May 29, 2006

Hacking the Hackers

This was the subject line for some spam I got today:

You are in a maze twisty little passages, all alike

A reference to Colossal Cave Adventure, commonly seen as one of the first mass-marketed computer games. How likely are serious computer geeks to fall for spam? (It was porn spam, so maybe the spammers figure once they got their intended audience to open the message, they'd turn into link-clicking zombies.)

Posted by johndanseven at 04:21 PM

May 27, 2006

Big Pink (Touristas)

Down in Woodstock, NY, after we finished filming some pickup footage for the documentary we're doing on Juma Sultan, Steve Doheny-Farina and I decided to drive around on the backroads looking for Big Pink, the house where The Band [wikipedia link] recorded their famous album [another wikipedia link; if you don't own it, you should—hit any used record store or amazon].

Big Pink

It took a lot of map-reading, guessing, and driving, but we found it. Steve initially wanted to run up to the house and pose in front of it, but it looked like it was currently occupied, and it was 8 am, so we settled for a drive-by shot out the van window.

Posted by johndanseven at 01:40 AM

May 24, 2006

An "Undo" Command

During the last class I taught at Purdue, I went to the whiteboard at the front of the lab and wrote down some notes. Then I tried to erase them—no go. Some witty person had put a big, black El Marko permanent marker in the tray of the whiteboard in the lab. Very funny. The maintenance crew for the building had some sort of super-special spray that took it off, but here's a simpler solution from LifeHacker that involves a regular dry erase marker and an eraser.

[via Lifehacker]

Posted by johndanseven at 04:21 PM

Mad Hip Tech

There's nothing more pathetic (and therefore, funny) than geeks attempting to be hip. (I know because I keep trying it, and I sound stupid. Hip is contextual, so pretty much anything I can get away with—long hair, painted fingernails, dreads—becomes evacuated of any real social resistance or hip-ossitude. Word up.) From the intentionally self-ironic Defective Yeti:

Me: Look, gmail now has built-in chat functionality. After years of avoiding the siren song of Instant Messaging it has now been unwillingly foisted upon me, and I therefore have no choice but to use my newly acquired powers to pester you at work. I shall do so every half an hour from this day forward.
L: You're bluffing.
M: Is that a challenge? OH IT'S ON!
M: I'm going to invent a light switch that shouts "OH, IT'S ON!" whenever you flip it up.
M: You know, for the blind.
M: Then I'll create a knockoff for kids that says "OH, IT'S ON ... BIATCH!"
L: I don't think kids have been saying "biatch" since 1998.
M: No way. If I'm still saying a catchphrase it is hip by definition.
L: And I'm pretty sure it's spelled "biotch." It's so played that it's probably in the MS Word spellchecker by now. I'll verify.
M: You'll start typing it and clippy will pop up and say: "It looks like you are trying to 'give mad props' to your 'peeps' ..."
L: Word actually says that it's "biotech."
L: (Feel free to make something funny out of that for your blog)
M: Um, thanks
L: It could be funny!
M: Yeah, but if I have to work to make it funny, it's not much of a gift. That's all I'm saying.
L: It's the seed of inspiration.
M: You people. You're always, like, "Hey, I ate a tuna sandwich yesterday. Feel free to couch that in the context of a some wacky and completely fictitious events, invent a bunch of humorous dialog to accompany it, and use it on your blog!!"
L: Whatever. Someday you'll be hard up for material and just cut and paste this conversation into a post, I'm sure.
M: Is that a challenge? OH IT'S ON ... BIOTECH!
L: And curtain.

[via defective yeti]

Posted by johndanseven at 04:05 PM

Dissertations

Collin Brooke offers some useful advice to people working on dissertations, particularly his comments about thinking that anyone's dissertation is going to effect a tectonic change in their field.

And really, none of these things speak to the quality of a given dissertation (or lack thereof). It's tempting, I think, to go into the process thinking that this is your great contribution, and that by now, you've acquired the skills you need to in order to "join the profession." For me, this attitude resulted in a vast overestimation of what I needed to accomplish in my dissertation--the fact of the matter was and is that my dissertation did not "change the discipline," except in very indirect ways (and then only probably once my first book is finished).

When I was working on my dissertation, I thought the fields of rhet/comp and tech comm would suddenly sit up and say, "Damn, we've just been stooopid all this time. I'm glad Johndan showed us the light. Now we shall make him our King."

Sadly, I was wrong, both in terms of the results I expected and the profundity of my thoughts. Dissertations are a bizarre genre, and many things in that bizarre nature work against any lone grad student effecting real change. Notice that I'm not saying that grad students can't have paradigm shifting ideas, only that a dissertation is the completely wrong form for them to have any effect on the field. The whole lit review section is way messed up, designed more to display your knowledge than inform the reader. The artificial timeframe they're completed under doesn't allow you to pause for six months or a year if you need to (I think I can speak from experience in saying that completing book-length projects sometimes requires you to do nothing but just sit and think--and produce nothing that looks useful--for six months or a year or more sometimes). And committees frequently include members in areas outside of your specific interest, let alone your discipline. Face it: The dissertation, at best, is the zero draft of a book or handful of articles. In most cases, it's a learning experience, and something you might have to just file and move on from.

About a decade ago, at a rhet/comp party at Purdue just after I moved there, a couple of grad students gathered around the keg were sharing stories about how traumatic their dissertating experiences were. During a pause in the conversation, I stopped pumping the tap and said, "You don't ever get over it, either. I'm still recovering from my dissertation." Janice Lauer, in the middle of a different conversation about five feet away and about two years from retirement, wheeled around and said, "I'm still recovering from my dissertation."

So basically, I guess I'm saying there's not end in sight, and don't try to solve the world's problems in 300 double-spaced pages. Just get your degree (and "Pass Without Embarrassment"), then get on with the real work of solving the world's problems.

While I'm acting old and wise, I'll pass on some other bits of wisdom I've received:

1. In graduate school, Steve Loughrin-Sacco, the prof I was relying on to teach me enough French to pass my exams, said, "Keep your dissertation limited. I felt like I needed to do my whole life's work in that thing. Keep it simple. Find a tiny, but slightly important to deal with." He was right.

2. [And even more off-topic, but still related to grad students] Back in the 1990s, when I interviewed at Purdue for a Asst. Prof. job, after a long dinner in which Jim Berlin explained theories and experiences about gas station demographics and publicity (this conversation lasted more than an hour), in the parking lot he shook my hand, wished me luck, and said, "Always ask for more money. All they can do is say no." Words to live by when you're trapped in a capitalist society.

[via Collin vs. Blog]

Posted by johndanseven at 12:48 AM

May 23, 2006

Attributed Quotation as Plagiarism

Update: Jonathan Bailey sent me a note with some additional rationale behind his piece, as well as some plans for revision based on comments he's received. I offered him some additional constructive feedback; I'll post a link to the new piece he said he's working on when it's posted.

In a somewhat odd piece at Plagiarism Today, Jonathan Bailey takes weblogs to task for failing to add enough "original" content to material they quote from other sites. The piece begins (in both title and initial paragraph) by labeling the practice "the new plagiarism" (and cites a few sources that agree with him), a move that he later admits was a mistake (in an update at the end of the article) because plagiarism and fair use of intellectual property are different issues—he's apparently more interested in the latter. (He also sounds a little resentful and places the blame for this miscommunication on the reader, and so far has failed to update the incendiary title and opening paragraph. I guess he's enjoying the notoriety.)

But aside from that issue, there are some fundamental problems with Bailey's attempt at linking intellectual property theft to weblogs that are primarily attributed quotes and links:

These sites, which for this article I’ll simply call "gray", are generally identified by a large number of very short posts, with much of it in block quotes or otherwise directly lifted content. Though they meticulously credit their sources, bowing to more traditional rules for blog attribution, and work to add at least some original content, usually over half of their material comes from other sources.[...]

While certainly grey blogs don’t pose the same threat or raise the same concerns as spam blogs and other content scrapers, the cause for concern is clear. Even though blogging is about sharing and reusing information, excessive sharing threatens the authors penning the original content. The tale of the goose laying the golden egg springs to mind as, quite simply, greed can be the blogging world’s biggest enemy.

Here's a parallel, more traditional situation that might clarify things. Compiling resources from very scattered bits of information is a relatively old, accepted method of authorship. Documentaries, for example, are frequently composed of pieces of information that a documentary filmmaker has gathered from original sources by archival research and interview, often with only a very small amount of "original" narration and titling to provide some sort of narrative cohesion. The creative work in such objects comes from the activity of locating those bits of useful information and bringing them together into a single place. The "gray area" weblogs that Bailey critiques are much like that: collections of disparate information from a wide variety of sources. So Datacloud, for example, attempts (in general) to provide an ongoing set of links to conceptual and practical work that demonstrates the trends that I talked about in the printed book. I spend an embarrassingly large amount of time in NetNewsWatcher reading RSS feeds (I think I subscribe to something around 200 feeds) under the assumption that the small number of people who read Datacloud don't also read those same 200 feeds. I'd feel differently about this if I was, say, doing nothing but subscribing to an RSS feed of Boing Boing, putting the material in blockquote tags, and republishing that as my own Weblog. But I'm not.

So I guess the crux of the issue is both in how Bailey understands creative work—for him, the use of "original" words is paramount, and in how he tries to link other sorts of work to the ethical and legal issue of intellectual property theft. (I do agree somewhat with Bailey's comments about blogs that quote full articles, given that it discourages readers from visiting the source site. He should have left his critique at that (which has nothing to do with proportions of original and quoted text) and not tossed in the inaccurate "plagiarism" tag in an attempt to generate controversy.

Oddly, most of what I do post at Datacloud typically includes very little of my own text. I guess that's because I usually agree with things I'm linking to. I almost deleted much of my own text above because I didn't want it to look like I was agreeing with Bailey's proposed restrictions, but I guess I'll leave it sit.

There's also an animated /. discussion of the article you can read/participate in, which is where the inaccuracies of Bailey's terms was originally identified.

Posted by johndanseven at 03:52 PM

May 22, 2006

Photographic Concepts: 10 Ways

10 Ways from Getty Images has an experiential, conceptual site on photography that you should look at. Below is from the Information section (each image, when you zoom down into it, is composed of other, radically different images which you perceive only as pixels in the higher-up views). Other concepts covered include Light, Space, Memory, Color, Truth, Time, Transformation, and more. (Heavy-duty Flash and Shockwave use, but it's worth it to wait for the pieces to load.)

10ways.jpg

[via basement.org]

Posted by johndanseven at 11:04 PM

Used Books

Underdog, Spork, and I went to the Birchbark Bookstore yesterday—50,000+ used books in a restored barn on a back road about fifteen minutes from our house. We go there about twice a month, because the selection is so good and the prices are extremely low ($1 - $2 for paperbacks). I'm not much of a browser—at those prices, if something looks potentially interesting, I just grab it.

After about twenty minutes, I tracked down Spork to see if she was ready to leave. She looked at the thirty books I had jammed into my canvas carrying bag and said, "Dude, you're like Katamari. You pick up everything you roll over. Slow down."

Posted by johndanseven at 07:22 PM

May 20, 2006

Sterling on the Future of Media

There's an mp3 of Bruce Sterling's talk on the future of media arts posted. You might want to take a detour through Worldchanging's post on Sterling's talk (they label him "Ally #1"), which includes some extremely useful background links.

[via worldchanging]

Posted by johndanseven at 11:08 PM

Hello, Kitty

hellokitty.jpg

Norm Chomsky's first gig went ok—when Selber and I were in grad school, we ignored all that overwrought focus on "pass with honor" and "pass with high honor" for our exams and maintained a strict policy of "pass without embarrassment."

Norm Chomsky passed without embarrassment (although I had to explain that the real Noam Chomsky wasn't there to a couple of people). We spent most of yesterday and today rehearsing, setting up on a porch to play out to an audience on the lawn and near a bonfire. We set up a JBL PA system, several monitors, several amps, three mics, and two mixers. Then we tested an infinite number of variations of mixes among the amps, drums, and PA system to get all the wrinkles ironed out.

On the way to the party, Underdog said, "I can't believe you didn't set rain date."

So today, it rained. The Weather Channel actually predicted hail, so I guess we got off easy. It was only in the low 40s. (Welcome to late May in the North Country.) Several dozen people actually stood out on the lawn, in the near-freezing rain, for the whole show, and clapped and yelled.

I think they were holding up lighters, but the rain was snuffing them out. (The rest of our audience gathered in the house and gave out muffled claps occasionally, and later told us they'd like our muffled sounds.)

But mainly I posted this pic to show the new "Hello, Kitty" guitar strap I bought last week. ($13.99 from Musician's Friend.)

(I'm not sure what song I'm singing here, but it's either the Woody Guthrie/Billy Bragg/Wilco "All You Fascists Are Bound to Lose" or Camper Van Beethoven's "Take the Skinheads Bowling".) There are a couple more pics at my Flickr site; I'll post some more later after I get OKs from my bandmates.

Posted by johndanseven at 02:06 AM

May 19, 2006

web zen: error 404

Web Zen this week covers Error 404 messages (including several archives of Error 404 messages, as well as some individually outstanding ones). Scintilla's seems to scroll on, dirgelike, forever, with the server becoming, by turns, apologetic, depressed, angry, and apologetic again about the situation. Here's the first few of several dozen lines:

No /404 here.
Even tried multi.
Nothing helped.
I'm really depressed about this.
You see, I'm just a web server...
-- here I am, brain the size of the universe,
trying to serve you a simple web page,
and then it doesn't even exist!_
Posted by johndanseven at 11:21 AM

How much is your domain worth?

It's not clear that LeapFish's analysis is accurate, but according to them I could sell johndan.com for more than $18k. Damn, I wish that was true, because it'd be the most valuable thing I own outside of my house, and it'd put Spork nearly 40% of the way through her first year at Skidmore. Let me know if you want to make a bid.

Here's LeapFish's rationale for pricing:

The .com top level domain is the most valuable extension because of it's long history. It has also been advertised in every form so when people think of a domain name, they instantly add .com to the end of it when typing it in. This TLD alone makes your domain name valuable.

As any good domain should, this name does not contain numbers, hyphens, or unicode characters. This is a desirable effect and may not increase the value of your domain name, but it definitly won't decrease it.

Your domain name contains two Dictionary.com entries. There are names like this that are more valuable than a single dictionary word and when paired correctly, these words can be much easier to remember than a single dictionary word. An example would be, LeapFish.com is much easier to remember than Imprescriptible.com .

This domain name contains 7 or more characters. These names are not valued for there length as much as they are for their lexical context. If your domain name contains say 9 characters randomly like jyuxbeplz.com then you have no inherent value contextually or lengthwise. It is nearly impossible to design an AI system to see how a human will react and memorize a domain name, that said, you should use your own judgement to see if the length of this name is suitable.

Maybe they're right. I've noticed, over the last three or four years, that it's become more difficult for me to register "johndan" as a userid on services. When I registered my IM account at AOL, I tried "johndan" and quickly found out that had been taken years ago; so I decided to just start appending various numbers, and ran through "2000", "zero", "beta", and then "1" counting up. I gave that last one up after, like, "9" and switched to spelling out numbers (under the assumption that new users would want shorter usernames, so spelled out version would be less deleted). I got to "johndanseven" before I hit an opening.

[via Lifehacker]

Posted by johndanseven at 01:20 AM

1980s Tech

cellphone.jpg

HowStuffWorks has a retrospective of 1980s tech, including PCs, camcorders, cellphones, and more (along with plain-language technical explanations). Most of the technology appears outsized and cartoonish compared to today's incarnations (like the early cellphone above—not something you're going to stick in your front pocket).

I can remember driving with a realtor in the early 1980s. He had the predecessor of the cell phone -- an in-car radio phone. The way this worked was simple. There was a big radio tower in the middle of the city. The car had a big radio in the trunk -- This was a huge 25 watt radio transmitter/receiver. Inside the car was a handset and a button panel that let you choose between one of four different channels. Yes, in the early 1980s, the entire city of Raleigh, NC was served by four radio telephone channels. That's how rare car radio phones were at that time. They were incredibly expensive.

Several decades from now, our grandchildren will be saying, "You mean you had to carry your cellphone around? They weren't implants?" But they'll still be asking, "Where's my flying car?"

[via Gizmodo]

Posted by johndanseven at 12:26 AM

May 17, 2006

Design Like You Give a Damn

Architecture for Humanity has a new book on sustainable design called Design Like You Give a Damn: Architectural Responses to Humanitarian Crises [amazon link]. Here's a clip from Worldchanging's mini-reviews:

Many of the ideas here will be familiar to WC readers. Barefoot solar engineers, land mine detecting flowers, Hexayurt, Roundabout's PlayPump, the Mine Wolf, Watercone, Anti-Malarial Bednets. But there's plenty of material I'd never before encountered here, and, as an overall resource, it's indespensible.

When I occasionally feel liberal and donate money, I almost always end up routing my donations through Architecture for Humanity. Click here for more links about the organization. (Damn, I don't think I've ever put that many links in a post.)

[via Worldchanging]

Posted by johndanseven at 12:25 AM

May 16, 2006

Names: RFIDs and Arphids

Someone on the Interaction Designers email list noted the divergence in pronunciation of RFIDs, which industry people tend to pronounce as an acronym (pronouncing each letter) and the parallel-universe term "Arphids" (sort of like running the pronunciation of the letters together to form a word)—this pronunciation is primarily being spread by Bruce Sterling in his extensive (and great) work on the social and cultural implications of the technology. (For the record, I was in the latter camp until I watched a video of Sterling riffing on Arphids, linked in this earlier post on Datacloud.)

Seems like a trivial issue, but (as the poster on the ID list noted) when you Google the two terms, it's like you're entering two different worlds: one filled with tech industry reps and manufacturers (the RFID cloud) and one filled with designers, writers, and social theorists. Specialized fields frequently construct articulations of terms that vary (sometimes wildly) with popular articulations of the same term—think "rhetoric," or "discourse," or, for that matter, "articulation"—but it's interesting to watch the emergence of differing articulations in two, slightly overlapping communities. And in this case, the worldviews and foundational assumptions in each group vary in significant ways that are actively competing over different versions of the future—in essentially different languages.

Google search on "RFIDs"
Google search on "arphids"

Sort of like people with different dialects of the same language: as the dialects diverge, communication among the dialects becomes more and more difficult.

[via Interaction Design list]

Posted by johndanseven at 07:34 PM

em & en & hyphen

Trying to debug an issue with em-dashes, I came across this relatively old (2001) but extremely useful article at A List Apart on em dashes, en dashes, and other typographic issues in Web design (which could be subtitled "The Web is Not a Typewriter") that's probably useful reading for anyone attempting to do good Web design.

Other Punctuation

Many people (most, from what I’ve observed) believe that curly single opening and double opening quotes are the correct symbols for feet and inches. If you are one of these people, put out your hand so I can slap it with a ruler.

The correct symbols to use are prime and double prime. They look similar to curly quotes in a few fonts, but are usually much more distinct. They never, ever look like commas. They are usually set at a slight angle of 75—80 degrees, and are also usually tapered from the top to the bottom.

A single prime is used to represent feet or minutes (′ not in HTML 4.01), while a double prime is used to indicate inches or seconds (″ not in HTML 4.01). (I won’t make you learn about the triple prime and the three reversed versions of these characters.)

Also has useful info about changes in typography in HTML 4 and problems in common guides to HTML regarding typography.

Posted by johndanseven at 12:39 AM

May 15, 2006

On the Bleeding Edge

CS Monitor has a piece today on consumers returning high-tech gadgets because they can't figure out how to operate them. Apparently the rate of returns for gadgets that are in perfect working order but overwhelming to users approaches fifty percent. (Although I guess "perfect working order" should probably also include the ease of use, in which case they're not.)

According to this design consultant, it's not a bug, it's a feature:

But instead of being frustrated, people ought to look at the positive side of new technologies, he says. "Every generation is going to be presented with a whole new set of opportunities and challenges as we make leaps forward in what the technology can deliver," Oppenheimer says. "It's part of the fun of being alive [today]. Every week some new feature you never thought possible comes out, and you get to learn it."

[via Christian Science Monitor]

Posted by johndanseven at 06:51 PM

System Down Time

Due to network upgrades at Clarkson, Datacloud will be down this evening for several hours—probably from 7 pm until around midnight,

Posted by johndanseven at 11:22 AM

May 14, 2006

Norm Chomsky

And in another completely off-topic post, here's a flyer for my band's gig next Friday. You're welcome to come if you're in the far reaches of upstate NY.

flyer-3.jpg

Posted by johndanseven at 10:13 PM

Therapy Flash Cards

sublimation.jpg

For Mother's Day, Spork bought Underdog this set of Therapy Flash Cards from KnockKnock. Underdog is now (predictably) using them to lecture me and Spork, who (despite her occupation as a social worker) still eat up most of her therapy work.

Posted by johndanseven at 10:00 PM

Work Environments

Lifehacker is running a cool series of short interviews with technorati about their working environments and habits (and a few pics). Included so far are Merlin Mann (productivity guru), Phillip Torrone (MAKE Magazine Senior Editor), and Matt Haughey (Metafilter founder).

torrone.jpg

Phillip Torrone's workspace

Also see the recently completed Lifehacker Coolest Workspace contest.

[via Lifehacker]

Posted by johndanseven at 03:22 PM

May 10, 2006

Tell a Story: Guided Wireframe Narratives

Boxes and Arrows has a great article on the use of narrative to guide clients through the discussion and approval of wireframes for a Rich Internet Apps (RIA--deeply interactive websites with Ajax, Flex, etc.).

Business Problem:

The client, an industry leader in commercial and residential fencing and related products, wanted to update their web-based application used to perform key operational tasks. It was a big project, and as with all big projects, business and technical requirements were abundant. The client was also adamantly committed to and expected the highest levels of usability and user experience possible, under the ever-so-typical time and cost constraints.

Solution:

Non-RIAs could satisfactorily accomplish most of the application’s requirements. However, we realized that building a rich internet application was the only way to reach the expected level of usability and user experience. The strategy to enhance usability and experience was twofold: improving feedback and response time, and contextually guiding users through tasks – perfect for RIAs.

Extensive discussion, strategic analysis, PowerPoint client slides, and other examples included.

[via Boxes and Arrows]

Posted by johndanseven at 10:32 PM

The Dance of Flying Packages

memphis.png

Michael Moore (not that one, the one I know) tipped me to this amusing time-lapse radar of FedEx aircraft coming into Memphis during a thunderstorm. Complete with loopy 1960s movie soundtrack. (I keep waiting for either Peter Sellers or Mike Myers to dance into the frame.)

Posted by johndanseven at 09:27 PM

The Street Finds Its Own Uses for Things: Circuit Bending

The Morning News has a quote- and link-filled piece about circuit bending, an activity that involves hacking cheap consumer electronics devices like Furby's and Speak 'n' Spells to make them do things their designers never intended.

Quite simply, the modern practice of “bending” involves shorting out points on the exposed circuit board of a device (using something like a screwdriver) while said device is playing one of its tinny notes. This is done in the hope that some spontaneous and aleatory sound will erupt (as far as something can “erupt” from an eight-centimeter foam speaker) as the result of a crashed microchip or the torturous electrical manipulation of some other unfortunate component.

When an interesting short-circuit is discovered, a switch is then installed to bridge the two points involved and mounted on the external case—hence my little Casio’s “num lock” key. As a reassuring bonus, practitioners needn’t worry about the risk of brain-frying voltages, as this techno-surgery is performed almost exclusively on victims of the battery-powered variety. Some instruments are even kitted out with “body contacts,” metal pads designed to be bridged by a performer with a body part of their choice, effectively rendering themselves a part of the circuit. Talk about an affinity with your equipment!

Posted by johndanseven at 04:41 PM

The 1-Second Film

The 1-Second Film project is raising funds to produce "the world's biggest shortest film." A documentary about the fundraising process (estimated at 90 minutes) will run under credits listing all "producers" who contributed funds to the film. A short segment on YouTube shot at Sundance follows financing pitches made on the street and at restaurants to Stephen Colbert ("It's as valid as any of my credits"), Steve Buscemi (who seems like he's being stalked), and Kevin Bacon (who spells his name for the director). Profits go to charity.

Posted by johndanseven at 11:09 AM

May 09, 2006

Remixing Bush and Eno

bush.png

David Byrne and Brian Eno have released the component tracks from two songs off My Life in the Bush of Ghosts for CC-licensed remixing and sampling ("A Secret Life" and "Help Me Somebody"). You can download the individual 24-track recordings or zip files of the sets for each song in either mp3 or wav format. You can also upload your work to the site and vote on other remixes. (As you might guess, it's a pretty Flash-heavy site.)

[via Boing Boing]

Posted by johndanseven at 02:22 PM

May 07, 2006

The Sims as Domestic Education

NYT has a nice piece (with some great quotes) about children learning how to be good parents by playing The Sims [reg req'd].

Some video games let players battle aliens or quarterback a pro football team; The Sims drops the player into an even more fantastic environment: suburban family life. Each Sim, as the characters are known, is different — one might be an old man, one might be a young girl; one is motivated primarily by money, for instance, while another may want popularity — and it's up to the player to tend to those needs. As in real life, there are no points in The Sims and you can't "win." You just try to find happiness as best you can.

And though video game players are often stereotyped as grunged-out, desensitized slackers, it is the nation's middle-class schoolchildren, particularly girls, who have helped make The Sims one of the world's premier game franchises, selling more than 60 million copies globally since its introduction in 2000.

They don't touch much on the apparently universal impulse to also use The Sims as a way to explore the more sadistic side of domestic life. I'm thinking here of Spork walling off all the exits of a Sims kitchen inhabited by a character with extremely disorganized and careless traits in an attempt to get him to start a kitchen fire. (It eventually worked.) Not that The Sims is unique in its availability as a way of working out issues with your dark side (a link that's one of my most-viewed images on Flickr).

[via slashdot]

Posted by johndanseven at 12:11 PM

May 06, 2006

"It Takes a Nation of Laywers to Hold Us Back": Sampling and IP

Designer Observer has a (predictably) depressing piece on the effects of intellectual property rights costs and art, including discussions of how documentary movie makers and hip-hop artists are increasingly restricted in their work:

An example of how this pattern of creative outburst, followed by rapid litigation, impacts an emerging medium can be found in the history of hip-hop. When hip-hop first emerged there were few laws regulating the use of samples, and artists like De La Soul, Public Enemy, and the Beastie Boys made free use of the collective musical memory in their work. But as the genre became more profitable, record companies started asserting more control over their back catalogs. In the magazine Stay Free (Issue 20), Hank Shocklee, who produced It Takes a Nation of Millions... described why it would be impossible to produce such an album today: “By the late 1980s…you could have a buyout — meaning you could purchase the rights to sample a sound — for around $1500. Then it started creeping up to $3000, $3,500, $5,000, $7,500. Then they threw in this thing called rollover rates. If your rollover rate is every 100,000 units, then for every 100,000 units you sell, you pay an additional $7500. A record that sells two million copies would kick that cost up twenty times. Now you’re looking at one song costing you more than half of what you would make on your album.” These financial and legal hurdles altered the creative process behind hip-hop.

[via The Morning News]

Posted by johndanseven at 11:54 PM

May 04, 2006

Watching Paint Dry. In Slow Motion.

bulbcam.jpg

The "Centennial Light Bulb," which has been burning continuously for more than 100 years, has a webcam. I was thinking they could switch it on and off every six months so it can act as a strobe light for the Clock of the Long Now. A rave for plate tectonics.

They don't make 'em like they used to:

Unlike the bulb, the first camera had a limited life of about 3 years. We are hoping this one will give the bulb a run for it's money.

[via metafilter.com]

Posted by johndanseven at 11:18 PM

Like an End User License to Print Money: Video Podcast

Deke McClelland talks five hundred kilometers an hour and shows you how to beat Photoshop's block on printing scans of $20 bills. And discusses postmodernism, capitalism, fair use, counterfeiting, stupidity, workarounds, Photoshop, small monkeys, ImageReady, The Batphone, drugs, and more. You sort of have to watch it to understand.

I'm linking to this for the frenetic delivery of the podcast, not the advice on how to counterfeit money. If you're dumb enough to try to pass off $20 bills you scanned and printed out onto the paper you stole from the campus computer lab on your inkjet, you're on your own.

[via Boing Boing]

Posted by johndanseven at 10:40 PM

Postdocs and Visiting Scholar Positions at if:book

if:book (Institute for the Future of the Book) has info on a call for eight postdocs and a visiting scholar positions at the Anneberg Center for Communication at USC. I was out at the Center last week for a seminar, and think it'd be a great place to spend a semester (I'd consider it for my sabbatical next fall, but I'm not sure I could deal with Los Angeles—but I'm more big city-phobic than most people I know). More info and a link to the official call for applications at the link above.

Posted by johndanseven at 04:35 PM

May 03, 2006

Shading Alternating Rows in Excel

I hate using Excel, but since I've been teaching a large, lecture class for the last couple of semesters, I've been forced to use it to calculate grades. And to deal with that mass of data, I've been formatting the rows in the 90x60ish cell spreadsheet with alternating shaded rows, so I can read them across. Excel doesn't offer a simple way to do this common method of formatting, and I only do this about once a semester, so I usually just manually click the alternating rows and then shade them.

But I figured someone must have hacked this by now, so I googled it and (among many hits) found the answer at the website of the American Institute of Certified Public Accounts (who, I suppose, must work with Excel a lot more than me). You have to use Excel's conditional formatting to apply a formula to a selected range of cells. See the link above for specific instructions.

The larger question, though, is why isn't there a simpler way to do this in Excel? Seems like a common enough activity for someone using spreadsheets. Perhaps they want you to use one of the canned formats they offer under the Autoformat option. Some of the canned formats use alternating shaded rows, but are so contextually blind and a-rhetorical that they're (often worse than) useless. Give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day; give a man a box of processed, preformed, breaded, frozen fish fillets, he'll forget what real food tastes like, have to buy a freezer, and get a job so he can buy more frozen fish in a week. Or something like that.

Posted by johndanseven at 06:10 PM

Geekiness

xterra

After 60,000 miles, I finally replaced the tires on my truck. I briefly thought about putting Super Swamper monster tires on it (I guess I'm a redneck at heart), but decided to go with something more reasonable.

There was no one around to appreciate how cool they looked, so I emailed Underdog a picture of the new tires. She looked at the picture, then looked up at her co-workers and said, "Johndan just emailed me a picture of the new tires he put on the truck.... There's no punchline to that; he just emailed me pictures of his new tires. I can't even figure out how to respond to that. I have nothing to say."

Well, I thought they were cool.

Posted by johndanseven at 02:05 PM

Interactive Media Billboards at O'Hare

Advertising Age reports that Accenture and interactive media agency Schematic have launched a largescale, interactive media installation at O'Hare Airport (apparently also coming soon to JFK in NYC):

Starting today air travelers passing through Chicago's O'Hare Airport terminal 3 will be able to impersonate Tom Cruise's character from "Minority Report" and use their hands to manipulate content -- weather, news, Tiger Woods' greatest putts -- on a giant 10-by-7-foot screen.

The interactive news screen, which will soon be unveiled at New York's Kennedy airport as well, comes via Accenture (hence, the Tiger Woods connection) and the company is lauding it not only as revolutionary for out-of-home advertising, but also for in-office collaboration.

[via Huffington Post]

Posted by johndanseven at 10:13 AM

May 01, 2006

Steal This Book: Plagiarism Contest

In honor of Kaavya Viswanathan's rapid rise and meteoric fall, The Morning News is running a plagiarism contest:

The Rules:

—You are limited to 750 of somebody else’s words; none of those words may be your own.

—All material must be cited (author, work, page number). This is the only part where you have to be honest; unlike professional publishers, we’re actually going to check.

—You must plagiarize from a minimum of five different books by as many authors as you wish. The only demand we make is that those books were published at some point, somewhere.

—You must lift only phrases, whole sentences, or passages. No single-word citations allowed.

Entries due by May 12. Remix away.

Posted by johndanseven at 11:24 PM