Saturday, June 27, 2009

Where the Medium Fails (The boring stability of digital photography)

My disappointment with digital cameras has never been about the quality and fidelity of images. It's actually hard to take bad pictures with most digital cameras. With traditional film photography there are lots of points in the process of both taking pictures and creating prints where things can go wrong. These points of susceptibility and potential failure also allow for manipulation and the creation of more interesting images: negatives can be scratched, bleached, colored, sandwiched together and darkroom techniques — like the technically complex zone system developed by Ansel Adams — are endless. The charm of images taken by Holga's (cheap, plastic, medium format cameras) were a result of the plastic lens and the fact that they don't hold the negatives flat in the camera. The also tend to leak in light.

Digital photography has made possible the creation of million and millions of good pictures that are very. very boring to look at.

The built-in camera on Apples iPhone is an exception. Slight camera movements while the picture is being taken results in odd, wavy distortions. Panning the camera quickly produces a smeared abstract image. That's how I created the images below of a leave covered blacktop path. The idea to assemble the images in a grid of squares came from the camera itself. This is exactly how the images are displayed in the cameras gallery view.

Prior to the iPhone I owned a Treo and really like the kind of images I could create in low light settings.

Porpicorn Sighting

It was October 10th 2007 that I revealed to the world the existence of a mythical creature know as the Porpicorn (porpoise/unicorn).

Yesterday I was watching an episode of The Simpons on Hulu, "Mypods and Boomsticks" and there on the screen I spotted... a Porpicorn. I've seen this episode twice before and never noticed it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Misguided Innovation: Motorized Cooler

I actually saw a man riding one of these yesterday. His toddler son was sitting in front, riding with him. I had no idea these things existed...

Manufactured by Cruzin Cooler, (from their website): Cruzin Cooler combines two basic necessities of life, the ability to have cold food or a beverage handy along with the means to get somewhere, without walking. The Cruzin Cooler is light-weight, comes in various sizes and colors and is available in gas and electric models, with up to a 10 mile range on electric models and 30 miles on the gas models.

The cooler is light and small enough to fit in most trunks. The cooler can be used for hunting, sporting events, races, camping, golf or even a trip to the grocery store to keep your food cold all the way home. Marine use will be popular for the new cooler allowing you to take your fish/drinks/food/ ice to and from your boat with powered assistance and braking. Simply ride or power your way up and down ramps.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Adobe Font Finder

It took Adobe what? 20 years to create a font finder app.

Typography is a good example of something that lacks a well developed, qualifiable way of describing and speaking about it. Particularly what the stylistic attributes connotate. Coming up with longer and longer lists of categories (like decorative, humorous, distressed) is a childish and unsophisticated way to address this. The approach to things like this should be obvious by now: tagging and folksonomy. Letting the design community ad tags, points of reference — like projects particular fonts were used in — as well as quirky oblique, descriptions would have developed such a rich and interesting discourse over time.

Burger King Blow Job Ad

Absolutely nothing subtle or subliminal about this one.

I'm not even sure what to say about this kind of stuff anymore. This sort of thing is becoming so common that I'm not surprised or shocked. I'm not amused or offended. I feel just a little numb, resigned disappointment. But it fades and is forgotten quickly.

Via Kathleen ViaBuzzfeed

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bacardi "Ugly Girfriend" campaign

This campaign goes way beyond the kind of "retro-sexism" you see in work done for Axe Deoderant. I can't believe this is a campaign aimed at female consumers. Just stupid. Bacardi and their agency deserve all the consumer outrage they are sure to get.

"Shop like never before, with your own freckled pile of cellulite?" Unreal.

VIA Jezebel

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The dying craft of classic print advertising

A classic piece of print advertising. There are a lot of things I love about this piece. The first, and what sets it apart from so much of advertising today is the unassuming quiet manner in which it lays itself out and invites a quiet consideration, an almost philosophical contemplation. Although the image is provacative, it is very much a word based ad. It's not selling on image, brand or or visual sizzle.

The name Porsche is include in the small set headline, but the logo does not appear on the ad. There are no tell tale parts that would identify the laid out pieces as belonging to a Porsche.

The Porsche ad is created very much in the style of the headline, image, body format that was pioneered so magnificently by Doyle Dane Bernbach for Volkswagen in the 60's, but is more subtle than those generally where. In the classic format the juxtaposition of headline and image was resolved in a "got it" moment in the readers mind. You generally didn't have to read the copy, it provided expansion that followed from the arresting moment created by image and copy. The meaning here folds out from image to headline and finally pays off in what is a great example of finely crafted copy.

As this sort of advertising fades from the pages of publications that are themselves on the verge of extinction I find it hard not to feel a bit of nostalgia for a form that feels, compared to the today's visual culture, almost "literary".

We are at the end of an era. For 50 years the huge dollars spent by automobile manufacturers were the financial backbone for the advertising industry and the media that they supported.

A collection of classic VW print ads by Doyle Dane Bernbach.

Big thanks to KidCobra for sending me this ad and giving me a moment of reflection. Happy father's Day and happy driving brother!

Friday, June 19, 2009

NYC Murder Map

The New York Times does a great job of creating small interactive features on their site. The New York City Murder Map may be the most provocative to date. Each blue dot on the map represents a murder. A slider allows you to change the timeframe to display murders by year or in the last 30 days.

What surprised me was how each dot is able to tell a tiny story just by the display of the weapon, motive and the gender, ethnicity and age of perpetrator and victim. The date and time as well as victim's name are occasionally included.)

If you live in New York, or are familiar with the city, and you see that a white 60 year old male killed a white 61 year old female with a knife at 11:15pm on a June night in Chelsea and your mind starts to take over from there and fill in a possible story.

Twitter updates work in the same way. A short statement from a friend can be enough of a hint that you know what is happening in their world, it pulls all of sorts of details forward from everything you already know about them. Both in a way work like the shower scene in Hitchcock's Psycho, you see the knife raise and blood splatter but most of gory details are filled in by your mind.

There are other example of interactive features I posted about in the past, including others from the NY Times under the "data visualization" and "information design" tags below.

Thanks for the link Kathleen

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

On Aesthetics: Indiscriminate Palettes

Researchers gave 18 volunteers five food samples to try in a blind taste test -- and only three were able to identify the canine fodder, according to a paper by the American Assn. of Wine Economists.

LA TimesThe taste of dog food? It's harder than you think to identify:
That's because you probably wouldn't be able to differentiate which is which in a blind tasting, according to a study being released today.

Researchers provided 18 volunteers five food samples to try in a blind taste test. Only three were able to identify the canine fodder.

"We have this idea in our head that dog food won't taste good and that we would be able to identify it, but it turns out that is not the case," said Robin Goldstein, a co-author of the study, which was published online Thursday as a working paper by the American Assn. of Wine Economists.

Goldstein said the tasting demonstrated that "context plays a huge role in taste and value judgment," even though researchers warned the participants that one of the five foods they were going to taste was dog food.

The five samples came from a wide price range and were processed to have a similar consistency. The foods were duck liver mousse, pork liver pâté, two imitation pâtés -- pureed liverwurst and Spam -- and Newman's Own dog food.

Thanks for the link Jabe, priceless.

Foie Gras and Alzheimer's Disease

This make me, someone who ate foie gras at least once a week for several years, a bit uncomfortable. (A big FU to Allan the third for intentionally tampering with my ignorance.)

From NEUROPHILOSOPHY: Eating foie gras may increase risk of Alzheimer’s

"Researchers from the University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine, in collaboration with a group from Uppsala University in Sweden, have found a potential link between foie gras consumption and the development of a number of amyloidogenic diseases.

The amyloidogenic diseases include Alzheimer’s Disease, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), tuberculosis, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. They are termed “amyloidogenic” because they all involve a process called amyloidosis, whereby genetic mutations lead to the synthesis of abnormally folded and insoluble proteins which accumulate within or around cells and interfere with their function. In all the amyloidogenic diseases, the mutated proteins are believed to accumulate by a process called nucleation (or “seeding”).

Thus, the consumption of foie gras is potentially hazardous to those who are genetically predisposed to (i.e. have a family history of) amyloidogenic disorders. Discounting the consumption of infected brain tissue (during, for example, the ritual of mortuary cannibalism), this is the first time that a dietary component has been implicated in the amyloidogenic diseases."

The finding from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

Abstract: Amyloidogenic potential of foie gras

Amyloidogenic potential of foie gras

From The Sherman Foundation Archives:

A Foie Gras Parable

Foie Gras Survey: Casa Mono (NYC)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Art & Copy (Advertising Industry Documentary, Sundance 2009)

Art & Copy, Directed by Doug Pray: "Advertising’s profound effect on modern culture is unquestionable. Art & Copy takes us inside a powerful, yet surprisingly unknown, industry to reveal the most influential creative forces tapping the zeitgeist of our time."

Sundance Film Festival: Art & Copy

Sundance 2009: Doug Pray's "Art & Copy" acquired by Arthouse Films

Another documentary to take on advertising from a cultural and creative perspective is Hermann Vaske's Documentary starring Dennis Hopper: The Fine Art of Separating People From Their Money

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Toxoplasma (parasite) may cause humans to have automobile accidents

The parasite Toxoplasma spreads itself by infecting the brains of rodents, causing them to engage in reckless behavior and be eaten cats. The cats then pass the parasite along through their feces.

Humans can contract the parasite by eating undercooked meat from animals that have been in contact with cat feces. Infected people (with rhesus negative blood type) seem to suffer from slow reaction times.

From NewScientist magazine: Parasite may increase your odds of an auto accident
Jaroslav Flegr and colleagues at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, had previously discovered that toxo affected reaction times mostly in people whose blood type was rhesus negative. So they monitored 3890 military drivers for 18 months. Those who were Rh-negative and had toxo were 2.5 times as likely to have an accident as uninfected drivers who were Rh-negative, or any Rh-positive drivers.

Flegr says these results suggest that between 400,000 and a million of the world's annual road deaths might be due to toxo infection. He suggests regularly testing Rh-negative pilots, air traffic controllers and truck drivers for the infection.

Some interesting facts from Wikipedia:

The USA, at 11% infection rate seems to be one of the countries less-affected by Toxoplasmosis. (

Other countries have much higher infection rates, one of the worst being France at 88%, with a world average of 30%.

As the worst-case example, the 15% of Rh- Frenchmen ( could account for 30% of French accidents.

What I find somewhat strange are all of the incomprehensible diagrams that you find when you do an image search for Toxoplasma. The only thing that seems absolutely clear in each drawing is that it's the cats fault. Could the parasite be infecting the brains of people who study it and make them do these crazy drawings?

A child's drawing???

I went ahead and created by own illustration which I believe is much more easy to understand.

Allan (The 3rd), who sent me the link to the NewScientist article commented: Rarely do you come accross something that has the potential to create an entirely new exculpatory criminal defense genre! And based on parasites! This is like the X-files.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Woman's Facebook photo stolen, used in an ad in the Czech Republic

The photo is being used for an outdoor ad for a "high end" grocery store's delivery service in Prague.

Via King Friday Via CNN: Facebook photo stolen for ad. An American woman discovers her Facebook photo is being used as an ad in another country. (links to CNN video feature)

F is for Friday

It's like a real-life Simpson's moment...

VIA Nixta, VIA Your Body Sucks

3DVR Zombie Game! Skittles

Very cool.

It is widely known that I have a sick, sick Skittles addiction.

VIA CC Champman on Twitter.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Crisis of Credibility: Science

We've become accustomed, even desensitized and accepting of lying in politics, bias in news and scandals in religion but Science is generally granted a higher assumed level of credibility.

In our present society, the embraced, capitalist concept of "competitive advantage" has metastasized into blatant politicization, spin and deception. The behavior is systemic. It would be irrational to believe that science is somehow immune.

The Economist: Liar! Liar!: Fraud in science. Scientists are not quite as honest as might be hoped
Admissions of outright fraud (ie, having fabricated, falsified or modified data to improve the outcome at least once during a scientific career) were low. According to the meta-analysis, 2% of researchers questioned were willing to confess to this. But lower-level fraud was rife. About 10% confessed to questionable practices, such as “dropping data points based on a gut feeling” or “failing to present data that contradict one’s previous research”—though this figure was just a straight average of the underlying studies, since the relevant parts of the underlying studies were too disparate to run through the meta-analysis.

Moreover, when it came to airing suspicions about colleagues, the numbers went up. The meta-analysis suggested that 14% of researchers in the underlying studies had seen their colleagues fabricate, falsify, alter or modify data. If the question was posed in more general terms, such as running experiments with deficient methods, failing to report deficiencies or misrepresenting data, the straight average suggested that 46% of researchers had seen others get up to such shenanigans. In only half of the cases, though, had the respondent to a survey tried to do anything about the misconduct he said he had witnessed.

NYTimes: Merck Paid for Medical ‘Journal’ Without Disclosure
From 2002 through 2005, the Australian affiliate of Merck paid the Australian office of Elsevier, an academic publisher, to publish eight compilations of scientific articles under the title Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, a spokesman for Elsevier said.

The Merck marketing compilation was unusual in that it looked like an independent peer-reviewed medical journal. It even called itself a “journal,” without indicating in any of the issues that Merck had paid for it.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

the very dark things #2

the very dark things #1

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Uncanny Valley: The Creepy Side of Virtual Reality

A video demo from Lionhead Studios, Milo Project. This looks like a substantial leap forward in the development of interactive, virtual creatures.

We seem to be on the edge of the "uncanny valley". The uncanny valley is the phenomenon that occurs when robots or virtual human come very close to appearing human but are still just a little bit off, producing an response in humans that ranges from eerie unease to repulsion.

From the Wikipedia entry for: Uncanny valley
Mori's hypothesis states that as a robot is made more humanlike in its appearance and motion, the emotional response from a human being to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong repulsion. However, as the appearance and motion continue to become less distinguishable from a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once more and approaches human-to-human empathy levels.[5]

This area of repulsive response aroused by a robot with appearance and motion between a "barely human" and "fully human" entity is called the uncanny valley. The name captures the idea that a robot which is "almost human" will seem overly "strange" to a human being and thus will fail to evoke the empathetic response required for productive human-robot interaction.[5]

An article on the Slate magazine of the phenomenon of the uncanny valley in movies and video games: The Undead Zone: Why realistic graphics make humans look creepy.

The problem, Mori realized, is in the nature of how we identify with robots. When an android, such as R2-D2 or C-3PO, barely looks human, we cut it a lot of slack. It seems cute. We don't care that it's only 50 percent humanlike. But when a robot becomes 99 percent lifelike—so close that it's almost real—we focus on the missing 1 percent. We notice the slightly slack skin, the absence of a truly human glitter in the eyes. The once-cute robot now looks like an animated corpse. Our warm feelings, which had been rising the more vivid the robot became, abruptly plunge downward. Mori called this plunge "the Uncanny Valley," the paradoxical point at which a simulation of life becomes so good it's bad.

As video games have developed increasingly realistic graphics, they have begun to suffer more and more from this same conundrum. Games have unexpectedly fallen into the Uncanny Valley.

Most by now have heard of Real Dolls, the life like sex dolls that cost thousands of dollars. What you may not have seen is the fascinating, albeit bizarre, documentary called Guys and Dolls about a group of men and their relationships with these dolls.

Musical Chairs (dark themes in children's games and global crises)

I'm fascinated by children’s games, especially the pre-board game toys intended for younger children that involve physical participation.

One of the reasons I'm so fond of these games is their dark underlying themes: "time is running out" (Perfection, Beat the Clock), "impending doom"/"immanent disaster" (Don't Break the Ice, Don't Spill the Beans, Jaws) "artificial scarcity/struggle for resources" (Hungry Hungry Hippos) and "last man standing" (Stay Alive).

These narrative themes, built into the interaction of these games are also the themes that structure and haunt our lives. In the fortunate lives of those in developed countries, "work" is the specialized efforts undertaken to satisfy needs and acquire what is desired. In most of the world, struggling to fulfill basic needs is a constant, defining aspect of life. For everyone, the sense that years are passing and the end is getting nearer increases as the losses of days and the deceased mount around us.

Presently, the global crises threatening us (we are constantly reminded) are conditions of scarcity (the economy, peak oil, food prices, worldwide hunger) and interestingly, abundance of resources (the ills of greed and consumer capitalism) and well as the "impending doom, must act now, time is running out" spectres of climate change, terrorism and pandemic.

My all-time favorite game, and the one I think reflects so eerily human existence in our present age is Musical Chairs, the game in which party guests form a circle around a ring of chairs. There is 1 fewer chairs than players. Music begins to play and the partygoers move in a circle around the ring of chairs. When the music abruptly stops the players scramble to sit down. One player in each round is eliminated. Everyone stands, another chair is removed, and the next round beings. This continues until only 1 person is left.

Music Chairs has many of the themes that I love so much in the children's games I referenced: artificial scarcity, struggle for resources, a gradual extinction until a single player remains. It also involves full physical participation as opposed to the use of a game piece proxy. This may be what gives the game its unique character: the emotional turn that takes place.

Musical Chairs is a simple and easy enough game that everyone can join in, and the more that do, the merrier. In the beginning the spirit of the party defines the mood. It starts slowly, more like a jaunty dance line that a competitive ring of contestants. The weak, the slow and the less engaged and aggressive are the first casualties. As the rounds play out, resources diminish and the intensity heightens. The dance line tightens into a narrowing downward spiral and an increasingly personal struggle. In the final rounds it can get ugly and clumsy and personal: pushing, falling, chairs tossed and turned. What starts with an air of cheer and pageantry becomes a heated and desperate struggle for what little is left by a remaining few. All is gone but a lone winner and scattered remains.

-The Sherman Foundation
"Our Side is Winning"

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Scientist's understanding of animals finally catching up with that of farmers and pet owners

Fundamental assumptions about animal consciousness — that they do not have self-awareness or the ability to create mental models of the external world — are slowly being revised. The position, long held by science, is that self-aware consciousness was uniquely human. In the last few years many pieces have appeared in the general news on studies that show animals are capable of deceit, duplicity, premeditate behavior as well as an innate sense of fairness (National Geographic: Monkeys Show Sense Of Fairness, Study Says).

It's a little unfair to pick on science in general, as an institution, but really, how am I to take seriously scientific perspectives on evolution, materialism, spirituality or the mysteries of the universe when these long help assumptions and chauvinisms persist so "doggedly". I find I have no choice but to remain, on almost all things of importance, undecided and uncertain. ;)

Recent articles on this theme:

Monkeys appear to be capable of feeling regret. From the NYTimes: In That Tucked Tail, Real Pangs of Regret?

The latest data comes from brain scans of monkeys trying to win a large prize of juice by guessing where it was hidden. When the monkeys picked wrongly and were shown the location of the prize, the neurons in their brain clearly registered what might have been, according to the Duke University neurobiologists who recently reported the experiment in Science.

“This is the first evidence that monkeys, like people, have ‘would-have, could-have, should-have’ thoughts,” said Ben Hayden, one of the researchers. Another of the authors, Michael Platt, noted that the monkeys reacted to their losses by shifting their subsequent guesses, just like humans who respond to a missed opportunity by shifting strategy.

From the Economist: Unnatural selection: Animals have personalities, too. That may be biasing studies of them

THAT people have personalities goes without saying. There are the shy, the cruel, the kind, the sceptical. Pet owners will quickly argue that their animals have personalities too. It is hardly uncommon to hear a dog described as friendly or inquisitive, and scientific research has confirmed that dogs do indeed have personality traits similar to those found in people. In dogs, for instance, these are usually referred to as energy-level, affection-aggression, anxiety-calmness and intelligence-stupidity; in people they are extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness to experience and conscientiousness.

Yet in spite of all this, rather little has been done to find out if such characteristics exist in wild animals. One such study, published recently in Animal Behaviour, shows not only that some do, but also that the presence of such traits is skewing the way data are collected by researchers.

Previously, on The Sherman Foundation: Deceit & Murder and Sex and Shopping

Related external links:
From the NYTimes: A Highly Evolved Propensity for Deceit

From The Economist: Of music, murder and shopping

From Do Apes Laugh When Tickled?

TED Conference: Joshua Klein: The amazing intelligence of crows