Monday, March 31, 2008

Technology and Culture: The foreseen and the unforeseen

Time has a similar effect on both technology and culture. In both cases the original intentions and foreseen effects are unsettled and proven wrong. In the case of technology had some of the major effects of the internet been visible during the development of the ARPANET, for instance

• The end of the news media's hegemony and control
• The numerous effects of social and technological disintermediation
• Instantaneous delivery of porn directly into kid's bedrooms

not only would they not have funded the California, hippie, computer-scientists working on it, they would have turned the guns on them, done everything in their power to stop them.

Of all the grandiose predictions, wild-eyed IPOs and elaborate business plans hatched during the 1.0 dotcom days through now, who would have guessed that the largest and most stable business model would turn out to be the sale and delivery of traditional, paper bound books, (insert "Debbie Downer" sound effect here).

I have similar predictions for the world of culture as well. 500 years from now what is evaluated as "culture" will include very little of the stuff sold in NY's Chelsea galleries. It will be the remnants of the military industrial complex, the Navy Destroyers and ICBM missile silos. Those are our monolithic works, our great pyramids.

Here is a prediction with a shorter timeline. Want to make a smart investment in "American Art"? Don't bid on work at Sothebys, go to eBay motors and buy and American Muscle Car in mint condition. More than Jazz, Rock 'N Roll and Baseball combined, these cars encapsulate more aspects of American industry, mythology, spirit and culture and ultimately our demise (oil, petrol politics and pollution from the internal combustion engine).

The Body Transformed

De Niro made it tough on all actors when he transformed himself for the role he played in Raging Bull.

De Niro put it on again for The Untouchables. I heard that he ate 12 jelly donuts washed down with a six-pack every night before bed to put on the 60 lbs.

Jared Leto is the latest actor to transform himself, for the portrayal of Mark David Chapman in the upcoming film about Lennon's killer.

The instance that confuses me is Sally Struthers weight gain for those ads about starving 3rd world kids in the 80s. Maybe it was done so the children seemed even skinner by comparison?

The El Camino, the mullet of automobiles is back!

Or the Spork of cars if you prefer. In two versions.


And "way cooler" Jap. Toyota once again trounces GM... right in the feelings!!!

Tears of a Crocodile Clown: Sick Days (early bouts with megalomania)

It's rare that I write about myself in this blog but I've decided to post an excerpt from my ongoing memoirs project "Tears of a Crocodile Clown".

Sick Days

When I was about 7 years old my grandfather gave me what I believed was a burgundy smoking jacket. In retrospect I have no idea what it really was. It could have been a maroon bathrobe... or maybe even a dog blanket. My imagination at the time had no bounds.

During those elementary school years, when I was home sick from school, I had a very specific routine. On the small black and white television set in the bedroom that I shared with my younger brother I would tune into "Bill Kennedy at the Movies". Bill Kennedy was a former actor that in his later years would host an afternoon show that featured vintage movies. At commercial breaks, Bill would take calls from fans and throw out bits of trivia about the actors and film.

I would sit, perched on the top bunk of our bunk bed, wearing my burgundy smoking jacket at watching Bill Kennedy at the movies. I would have my mother prepare and bring up to me tea, with milk and sugar and toast, buttered and cut into 4 aristocratic triangles.

Spread out before me on the bunk would be National Geographic magazines. While I sipped my tea and watched "Bill Kennedy" I would peruse through the magazines imagining they were "reports" from all corners of the world about the people that I'd conquered.

My ambitions have been growing ever since.

Art School at the Sherman Foundation: Defamiliarizing Music and Sound

In high school I used to record the audio from the Transformers cartoon. Most of the dialog is robotic voices but the majority of audio is sound effects, explosions etc. The end result can more accurately described as a sonic landscape with a loose narrative.

In art school I used my 4 track recorder to make a cassette recording of The Smiths first album that played backwards. I would tell people that it was an outsider artist/musician named Pedro Piniata. (There are some beautiful, spooky moments particularly the way Miserable Lie ends (which is really the beginning).

In his diary, Brian Eno talks about creating a 3 minute recording of ambient street noise and listening to it over and over. He goes on to describe the way he began to hear it as if it were a piece of recorded music, with moments of anticipation, expectation, etc.

I just discovered a really amazing piece in this same tradition, Beethoven's 9th Symphony stretched to 24 hours without pitch distortion.
There is a link here to an iTunes radio station that plays the 24 hour piece continually.

It really is an amazing listening experience.

Information Design: Hans Rosling and Gapminder

The most dynamic and engaging example of information design I have ever seen. This is Hans Rosling, demonstrating his Gapminder software tool at TED.

Explore for yourself, Gapminder.Org.


I've grown a bit tired of all the kinetic typography videos animated against movie monologues but I like the self referential nature of this one.

Branded: Lil Kim and Lil Pigs

Friday, March 21, 2008

What is the Native American word for slut?

Indian DNA Links to 6 'Founding Mothers'

NEW YORK (AP) -- Nearly all of today's Native Americans in North, Central and South America can trace part of their ancestry to six women whose descendants immigrated around 20,000 years ago, a DNA study suggests.

Those women left a particular DNA legacy that persists to today in about about 95 percent of Native Americans, researchers said.

When I first thought about this stat and the number of different tribes there are I thought this was improbable. Then I remembered how "efficiently" the "Indian problem" was handled. I shouldn't joke about that, it's actually a disgusting travesty.


Study: 1 in 4 teen girls has an STD

CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) -- At least one in four teenage girls nationwide has a sexually transmitted disease, or more than 3 million teens, according to the first study of its kind in this age group.

A virus that causes cervical cancer is by far the most common sexually transmitted infection in teen girls aged 14 to 19, while the highest overall prevalence is among black girls -- nearly half the blacks studied had at least one STD. That rate compared with 20 percent among both whites and Mexican-American teens, the study from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.

I'm speechless. What is that Native American word for slut???


Fingernail Design, Styleboards and Culture

I just came across this video and seeing the styleboards for all of the different nail designs got me thinking about... all sorts of things.

Kid Sister ft. Kanye West - "Pro Nails" from Ruben Fleischer on Vimeo.

A lot of the pointless conversations about art and culture evaporate if you stop using words like "ART" and put all of those endeavors and behaviors into broader categories of "style making behavior" and "aesthetics".

I will be the first to admit that seeing those long, ornately designed daggers trigger gut level reactions that make me wince a bit but that speaks to my cultural prejudices and doesn't say or explore anything very interesting. Nail design is another example where people isolate something as a aethetic display and then increasingly push and elaborate the distinctive features. (In the past I've cited things like spray tans and jean cuffs .)

Liberty Nail Design: Nail Art Gallery

This image is a page from CND's Look Book

I've always been fascinated by styleboards. There's something mesmerizing about staring at menu of visual options. The theater of the "pick the one you want" experience also seems to reference childhood moments of being rewarded or receiving a gift or prize. When I was a child the dentist I went to would give you a cheap plastic ring and the end of every visit. The receptionist would pull out a big foam board with rows and rows of toy rings. (I was always a big fan of the black spider rings.

Styleboards also refernece a very fundamental aspect of what it is to be a human and create culture. The process of imagination is the act of creating an internal "possible world" and mentally placing yourself in it. Culture is the process by which we physically manifest a "possible world" and place ourselves in it.

And in some instances, like ordering Chinese food, its just easier to look at pictures of plates of food and give the numbr to the person taking the order.

Magnetic Ink

Magnetic Ink, Process video from flight404 on Vimeo.

Architectural Easter Egg Bunny

For your Easter Weekend pleasure.
This is a "reprint" of a post from October of 2006.

An Easter Egg is a hidden suprise in software and some content types.

From Wikipedia:
A virtual Easter egg is a hidden message or feature in an object such as a movie, book, CD, DVD, computer program, or video game. The term draws a parallel with the custom of the Easter egg hunt observed in many western nations. The origin of the term is sometimes falsely attributed to the movie Return of the Living Dead, where a military officer uses it as a code word for lost U.S. government containers of zombies created by a chemical spill, or to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, in which actual Easter eggs are visible in certain shots (under Frank N. Furter's throne, for example). Return of the Living Dead was not released until 1985, and Atari's Adventure, released in 1978, contained what is thought to be the first video game Easter egg (the programmer, Warren Robinett's name).

In computer programming, the underlying motivation is probably to put an individual, almost artistic touch on an intellectual product which is by its nature standardised and functional, although Warren Robinett's motivation was more likely to gain recognition, since video game programmers were routinely uncredited then. It is analogous to signature motifs such as Diego Rivera including himself in his murals or Alfred Hitchcock including himself in the opening scenes of his movies (the latter known as a cameo).

There is an Architecutral Easter Egg in NYC.
There is a building with 2 revolving doors at its entrance. There is an enclosed space space between the doors. As you pass through the doors, if you are a keen observer (or someone shows you this) there is a slit, about 9 inces wide, viewable from the revolving door as you pass through it. The slit peeks into the enclosed space between the doors in which there is a sculture, about 3/4 life-size of a naked girl. It is lite from above and rotates slowly.

The story I was told is that the building was once either a Playboy Club or Playboy offices in NYC. When playboy left the new new owners of the building enclosed it, but left it as a homage to its history. I have not varified this.

And I am not going to tell you where it is. If you want to see it, you'll have to do some hunting.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

In Cold Blood: Puppy Throw

US Soldier throws puppy off cliff - Watch more free videos

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

"A Video Movie Could Improve Your Life"

VIA dlisted

Saturday, March 01, 2008

On Strategy: Faking It

Years ago, when I was working at a digital shop we had a client, a large financial services company we were doing a very big implementation project for. The budget and timeframes were unreasonable and unrealistic, so we did what people usually do in companies built on the "consultancy" model. We stayed late every night and had meeting after meeting to go over the project plan again and again and again to try and figure out how to do the do the impossible (as defined). One of the big issues was not having enough time to properly go through a design phase, do usability testing and then feed that back into another round of design.

Tired of going through this ridiculous process of beating our heads against a wall I proposed an idea: "Let's fake the entire usability process, the whole fucking thing, we'll get people to pretend they're participants, shoot video of the usability sessions and draft fake reports documenting results. We'll fake it, just like NASA did with the moon landings. It solves our timeframe issues and the surplus cash increases our margins."

The people on the team I shared this with were aghast (particularly the usability specialist.) I understand it wasn't necessarily the most ethical solution but the situation sucked and the team was becoming exhausted, defeated and adopting a very poor disposition (and we hadn't even started working on the project yet, we were still in the planning phase). Looking back I really wish I had pushed harder gotten the team to agree to "pull a moon landing".

In those days we didn't have a lot of success selling usability to clients, they didn't want to pay for it and they never could accept the impact it has on project duration. As a result, we didn't get to do it very often. Faking the process would have taught everyone on the team a lot about how usability is done. Creating any kind of "theater" forces you to ask yourself very basic questions about how things work. Creating a Hollywood set for instance is much more difficult that shooting in a real location. You have to think about and create all of those details that make something "real". I have no doubt we would have had great insights about and made improvements to the usability process had we done it.

Brian Eno on "the replica": Imagine seeing two identical Jackson Pollacks side-by-side...

Eno on "the replica", conspiracy and deception from TheShermanFoundation on Vimeo.

The biggest reason however, is that it would have reinstilled in the team a sense of possibility, a valuable and powerful sense of confidence that they can pull anything off. Something everyone could have used in that industry after the bomb dropped. There is ALWAYS a way, its not always pretty, or right, or fair but there is always a solution and maintaining that sense of empowered possibility is better than that poisonous, paralytic state of accepted defeat.

"When you're getting run out of town, make it look like a parade".

From The Sherman Foundation archives:

Maintaining a Sense of Uncertainty: Why I tell people that I don't believe that man has been to the moon.

Dangerous Ideas: Magic By Misdirection

When Harry Met Sally, the fake O