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February 28, 2007

Swingline: RFIDs in Staples

The Future of Work claims that Swingline is working on a stapler that uses staples with embedded RFIDs (click the slideshow link on the right side of that page). So if lose a report that you've stapled together with the RFID staples, you can locate it. I'm waiting for an inexpensive system that will let me tag my damned books. Or some of this RFID powder from Hitachi (.05 mm in diameter).

[via Gizmodo]

February 27, 2007

Web Design Inspiration

Patrick Haney has posted more than 300 screenshots of cool website designs, which he hopes will inspire other web designers in their work. Cool idea.

[via things magazine]

If Sartre worked for Peugot Motors

I was intrigued by the title of this Ask Metafilter post, How do I know where my car ends and the rest of the world begins?"

Turns out it was just a question from someone who apparently tired of dinging up their car due to their poor depth perception.

[via Lifehacker]

Art Threat

This looks promising: Art Threat is a new web and print magazine about political art.

Art Threat is a journal of political art. We embrace art that confronts, interrogates, or even shrugs off the status quo. Art Threat looks for creativity that threatens the conventional wisdom with progressive ideas. By highlighting political artists and their work, and by challenging those who deny the political, Art Threat supports the creation of critical culture and strives to inspire people to act.

[via Drawn!]

February 26, 2007

Information Visualization, Writ Large


Pruned has a collection of information displays in high-end control rooms that that Filmoculous accurately describes as "data porn." Above is an image from Kansas City's Power and Light center.

[via Fimoculous.com]

February 25, 2007

Start, Finish: Best Opening or Closing Lines of an Academic Text

Crooked Timber has a post gathering the best opening or close lines of academic texts. Here is one submission, from the opening lines of Claude Levi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques:

Travel and travellers are two things I loathe—and yet, here I am, all set to tell the story of my expeditions. But at least I’ve taken a long while to make up my mind to it: fifteen years have passed since I left Brazil for the last time and often, during those years, I’ve planned to write this book, but I’ve always been held back by a sort of shame and disgust. So much would have to be said that has no possible interest: insipid details, incidents of no significance. Anthropology is a profession in which adventure plays no part; merely one of its bondages, it represents no more than a dead weight of weeks or months wasted en route; hours spent in idleness when one’s informant has given one the slip; hunger, exhaustion, illness as like as not; and those thousand and one routine duties which eat up most of our days to no purpose and reduce our “perilous existence” in the virgin forest to a simulacrum of military service…

The best ending section I have written is still probably from Nostalgic Angels, my first book; it is a little over-wraught, but at the ending, you get like that:

Imperfect angels, nostalgic for a past that never was, we might instead learn to live as cyborgs. In mapping hypertext use we do not create a new world from nothing, but we do create discourses in which old worlds might be transformed.

Or there is this text I cribbed from Jeff Noon’s Falling Out of Cars, which ends the last chapter of Datacloud (a chapter completely comprised of quotations from other texts):

Tupelo sleeps on the other bed, breathing gently, and sometimes sighing. I have covered the lamp with an old shirt from my bag; now the light barely touches the girl, but falls steadily on the notebook as I write. I have taken advantage of the needle’s sweetness, to hold the day in words; and the pages I have just written, and the pages already written, they seem to make a kind of sense now. I have knowledge of the story once more, my own story, my place in the story.

[via metafilter.com]

February 24, 2007

Typography: What Does Marsellus Wallace Look Like?


This is the most brilliant piece of typographic motion I have seen in a long time (maybe since the opening credits to Se7en): What Does Marsellus Wallace Look Like (.mov link, NSFW) riffs on the Pulp Fiction scene, early in the movie, where Samuel L. Jackson interrogates that kid who he and John Travolta have been sent to deal with. (I haven’t seen Helvetica, The Movie yet, though, so that may soon occupy my top spot.)

The boingboing post on this also includes several related items.

February 23, 2007

Let There Be Rock

This week is, apparently, the fifty-sixth anniversary of the introduction of the Fender Telecaster [wikipedia link]. For those of you under forty, this is what geeks you to spend thousands of hours mastering, prior to WoW, Halo, and Grand Theft Auto.

(Dammit. Now my ] key is non-functional. I had to get the ones in this post by copying/pasting one from a previous post to work/space. This machine is going back to Apple on Monday.)

Fair Use and Documentary Film

Lessig’s Stanford CIS Fair Use Project, Media/Professional, and Michael Donaldson has announced the they will offer insurance to documentary filmmakers who are using video/audio clips in their work under fair use guidelines (a tricky situation that often prevents documentaries from being released due to overly cautious distributors and their lawyers—see, for example Downhill Battle’s activism on the part of the PBS civil rights documentary, Eyes on the Prize). Documentaries that follow American University’s Center for Social Media Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practice in Fair Use. (Services will either be pro bono or at reduced rates.)

[via Boing Boing]

February 22, 2007

A Defense of Wikipedia

At the Guardian UK, Brian Whitaker defends the use of Wikipedia as a research source, after some readers complained about his use of Wikipedia for an article he published on the site. I think he's right about this. Wikipedia gets slammed by people (usually teachers) as not being suitable as a more traditional source. But the problem's not so much with Wikipedia; it's with how people use it. Is a Wikipedia article about gender studies as complex and well-researched as a peer-reviewed journal article? Maybe. Or maybe not. It depends on the context that the writing is being done in and for, the intended readers, the goals of the writing, and the content of the specific bit of research being used. Writers are supposed to learn how to evaluate the reliability and usability of their resources; banning Wikipedia use for students (or others) is itself a form of pedagogical laziness.

Yes, I know Wikipedia isn't perfect and there are pitfalls for the unwary. But so long as you use it carefully, I can't see the problem. Overall, it's an invaluable resource.

Yesterday, looking for a handy and straightforward explanation of "male hijab" for the uninitiated, I did a Google search and came across the Wikipedia article.

I read the article, and it seemed to provide what I was looking for, so I quoted a bit of it and provided a link to the page (which of course contained plenty of links to a variety of other sources for anyone who might want to pursue it in more detail).

If you read a lot of Wikipedia articles it becomes fairly easy to judge whether or not the authors know what they are talking about. The bit I quoted had obviously been written with some care and, more importantly, it tallied with what I had learned from off-line sources which are impossible to link to.

[via things magazine]

Gender Diversity Among Web Conference Speakers

Kottke has some (unfortunately, not surprising) statistics about the number of featured speakers at high-profile, webcentric conferences in 2006 and 2007. TED 2007: 12 women, 41 men; SXSW Interactive 7007: 147 women, 378 men. And these were some of the conferences that had the highest proportion of women.

Undoubtedly, there are lots of reasons for these numbers, ranging from gender representation in the professional web development field to cultural inertia. And I don't think anyone is suggesting that these are intentional, conscious decisions, outside of conferences like BlogHer, designed specifically to increase the participation of women. But it's also clear that things aren't changing very fast.

[via kottke.org]

February 21, 2007

Arranging Things: A Rhetoric of Object Placement

Leonard Koren's Arranging Things: A Rhetoric of Object Placement looks at, well, the meaning of object arrangement [amazon link]. Which I've always found is harder to do well than it looks. I tend to just stack things up in large piles that sit there, unartfully and unrhetorically, snoring. (Rhetoric scholars, I've discovered, are among the least rhetorically skilled people I know.)

This book started out as an attempt to understand what made the arrangements I saw in a San Francisco store, Japonesque, so extraordinary. For years I visited Japonesque and enjoyed the unique arrangements of ceramic, rock, old wood, plant materials plus other sundry and eclectic objects and wondered what it was that gave them their imaginative vitality. Of course I asked the proprietor/arranger (Koichi Hara) how he did what he did. But after a few conversations it became obvious that he was either unable, or unwilling, to articulate his secrets.[...] I pragmatically concluded that there was no algorithm or formula for exceptional arrangement design, yet I suspected that the conceptual principles of superior arrangement must exist or could be manufactured and that I could find them if I just persisted. So I changed my methodology. Instead of relying on arrangement practitioners for insights, I attacked the literature of art, art history, criticism, merchandising display, communication theory, literary theory . . . until I chanced upon rhetoric (see page 24). Anyway, I had my rhetoric epiphany six months after I had commissioned the paintings. . . .

i hate computers

Both the LCD and the DVD drive on my Mac Book Pro died last week. Apple, always quick in terms of service, had a padded mailer to me by Thursday (less than 24 hours after I called tech support) and the repaired computer was back in my hands Tuesday morning.

Now the keyboard is dying. I've lost the apostrophe key, the tab key, and the delete key. I can't command-tab between applications; I have to select and delete text rather than backspacing over it. (I've rebooted, reset the power manager, and booted from an external drive—all no good.) I hate this.

(Where did I get the apostrophes in the last paragraph? I copied and pasted them from a random post from Metafilter about a WWII spy for the French resistance that was in my RSS feed. Writing as a form of collage.)

Beating Illustrator's Block

Dani Draws offers 101 simple but creative prompts for illustrators. (These would be useful for design classes.)

3. Illustrate a song.

4. Make a narrative advertisement for a soft drink.

14. Illustrate a day in the life of a cat, dog, fish, or monkey.

18. Make a magazine cover for a current news story.

30. Create two versions of the same painting — one with warm colors, one with cool colors.

67. Create a classic movie poster for your favorite modern movie.

[via Boing Boing]

Billie Holiday & Louis Armstrong

Slightly late (10m or so) for Mardi Gras, but here's a clip of Billie Holiday singing "Do You Know What It Means (To Miss New Orleans)", accompanied by Louis Armstrong and His Band (from the movie New Orleans (1947)).

Going Big: Multi-Story Laser Graffiti


Graffiti Research Labs comes up with a guerrilla method for for using lasers to draw enormous (temporary) tags on tall buildings.

[via Gizmodo]

February 18, 2007

Tech Support for the Book Migration Project

Circa 1500, a monk receives tech support help learning how to use a book. Hilarity ensues. (In Norwegian, with Dutch and English subtitles.)

Advice on Survey Design

Vol. 2: Design-Management posts some useful links to resources for designing surveys, including Survey System's tutorial on how to design a good survey.

Videogames of the 1980s: Long Exposures


Rosemarie Fiore takes time-exposure images of videogames from the 1980s. They're extremely cool looking. Above is a shot from Tempest [Wikipedia link] (a game I spent hundreds of dollars worth of tokens on when I was high school).

[via information aesthetics]

February 17, 2007

Jean-Paul Sartre, 911 Operator

From McSweeneys, Jean-Paul Sartre if he worked as a 911 operator:

OPERATOR: 911. What is your urgence?

CALLER: Hello? What? Hello?

OPERATOR: Que voulez-vous? What do you want?

CALLER: I think there's an intruder in my house. Will you send the police? Please. Please hurry.

OPERATOR: Putain! I have said before, Man is not the sum of what he has already, but rather the sum of what he does not yet have, of what he could have. Hmm, I wonder how I feel about things he once had but now doesn't, or won't—I am referring to this intruder, bien sûr. Man is anguish. Doors open. Structures like poverty have the literal agency of the component, individual human being, but this class structure is a destine and we can speak cogently of social forces which bring to bear causality and turn us into esclaves—you know ... slaves. This is a truism. A must for humanité. Or at least for frère breaking and entering, non?

CALLER: I swear to God, man. You've gotta do something. Are you speaking French or something? Are you even listening to me, man? I think this guy may be coming up the stairs. Oh, God, I'm scared. Please send somebody.

OPERATOR: Appropriating by destruction. Such horror. But, as they say in greeting cards, À coeur vaillant rien d'impossible. What a load! But I don't mean to upset you, you know that, eh?

Raph Koster: "But is it art?"

Raph Koster riffs in some wonderful ways on ludology vs. narrative in Ferry Halim's "High Delivery":

To me, this is a great example of how the underlying meaning of mechanics (lack of control, impossibility of completing a task) can be reinforced and thematized by a well-chosen metaphor. This is a mechanic that games generally don’t go near. “Difficult controls” is seen as anathema to good gameplay usually (though some games, like Marble Blast Ultra and similar, are of course entirely driven by the challenge of mastering controls).

Hint: Your cursor controls a breeze that pushes the balloon around (up, down, left, right). And turn the sound up—it's a very fitting atmospheric track.

[via Raph's Website]

February 16, 2007

%CUSTOM_3 for %CUSTOM_4 per month!

From my In box today. (The [hidden] fields are my own obfuscation, but the %variables were in the original.)

From: [hidden]
Subject: You are approved!  Thu, 15 Feb 2007 21:39:04 -0800
Date: February 16, 2007 12:39:04 AM EST
To: johndan@[hidden]
You can receive %CUSTOM_3 for %CUSTOM_4 per month.
Please respond %MTG_TODAY. [url hidden]

Frankly, I'm a little insulted when people spamming me don't enough technical chops to handle their own spamming software. This is obvious usability consulting opportunity for someone out there.

February 15, 2007

Barry White, Performed by Gollum & Smeagol (YouTube)

A pretty bizarre (but extremely well done) remix.

[via Boing Boing]

Dashboard Spy: Business Information Displays


The weblog Dashboard Spy gathers examples of information displays and other information visualizations used by business people.

Welcome to the Dashboard Spy's famous collection of screenshots of executive dashboards, balanced scorecards, business widgets, or whatever the latest name is for visually-oriented business intelligence tools meant to assist in corporate decision-making.

Here you will find screen after screen of dashboard concepts, implemented projects, and other tools to help you conceptualize, design and implement your business dashboard.

In the spirit of "a picture is worth a thousand words", use this site as a source book for inspiration. If you are struck by a particular screenshot, please enter a comment. Your input and observations may help someone else. Plenty of comments will make this a more useful community.

February 13, 2007

After the Shock of the New

Ask Metafilter answers the question, what things become better with age and use?

[via things magazine]

Tweaking Punctuation

Mostly of interest to font geeks, but U&lc has some tips (and reasons) for adjusting punctuation typography.

Sometimes a subtle adjustment in a character’s position can make a big difference in the visual balance of your typesetting. Case in point: hyphens, en- and em-dashes, parentheses, braces and brackets will often look fine in lowercase settings, but can appear too low when set next to caps and lining figures. The larger the setting (in headlines, for example), the more noticeable this will be.

Media, Education, Web

Henry Jenkins speculates about the future of media studies and web culture in higher education (long quote, but it's a long—and useful—article):

[M]edia studies needs to reflect the ways that the contemporary media landscape is blurring the lines between media consumption and production, between making media and thinking about media. A recent study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 57 percent of teens online have created their own media content. As our culture becomes more participatory, these young people are creating their own blogs and podcasts; they are recording their lives on LiveJournal and developing their own profiles on MySpace; they are producing their own YouTube videos and Flickr photos; they are writing and posting fan fiction or contributing to Wikipedia; they are mashing up music and modding games. Much as engineering students learn by taking apart machines and putting them back together, many of these teens learned how media work by taking their culture apart and remixing it.

In such a world, the structural and historical schisms separating media production and critical-studies classes no longer seem relevant. Students around the country are pushing to translate their analytic insights about media into some form of media production. And they are correctly arguing that you cannot really understand how these new media work if you don't use them yourself. Integrating theory and practice won't be simple. Some students in the entering classes in the program in comparative media studies have had little or no access to digital tools, and others have been designing their own computer games since elementary school. Even among those who have media-production experience, they have worked with very different production tools or produced very different forms of media content in very different contexts.

Responding to these wildly divergent backgrounds and expectations requires us to constantly redesign and renegotiate course expectations as we try to give students what they need to push themselves to the next level of personal and professional development. We have encouraged faculty members to incorporate production opportunities in their courses so that students in a children's-media class, for example, are asked to apply the theories they have learned to the design of an artifact for a child (medium unspecified), then write a paper explaining the assumptions behind their design choices. We may have students composing their own children's books, building and programming their own interactive toys, shooting photo essays, producing pilots for children's shows, or designing simple video games or Web sites.

Before we started our master's program, I went on the road to talk with representatives of more than 50 companies and organizations. They told me that they value the flexibility, creativity, and social and cultural insights liberal-arts majors bring to their operations. They also shared a devastating list of concerns — liberal-arts students fall behind other majors in terms of teamwork, leadership, project completion, and problem solving. In other words, they were describing the gap between academic fields focused on fostering autonomous learners and professional contexts demanding continuing collaborations. Those desired skills were regularly fostered in other disciplines that have laboratory-based cultures that test new theories and research findings through real-world applications. At a university with strong traditions of applied physics or applied mathematics, we needed to embrace the ideal of applied humanities. And as a result, we have created a context where our students put their social and cultural knowledge to work through real-world applications such as designing educational games, developing media-literacy materials, or consulting with media companies about consumer relations.

[via The Chronicle of Higher Education]

February 12, 2007

Bad Usability Calendar 2007


IAllenkelhet/Netlife Research has this year's Bad Usability Calendar in PDF format (Creative Commons licensed). Not very useful for telling what day it is, but that's sort of the point.

The print size is A3, so US geeks may have to resize it to print it. Source material available in .eps, .svg, .swf, and Illustrator if you want to demonstrate your CC remixing/transforming chops.

Update: Eidar has kindly created several new versions for people like me who don't abide by international standard paper sizes (i.e., US letter and US tabloid), and posted links to them on the same page as the others.

February 08, 2007

Virtual Architecture

The ARCH is a weblog that covers virtual architecture (Second Life, The Sims, etc.). Looks interesting.

[via things magazine]



Typorganism lets you upload a 50x60 pixel image and converts it to ASCII art. Much easier than the last time I did one of these, which was in 1985 and involved six hours of coding print commands in Pascal.

[via Be A Design Group]

Love and Theft: Lethem on Plagiarism

(As you can tell, I'm interested in how plagiarism, something academics tend to paint with a very broad, monochromatic brush, functions as a creative act in different disciplines.) In this Harper's piece, Jonathan Lethem explores the act of borrowing (in theory and practice) in Bob Dylan's lyrics, Thomas Jefferson's politics, T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," and more.

[via Fimoculous.com]

The Good Citizen's Alphabet


Design Observer has posted a slideshow of the pages from Bertrand Russell's The Good Citizen's Alphabet.

[via Design Observer: Main Posts]

Can Photographers be Plagiarists?

Slate asks if photographers can be plagiarists? (Launch the slideshow).

(Via metafilter.com.)

February 06, 2007

Golfing with Joyce and Beckett

Golfing with James Joyce and Samuel Becket (a short film).

[via Fimoculous.com]

February 05, 2007

Open Source Architecture

Architecture for Humanity (an organization I actually donate money to) introduces a wiki for Open Source Architecture.

The Open Architecture Network is a collaborative database which Architecture for Humanity hopes will make it easy for architects, designers and engineers from around the world to freely share their work, evaluate and modify existing solutions, and collaborate around new approaches. Think of it as the Wikipedia of humanitarian design, the first big step towards open source design.

With a coalition of sponsors and partners, including Sun, Architecture for Humanity built and is starting to test a system designed to be not just a repository of good ideas, but a tool for collaboration and research. Users will be able, Cameron says, to search existing ideas based on a number of criteria (such as, say, "housing, affordable, tropical, community-designed, passive solar, bamboo materials) and the ratings of other users.

This is no elitist playground, either. "We're not defining an architect as someone who's been through 7 years of education," Cameron says. "If this thing isn't useful to informal community designers living in favelas, it'll fail. We aim to prove that you don't need $15,000 worth of CAD programs to come up with design solutions. You can participate with a napkin sketch, a borrowed scanner and a public Internet connection." (However, it should be noted that the site will be available initially only in English, which will further limit its utility to barefoot architects.)

[via Boing Boing]

We Are the Machine: From Paper to Web 2.0

Michael Wesch's "We Are the Machine" [YouTube] is a wild visual ride from pencil and paper through Web 2.0.

[via Kairosnews]

February 04, 2007

Spatial Stories


Gothamberg Apartment Stories is structured hypertextually and architecturally, in something like an organized tag cloud.

Everyone who has lived in an apartment has a story to tell. Gothamberg is a place to read, interact and exchange stories of lives in apartment buildings. Together, these tales of sounds and smells, lobbies and bathrooms, laundry room gossip and unexpected favors form a single collective building, Gothamberg. Their experiences form the elliptical threads of inhabitation, a mnemonic quality expressing something of the shared nature of dwelling.

[via information aesthetics]

Interface Space


Interface Space discusses various interface elements translated into physical space. Includes Hans Gremmen and Monique Gofer's "Empty Trashcan" (shown above), neon-lit scrollbars, and more.

[via Design Observer/a>]

Psychopaths and Corporate Allegiance

This quote from Fast Company in my RSS feed stepped me back (emphasis in original):

The psychopath has no allegiance to the company at all, just to self.

-Paul Babiak , psychologist

[via Fast Company]

February 03, 2007



Apparently, I have an alternate (and much taller) life in the NBA. Cool.

[via 我的回忆。。。]

War Pigs

Absolutely nothing to do with workspaces, but this Cake cover of Sabbath's War Pigs is pretty cool [YouTube fan video]. (There's also a Faith No More version as well as Black Sabbath's original on YouTube.)

[via metafilter.com]

Pretending Reality

To pretend, I actually do the thing: I have therefore only pretended to pretend.

— Jacques Derrida

[via underdog]

Road Case

Road Case

February 02, 2007

Database Cinema


Lev Manovich's new project, the DVD Soft Cinema: Navigating the Database, sounds promising. Manovich teams with new media artist Andreas Kratky and several key new media folk:

What kind of cinema is appropriate for the age of Google and blogging? Automatic surveillance and self-guided missiles? Consumer profiling and CNN? To investigate answers to this question Lev Manovich - one of today’s most influential thinkers in the fields of media arts and digital culture – has paired with award-winning new media artist and designer Andreas Kratky to create the Soft Cinema project. They have also invited contributions from leaders in other cultural fields: DJ Spooky, Scanner, George Lewis and Jóhann Jóhannsson (music), servo and Andreas Angelidakis (architecture), Schoenerwissen/Office for Computational Design (data visualization), and Ross Cooper Studios (media design).

SOFT CINEMA: Navigating the Database is the Soft Cinema project’s first DVD published and distributed by The MIT Press (2005). Although the three films presented on the DVD reference the familiar genres of cinema, the process by which they were created and the resulting aesthetics fully belong to the software age. They demonstrate the possibilities of soft(ware) cinema - a 'cinema' in which human subjectivity and the variable choices made by custom software combine to create films that can run infinitely without ever exactly repeating the same image sequences, screen layouts and narratives.

'Mission to Earth' is a science fiction allegory of the immigrant experience. It adopts the variable choices and multi-frame layout of the Soft Cinema system to represent ‘variable identity’. 'Absences' is a lyrical black and white narrative that relies on algorithms normally deployed in military and civilian surveillance applications to determine the editing of video and audio. 'Texas' is a ‘database narrative’, which assembles its visuals, sounds, narratives, and even the identities of its characters from multiple databases.

The DVD was designed and programmed so that there is no single version of any of the films. All the elements – including screen layout, the visuals and their combination, the music, the narrative, and the length – are subject to change every time the film is viewed.

[via Bruce Sterling]