« February 2008 | Main | April 2008 »

March 31, 2008

Color as Intellectual Property

In what Engadget claims is not an early April Fool's joke, T-Mobile's parent company Deutsche Telekom's requested that Engadget discontinue using the color magenta in the Engadget Mobile logotype (you can see both logos at that link—T-Mobile is right: Engadget does use magenta). Here's the text from the first paragraph of the PDF that Engadget posted:

we [sic] write you today regarding certain trademark issues concersing the use by Weblogs, Inc of the color magenta in your website "engadgetmobile.com." Specifically, we have recently learned that your company is using the color magenta in the logo of the Engadget Mobile news blog, in which you feature new developments in the field of mobile technology, including our company and our products. The color is plainly used in a trademark-related way on this website to highlight the headings of different postings.

Engadget quotes this subsequent communication with T-Mobile US's VP of Corporate Communications:

As a trademark owner, from time to time Deutsche Telekom looks at usage that could lead to confusion in the marketplace. The letter sent by DT merely outlines these perspectives and is meant to simply open a dialogue. Engadget continues to pioneer forums for discussion of wireless industry developments and innovation. T-Mobile respects the role Engadget and its readers play in advancing dialog on these important topics.

This is something that's interested me for a long time (see this earlier post): Branding, in late capitalism, wants no distinctions made according to the actual topic: Nike is not a tennis shoe company, it's a lifestyle company. Ditto for Microsoft, Apple, Gap, Starbucks, etc. So the whole framework of trademark as an intellectual property, which attempted to maintain such distinctions, strains under this IP 2.0 pressure. Expect to see more of these over-reaching cease and desist letters..

[via Fimoculous.com]

March 27, 2008

Attention Span

Cory Doctorow has a column at Internet Evolution about interruptive media, multitasking, and focus:

The mature information worker is someone who can manage his queues effectively, prioritizing and re-prioritizing as new items crop up, doing the fast-context-switching necessary to respond to an email while waiting for a file to download or a backup to complete. It's a little like spinning plates, and when you get the rhythm of it, it can be glorious. There's a zone you slip into, a zone where everything gets done, one thing after another clicking into place.

But once you add an interruptive medium like IM, unscheduled calls, or pop-up notifiers of mail, flow turns into chop. The buzz, blip, and snap of a thousand alerts turn plate-spinning into hell, as random firecrackers detonate over and over again, on every side of you, always there in your peripheral vision, blowing your capacity to manage your own queue as they rudely insert themselves into your attention.

I'm not making a bad pun when I say I'm of two minds about this. On one hand, I often need constant, small disruptions in my work processes to (ironically) keep me on task: very loud music, for example, seems to help. The tiny muted bell of incoming email echoes around at the edge of my awareness. The article list in NetNewsWire scrolling in the background as the RSS feeds update provide a background rhythm to my work. The human mind is extraordinarily resilient, and what seems like an interruption to some people is just a lullaby to others. And what seemed like a jarring noise five years ago now sounds like a far-off, distant ching to me now, like wind chimes on the porch. (Talk to anyone who has spent their life living near railroad tracks—the trains don't wake them in the night.

Sure, cognitive research says that interruptions slow people down and confuse them when they're trying to add numbers. I spend very little time trying to add columns numbers.

On the other hand, if Cory Doctorow says those interruptions are a bad thing, at least for him, who am I to argue? But I think this is till all too new for us to get our heads around.

[via Boing Boing]

March 26, 2008

Typewriter Fonts


Walker Art Center's weblog posts some scans from Typographica No. 6, an issue devoted to typewriter fonts (small chunk above).

Anyone who grew up using typewriters to write probably has, like me, both nostalgia and repressed horror: Typewriters developed character, like fingerprints, with each possessing its own quirks and identifiable characteristics (to the point that these characteristics showed up as plot devices in detective novels). But we don't lie to ourselves: They were a major pain in the ass.

[via kottke.org]

March 24, 2008

A Handpuppet Fish Reads Ginsberg's Howl

What more could you ask for in a title?

[via Boing Boing]

March 19, 2008

Sans Comic


As part of an upcoming Dexter Sinister show, Cory Arcangel reset the 2008 Whitney Biennial's press release in Comic Sans. There's a full-size PDF available.

[via rhizome.org]

March 15, 2008

Responding to Search Engine Queries (Vol. 1)

In which the author provides personal responses to search engine queries found in the work/space server logs.

11 Mar, Tue, 13:16:27  Google: 3A

11 Mar, Tue, 17:09:44 Yahoo: on a long enough timeline the survival rate for everyone drops to zero meaning
If you think about this one long enough—could be seventy or so years—I'm sure it will come to you.

12 Mar, Wed, 17:15:12 Google: 3A
I said "Bingo" already. Come up and get your damned prize already.

13 Mar, Thu, 20:25:12 Google: "your company's app" and something happens
I think the site you want is www.thebusinessplanofanyweb2point0company.com

15 Mar, Sat, 07:29:38 Google: johndan eilola-johnson
I'm glad you asked that. It's "Johnson" then "Eilola," with a hyphen between them. So, "Johnson-Eilola," not "Eilola-Johnson." I appreciate you spelling "Eilola" correctly, though—that's rare.

15 Mar, Sat, 07:48:35 Google: johndan eilola-johnson
You're just yanking my chain now, aren't you? You're that damned 3A guy!

15 Mar, Sat, 22:41:18 Google: www.people.clarkson.edu/~johndan
Over there to the left a little—type the URL into that field instead. Happens to the best of us.

Data, Information, and Art


Mitchell Whitelaw's "Art Against Information: Case Studies in Data Practice," in fibreculture No. 11 looks useful.

Data art involves a creative grappling with the nature of our now ubiquitous data systems. It draws data out, makes it explicit, literally provides it with an image. It also probes data's constitution, potential, and significance. In the process of working pragmatically with data — using it as a generative resource, a way of making — data art is involved in the culturally crucial figuration of data and its contemporary domain. This practice is a concrete exploration of what data is, does, and can do, but it also involves a set of assumptions, narratives and ontologies that construct data as an entity in the cultural imagination. That construction is at the core of this analysis.

The screenshot at top is from The Dumpster, "a portrait of romantic breakups collected from blogs in 2005," one of the pieces analyzed in Whitelaw's article.

Recently a cluster of works have appeared that deal with visualising networked society. Drawing on data from the new ‘social’ web, or blogosphere, they offer us a sense of the unimaginable crowd that now inhabits the network. The Dumpster (2006), by Golan Levin with Kamal Nigam and Jonathan Feinberg, is an interactive visualisation of teenage romantic breakups (Levin et al, 2006) (Figure 1). The artists harvested and classified some 20000 blog posts, analysing them to allow comparison; the work's interface follows the metaphor of the title, as hundreds of coloured circles, each representing a blogged breakup, drop from above and jostle each other. Browsing the breakups displays excerpts of the blog text, and alters the colours of the display to indicate the relative similarity of each breakup to the one currently selected. Sidebars to the interface provide more information on the selected breakup, including date, the gender and age of the author. The Dumpster is engaging and dynamic; simulated physics makes the breakup-circles jiggle and bounce; the interface is packed with detail, and the context-based display allows the user to investigate the multivariate relationships between breakups. As Manovich writes in his essay on the work, it encourages an interplay of attention between the individual and the group; ‘The particular and the general are presented simultaneously, without one being sacrificed to the other’ (Manovich, ‘Social Data Browsing).

[via serial consign - design / research]

Open Library

Joho the Blog mentions the Open Library project, which at heart is primarily an open, web-based library, but much more (which, to me at least, is the interesting part): metadata. Here's a summary from a recent developer's meeting:

While Brewster Kahle financially supports the Open Library, Aaron Swartz is the project's leader. Swartz was introduced and he gave an overview of how the goal of the Open Library is to be implemented, specifically, by amassing as many records describing as many books as possible, saving them to a database, and making the content of the database available through a myriad of ways. Wiki-like web pages. Search. Web Services computing and computer language APIs. Etc. By building relationships with stakeholders and content providers (publishers, retailers, libraries, software publishers, etc.) access to Open Library might provide cover art, summaries, scholarly reviews, popular reviews, full-text versions of the texts in many formats, rankings, discussion forums for each title, tight integration with Wikipedia, tight integration with citation management tools, links to library holdings, scanning & printing on demand services, the ability to harvest records for inclusion with local library catalogs, or even (gasp) the ability to buy the book. By exploiting authority and controlled vocabulary lists, not only will every book have a Web page but author name and subject term might have pages as well, thus creating a veritable "Web of books." This functionality and vision is very similar to the functionality and vision articulated by many proponents of "next generation" library catalogs.

The Guided Tour has some proof of concept demos, including sample metadata for Dave Eggars' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, a book that I (oddly) just started re-reading this morning..

[via Joho the Blog]

March 14, 2008

Yo as Gender-Neutral, Third-Person Pronoun

Brief article about academic research published in Academic Speech on the complex uses of "Yo" in speech. Bonus: Sounds cooler than "they" as a gender-neutral, third-person pronoun.

To test the theory, Stotko and Troyer showed kids a cartoon with a goofy-looking person, but the kids couldn't tell whether the person was male or female. Then they asked the kids to write a slang caption for the cartoon. Some of the kids wrote, "Yo crazy," instead of "He or she crazy," or "They crazy." Follow-up research showed that kids definitely intended yo to mean "he or she." They used yo as a pronoun.

The comments to the post above are interesting in their own right for the wide variation the exhibit (in multiple categories)

[Note: At one point, in re-reading my original post, I phased out and changed "third-person" to "second-person," when in fact the whole point of the research was that "yo," a colloquial version of the second-person "you" in some sense, was now being also/instead used as as a substitute for the third-person, gender neutral of "she" or "he." Which is more grammar than I really wanted to get into on a Friday. Or any day.]

[via IxDA Discussion List]

March 12, 2008

Design Processes at Apple

BusinessWeek summarizes a SXSW presentation by Michael Lopp, senior engineering manager at Apple, about Apple's design processes. Not all strategies I use (I think using the term "strategy" when describing my own work would probably connote too much in the way of, say, strategy), but interesting. And it' hard to argue with Apple's track record overall in terms of design.

One thing I do normally do with design/production teams is what Lopp calls "pony meetings" (a term based, I think, on the Calvin and Hobbs cartoon):

This refers to a story Lopp told earlier in the session, in which he described the process of a senior manager outlining what they wanted from any new application: "I want WYSIWYG... I want it to support major browsers... I want it to reflect the spirit of the company." Or, as Lopp put it: "I want a pony!" He added: "Who doesn't? A pony is gorgeous!" The problem, he said, is that these people are describing what they think they want. And even if they're misguided, they, as the ones signing the checks, really cannot be ignored.

The problem, of course, is figuring out what portions actually get a pony and which get a rocking horse or that little stick with yellow yarn glued to the end.

March 11, 2008

Episode X: The TV Universe Implodes


Crossoverman follows the logical implications of the final episode of St. Elsewhere, in which it's revealed that events of the entire hospital-based series actually took place inside the mind of twelve-year-old Tommy Westphall, an autistic character featured in the series. Given the wide range of other shows that featured crossover stories, scenes, or characters from St. Elsewhere--including Homicide, a series that itself crossed over into series including Law & Order and more than 280 others.

What's odd about this isn't the plot twist at the end of St. Elsewhere--which was interesting, but it is, after all, fiction—but the sheer number of interconnections one can track across such a larger number of shows (the above graphic from Crossoverman is only about 20% or less of the full map). The site also includes textual lists, a clip of that last scene, and more.

[via kottke.org]

Your company's app


(From stuffthathappens.com.)

Technology design frequently (almost universally) suffers from a condition usually described as "featuritis" or "feature bloat." Designers (frequently not actually designers) struggle to put every capability of their product on the surface, visible in the interface. For that matter, products often attempt to increase their perceived value by jamming in capabilities: it's dessert topping and a floor wax! Products that avoid this—that focus on one key ability—are so rare that they're remarkable, iconic: the iPod, Google's default search interface, the paperclip, the egg.

It's difficult to resist the urge to shove "more is more" into the interface (witness the fact that Noisy Decent Graphics merely posted the above comic to their weblog, whereas I found the need to cram in a bunch of extra words and thoughts, then hide that junk under the <strike> tag, even one more layer that thinks itself "irony").

[via Noisy Decent Graphics]

March 08, 2008

Joseph Weizenbaum, 1923-2008

Computer scientist and AI theorist Joseph Weizenbaum apparently died last week [wikipedia link].

I say "apparently" because back in the late 1980s, I was on the staff of an academic computing journal. All of had been fans of Weizenbaum's work, primarily (for us) ELIZA and the book Computer Power and Human Reason. One day, another staff member on the journal announced that Weizenbaum had died. Since a new issue of the journal was going to press soon, one of us wrote a several page memorial to include in the issue. But at some point, we realized that no one could recall where they'd heard the news of his death, so I was given the assignment to contact MIT for confirmation. I couldn't find a number for Weizenbaum's office or department, but I did locate a number for his colleague Marvin Minsky. I called and, when Minksy's receptionist answered, I explained that we were preparing a memorial article on Weizenbaum, but needed to confirm his death. She said, "I just saw him last week! What happened?"

She put me on hold while she called Weizenbaum's receptionist, who said she'd just seen him that morning. Apparently our information was incorrect.

(As Chuck Palaiuk wrote in Fight Club, "On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.")

March 07, 2008

Mobile User Experience

PMN Mobile User Experience published their 2008 manifesto, a document they ask attendees at their annual mobile telecom conference to respond to. As with most manifestos, the overall content of them is not wildly innovative--they're based on trends--but it's interesting to read them stated in such start form. Here's the first point:

1. Content itself will be the interface of the future

We believe…

Icons are dead and the content itself is the new interface. By stripping away the confusion and clutter of traditional interface elements like menus and scroll bars we can put photos, music and video at the heart of the user experience.

The background

The Series 60 mutlimedia gallery, the CoverFlow system on the iPhone, Google maps... They are all examples of applications where the content itself is at the heart of the user interface. If a user wants to browse music, they should be able to flick through the album art as if they were exploring covers in a record store. Photos should fill the screen and pan and scroll when the phone is moved or tilted.

Photos, calls, texts, music and video should be merged into a single activity log, clearly visible from the home screen. Users think in terms of friends, tasks, days out, favourite songs and web-sites. By separating these elements into individual application silos, the industry is limiting how big a role they play in the mobile experience.

The interfaces of the future will be content-centric and context aware.

To get you thinking

Is it possible to rank photos and web pages on the same level of the interaction hierachy as voice calls and text messages? Can all objects be treated as equals within the mobile interface? Do these sort of icon-lite, menu-free interfaces work on key-driven devices or are they only suitable in a touchscreen environment? How can the user be prompted to explore the interaction possibilities without the traditional on-screen cues?

[via Putting people first]

City as videogame, city as text

Mirror's Edge, an XBox 360 game in development by DICE, involves a parkour courier named Faith, who is pursued by by agents as she runs the city attempting to deliver a package. As Greg Smith points out at Serial Consign, as with parkour in general, the videogame ends up reading the city as text.

What immediately caught my attention about these preliminary screenshots is manner in which architecture elements are demarcated. As per her training in "the art of displacement" Faith possess an innate ability for reading the geometry of her surroundings and this translates into a playing field where the objects, surfaces and assemblies that comprise the city are colour coded according to accessibility. When considered in this manner, the city becomes a giant text and, fittingly, play revolves around spatial problem solving and wayfinding rather than trigger finger virtuosity. [see my previous post Ways of Seeing Digital Space for more thoughts on provocative representations of space in gaming]

All of which maps to the larger cultural shift towards repurposing: cross-programming in architecture, remixes in music, collage in art, etc. Perhaps more importantly, once we accept that postmodernism (or whatever you want to call it) offers the possibility to read anything as a text (an advertisement, a building, a cultural movement), it's only a short hop to seizing the ability to rewrite those texts.

March 05, 2008

Tracking Leonard Cohen

Michael Bartel tracks the cultural history of Leonard Cohen's "Halleluja" from the 1984 original through Jeff Buckley's influential 1994 cover to Fall Out Boy's 2007 sampling. Includes charts of film/tv usage per year, covers vs. TV/radio usage, and more.

In twenty-five years, Leonard Cohen has gone from a punchline on a TV show [The Young Ones] to a sideways joke mixed with a tribute in Nirvana's "Pennyroyal Tea"--"give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld so I can sigh eternally"--to a totally serious starring role in a song by Fall Out Boy, a band not especially known for their irony. It seems like this has been accomplished by an emotional flattening--reducing a song about the varieties of grace to a mere lament. But this is not the only direction the song could have gone in. Something of Cohen's defiance, sensuality, and triumph could just as easily inform a cover.

Wikipedia has a less focused (although more link-filled) article on the song as well.

[via metafilter.com]

March 03, 2008

Rise of the VJ

Vague Terrain devotes issue 09 to the rise of the vj. Video interviews, discussions of synaesthesia, wallpaper vs. fine art, and strange things.

The energy behind the growing practice of audiovisual performance is intriguing; what is it that sparks the passions for creators and theorists working within this art form? The diversity of the concepts, techniques, and aesthetic qualities is remarkable, suggesting that this practice is not rooted in any one particular mindset, but instead, emerges from a wide range of trajectories that are converging within a contemporary form of media based performance art. However, live video mixing performances certainly address a hunger for immersive and synaesthetic sensory experiences where aural and visual elements work together to create a whole that is something beyond the sum of the parts. To experience the live performance of a talented VJ (or live cinema artist, if you prefer) alongside the talent of an innovative sound artist is a treat indeed; the senses are enveloped and the mind is tantalized into a world being spun into existence on the spot. Perhaps it is this feeling of immediacy and immersion that is so rewarding for performers and audiences alike. Perhaps it is the intense bombardment of the senses that does it. Or perhaps it is the richness of the dialogue between technology, spatial architecture, and human expression that speaks to us so powerfully.

[via serial consign - design / research]

March 02, 2008

"A seemingly random collection of sounds..."

Finalists for the 1st Ballardian Home Movies contest. You'll have to hit the site for the actual movies (YouTube), but here are some various quotes from judges on the winning entries (which, perhaps not surprisingly, sound exactly like what I might predict reviews of home movies based on JG Ballard would sound like):

A static shot, half composed of white, with red material intruding beneath. A seemingly random collection of sounds from talk radio or television are heard, slowly snatches emerge. Mopeds, a body found on a golf course. Murder on the roads, in the suburbs. “They shouldn’t be here,” claims a politician or letterwriter and as if to answer the listener appears to move away

Machine noise, loud and abrasive. A tool kit, saws, cutting tools. The slow reveal of a pile of Ballard titles leads you to wonder if here JG’s works are being recut, sliced, diced and served again. The Day of Creation is the final title to appear. The maker has taken Ballard and chopped him up.

This film chases its own tail, eventually disappearing into the black hole of inner space. Utterly beguiling.

CCTV-positioned footage of a seemingly empty street lined by lock-ups hiding ephemera, memory junk, yesterday’s crashes. Daylight as harsh as the artificial strip lighting. In a denial of creation we return to the water from which we emerged.

[via notes from somewhere bizzare]

March 01, 2008

Graphics & Journalism

NYT's Graphics Director Steve Deuenes answers readers questions about graphics and journalism. It's fairly nice overview (with many links and examples) of information graphics, the differences between static and interactive information graphics, and more.

Tone Poem


Tone Poem by Marc Kremers: "Infinite, randomly generated song, based on glitches from a bad taping of Rodox Video Programme 358 by Color Climax Corp." Many more new media art pieces at Kremers' website.

[via rhizome]