January 30, 2006

Nam June Paik

Postmodern video pioneer Nam June Paik died last weekend. A metafilter post has some good links to his work. Here's a bit from the MSNBC obit:

In a 1974 report commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation, Paik wrote of a telecommunications network of the future he called the “Electronic Super Highway,” predicting it “will become our springboard for new and surprising human endeavors.” Two decades later, when “information superhighway” had become the phrase of the moment, he commented, “Bill Clinton stole my idea.”

He also was often credited with coining the phrase, “The future is now.”

[via metafilter.com]

Posted by johndanseven at 09:16 PM

Dept. of Disconcerting Headlines

From a c|net article on the Nyxem.E virus:


Posted by johndanseven at 02:40 PM

After Late Capitalism: Shopping as Simulation

Boing Boing links to a Japanese website that offers up the experience of shopping, minus that part about actually exchanging capital for goods [in Japanese and English versions] [Flash warning].

Various products are displayed by spokesmodels, and customers can order customized shopping experiences from a live feed. The archives include items such as tea (complete with formal ceremony), sushi, caviar, Halloween candy, "gifts from New York," and the experimental "I will talk about my personal troubles and make people buy the rights for giving me advice."

Here's a description of what a 300 yen/$3 level purchase (Amex, Visa, MC, Discover or PayPal) can get you:

I will sell ice creams online. I will make an ice cream for you and show it via live streaming video right after you order it.

Your ice cream will have your name on it.

In case you need a reminder, the "Notabilia" section adds, " The official transaction is limited within the streaming video, thus no actual product will be sent to you".

[via Boing Boing]

Posted by johndanseven at 12:17 AM

January 28, 2006

Major Tom to Ground Control

The NYT (among many other places) reports on an empty Russian spacesuit ejected from the International Space Station [free reg. req'd], all for the enjoyment of space fans on the ground who can listen in on transmissions from the suit. The suit will broadcast the suit temperature and battery levels, along with a secret message (solving the message is apparently part of the project, an effort to engage schoolchildren).

But the most amusing aspect of the NYT article wasn't the project itself, but the line with which the they closed the piece:

The message (which is not "heeeeeellllllppp!") will include an image and secret words for student listeners to decipher.
Posted by johndanseven at 10:34 PM

January 25, 2006

Champagne Chair Winners

Design Within Reach has posted the winners of the 2005 Champagne Chair Contest (mentioned here previously: contestants had to make a model chair using only the the wire, foil, and cork from a bottle of champagne).

Check out this one:


The other top entries are on DWR's website.

Posted by johndanseven at 10:48 PM

January 24, 2006

The $3,500 Level


Since last year, Apple's PowerBooks and iBooks have included accelerometers that sense when the computer's been dropped (so the drive heads can be parked, I guess). Make points to Pall Thayer's OS X widget that uses the accelerometer to turn your PowerBook or iBook into an overpriced carpenter's level.

Thayer laments on his website,

You know it's sad, but a typical sign of today's pop-culture; I'm an artist. I have a number of projects online that I'm very proud of. But it's beginning to look like the most useless thing I've done (my average monthly hits have gone up by about 25,000 since I created the Carpenter's Level), is going to be my best known, my greatest contribution to society.
Posted by johndanseven at 09:05 PM

January 23, 2006

Hard Drive Dying Dance Track Contest

In one of the most innovative re-purposings of audio content I've seen in awhile, Gizmodo announces the Hard Drive Dying Dance Track Contest. Come up with a track of at least three minutes that uses samples from one or more of Hitachi's audio files for troubleshooting dying hard drives.

As Hitachi explains, "If you are experiencing any of the noises, please contact technical support." You get to pick from "Head Stuck to Platter," "Slow Spindle Motor," and "Head Damage" (versions 1 through 4).

I was going to come up with a punchline for this, but the whole thing is sort of its own punchline.

[via Gizmodo]

Posted by johndanseven at 05:58 PM

January 21, 2006

Translating Across Media

The New York Times discusses the problems of translating print books to audiobooks [free reg. yadda yadda yadda], in particular the difficulty of texts by authors such as David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Susanna Clarke, which may include footnotes, intentionally blank pages, diagrams, and sketches.

When David Foster Wallace, reading the audiobook version of his newly published collection of essays, "Consider the Lobster" (Time Warner AudioBooks), hits one of its many footnotes, listeners may be inclined to adjust the volume - his voice sounds suddenly distant, as if he has fallen down a well. Then, footnote finished, his voice returns just as abruptly to normal. But don't touch the dial. The voice manipulation, for which audiobook producer John Runnette used a "phone filter" - a voice-through-the-receiver effect used in radio dramas - was an attempt to aurally convey Mr. Wallace's discursive, densely footnoted prose.

Or as he says in the audiobook introduction: "I sometimes use footnotes in these essays, which presents kind of a nasty problem for an audiobook: where do the footnotes go? There is no bottom of the page in an audiobook, obviously."

I've never been a big fan of most audiobooks, which tend (to me) to occupy a weird immersive space, somewhere awkward between a simple visual text and a performance. With a visual text such as a printed book, there's more user control. I can skim, skip back and forth, and pause easily to shift to another task if I want to. With a performance--a video, a movie, or even an audio play with multiple players, sound f/x, etc.--I let myself be completely immersed, long-term, in the experience. Each experience is at the opposite end of McLuhan's cold/hot media distinction.

But right now, for example, I'm listening to Pratchett's popular audiobook, "The Wee Free Men," which I downloaded from Audible about four months ago but have yet to get through. I think it's because, as an audio track, I tend to try to listen to it like I'd listen to iTunes--in the background, while I work on other things. Tony Robinson's reading is lively and interesting, but it's still not working for me. I listen for thirty seconds, then drift away to some other task: checking email, browsing RSS feeds, letting the (damned) cat out, writing a weblog post in MarsEdit. Boom, I've missed a minute and a half of the story and I have to struggle to re-orient myself to the storyline. I don't feel like I've gained anything by having the book converted from visual text to sound: I'd rather just read it myself. (And there are exceptions--I didn't have any problems with the audio version of David Cross' "Shut Up, You Fucking Baby!" either because it allowed me to be off-task for short periods without losing a plotline, or because Cross's performance was such a big part of the thing that a purely textual version wouldn't have been nearly as funny. A written version would lose, for example, the subtle gradations of tone in Cross's voice that allow listeners to "read" his misanthropic humor as ironic rather than straight.)

I suppose it's a sign of inflexibility on my part, being incapable of changing my own habits to adapt to new technologies. (Robinson's going on now about zoology, and I have no idea what the point is....) Soon, I'll be complaining about how instant messenger ruins writing ability. (l8r.)

Posted by johndanseven at 11:06 AM

January 20, 2006

Gmail: Deleting

Lifehacker points out a new feature in Gmail:

Gmail now includes the complicated, killer feature we've been waiting almost 2 years for: a button that deletes messages with one click.

Down with that damnable dropdown, I say! Google has now single-handedly saved a generation from RSI. Generous of them, no?

I've always thought that the lack of a delete button in Gmail was similar to Apple's historical resistance to two-button mice or their decision to not offer floppy drives in the iMac: An attempt to force users to rethink a whole section of their philosophy about what it means to use a computer. (And, like Apple's decision, destined to be much maligned.) One of Gmail's main philosophical tenets was that your email should be a huge, freely searchable, complete archive. You weren't supposed to delete things. The generous storage quota meant never having to say, "Damn, I must have deleted that message from six months ago that I thought I wasn't going to need." It was all there, forever, just on the off chance you needed it.

Of course, most users weren't ready to buy into that, for a variety of reasons. First, it went against their experiences with other email clients, where permanently deleting unimportant messages was the norm. Second, having those old (apparently useless) messages hanging around, even when they're tucked away in a seldom-used folder, just seemed messy and disorganized, like an ever-growing closet of useless things that hid behind a bulging door.

I think eventually users will get used to the idea of relatively limitless storage, and the idea that lack of organization isn't necessarily a bad thing. This last notion is based on equating virtual organization—including things like freeform tagging—with physical organization. It's not necessarily a bad thing that my email archives aren't ordered in the same way I'd order a physical space such as a storage closet. (Well, actually, my real-world storage spaces are about as organized as my Gmail archives, but that's a separate issue.)

[via Lifehacker]

Posted by johndanseven at 11:39 AM

How to Give a Presentation

Legendary tech motivator Guy Kawasaki offers tips on how to give a presentation. Although it's pitched primarily at keynote speakers, the tips are generally useful for any talk (and taken with a grain of salt, even highly specialized technical/theoretical presentations). As a bonus, he includes a link to how his mentor Steve Jobs preps for presentations.

[via Lifehacker]

Posted by johndanseven at 01:27 AM

Now Watching


Sonic Youth, Sao Paulo Free Jazz Festival [10.20.00]. No longer youth, but still pretty sonic. "Bull in the Heather" still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up; being really disconcerting is an art.

Posted by johndanseven at 01:02 AM

January 19, 2006

Shuffle, Vol. 15

"What's Going On (Live)," Los Lobos, Just Another Band From East L.A.
"Piano Phase," Steve Reich, Early Works
"Sick of Food," American Music Club, Everclear
"Tried and True," Wilco, Summer Teeth Outtakes
"Guitar Fill 1," The Replacements, Studio Sessions Anthology (1980-1991)
"The Grotto of Time Lost," Steve Roach & Robert Rich, Strata
"Train Under Water," Bright Eyes, I'm Wide Awake It's Morning
"Snakecharmer," Ottmar Liebert & Luna Negra, Rumba Collection (1992-1997)
"Lady And The Doctor (version 2)," Bruce Springsteen, Pocketful of Demos
"Love Athena," The Olivia Tremor Control, Presents: Singles and Beyond
"I Ain't Ever Satisfied," Steve Earle, Live at Malmo
"All Men Are The Same," The Housemartins, Themes For the Well-Dressed Man
"Pleading Blues," Michael Bloomfield, The Best Of Michael Bloomfield
"Debaser," The Pixies, Doolittle
"Bottle of Wine," Beck, The Banjo Story
"Drunken Hearted Man (Take 2)," Robert Johnson, The Complete Recordings

Posted by johndanseven at 08:49 AM

January 18, 2006

Why I'm Glad I No Longer Teach 1st-Year Comp

From Overheard in NY

Woman: Have you ever tried to talk about thesis statements to people who have their fingers up their noses?

--Penn Station

Posted by johndanseven at 10:07 PM

Stock Art for Presentations (etc.)

Presentation Zen points to some good sites for finding images to use in presentations (both free and low-cost).

I'm not necessarily saying you should use PowerPoint—I don't think it's the Devil's Playground that some wonks do, and it certainly has its place in my repertoire of presentation environments. I've seen a lot of mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations, but I've also seen my share of mind-numbing talks with transparencies, with printed charts, with film strips, with video footage, and with plain old talking heads. As David Byrne (among others) has shown, you can be pretty creative and interesting in PowerPoint. Maybe PowerPoint makes it easy to be dull; I don't know. Some people have the capability to be dull no matter what medium they're working in.

But if you do use PowerPoint in your presentations, a well-designed layout and a slight hint of creativity can set you apart from the mindless drones. Besides which, most of the images at these sites can be used for things besides PowerPoint (Flash, basic Web pages, splash screens, etc.). (Be sure to check the individual site's licensing options to see what's allowed.)

[via lifehacker]

Posted by johndanseven at 03:58 PM

January 16, 2006

Paul Miller on Collaboration

Audio and video remix pioneer Paul Miller/DJ Spooky has a short video interview at 24x7. Discusses collaboration and interfaces, jazz improv, performance/context, collaborative filtering, and more. "When you see jazz ... I think 'software' now."

[via earth wide moth]

Posted by johndanseven at 10:16 PM

IP and Sports Statistics

Sports statistics and intellectual property in the news (again): CNN (among others) reports that fantasy sports leagues such as those run by CBC Distribution and Marketing have been denied licenses to use statistics by the major league. (Yeah, we had already reached the point where the fantasy leagues were paying for their use of the statistics--now they're not even allowed that option.)

Before the shift, CBC had been paying the players' association 9 percent of gross. But in January 2005, Major League Baseball announced a $50 million agreement with the players' association giving baseball exclusive rights to license statistics.

Despite being turned down for the new license, CBC has continued to operate leagues during the legal dispute.

Major League Baseball has claimed that intellectual property law makes it illegal for fantasy league operators to "commercially exploit the identities and statistical profiles" of big league players.

This is one unfortunate side effect, in our current economic system, of database culture as an economic model: The simple compilation of facts is increasingly seen as the legal ownership of them.

[via /.]

Posted by johndanseven at 10:08 PM

January 14, 2006

Koster on Game Design

Raph Koster has published his slides and a transcript of a talk he gave at the IBM Games on Demand webcast conference, about technology advances and online game design. Koster is author of the excellent, elementary intro to general game design, Theory of Fun, and currently Chief Creative Officer for Sony Online Entertainment.

In the talk, Koster begins with Moore's law to show how online game design has stagnated, using increased computer power to put more data on the screen, but in relatively conservative and non-innovative ways. He points to needed advances in, among other things, procedural content, sandbox design, and user-created content.

(There's also an archived version of the webcast, but I haven't viewed it yet.)

[via metafilter.com]

Posted by johndanseven at 11:17 PM

January 12, 2006

The Veldt

Panasonic has a digital wall in their Tokyo office that should be on the market in four years or so. No specs listed, but Gizmodo says it's twice the size of a 110" display, has a touchscreen built in, and connects up to video and computer sources (Gizmodo also has some pictures of the wall in action).

Gizmodo namechecks Swcharzenegger in Total Recall, but the pictures put me more in mind of Ray Bradbury's "The Veldt." (Especially since Panasonic seems to be demonstrating it as something you'd buy for a kid's room.)

They ran into the nursery. The veldtland was empty save for the lions waiting, looking at them. "Peter, Wendy?"

The door slammed.

"Wendy, Peter!"

George Hadley and his wife whirled and ran back to the door.

"Open the door!" cried George Hadley, trying the knob. "Why, they've locked it from the outside! Peter!" He beat at the door. "Open up!"

He heard Peter's voice outside, against the door.

"Don't let them switch off the nursery and the house," he was saying. Mr. and Mrs. George Hadley beat at the door. "Now, don't be ridiculous, children. It's time to go. Mr. McClean'll be here in a minute and..."

And then they heard the sounds.

The lions on three sides of them, in the yellow veldt grass, padding through the dry straw, rumbling and roaring in their throats.

The lions.

Mr. Hadley looked at his wife and they turned and looked back at the beasts edging slowly forward crouching, tails stiff.

Mr. and Mrs. Hadley screamed.

And suddenly they realized why those other screams bad sounded familiar.

This could make The Lion King a little more interesting.

[via Gizmodo]

Posted by johndanseven at 05:20 PM

January 10, 2006

Keyboard Practice

Cory Doctorow points to John McDaid's cool story, "Keyboard Practice, Consisting of an Aria with Diverse Variations for the Harpsichord with Two Manuals," now available for a limited time at the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction's website, since it's up for a Nebula Award.

I pull out the 440 fork and ping it on the ratchet. We've turned the corner of Euclid and Adelbert, a grainy Cleveland municipal theme on the earbuds. They cluster around. Most of the talented ones who make it this far do not realize just how blessed, insulated, and elevated they truly are. They have lived in a world of self-adjusting devices that never slip out of tune. Unless told to do so.

"A real sound tech needs to know how to run things — in real time — just in case the prod hardware goes down. You gotta be able to do things, precisely, but deal with changes. 'Sdiff between repeat marks and copy-paste."

"But why realtime? Whatsa crunch about that?" Unsurprisingly, this is Friction Boy; blush response pinking up his already doomed neck. Minor mistakes don't eliminate first rounders, but the pressure's only going to increase.

"Okay. Take the score for the Goldbergs. You could break that down into pure MIDI data, right? And you could record the key attack information one note at a time, then assemble it onto a timeline. And, hoc est corpus, you've got Bach."

"Arhh, that's brain-dead siff-ma propaganda."

"Is it? Don't you feel that there is some value in being able to play Variation Twenty-six in real time, doing those crossover runs from hand to hand? Is it really the same to build it synthetically? PAInos still don't quite get it. You've spent your whole life developing that skill. You tell me that's completely worthless."

Some time around 1985, John showed me an early beta version of this new hypertext app for the Macintosh called Storyspace. Hypertext was a rare enough term back then that John had to explain to me what it meant, and what it meant for the future of computing. Good to see he's still out there on the edge.

[via boing-boing]

Posted by johndanseven at 12:18 PM

January 09, 2006

Design Without Reach

Design Without Reach spoofs pricey, modernist furniture using low-cost materials (including paperclips, soup cans, and aluminum foil).

[via Beyond the Beyond]

Posted by johndanseven at 05:17 PM

January 07, 2006

Flickr Group on Annotated Workspaces

Someone at Flickr has started a group on annotated workspaces. Members post images of their workspaces; if you mouse over portions of the images, you can see more info.

Posted by johndanseven at 10:59 PM

Legal Rights of Photographers

Although he posts the standard (understandable) "I'm not a lawyer" reminder, Andrew Kantor has put together some useful advice on the legal rights of photographers, including a brief overview, a link to his USA Today article on the topic, and a downloadable pdf [151K] you can print out and stick in your gadget bag or backpack.

If this is a topic that affects you, read the full pdf. Here's his bottom line:

Except in special circumstances (e.g., certain government facilities), there are no laws prohibiting the taking of photographs on public or private property. If you can be there, you can take pictures there: streets, malls, parking lots, office buildings. You do not need permission to do so, even on private property.

Trespassing laws naturally apply. If a property owner demands you leave, you must. But if a place is open to the public — a mall, office-building lobby, etc. — permission to enter is assumed (although it can be revoked).

[via Gizmodo]

Posted by johndanseven at 10:41 PM

January 06, 2006

visualizing "aargh"

Several years ago, I stopped using a dictionary to look up spellings of words when I was typing in an app without a built-in spell checker. It was simpler to just type the term into Google. If I couldn't decided between two variations, I'd type both in: the one with the most hits wins. (Hey, language is a fluid, slightly conventionalized system; democracy of use always wins in the long run.)

The website Languages of the real and artificial posts a visualization of the various spellings of "aargh" (with different numbers of repeated internal letters, based on Google searches of a range of variations:

What got me thinking about this again, was, of all things, thinking about how to spell “aargh!” One ‘a’, two, three…? And how many ‘r’s?

This is an interesting problem, first, because so many repetition counts are attested. There’s not just “mispelling” (1s) and “misspelling” (2s), but “argh”, “aargh”, “aaargh”, etc. And second, because the space is two-dimensional: not just “argh”, “aargh”, “aaargh”, ..., but also “argh”, “arrgh”, “arrrgh”, ... — and the product, with “aarrgh”, “aaarrrgh”, etc.

It’s clear that a wide range of spellings are acceptable. What’s the most common?

Without further ado, I created this page to help me find the answer.

(The resulting visualization is a table, with "ARGH" in the upper-left corner and, well, the same word with a whole slew of A's and R's in the lower-right corner. Variations fill out the rest of it. "Islands" of popularity are indicated in red.

[via information aesthetics]

Posted by johndanseven at 12:35 PM

January 04, 2006

New Musical Experiences

At City of Sound, Dan Hill has posted a transcript (and slides) from a talk he gave on "New Musical Experiences" at The Future of Music Seminar in Helsinki. All over the map (in a good way), but dealing primarily with the loss of metadata ("aka contextual information around music") in mp3 players (compared to vinyl and CD packaging), ironic because the Web provides so much of it.

So the physical experience of vinyl (and its related media) afforded a close connection of music context and music experience. The record player delivered a user interface which was both flexible and expressive, and crucially meant a direct engagement with contextual information explicit and implicit. Explicitly, sleeves were constructed to carry vast swathes of information around the music; implicitly, the grooves in the record conveyed information about the length of track, the number of tracks per side and so on, even the sound itself if you were obsessive enough. The needle-drop method of previewing music - bumping the needle across the record from track to track, or within sections of a piece - provided real control over sampling the music contained therein.

Comparatively, with today's music experience environment, we see a shift away from the music towards devices and services. In iTunes, there are only expressive visuals in the context of a 'sell'. With the iPod Shuffle, there is no visual at all, no screen to display any contextual information whatsoever. Whilst it's a fascinating, useful device, in terms of conveying context, knowledge, learning or the most basic information about what one is listening to, it has nothing to offer. Witness the marketing around the iPods and we can see that visual seduction is now at the device level, not with the music. The design of the device is what people covet, rather than the design around music itself.

[via metafilter.com]

Posted by johndanseven at 01:03 PM

Into the Corn Field

Players in Second Life who repeatedly violate game rules can be thought into the corn field (a practice based on the Twilight Zone episode, "It's a Good Life"):

Dubbed the "The Corn Field," the moonlit environment contains only rows of corn, two television sets, an aging tractor and a one-way teleport terminal allowing no escape. It exists as an alternative to standard disciplinary measures, which traditionally prevent access to Second Life completely.

After breaking Second Life's rules, Yaffle was informed via email by Linden Lab that he was being sent to The Corn Field. "I thought it was a joke," Yaffle told me in-world. "I never even knew it existed before I went there, and by the looks of it, a lot of other people didn't either." Rumour and speculation about the prison has been running amok in the Second Life community since word of The Corn Field spread, but until recently the prison simulator hadn't been officially confirmed.

"Sometimes when someone is suspended for a short time they are sent to the cornfield," Linden Lab's Senior VP of Community and Support wrote on the official Second Life discussion forums yesterday, adding that building the cornfield didn't require any significant development work and reassuring the community that "Once someone is permanently banned they are no longer welcome in Second Life, anywhere, including the cornfield."

[via Boing Boing and Clickable Culture]

Posted by johndanseven at 09:45 AM

January 03, 2006

Music Sites

Oregon State U has a nice index of web-accessible directories and other resources on music. An eclectic gathering: the Internet Broadway Database, the Edna Kuhn Loeb Music Library of Internet Resources at Harvard, the Choral Public Domain Library of free choral sheet music, the Aria Database, the Wedding Song Library, and many more.

Posted by johndanseven at 11:51 PM



Posted by johndanseven at 11:36 PM

January 02, 2006


Gizmodo (which I like a lot, in general), posts another in the "[mp3 Player X], iPod Killer?" pieces that run in most tech websites every time a slightly updated, non-Apple mp3 player is announced. As usual, the focus is on technical features—more memory, or slightly smaller size, or more file formats supported.

All of which misses the point of the iPod line: The usability of the iPod (or "user experience" if you want to get fancy).

The iPod interface just works. The click wheel is simple, just barely powerful enough to let you get at what you need to get at, simply and quickly. The iPod to iTunes synching is more or less seamless for most purposes (falling just short of my being able to just think new songs onto the player—a power I frequently wish I had, so I could think people into a cornfield by the side of the road while they talk on their cellphones and drive at the same time). Users who are consumed by functional tech specs have always drifted over to other mp3 players from other companies, but for people who value usability, the iPod remains the only game in town. Sure, it's a little more expensive; but if it's something you use every day, the price delta is way worth it.

[via Gizmodo]

Posted by johndanseven at 11:15 PM

Dangerous Ideas

At Edge's World Question Center, John Brockman namechecks Copernicus and Darwin and then provides responses to his annual "What Is Your Dangerous Idea?" question, which he poses to people with big brains in a variety of disciplines. Here are this year's responses.

There are responses from 117 people, ranging from Sherry Turkle to David Gelertner to Michael Nesmith to Clary Shirky to Douglass Rushkoff to Diane Halpern. (My only complaint is that I wish there were better bios provided--I recognized most of the names, but not all. I guess that's why there's google.) Here's a brief, introductory snippet from Sherry Turkle's response:

After several generations of living in the computer culture, simulation will become fully naturalized. Authenticity in the traditional sense loses its value, a vestige of another time.

Consider this moment from 2005: I take my fourteen-year-old daughter to the Darwin exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. The exhibit documents Darwin's life and thought, and with a somewhat defensive tone (in light of current challenges to evolution by proponents of intelligent design), presents the theory of evolution as the central truth that underpins contemporary biology. The Darwin exhibit wants to convince and it wants to please. At the entrance to the exhibit is a turtle from the Galapagos Islands, a seminal object in the development of evolutionary theory. The turtle rests in its cage, utterly still. "They could have used a robot," comments my daughter. It was a shame to bring the turtle all this way and put it in a cage for a performance that draws so little on the turtle's "aliveness." I am startled by her comments, both solicitous of the imprisoned turtle because it is alive and unconcerned by its authenticity.

[via Boing Boing, among many, many others]

Posted by johndanseven at 12:55 AM