in January by the non-profit research group Color of Change and The USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center, which offers fascinating and unprecedented insight into the way scripted television shows manipulate our perceptions of policing and crime. Titled “Normalizing Injustice: The Dangerous Misrepresentations That Define Television’s Scripted Crime Genre,” the report bills itself as “A comprehensive study of how television’s most popular genre excludes writers of color, miseducates people about the criminal justice system and makes racial injustice acceptable.” Researchers watched hundreds of episodes from twenty-six different scripted crime shows from the 2017-2018 television series, while also collecting demographic data for the shows’ creators, show runners and writers, as well as data on the shooting locations and police and military consultants used by the producers.

Normalizing Injustice found that the crime TV genre—the main way that tens of millions of people learn to think about the criminal justice system—advanced debunked ideas about crime, a false hero narrative about law enforcement, and distorted representations about Black people, other people of color and women. These shows rendered racism invisible and dismissed any need for police accountability. They made illegal, destructive and racist practices within the criminal justice system seem acceptable, justifiable and necessary—even heroic. The study found that the genre is also incredibly un-diverse in terms of creators, writers and showrunners: nearly all white.

The report is available to download in full but there’s an abridged version too, which makes for a brisk overview of many troubling trends. These include the finding that a majority of the studied series depicted ostensibly virtuous police performing wrongful or unlawful acts, thereby framing extrajudicial actions as “relatable, forgivable, acceptable and ultimately good.” This behavior goes largely unchallenged in the shows’ scripts, but on the occasions when it is called into question, show writers rely predominantly on characters of color or women to voice the objections, thereby fueling the idea that it’s not up to white males to abide by the letter of the law.

More egregious is the finding that, across virtually all of the shows, these wrongful actions take place entirely outside of the context of racial bias. They seem to posit a world without racial profiling, excessive use of force, prosecutorial overzealousness or other common abuses of the law. Meanwhile, the depiction of who is victimized by crime is largely skewed towards white men and women, with show plots least likely to focus on black women as victims. It’s as if the shows go so far out of their way to present an ideal of race-blind law enforcement that they’re oblivious to the unmistakably racist signals that they’re sending about who should be policed and who should be protected.

There is a lot of data in this “Normalizing Injustice” report and if you watch any of these shows, it’s illuminating to pore over the statistics of which series do better or worse in various measures. It’s a reminder of how powerful fiction can be to our understanding of who we are and the world around us.

Fact-ish vs. Fiction

Perhaps even more powerful than pure fiction though is fiction dressed up as documentary content. If you’ve ever watched “Cops,” or the even more bread-and-circuses-style “Live PD” you’ll be familiar with the voyeuristic thrill of “riding along” with real police officers from the comfort of your living room. These shows are the best and worst of television in that they expertly and brazenly exploit the unique advantages of the medium: the ability to reflect back to us a heavily distorted, deeply transfixing vision of our own anxieties and make it available for continuous, passive consumption, all without meaningful consideration of morality or consequences. They’re horrific trash but it takes real fortitude to look away.

Actually, as a society we’ve somehow found the fortitude to do just that in the past few weeks as, shockingly, “Cops” was canceled after thirty-two seasons on 12 Jun and, shortly thereafter, “Live PD” was also shut down despite being the financial and programming cornerstone of its host network. Congrats everyone!

Before we pat ourselves on the back too much though, it’s worth looking back on these broadcasting travesties to understand just how they worked and what damage they’ve done to our society and our understanding of what policing should be. As it happens, a truly superb podcast that launched and wrapped earlier this spring called “Running from Cops” does just that.

There are six or eight episodes, depending on whether you count the bonus shows, and they’re all wildly revealing about the frankly immoral methods that these reality shows’ producers used in order to win good ratings. Host Dan Taberski and his team watched almost eight-hundred and fifty episodes of the show (spanning three decades, amazingly) and quantified a host of patterns including the kinds of crimes captured in each episode, the demographics of the police officers and the alleged perpetrators, the extent to which the process of each crime is documented and much more. The team also did a deep dive into “Live PD” and tracked the efforts of one municipality to ban that show from filming its police force—and the blowback that city leaders received. It’s an impressive piece of investigative journalism, and every episode of the podcast is fully absorbing to listen to.

Still, if you’re just going to listen to one them, the episode that packs the most wallop, that will open your eyes the widest and incite the most indignant outrage is episode six, embedded below. In it, the producers somehow get their hands on the raw footage of one episode of “Cops,” something which is shockingly difficult to do. As they share it with the listener, they cast in stark terms the gap between what the show’s cameras actually captured in “documentary” mode and what was edited, finessed, manipulated and ultimately aired as one of the hundreds of episodes of “Cops” that have run on TV for the past three decades. In short, what made it to air was thoroughly dishonest. I always thought “Cops” was crappy but now it seems truly revolting, just like many of the stories we’ve been telling about policing for far too long.




Six Black Men Standing in Front of “Unarmed” Prints, by Raafi Rivero
“Unarmed” Jersey Designs by Raafi Rivero

Unarmed” is an art project in the form of a series of sports jersey designs honoring victims of police killings. It was created by my friend Raafi Rivero, a filmmaker and photographer based in Brooklyn, New York.

Each jersey is designed in the colors of a victim’s local sports team. The jersey number represents the victim’s age. Stars, if present, represent how many times the victim was shot. I designed the first ‘Unarmed’ jersey in 2013, not long after the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, and first started posting designs to this website in 2014.

The project made its IRL debut a week ago on Flatbush Avenue where Rivero and his collaborators pasted up large-scale prints on store fronts boarded up during the pandemic. You can see local news coverage of the project at abc7ny.com.

“Unarmed” Prints by Raafi Rivero at Kith on Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn
“Unarmed” Prints at Crunch on Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn

I went to see them for myself earlier today. They had attracted some random graffiti already, but the jerseys are still very moving in person. Even viewed as graphics in a web browser though the they’re terribly effective at communicating the overwhelming sadness of their stories. Their bright, playful colors evoke the vibrancy of pro sports, as intended, but when you focus in on the numbers and stars, they evoke with great power the deep, harrowing loss that each victim’s families, friends and community experienced.

Photos of “Unarmed” Jerseys on Flatbush Avenue
Close-up Photo of “Unarmed: George Floyd” Jersey on Flatbush Avenue

Rivero is clear that he has no interest in profiting from these designs or these senseless deaths. Still, I asked him if he planned to fabricate and sell real jerseys for charity. He said he had no firm plans to do so, but he did have one made in honor of Eric Garner as wardrobe in his independently produced film “72 Hours: A Brooklyn Love Story.” (That film is excellent, by the way.)

“Unarmed” Jersey in “72 Hours: A Brooklyn Love Story” by Raafi Rivero

Here is a closer look at two of the designs: one for George Floyd and one for Breonna Taylor.

“Unarmed: George Floyd” by Raafi Rivero
“Unarmed: Breonna Taylor” by Raafi Rivero

See more designs from the project at unarmed.co.



On Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter CSS Tee-shirt


This tee-shirt, which nods to the tech, design and art communities, was designed by James T. Green, a friend and producer on our last season of “Wireframe.” When you buy it, all proceeds go to organizations working to fight structural racism. Get it at jamestgreen.com.


I have only this tiny corner of the Internet that I can call my own, and generally no one expects me to weigh in on the issues of the day beyond the narrow scope of design, tech and movies. But for the past few weeks I’ve felt a need and a responsibility to write something about the horrific murder of George Floyd and the outpouring of protest that’s followed.

Watching video of Derek Chauvin with his knee on George Floyd’s neck in Minneapolis sickened me to my core. But it didn’t really surprise me. And neither did the many, many other similar videos of police brutality that preceded it, going all the way back to the beating of Rodney King in 1991, which happened to take place while I was going to school in Los Angeles. Nor was I really surprised by the many, many videos of police officers brazenly using excessive force on protesters in the wake of Floyd’s death.

America is deeply racist. I’ve known this since I was a kid. We all know this, every one of us, even if we don’t all admit it.

And even if we do believe this, the trick of it all is that we’re not always aware of or willing to acknowledge the depths of this racism, even when we’re looking right at it. There is an indistinct but unmistakably expansive gray area in which even those of us who feel that we are deeply supportive of anti-racist policies, laws and individual conduct can still reside, buffered from the injustice that others cannot avoid. This nether zone not only shields us from perceiving the full extent of racism but it also dampens any urgency we may feel to do anything substantive about it.

The fact of the matter is that for many of us, it’s convenient to ignore the racist aspects of our society. It’s imperative, even. Because unless we ignore it we’ll have to do something about it. We’d need to either accept it, which means accepting our own hypocrisy. Or we’d need to actually take action, which means we’d have to challenge or even relinquish many of the privileges that are granted to us by virtue of the color of our skin or our willingness to look the other way.

It’s a deeply wicked bargain, one way or the other. And I’ve made this bargain myself, if I’m honest. As an Asian-American, I’ve been a victim of racism, but to nowhere near the extent that African Americans are routinely victimized. And I’ve also been complicit in racism’s perpetuation by dint of the fact that I’ve done virtually nothing about it. I’ve been complicit in racism in that I’ve done very little to effect change in a system that benefits me but disadvantages and brutalizes others.


One thing I’ve come to accept since 2016 is that fear, hatred and racism are among the most powerful forces on earth. This has really always been true throughout human history, but in American society we tend to focus only on a handful of their most strident expressions. And even then, we really only consider with any depth our finest moments, those historical events when we’ve been able to marshal truly potent responses: the Civil War, the Second World War, the Civil Rights Movement.

But I’ve also come to understand that the real menace of fear, hatred and racism lies not just in these flash points of history, when the contrast between freedom and tyranny are most stark. The real menace is in how infinitely adaptable and resilient these forces are.

Even after they’ve been put down, disbanded or made to heel, they find a way. They discard their censured hallmarks, whether it’s chains, swastikas or segregation laws. And then they change—evolve—into new, more subtle ways of exerting their influence: mass incarceration, “broken windows” and “stop and frisk” policing, methodical dismantling of social and economic safety nets. These methods come into focus slowly, sporadically, in fits and starts from disparate corners, and with little notice or scant examination. They co-opt progressive ideals and insert themselves into virtuous agendas, and they assert themselves in popular culture and common language. Their inflection point, the moment when they’ve succeeded, is the moment when society at large accepts them as policies, as laws, as common sense, as pragmatism—while assuming that these methods apply to “other people.”

This moment in time, George Floyd’s moment, Breonna Taylor’s moment, Ahmaud Arbery’s moment, is ripe with potential, and we must act on it, must transform it from mass protests to structural change. But our challenge is also that we must also renew our vigilance and our ability to understand how fear, hatred and racism will adapt and change yet again. Because they will.


It feels distasteful to me to salvage any kind of a silver lining from the horror of George Floyd’s death, but I am grateful for the way that public support for Black Lives Matter and for systemic change in policing has surged over just a handful of weeks. That’s reason for hope.

I’m also grateful for the clarifying light that these events have thrown on own my understanding, and humbled by the realization of how much I need to do to live up to the principles that I endeavor to pass along to my children. Particularly the idea that we cannot right the world simply by not doing wrong—we must do right, too, and particularly we must do right by those who have been perpetually wronged. Especially when their lives are being unjustly and viciously sacrificed by a brutal system.

I’m grateful for the understanding of how much work I really need to do. How much I need to learn, how much I need to ask, how much I need to listen, how much I need to speak up, how much I need to read, how much I need to expect of myself and of my family and my friends, how much I need to give, how much I need to change anything I can possibly change.

But it really shouldn’t have taken the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many more for all of us, for me, to get this clarity. I’ve been looking away for far too long, and now that it finally has my attention, I can never look away again.