January 31, 2004

Product Placement

From the Website for the SF Indie film festival, a report of a new film by the IP activist group Negativland:
Steve Seid, Video Curator for Pacific Film Archive and Peter Conheim of Negativland present a finely tuned montage of egregious product placement shots, drawing on 70 films—removing the gratuitous and unnecessary plots and leaving behind just the exhilarating core of consumerism. Commercial cinema is becoming just that, a commercial—ninety minutes of seamless advertising, corralling all artistry within the comfy confines of the saleable. In years past, the propmaster, like Wile E. Coyote, had a pantry filled with generic products: Acme beer, Acme cereal, or Acme explosives. Later, product placement infiltrated the Dream Factory with an array of lovely goods and foodstuffs—sneaky salutations to the merchandised environment. Now Product Placements surface in forms more numerous than flavors at a Baskin-Robbins: insinuated into dialogue, thrown front and center like loss leaders, even engulfing entire features until they become little more than cross-promotions for toy manufacturers. That most forward-thinking of films, Minority Report, heightened the practice with its talking Armani billboards and customer-friendly Gap, raking in a cool twenty-five million in the process. Value-Added Cinema offers up the stuff dreams are made of.
[quote apparently from the Chicago Underground Film Festival] The important question is, if film-goers are willing to sell their attention in exchange for entertainment, will the Negativland film still have exchange value? Or will consumers be paid directly by advertisers for their attention? [via boing-boing]
Posted by johndan at 03:16 PM | TrackBack

January 30, 2004

Zed TV: Open Source Television

I'm watching a mini-documentary on a man in Yellowknife (Canada) licking a metal flagpole (he wasn't triple-dog-dared; but he was rescued by someone pouring warm water over his tongue). The clip is part of Zed TV, a show that bills itself as "Open Source Television." ("Zed" is how the letter Z is pronounced in Canada. I learned this on one of several trips to Canada to play hockey when I was a kid.) People submit brief clips (music videos, movies, skits, etc). Mock-documentaries. Geek music videos. Norwegian Rockabilly. Severed heads disgorging antiqued photographs. Aired on CBC and posted to the website; users vote on them. Hybrid media, participatory. Cool.
Posted by johndan at 11:53 PM | TrackBack

Better to Burn Out Than Fade Away

John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) will be the subject of a new reality TV show.
To the dismay of aging punk fans, a British television company announced Monday that the former Sex Pistols singer and angry punk icon -- now known by his real name, John Lydon -- has agreed to appear in the reality show "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!"
Lydon has never been apologetic about selling out--in fact, selling out was always the Sex Pistols' MO.
Posted by johndan at 11:43 AM | TrackBack

Cellphone TV

From a NYT piece:
Sprint's MobiTV service, for example, lets you tune in to any of 13 TV channels, right there on your cellphone. (The service requires one of Sprint's newish "Java-enabled" phones: the Sanyo 8100, VM4500, or RL2500; the Samsung VGA1000; and so on.)"
Here's the interesting part, though:
Truth be told, MobiTV might have been better named MobiSlideShow; although the picture is colorful and sometimes sharp, the image changes only once every couple of seconds. (Contrast with regular TV, which flashes 30 images per second to create video.) The phone devotes the rest of its energy to supplying an uninterrupted soundtrack, with the understanding that your brain is much more tolerant of video interruptions than audio breaks. Particularly in this era of high-definition TV, you might wonder how Sprint has the gall to call this television at all. One frame every two seconds? That's practically a PowerPoint presentation. Yet incredibly, MobiTV works. Your brain is so used to watching regular TV that it fills in the visual blanks.
Posted by johndan at 11:20 AM | TrackBack

January 29, 2004

Getting to Know Your Illness

ThinkGeek is carrying plush microbe toys. You can get furry facsimilies (greatly enlarged) of the little buggers responsible for the common cold, the flu, ulcers, and beer yeast for less than $10 each.


Posted by johndan at 03:01 PM | TrackBack

Old School Videogames

snapshot_on.pngNeave Games has ported a bunch of classic videogames--Space Invaders, PacMan, etc.--to Flash format and posted them here. [via boing-boing]
Posted by johndan at 12:57 PM | TrackBack

January 28, 2004

Anamorphic Pavement Sketches

Julian Beever creates anamorphic pavement drawings: Sketches that appear to be three-dimensional when viewed from a specific perspective.


[via Rob]
Posted by johndan at 04:42 PM | TrackBack

The Technopolitics of Haiku

Now help me, Muse, for
I wish to tell a piece of
controversial math.
Seth Schoen discusses some of the background and process for his 2001 "DeCSS Haiku," the 456-hakiu-long work that embedded technical information on copying DVDs, information that was formally illegal in the U.S. under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. (The film industry recently withdrew its lawsuit against hundreds of people who posted the DeCSS code; an appellate court in Norway upheld the acquittal of Jon Johansen, the teen who originally cracked the CSS protection system for DVDs.) [via boing-boing]
Posted by johndan at 12:48 PM | TrackBack

January 27, 2004

Ars Technica Poll

Ars Technica is running a poll on email clients. Enough said.
Posted by johndan at 11:40 PM | TrackBack

Ars Technica Poll

Ars Technica is running a poll on email clients. Enough said.
Posted by johndan at 11:38 PM | TrackBack

memory and capitalism

monochrom documents the fact that people cannot re-draw logos from memory.


Logos included Adidas (above), Lacoste, Coca-Cola, and others. As you might expect, recall was pretty low (sometimes humorously low--a leaf for Adidas? that must have been the equivalent of drawing a smiley face on your final exam bubble sheet).

But while some point to this as a failure of marketing, I don't think it's really a relevant test of the power of a logo. Logos are about mindshare; consumers only have to recognize them in order to get them to work. They function at the point of purchase decisions, and only require that the consumer be swayed by the accumulated weight of previous impressions toward that logo's product. Reproducing the logo has little to do with it, aside from the possible fact that simple logos might be both easier to recognize and easier to reproduce.

Posted by johndan at 03:08 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Automating Graffitti

A Swiss team develops a highly portable, programmable robot for graffiti writing: che.jpg Their website includes still and mpg's as well as a thirty-seven-page PDF description of the project. Setup (once programming is done) looks to be pretty speedy. Sort of changes the type of skill required for graffiti.

[via Gizmodo]

Posted by johndan at 02:55 PM | TrackBack

January 26, 2004

Gesture Interfaces

Some relatively predictable but still interesting gesture interface technologies from NE Asia Online:
Toshiba Corp's Human Centric Laboratory developed a wearable remote controller for home electronic appliances that uses biological information. Users can turn lighting on and off simply by putting a device with a sensor on their arm, and point at the lighting with a finger. They can also control the brightness and air conditioning of the lighting by waving their arm up and down. All they will have to wear are an acceleration sensor with X, Y, and Z axes as well as a Bluetooth unit.
Not earth shattering, but it's good to see these products moving toward market. [via Gizmodo]
Posted by johndan at 03:45 PM | TrackBack

Organization as Organism

Kottke.org has some thoughts on The Corporation, the film that just one the documentary award at Sundance. The film examines the implications of considering a corporation as an individual (which is roughly how the law treats a corporation--as a person). The film describes it like this:
Self-interested, amoral, callous and deceitful, a corporation's operational principles make it anti-social. It breaches social and legal standards to get its way even while it mimics the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism. It suffers no guilt. Diagnosis: the institutional embodiment of laissez-faire capitalism fully meets the diagnostic criteria of a psychopath.
To which Kottke says,
Corporations have traditionally thought of themselves as the most important entities in the economic ecosystem, but it might be more healthy for society in general to think of them as the organisms that ultimately benefit the humans that comprise them (the genes in the corporation organism, as it were).
This is one of the difficulties of postmodern capitalism: the loss of ontology and teleology substitute endless drift for the old grand narratives about personal and cultural growth. Those narratives were false ones, and often damaging and repressive--but they've been replaced by postmodern capitalism. (Many cultural and literary theorists defined postmodern capitalism with schizophrenia--Deleuze and Guattari most [in]famously.)

Moving beyond postmodernism requires a situated faith--not religious faith, but something like it--in the good of the community, and in the ability of people to make their way in the face of contingency and uncertainty. It requires other things, of course (like beer). But it's difficult for those conditions to emerge in a culture that's increasingly focused on corporate rights over community rights.

[via Kottke.org]
Posted by johndan at 11:24 AM | TrackBack

High Tech + Low Tech in Cambodia

NY Times reports on the "Motoman" program in rural cambodia, which uses a mixture of low tech and high tech tools to create a workable communications network in Rural Cambodia [free registration req'd].
Once a day, an Internet "Motoman" rides a cherry red Honda motorcycle slowly past the school. On the passenger seat is a gray metal box with a short fat antenna. The box holds a wireless Wi-Fi chip set that allows the exchange of e-mail between the box and computers. Briefly, this schoolyard of tree stumps and a hand-cranked water well becomes an Internet hot spot. It is a digital pony express: five Motomen ride their routes five days a week, downloading and uploading e-mail. The system, developed by a Boston company, First Mile Solutions, uses a receiver box powered by the motorcycle's battery. The driver need only roll slowly past the school to download all the village's outgoing e-mail and deliver incoming e-mail. The school's computer system and antenna are powered by solar panels.
These systems are amazing. But I'm worried they fall short. Perhaps it's just the Time's portrayal, but the gee-whiz factor failed to resolve to any concrete benefits for the users of the network. Near the end of the article, the discussion turns to the fact that poor countries tend to use communication access charges--telephone, satellite--to generate income, and the potential for the Internet to overthrow such economic structures. [via boing-boing] In that context, Nicholas Negroponte, who subsidizes one rural school in the area, is quoted touting the benefits of connecting rural schools to the Internet. But given his simultaneous assertion that the government of Cambodia (and other poor countries) would lose substantial income, will the benefits of increased communication outweigh the costs of wider economic collapse? There's a free market economy strand here that remains unexamined. Certainly increasing communication can be a good thing, but the failure to articulate any real benefits in the article, coupled with the potential economic damage, need to be thought about much more critically. Anyone who has spent more than a few minutes watching people overpay for useless junk on eBay should recognize that unrestrained economic activity is not always beneficial to individuals in the system, and not always worth the social cost.
Posted by johndan at 05:43 AM | TrackBack

January 25, 2004

Accumulation versus Circulation

Douglas Rushkoff argues that we no longer need to own information; we just need to access it:
Content Management is for losers. Young people may have discovered the dark truth about digital media: the person who wins the right to store a piece of data has actually won the booby prize.
Rushkoff argues this from the consumer/prosumer perspective, but (perhaps more importantly), from the postmodern capitalist perspective, information needs to remain in motion--circulation generates value in a postmodern economy. The issue of digital hoarding might be seen as the struggle on the border of modernism and postmodernism.
However, I believe that we're finally seeing a new trend emerging thanks, in part, to the proliferation of cell phone technologies that do not allow for the mass accumulation of content but instead provide quick and temporary access to what young people might want. Content for content's sake is out; contextual content is in.
Similarly, mixing might represent the creation of contexts.

The danger, though, likes in efforts to lock content into proprietary systems, which not only control movement but transformation, context, and more. The Windows XP Media Center, for example, will have digital rights management controls built in from the ground up. So access may end up being a red herring: we buy into a proprietary system, but end up losing the ability to actually do cool things.

Posted by johndan at 10:29 PM | TrackBack

now listening

I've configured an app called Kung-Tunes (with some assistance from utrinque paratus' Kung-Tunes Primer) to automatically pull the currently playing track in iTunes and then send the info to my weblog, where it now sits in the sidebar to the right.

I showed this neat hack to Kelly, who said, "Why would you want to do that?"

I couldn't really come up with a reason.

Posted by johndan at 02:27 PM | TrackBack

IKEA as a videogame

Matthew Baldwin has an excellent walkthrough for IKEA as a videogame:
This world is filled with NON-PLAYER CHARACTERS (NPCs), and many will give you important clues if you interact with them. To "talk" with an NPC, stand in front of one as it tries to browse and wait for it to address you directly. If it tries to move around you, simply reposition yourself between it and its desired merchandise. If it refuses to acknowledge you, try cuffing it sharply on the side of the head and saying, "Hey! Hey buddy!"
Now you must find your actual DBE items in the SELF-SERVE WAREHOUSE. This labyrinth can be very frustrating and will require your full attention to navigate. Do not rely on the warehouse shelf locations printed on the purchase tags of your items -- due to some translation bugs introduced while porting IKEA from Swedish to English, they are almost never correct.

Upon entering the warehouse, you need to go:

N, N, E, N, S, SW, U, N, W, U, W, W, W, U, NW, N, NW, S, E, W, W, W, N, W.

Now you are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike. A skeleton, probably the remains of a luckless consumer, lies here. Beside the skeleton is a rusty SKARPT high-quality steel knife with hard plastic handle and a shopping cart. Search the body. Take the IKEA GIFT CARD (still has $43 on it). Take and eat the SWEDISH FISH for sustenance.

[via boing-boing]

Posted by johndan at 02:20 PM | TrackBack

January 24, 2004

now listening

Stan Getz, Live in Worcestor, MA (1972)
Posted by johndan at 09:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Raiding the 20th Century

Boom Selection points to the large (50+ meg) mp3 file, Strictly Kev - Raiding the 20th Century (A History of the Cutup) (Mac: Option-Click/Windows: right-click to download).
what follows is a 40 minute explaination of where pretty much everyone involved in this sort of thing is coming from. fusing together what seems like thousands of tracks with his inevitable talent, strictly kev has pulled what i think is one of the finest, cleverest examples of mixing i have ever heard. if bootlegs are dead, this is it's eulogy.
See the massive tracklist at XFM's The Remix site, who originally broadcast the show). Steinski and Mass Media, Steve Reich, The Beatles, William Burroughs, and more.

Ashley Benigno describes it best:

Layers of mash-up tracks and samples galore seamlessly stitched into 39.03 minutes of utter apology for bastard pop(sters) everywhere. Subtitled a history of cutup, Strictly Kev's tour de force is sophisticatedly streetwise in its academic intentions. It highlights through reinstatement and excitement the castration inflicted by copyright to the building blocks of our cultural conversation. It stresses the polished turn-of-phrase that can be articulated through our common artistic alphabet. It underlines the function of fun.

Raiding the 20th Century is like a 21st Century ragamuffin rewrite of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, penned with sound-editing software on a laptop somewhere in the global dystopia of the suburban or inner-city sprawl.

I've been working with the idea of writing as symbolic-analytic work, more about the ability to gather and arrange fragments than about producing something, for Datacloud. It's amazing to see this playing out in a concrete way in practice.

[via notes from somewhere bizarre]

Posted by johndan at 03:39 PM | TrackBack

IRC Social Networking Visualizations

Using PieSpy to track and visualize social networks on IRC.
This paper describes a method of inferring the social network of a group of IRC users in a channel. An IRC bot is used to monitor a channel and perform a heuristic analysis of events to create a mathematical approximation of the social network. From this, the bot can produce a visualization of the inferred social network on demand. These visualizations reveal the structure of the social network, highlighting connectivity, clustering and strengths of relationships between users. Animated output allows viewers to see the evolution of the social network over time.

Includes images, mpeg animations, and a downloadable Java implementation. Cool.

[via Advogato]

Posted by johndan at 01:27 PM | TrackBack

Speech Acts in Virtual Communities

Noting the oddly substantive nature of text in virtual spaces,
Design in a [Virtual Community (VC)] can actually be performed using speech acts that in-real-life wouldn't perform any design. We call these acts `design speech acts'. We present, as a starting point, a list of verbs which can be used in a VC for design and the implications of using these verbs to design cyberspace. We present a methodology for structuring and defining design speech acts, so that a language for design in a VC can be subsequently developed. We are developing a specific environment for a virtual community in which designers can articulate their needs and produce text-based design objects.
Relatively obvious, but useful.

A more interesting question would be how we take these observations and map them to other spaces. If a MOO, for example, is understood as a space that's both textual and inhabitable, do we also inhabit other spaces? Jay Bolter (drawing on other sources) made famous the idea that texts in general embody spaces--scrolls, novels, hypertexts, etc.. And numerous people have already discussed MOOs as textual spaces.

But is email a space that we occupy? Is IM a space we inhabit? How do these heterogeneous spaces overlap and conflict? What about non-virtual texts? Not merely things we see spatially, but work within and across.

Postmodernism, Foucault said, was the shift from the temporal to the spatial. It seems like we're only now starting to recognize the implications (and possibilities) of this shift on text.

[via Blackbelt Jones Work]

Posted by johndan at 12:03 PM | TrackBack

January 23, 2004

Ryan Adams Breaks His Arm

In another music-related post, Ryan Adams seems to have broken his arm (or maybe wrist--the Yahoo! article is conflicted). That's going to cut down on guitar time.
Posted by johndan at 10:02 PM | TrackBack

Capt. Kangaroo, RIP

Captain Kangaroo died this morning in Vermont. kangaroo.jpg
Posted by johndan at 02:23 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 22, 2004

Waits Nominated for Grammy

From Anti, Tom Wait's recording label:

Perhaps the most unexpected Grammy nod of all time? Tom Waits has been nominted for "Best Male Rock Vocal Performance" for his feisty rendition of the Ramones classic "Return of Jack and Judy" from "We're a Happy Family: A Tribute to the Ramones." (All caps format removed from original)
The official website for the album (at Columbia) includes streaming audio (no full songs, though), eCards, etc.
Posted by johndan at 02:28 PM | TrackBack

January 21, 2004

now listening

Charles Mingus, Parkeriana
Posted by johndan at 06:23 PM | TrackBack

Data Viz

FastCompany has a piece on Martin Wattenberg's work at IBM, which I've discussed previously.
"Everyone has too much to read," Wattenberg says. "It's easy to get overwhelmed. Visual representations can show you what's important and what's noise." Before joining IBM, Wattenberg had created SmartMoney.com's "Map of the Market," which paints a dynamic portrait of Wall Street activity. Now, working in the company's Collaborative User Experience group in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he and his team write software that guides users through thickets of information via pictures.
Although the approach in general is very interesting, the consistent focus in these discussions on simplicity and clarity miss the point. Information workers don't need less information, they need the ability to understand more information. That's not to say that there's no such thing as too much information, only that the "information problem" can be dangerously oversimplified by focusing primarily on simplicity.
Posted by johndan at 06:20 PM | TrackBack

Central Works

central-works-cover.jpgMy editor at Oxford forwarded a jpg version of the cover art for Central Works, a collection I edited with Stuart Selber. (The book itself won't be in out until late February.)

Posted by johndan at 05:18 PM | TrackBack

January 20, 2004

Microsoft Apologizes, Sort Of

From a News.com piece:
Rowe, a 17-year-old student from Vancouver, British Columbia, registered Mikerowesoft.com to front his part-time Web site design business in August 2003. Three months later, he received an e-mail from Microsoft's lawyers, asking him to transfer the domain name to Microsoft. They offered to pay him a "settlement" of $10, which is the cost of his original registration fee.

However, after the case received widespread coverage on the Internet, Microsoft acknowledged that it may have taken things too far and promised to treat Rowe fairly. A representative of the software company told ZDNet UK: "We appreciate that Mike Rowe is a young entrepreneur who came up with a creative domain name. We take our trademark seriously, but maybe a little too seriously in this case."

Posted by johndan at 03:50 PM | TrackBack

Inside Studios

Atelier d'Artista: Pictures of artists' studios.


[via The Mediaburn Radio Weblog]

Posted by johndan at 03:34 PM | TrackBack

Public Desktop

Jonah Brucker-Cohen's collection of experiments in interactivity. Public Desktop, for example,
adds sociability to the Mac OSX desktop background by allowing people to input text online which then becomes the desktop image. The idea is to create a social space in the seemingly closed off desktop environment by creating a simple message board that emphasizes background awareness communication. If two people are running the main application, it becomes a desktop IM client of sorts. Future versions will include image lookups and other types of live inputs as desktop images. PublicDesktop is a free, downloadable application that runs on Mac OSX.
[via Foe Romeo, more or less]
Posted by johndan at 03:01 PM | TrackBack

Digital Zoom

From a MacMerc article, a tip about the little-known Video Zoom feature built into OS X, allowing users to zoom in on a section of their screen with a command-key sequence.

[via MacDesign

Posted by johndan at 03:00 PM | TrackBack

January 19, 2004

Lots of Stuff on Web Design

A good sort of information overload: U of Minnesota-Duluth's Web Design References. More than 30,000 links.

[via Jeffrey Zeldman Presents: The Daily Report, and a bunch of other sites]

Posted by johndan at 03:52 PM | TrackBack

Digital Hoarding

Sociable Thinking discusses compulsive (digital) hoarding
For digital hoarders, when hard drives crash -- and people lose their personal data -- it's devastating in the same way that losing a family photo album is. The practical value of these things is to stimulate memories; an old email or photograph is a reminder of how we felt at a different time in our lives. When they're gone, it's as though part of our own memories are gone too.
Includes links to the recent NYTimes article on compulsive hoarders as well as some interesting projects on personal masses of data.

I've found, personally, that I'm rapidly running out of hard drive space, even though I keep purchasing new multi-gig drives. I'm not in the terrabyte range yet, but I have something like 500 gigs, about 80% full. I'm forcing myself to do things like archive digitized video from a couple of research projects, and convert AIFF interview files to mp3 to save space.

This is not a Web phenomenon, but more about information in general (at least for me). I wrote about this as early as 1989, in conference paper called "Anarchy and Hypertext." The ability to move quickly to more information, coupled with the fact that there's no such thing as the "ultimate" answer--that would be death--engenders the need to keep moving. And although history is never completely recoverable, I have the sense that I can somehow keep a handle on my past by keeping it stored on my hard drive.

Posted by johndan at 02:44 PM | TrackBack

Norman on PowerPoint

Cliff Atkinson has an excellent interview with Don Norman on the Tufte PowerPoint mediastorm.
DN [...] Tufte is criticizing the symptom. Tufte has politicized this to benefit his seminars - but the correct culprit is the erroneous analysis of the tests, not the way the engineers decided to present it to their audience.

Tufte is correct when he complains about misleading data and bad summarization that oversimplifies and may even omit important footnotes and qualifications about the data. Tufte is wrong when he confuses great depth of detail with a good talk.

[via IDblog, which has some pointers to other related Tufte/PowerPoint sources]

Posted by johndan at 02:10 PM | TrackBack

Apple I Manual

Achim Breidenbach has converted an Apple I Operation Manual to HTML
The board has sockets for upto 8K bytes of the 16 pin, 4K type, RAM, and the system is fully expandable to 65K via the edge connector. The system nses dynamic memory (4K bytes supplied), although static memory may also be used. All refreshing of dynamic memory. including all "off- board" expansion memory, is done automatically. The entire system timing, including the microprocessor clock and all video signals. originates in a single crystal oscillator.

[via Usable Help]

Posted by johndan at 01:59 PM | TrackBack

now listening

Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, Diamonds on the Inside [pitchfork media review]
Posted by johndan at 12:28 PM | TrackBack

Inhabiting Multiple, Non-Contiguous Virtual Spaces

office-2.jpgI have three monitors in this corner of my office. On the right is a PowerBook G4 with a second video card on the book hooked to a 20-inch Dell monitor (center), so that I can move back and forth between the two as if they were one, relatively seamless space. This setup has been extremely useful for complex projects requiring lots of windows and pallettes. Or, for that matter, my usual working habit of having fifteen apps open at once.

To the left of those two is another Dell monitor hooked to the Windows box I use to serve another Weblog and for those things that absolutely require Windows. About once a week, when I'm splitting my attention between all three displays, I find myself trying to move the pointer from the center monitor to the (not contiguous) monitor on the left, from the Mac system to the Windows system. I've been making this mistake about once a week for the past decade (here and in similar setups). I'm not sure if this means that I'm very good at occupying virtual spaces, or that I'm just an idiot. Probably both.
Posted by johndan at 12:16 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Instant Messenger Survey

I'm running a brief survey on Instant Messenger. You don't need to be a dedicated IM user to take the survey--I'm looking for a range of results.

If you're interested in taking the anonymous survey (it shouldn't take you more than a few minutes), head to

Posted by johndan at 09:06 AM | TrackBack

Design Not Found

Design Not Found: A collection of good and poor design examples (w/context and screenshots). Great resource for courses on interface design, usability, and information architecture (among others).

[via Interaction Designers discussion list]

Posted by johndan at 08:43 AM | TrackBack


From a London (ca.) Free Press article:
Like any good fledgling businessperson, Mike Rowe knew he needed a catchy name for his website design company. Being possessed of a sense of humour and the cheekiness of a typical 17 year old and given his name, what better than to register his Internet domain name as mikerowesoft.com?
Microsoft offered Rowe $10 for the domain name.

[via google news]

Posted by johndan at 06:56 AM | TrackBack

January 18, 2004

A Guide to Tinfoiling Apartments

Here's a followup interview to the previous story about the Olympia man whose apartment was wrapped completely in tinfoil by his friends.
BT: Did you sleep in foil? LT: Not *in* foil. I left the bed uncovered. Surrounded, though. It eventually stopped seeming surreal by the end.
Posted by johndan at 04:34 PM | TrackBack

January 17, 2004

Swimming to Cambodia

John Perry Barlow asks if Spalding Gray is finally Swimming to Cambodia.
I try to imagine him actually attempting a swim to Cambodia. I see him swan-diving from the rail of the Staten Island Ferry late Saturday night when he disappeared, rounding Sandy Hook by dawn, and turning south for Cape Horn. He'd be well past the mouth of the Delaware by now, strong swimmer that he is. What a great monologue this is going to make. Or not. Spalding inhabits a magical reality where such feats might actually be possible, but there is something about the current state of New York Harbor that seems adamantly unfit for human survival. In my less magical reality, it's easier to see him beneath all that black water.

Still, it seems premature to write one of those eulogies that I all too often compose for my closest friends.

[via boingboing]

Posted by johndan at 02:23 PM | TrackBack

Armchair Arcade

Armchair Arcade: An online magazine about classic videogame issues. First issue includes articles such as Bill Loguidice's "Atari - A Tale of Two Systems, Part I: Atari 5200 and Atari 7800."
In late 1984, despite having had successful showings at trade events, an extensive and enthusiastic preview in one of the top video and computer game magazines of the day (Electronic Games), retail orders already taken, and warehouses full of stock, Atari management decided to shelve the system and its launch games in favor of their computer line when it became apparent to them - and seemingly everyone else in the industry - that the videogame depression had become an irreversible crash. Also put on the shelf was a redesigned 2600, dubbed the Atari 2600jr due to its diminutive size. These moves have often been criticized in hindsight, but for those around at the time, it was clear that videogames were being supplanted by low cost and powerful personal computers as the more flexible game machines of choice, and a game system in the traditional sense simply wouldn't be financially sustainable.

[via Lockergnome Bytes]

Posted by johndan at 01:08 PM | TrackBack

The Mac's 20th Birthday

Wired mag hosts an insightful discussion of the history of the Mac, celebrating it's twentieth birthday this month. Note that the development of the Mac provides an instance of what happens when communication rather than computing are the focal point of product development. And make no mistake about it: contemporary personal computers are predominantly about communication of various sorts:
The true father of the Macintosh is Jef Raskin, a professor turned computer consultant who was hired by Apple in 1978 to write computer manuals. [...]

"I told him (Markkula) it was a fine project, but I wasn't terribly interested in a game machine," recalled Raskin. "However, there was this thing that I'd been dreaming of for some time, which I called Macintosh. The biggest thing about it was that it would be designed from a human-factors perspective, which at that time was totally incomprehensible."

[via Bill Hart-Davidson]

Posted by johndan at 12:55 PM | TrackBack

January 16, 2004



My wife just bought a new Jeep Liberty (which I think looks like Bug-Eyed Earl) yesterday. Last night she said, "I thought I would have made your weblog."
Posted by johndan at 04:55 PM | TrackBack

now listening

Soul Coughing, Ruby Vroom
Posted by johndan at 11:28 AM | TrackBack

Visualizing Social Networks

Linton Freeman has posted an excellent academic paper titled "Visualizing Social Networks," which covers the history of graphics modeling/documenting social networks:
ABSTRACT [...] The paper reviews the long history of image use in the field. It begins with illustrations of the earliest hand-drawn images in which points were placed by using ad hoc rules. It examines the development of systematic procedures for locating points. It goes on to discuss how computers have been used to actually produce drawings of networks, both for printing and for display on computer screens. Finally, it illustrates some of the newest procedures for producing web-based pictures that allow viewers to interact with the network data and to explore their structural properties.


Posted by johndan at 10:52 AM | TrackBack

OnStar and Accents

From an article in the Lansing State Journal:

The OnStar computer in Randy Racine's 2003 Oldsmobile Bravada was so baffled by Racine's diction that it couldn't function.

Racine, who's 76, doesn't come from a foreign country; not technically, anyway. He's from Ishpeming, in the western half of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. He mined iron ore there before trying his luck in the drop forges of Lansing.

Racine has been "down below" for 39 years. But he doesn't claim to have mastered "Lower Peninsula language." Explaining the translation glitch between him and OnStar, Racine said, "I guess it's a Yooper ting."

[Note: A "yooper" is a resident of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, the "U.P."]

[via the SIGIA-L email list.]

Posted by johndan at 10:21 AM | TrackBack

January 15, 2004

Theoretical Perspectives on Interactivity

Rushkoff's course looks extremely interesting:

My first experimental online course, "Theoretical Perspectives on Interactivity" will begin next Wednesday, at http://www.rushkoff.com/class. It's a chance for the online community to take part in my graduate seminar at New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program, and a chance for my NYU students to present and defend their ideas in an open interactive forum.

The complete syllabus is linked to the class page.

Please join in as you like - you're welcome to write the papers, too, and have them critiqued and discussed by me and the class.

I'm not sure I can carve out the time (I have two conferences in the spring, plus a guest lecture at USF) but I'm going to work on it.


Posted by johndan at 11:44 PM | TrackBack

January 09, 2004

Tin Foil Hat? Think Bigger.

From a Olympian News item:
A lone book titled "Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends" was untouched. But nearly everything else in Chris Kirk's downtown Olympia apartment was encased in aluminum foil when he returned home Monday night from a trip to Los Angeles. The walls, ceiling, cabinets and everything in between now shimmer with a metallic glow, thanks to a prank by Kirk's longtime friend, Olympia native Luke Trerice. Trerice, a 26-year-old known among his friends for his off-the-wall schemes, stayed in the apartment while Kirk was away. "He's known for large-scale strangeness," said Kirk, who is 33. "He warned me that he would be able to touch my stuff, but it didn't sound so bad."
8191-4405.jpg [via raindogs
Posted by johndan at 07:49 PM | TrackBack

IP and Currency Followup

Related to the my earlier entry about IP, currency, and Photoshop, I did a quick Google image search on "currency," which resulted in 57,300 hits. Although it's possible I've hit on some enormous forgery ring, I think it's probably just evidence of how commonly people use images of currency in various projects.


Posted by johndan at 11:55 AM | TrackBack

Prior Restraint and IP

Slashdot reports that Adobe CS attempts to prevent users from opening images of U.S. currency (scanned, for example) in what appears to be a misguided attempt to prevent forgery:
A visitor to the Adobe Photoshop-for-Windows Forum (registration required to post, can log in as guest) has described a curious 'feature' with Photoshop 8 (also known as 'CS'). Seems this latest version of Adobe's flagship product has the built-in ability to detect that an image is of American currency. Something has been built into Photoshop's core coding that can detect something in images of currency and will prevent the user from opening the file. Apparently it will also do this with Euro notes; info on other currency is pending.
One might ask why someone would need to edit images of currency? It doesn't really matter--this is prior restraint, a form of censorship normally illegal in the U.S. And, for the record, there are various reasons that someone might have an image of currency: advertising, artistic expression, etc. In fact, nearly every general purpose clipart collection I've ever seen includes images of currency, because those images are used for many purposes. (And as Cory Doctorow points out at BoingBoing, intellectual property produced by the U.S. government, including images on the dollar bill, are not copyrightable and can be used freely.)

[via BoingBoing]

Posted by johndan at 11:32 AM | TrackBack

January 07, 2004

Hot Wheels

hotwheelscollectors.com. I think that pretty much says it.


Posted by johndan at 11:57 PM | TrackBack

January 06, 2004

now listening

Michael Bloomfield, Greatest Hits
Posted by johndan at 10:58 PM | TrackBack

Bruce Sterling Interview

Reason has Mike Godwin interviewing Bruce Sterling:
Sterling: There is a Google blindness. It’s a kind of common wisdom generator, but it’s not necessarily going to get you to the real story of what’s actually going on. reason: As today’s children get older they’re internalizing Boolean search logic, and they actually do show some discrimination and drill down to the useful information. Sterling: It is a form of literacy that’s really peculiar. Socrates used to talk about this: "The problem with writing is that no one memorizes the Iliad any more. You’ve got to just know all of it. And how can you call yourself an educated man if you cannot recite Book Three, not missing a single epithet?" He’s got a point there. It has a profound effect on literary composition. I’ve got Google up all the time. It gives you this veneer of command of the facts which you do not, in point of fact, have. It’s extremely useful for novelists but somewhat dangerous if you’re pretending to be a brain surgeon.
Posted by johndan at 10:56 PM | TrackBack

The Latest in the Tufte-Byrne Debate

eWeek has another installment (or, actually, another version) of the Tufte-Byrne PowerPoint debate.
In a Wired magazine editorial in September titled "PowerPoint Is Evil," Tufte compared PowerPoint presentations to a school play: "very loud, very slow, and very simple."
I just have to say, I have a lot of admiration for Tufte, but I think he's degenerated into a grandstanding bonehead, much like Jakob Neilsen, willing to paint with an aggressively outsized brush in order to get press.

Certainly there are tendencies in PowerPoint for constructing mind-numbing presentations. But he acts as if users are mindless idiots, incapable of working around and against those tendencies.

And -- more to the point -- much of the problem with corporate-style presentations don't arise directly from PowerPoint, from the social context in which those presentations are done, with the expectation that people will present things to a passive audience rather than interact and explore with them. PowerPoint contributes to this tendency, but removing PowerPoint from the equation probably won't substantially change the presentations. Instead, a massive cultural shift is needed.

As Peter Norvig says in the eWeek piece, "My belief is that PowerPoint doesn't kill meetings. People kill meetings. But using PowerPoint is like having a loaded AK-47 on the table: You can do very bad things with it." But equating PowerPoint with "a loaded AK-47" isn't very accurate: Byrne (and others) have shown that PowerPoint can be used in other ways (friends at U of Illinois tell me that novelist Richard powers, a faculty member there, creates amazingly artistic PowerPoint files). We should be trying to figure out how these people are able to restructure that environment in order to support more creative types of work.

Posted by johndan at 01:57 AM | TrackBack

January 05, 2004

Early CBC Newsreport on Internet

A CBC site on The History of Automation in Canada includes archived footage of a 1993 report on a phenomenon called "Internet" (no "the").

Also on the site is handy dictionary of these cool things called "emoticons." Apparently hip people use them in their email.

[via boingboing]

Posted by johndan at 08:09 PM | TrackBack

Social Capitalist Awards

Fast Company has published their 2004 Social Capitalist Award list. The list is heavy on educational opportunities such as College Summit, an organization that helps low-income high school students navigate the complex process of applying for college: When students don't know how to apply to college, they also don't know how to showcase their skills and personalities, which leaves them with mediocre test scores and no tools for self-promotion. College Summit teaches them to market themselves so they are more than just SAT scores. Each spring, partner high schools appoint and train 20 influential juniors as peer leaders who undergo an intensive four-day summer orientation. During the orientation, the students complete the application process and train as advisers to work with teachers and help other students complete the college application. High schools then share student data with colleges. One factor driving such initiatives is the fact that poor people are expensive: they require an extensive (and often expanding) set of services but are unable to contribute substantially to the tax base. Teach a man to fish, yadda yadda yadda.
Posted by johndan at 07:43 PM | TrackBack

Spam Subject Lines

AOL has released their Top 10 Spam Email Subject Lines. Most are predictable (Viagra tops the list), and easy to filter. I'm having more problems with subtle subject lines that I find I have to open because the subject lines are ambiguous enough that I can't tell for sure:

Subject: Friday


Subject: Our Meeting on Tuesday

Complicating things are the messages that spoof email addresses of people I know by pulling email addresses off my employer's database (which unfortunately isn't munged or protected--it's just a big index page of names, with the email addresses one link deep).

Posted by johndan at 03:55 PM | TrackBack

The metaphysics of VoIP

Randolph May, in a piece at cnet, discusses the politics of defining Voice Over IP:
If VoIP is "telecommunications," then it is subject to public-utility economic regulation. If it is an "information service," then it is not.
Posted by johndan at 03:38 PM | TrackBack

Bush in 30 Seconds

billionaire_sm.jpgMoveon.org has posted the fifteen finalists for the DIY "Bush in 30 Seconds" videos. Cool. Even apart from the explicit politics of the contest, I like the whole idea of grassroots mass media.

Posted by johndan at 03:20 PM | TrackBack

January 04, 2004

Breakfast With Hunter


Apparently I missed this in development, but Wayne Ewing's Breakfast With Hunter, the Hunter S. Thompson documentary, is coming out in DVD in Febrary. As Scott Foundras describes a pivotal scene in Variety,
Ewing approaches the film as a verite immersion into Thompson's world, and he succeeds at this with considerable skill; he's very good at fading into the background so as not to interfere with what's happening on screen. In one truly remarkable scene,director Alex Cox (who was originally going to helm "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas") and his co-screenwriter Todd Davies pay a visit to Thompson in Aspen to discuss the progress of the "Fear and Loathing" screenplay. They find themselves the target of a vitriolic rant by the author, who objects to the use in their script of scenes inspired by the cartoon imagery of longtime Thompson collaborator Ralph Steadman. (Thompson would subsequently instigate Cox's firing from the movie.) It's an awkward, voyeuristic moment -- the sort of thing where the viewer expects the participants to demand the cameras stop rolling -- except that everyone seems to have forgotten the cameras are there.
Bad crazy. You can sign up on the website for email notification when the DVD's officially released. There's also a special Ask Hunter page where you can post questions that HST might actually answer. Well, not so much "answer" as address.
Posted by johndan at 09:45 PM | TrackBack

now listening

Camper Van Beethoven, Live at the Knitting Factory
Posted by johndan at 04:03 PM | TrackBack

phonecams and art

Phone cams seem linked to a sort of neo-primitive art, one that revels in its low fidelity. I recall being initially disappointed at the low resolution of the pictures my phone took, buy eventually I started to see the pictures differently: not as records of some outside reality, but as interpretations. [update: see some similar notes/images from Warren Ellis weblog.]


Near the end of Wim Wender's Until the End of the World, Claire becomes infected with the "disease of images," obsessively watching recordings of her own dreams. Phonecam images might tend toward that, but perhaps only in the way that television compares to cinema: less immersive, more fleeting. This is not a value judgement.
Posted by johndan at 04:01 PM | TrackBack

Wasting Time Fixing Computers

Marshall Brain logged the amount of time he spent in fixing computer problems at home during December: 11+ hours.
11 hours and 20 minutes is a lot of time, but I would consider December to be a fairly "normal" month for me. I had a problem roughly every 36 hours. And this does not include "normal stuff" like the time wasted deleting spam messages that make it through the filters, or clearing pop-up ads (Google's ad blocker is a nice piece of software for eliminating most of that), or loading software that I actually have purchased and want to use, etc. This is just the time wasted on abnormalities, repairs, problems, etc. that cropped up on a random basis.

If you were to extrapolate this across all of the computer users in the nation, it would add up to millions and millions of wasted man-hours every month. For example, I have a friend at this moment who is reloading OS-X and all her applications on her Mac for the third time this year (a 2-day to 3-day process). I have another friend who is getting cut off from email every week or so and has to reload all the settings. As I mentioned, my mother had a hard disk crash in November that took several days to recover from. And so on. It is just amazing how much time we, as a nation, are wasting on this kind of stuff.

I'm not sure if this is typical for other people who work with computers at home, but it corresponds with my experiences, at least with Windows and linux.

As I've mentioned before, I made a stab last year at using linux as my primary OS, but after nearly 12 months, I gave it up because I was spending at least six hours a week debugging things. We're currently running a Mac network at home, though, and my time spent on troubleshooting has dropped dramatically, down to maybe a few hours a month.

Brain echoes the old joke about how unreliable your car would be if it had as many system issues as MS Windows. And he (and those jokes) are right, but only to a certain extent: On one hand, Microsoft continues to ship woefully buggy software, and there are few penalties for doing so. On the other hand, we don't ask our cars to do the sorts of things we ask our computers to do. (If you do know anyone who tinkers constantly with their car, you probably know that they might easily spend 11 hours a month changing things back and forth, troubleshooting new installations, modding factory parts.) I'm not saying it's right, I'm just saying we shouldn't be surprised.

There's some middle ground between constant chaos and simplicity. It's possible to build a computer that's extremely stable--but it wouldn't be very interesting: it would only do one type of thing, and it would be very inflexible about changing what it does. (I think it's called a "typewriter".)

[via Slashdot]

Posted by johndan at 03:49 PM | TrackBack

Web Design, Functionalism, Meaning

Some ironic comments on functionalism in web design, Jeffrey Zeldman:
Dear Ms Coppolla: I recently saw your film, Lost in Translation. I have a complaint. Many of the Japanese characters in your movie speak Japanese. No subtitles are provided. This may be dandy for viewers who speak both English and Japanese, but I do not speak Japanese. I am not the only one discomfited by your choice. In the movie, the actor Bill Murray often looks puzzled when the Japanese people are speaking Japanese. If Bill Murray, who has read your script, has a hard time with the Japanese, consider how your viewers must feel. Please add subtitles immediately.


Gladys Pfiff

Which points to a larger issue surrounding theories of web design: We tend to think that there's one theory of web design, or even general approach--which goes by the names of efficiency or usability. While those frameworks are aspects of any web design, there are other approaches, ranging from usefulness [html'd version of a pdf via google] to aesthetics.

[via Blackbeltjones Work]

Posted by johndan at 03:33 PM | TrackBack

January 03, 2004

Uncanny Networks

Sounds interesting: Geert Lovink, Uncanny Networks: Dialogues with the Virtual Intelligentsia, MIT Press.
The interviews collected in this book are with artists, critics, and theorists who are intimately involved in building the content, interfaces, and architectures of new media. The topics discussed include digital aesthetics, sound art, navigating deep audio space, European media philosophy, the Internet in Eastern Europe, the mixing of old and new in India, critical media studies in the Asia-Pacific region, Japanese techno tribes, hybrid identities, the storage of social movements, theory of the virtual class, virtual and urban spaces, corporate takeover of the Internet, and the role of cyberspace in the rise of nongovernmental organizations.

Bruce Sterling says, "If you want to know what media theory will say five years from now, then read Uncanny Networks to see what Geert Lovink said five years ago."

Additional notes and links at Smartmob.

[via Mediaburn]

Posted by johndan at 07:06 AM | TrackBack

Logo Memory

Results of a LinkMonochrom survey asking people to draw famous logos from memory.

[via Boing Boing]

Posted by johndan at 06:42 AM | TrackBack

January 01, 2004

now listening

Mahavishnu Orchestra, Live in Cleveland Japanese bootleg, 1972, "Wild Strings" Tour.
Posted by johndan at 01:08 AM | TrackBack

Cronorer's Report on Elliot Smith

I realize I'm being morbid and somewhat petty here, but Elliot Smith never seemed like the kind of person who would commit suicide by a self-inflicted chest wound. He was more of a pills, steep cliff, or just-plain-laid-down-and-lost-the-will-to-live kind of guy. From a Rolling Stone report:
"The trauma that he sustained could have been inflicted by him or by another and the coroner has not been able to make a determination," a spokesman for the coroner said.
Posted by johndan at 12:58 AM | TrackBack