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January 31, 2008

extend dendritic dynamics

The landscape urbanism bullshit generator constructs semi-random buzz phrases. Obviously satirical, but the output reminds me of Eno and Schmidt's Oblique Strategies for the theory set.

[via metafilter.com]

January 27, 2008

CSS Reference

If you google "css reference," you'll get 48,000+ hits. I think I've looked at most of these at one point or another when I need to figure something out or find a resource to pass on to someone new to the topic. But Sitepoint has what looks to be a very good, concise reference to CSS that includes info both on concepts and implementation.

[via Daring Fireball]

Twitter: "The Right Kind of Stupid"

Poynteronline has a nice, quick piece by Mallary Jean Tenor, back in September 2007, on the use of Twitter in news organizations, which starts with this perceptive quote from a software engineer for NYT, who says Twitter is "the right kind of stupid."

"I feel that the next big things will be found by some tinkerer putting a bunch of pieces together in new and interesting ways (remember a light bulb is just some glass and a metal wire)," Harris said via e-mail. "Twitter's just a stupid example of this. Other smart possibilities are out there, things like mapplets in Google, screen savers that show you the news ..."

Tenore documents the ways that news sites like NYT have been using Twitter to keep up with the rapid pace of news (sort of a self-fulfilling prophesy) and user's demands for information streams rather than monolithic blocks of news. The numbers are still very low—NYT's Twitter account only has a little over 1,000 followers (up from under 400 when the Poynter article was written)—but I don't think I'm going out on a limb to guess that we'll see dramatic increases in this this sort of micro news feed, more stripped down than traditional RSS, in the near future.

[via SacredFacts]

January 25, 2008

La Jetée ciné-roman

The book version of Chris Marker's remarkable Le Jetée is apparently coming back into print [spoiler warning—although for this movie, it's probably not an issue]. Marker's short movie, best-known probably as the inspiration for Gilliam's 12 Monkeys, makes 12 Monkeys and Memento look like Cat in the Hat. That complexity and indeterminacy is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. (I side with the former.)

[via Ballardian]

Space and Sound


Serial Design links to and discusses Martijn Tellinga's Circalles (click the "work" box on his site), an exploration of "soundobjects":

Circalles is a piece of music exhibiting qualities of lucidity, transparancy, intelligibility and definition as parameters of musical appropriation. It projects formation as a modest follow up of events: individual soundobjects in particular harmonic relationships, or not, dramatically consistent, or not, as the result of guided chance. Complementary a potential for deviation and hesitation throughout its unfolding, it performs the integration of intented and accidental musical occurence over and between its eight seperated trajectories.

Tellinga emphasizes the spatiality of music, both in the score (above) and the reproduction (eight channels; a two-channel excerpt is available at the site). (See also the Flaming Lips' Parking Lot Experiments and Zaireeka (four CDs for simultaneous, dispersed, mostly synchronized playback) or turntablist transcription method (TTM) or, before that, Charles Ives or Harry Brandt, etc.)

January 20, 2008

Firefly Amp (Potentially)

Firefly Amp (Almost)

In an ongoing effort to start things on fire figure out how electricity works expand my technical abilities, I'm building a Firefly tube amp, using John Calhoun's preprinted circuit board and instructions, along with something like 12,000 resistors, capacitors, tubes, and miscellaneous parts I don't know the functions of, ordered from electrical suppliers on the web. I have about four wires left to solder, but I'm avoiding those last steps because at this point, it's potentially an amp.

Bobby Fischer

A 1957 New Yorker article on a fourteen-year-old prodigy named Robert Fischer.

We sat down to watch what was going on. Young Fischer, whom we discovered to be a lanky lad with a mischievous, rather faunlike face, was playing against a stout, elegant man in his middle twenties—an Argentine named Dr. Dan J. Beninson, who, we were told, is scientific secretary of the United Nations’ Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. They were playing chess such as we had never seen before—making their moves with split-second rapidity, while exchanging banter with each other and the kibitzers, most of whom were of college age. Within a few minutes, they had finished one game and were launched on another, and Fischer was asserting, with a triumphant grin, as he pushed his queen, “You’re dead now.” “That’s what you think, Bobby, my boy,” Dr. Beninson answered, instantly bringing his bishop across the board—an unexpected stroke, apparently, since it caused young Fischer to clap a hand to his head and brought a burst of laughter from the kibitzers. Everybody seemed to be having a high time. Once, when Dr. Beninson lingered over a move for perhaps three seconds, Fischer threw up his hands in feigned disgust and groaned, “It’s no fun to play chess if you take all year over a move.”

There are a couple of other good Fischer links at the Kotke post I grabbed the above from.

[via kottke.org]

January 18, 2008

web zen: desktop zen


Web Zen this week covers desktop zen: Kaliber10000's On Display, a collection of screenshots of computer desktops from around the world (more than 4,000); Chickenhead's Desktop Bonanza, post- and post-post ironically retro desktop images in multiple resolutions; Pixelgirl Presents Desktop Images (including the above image, by Rocio Sánchez Beck); and several more.

January 15, 2008

Design Police: Visual Enforcement Kit


Design Police has constructed a Visual Enforcement Kit (a small portion of which is shown above) that you can download, print to sticker paper, and post use to deface objects that offend your design sensibilities.

I try to avoid using these things because they always end up sticking to me (both figuratively and literally).

[via Cool Hunting]

Working With Data

Aaron Swartz announces the launch of a community site for people who work with large datasets: theinfo.org.

Some of us have spent years scraping news sites. Others have spent them downloading government data. Others have spent them grabbing catalog records for books. And each time, in each community, we reinvent the same things over and over again: scripts for doing crawls and notifying us when things are wrong, parsers for converting the data to RDF and XML, visualizers for plotting it on graphs and charts.

It's time to start sharing our knowledge and our tools. But more than that, it's time for us to start building a bigger picture together. To write robust crawl harnesses that deal gracefully with errors and notify us when a regexp breaks. To start converting things into common formats and making links between data sets. To build visualizers that will plot numbers on graphs or points on maps, no matter what the source of the input.

We've all been helping to build a Web of data for years now. It's time we acknowledge that and start doing it together.

[via Aaron Swartz]

January 13, 2008

Game Designers' Workspaces


Kotaku has an extensive set of pictures of game designer's offices, including people at Sims Studio (Head Rod Humble above), Electronic Arts, Firaxis, Gearbox, and many more.

January 09, 2008

"One Throat to Choke"

Red Tape Chronicles at MSBNC.com discusses the almost uniform bad design of contemporary high tech: Customers frequently return new gadgets after mistakenly assuming their new purchases are broken. The products aren't actually functionally defected; they're just designed so poorly that users can't figure out how to work them.

Sure, all these gadgets are cool, but do they work? If past history is any indication, often, they often won't. Here's that dirty little secret, unearthed by the group of consultants from Accenture: Product returns cost the tech industry $14 billion each year, a huge chunk for a $200 billion business. The Accenture group will be releasing a study on gadget product returns later this week, but I got an early peek. Their main finding is this: Consumers often can't figure out how to use many of the gadgets they buy, and a sizable portion of those gadgets end up right back at the store.

The full article is worth reading, but here's the best quote:

Another Accenture expert, Jean-Laurent Poitou, says consumers will insist on having "one throat to choke" when things go wrong.

Accenture apparently hires very bright and witty soundbite-worthy people, because the "one throat to choke" line had competition from several other contenders (to the point that I'll give them a pass for using now-lifeless phrase "perfect storm" to describe current technology development and marketing).

Near the end of the article Red Tape Chronicles does actually mention usability research (and quotes Ben Shneiderman), but then handwaves and largely dismisses product usability research by, instead, echoing Accenture's claim that companies will instead offer pay-for-use technical assistance. Why not instead show some examples of products—there are many of them—that are well-designed and market successes?

January 08, 2008

Michael Bierut Video Interview

TheAtlantic.com has a video interview with Michael Bierut.

I finished Bierut's Seventy-Nine Essays on Design about a month ago. I like any design book that includes significant discussion of falling off of exercise equipment. Other topics covered include, "I Hate ITC Garamond," the ClearRX pill bottle, Nabakov, paperclips, and the Homeland Security terror alert system. And manages to make sense of it all (or explain why it doesn't make sense).

[via kottke.org]

Deconstructing Sgt. Pepper

Remix away: Extracted and isolated individual tracks from The Beatle's Sgt. Pepper. (This probably won't last long.)

[via Boing Boing]

January 06, 2008

JG Ballard Pool at Flickr

There's an interesting JG Ballard Pool at Flickr.

Drained swinmming pools in suburban landscapes, gated communities with their security video surveillance, highway embankments, deserted airport concourses, the post industrial nightmare of the end of the western empire.

(Above is Lil Serenity's There By the Grace of Concrete Go I.)

I found this via Ballardian's two-part collection of Ballard-influenced art on the web, which ranges from sublime to frightening.

January 04, 2008

"You Sucjk at Photoshop"

[Very funny but NSFW audio track.]

Donnie Hoyle's Photoshop tutorial, "You Sucjk at Photoshop" reminds me of what David Cross might be like if he did technical/creative training. And I mean that in a good way.

[via Boing Boing]

Data Cinema


Rhizome.org points to Carlo Zenni's "data cinema," a generative technique for creating movies from disparate media sources. Zenni's work includes eBay Landscape (stock market charts, CNN's homepage, and various landscapes) and (above) My Temporary Visiting Position From the Sunset Terrace (video of Ahlen, Germany crossed with Naples, Italy).

[via Rhizome.org]

January 03, 2008

If by Cancel You Mean OK, Then OK


Damn, I hate PeopleSoft's interface. Above is the confirmation message I get when I use the system to email one of my classes (I blurred out the recipient addresses in Photoshop).

At the above point in the interaction, it's too late to actually cancel the message even if I'd wanted to. So if by CANCEL you mean OK, then yes. I was half expecting that when I clicked Cancel PeopleSoft would respond with TOO FREAKING BAD.

This is not an isolated bit of interface stupidity in PeopleSoft. Users are frequently trapped in dead ends that require them to jump to the top level and start again (rather than being able to back up one level), confronted with confusing or downright contradictory button labels to select from, new windows spawned without any warning or consistency, and missing important status messages because they're displayed hundreds of pixels away from the user's focus point on the screen.

January 02, 2008

J.G. Ballard & Architectures of Control

Thousands of people live and work here without making a single decision about right and wrong. The moral order is engineered into their lives along with the speed limits and the security systems.

- J.G. Ballard, Super-Cannes

Ballardian is carrying a cool article by Dan Lockton on "J.G. Ballard & Architectures of Control.

Ballard in no way tries to imply that the architects and civil engineers who envisaged the Westway, Western Avenue and London’s Motorway Box intended to create or inspire the events of Crash or Concrete Island, but the fact that Maitland (Concrete Island) is, professionally, an architect, is surely significant. Where Ballard does allow us to examine an architect meeting the consequences of his work — Royal in High-Rise — there is an apparent lack of conscious reflection by the architect on the actual architectural effects involved but something of an implication of intent, at least in terms of the whole thing being a perverse experiment on the part of its creator (much like Crawford in Cocaine Nights and Penrose in Super-Cannes, or even Vaughan, the “TV scientist” in Crash).

What's nice about Lockton's analysis is the reminding us how complex the situation of architecture is in contemporary life: There's not necessarily cause and effect or human intent, but a complex, indeterminate system of shifting and competing forces. Culture is "overdetermined," to grab an Althusserian term: You don't change culture (or architecture) by throwing a switch. Culture is woven by an immense number of strands pulling in different directions. Some strands and braids are stronger than others, but it's usually impossible to find a single thread to tug on that will substantially change the whole.

Lockton, btw, runs the weblog Architectures of Control | Design With Intent.

[via Ballardian]

Fair Use, Free Speech, and Video

The Center for Social Media's Pat Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi's "Recut, Reframe, Recycle: Quoting Copyrighted Material in User-Generated Video" provides an extensive list of Fair Use justifications for using video clips (with extensive examples). The report,

shows that many uses of copyrighted material in today’s online videos are eligible for fair use consideration. The study points to a wide variety of practices—satire, parody, negative and positive commentary, discussion-triggers, illustration, diaries, archiving and of course, pastiche or collage (remixes and mashups)—all of which could be legal in some circumstances.

Examples of Fair Use in quoting non-textual have been around for about as long as the media themselves have been around, but we've paid them less attention. While the battle over Fair Use has largely been fought over textual media—with some success—the fight over video is both new and crucial. Aufderheide and Jaszi's report is a useful reminder of important ways that media such as video also need Fair Use protection.

[via Boing Boing]