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April 30, 2008

Wind Farm

Wind Farm

I drive up to Churabusco occasionally just to see the sprawling wind farm installed this year. Something like eighty three-hundred-foot turbines. The picture doesn't even come close to how disconcerting it feels or the scale.

April 29, 2008

On &


Type shop Hoefler & Frere-Jones cover some history of the ampersand, along with a tour of several different examples.

As both its function and form suggest, the ampersand is a written contraction of “et,” the Latin word for “and.” Its shape has evolved continuously since its introduction, and while some ampersands are still manifestly e-t ligatures, others merely hint at this origin, sometimes in very oblique ways. The many forms that a font’s ampersand can follow are generally informed by its historical context, the whims of its designer, and the demands of the type family that contains it: below, a tour of some ampersands and the thinking behind them, along with an explanation of the storied history of the word “ampersand” itself.

(At top is the ampersand in Cooper Black. Previously on H&FJ: The pilcrow (¶), which most people see only when they accidently turn on "show non-printing characters" in their word processor.)

[via Daring Fireball]

April 28, 2008

Coded Domestic Objects

Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchin's "Software, Objects and Home Space" (a thirty-four page PDF) outlines a taxonomy of "coded domestic objects". A "logject" is basically a domestic object (ranging from mobile phone to a heating/cooling system or a vacuum cleaner) that is

(1) uniquely indexical, (2) has awareness of its environment and is able to respond to changes in that environment that are meaningful within its functional context, (3) traces and tracks its own usage in time and/or space, (4) records that history, (5) can communicate that history across a network for analysis and use by other agents (objects and people), (6) can use the data it produces to undertake what Dodge and Kitchin (2007a) term ‘automated management’ – automated, automatic and autonomous decisions and actions in the world without human oversight and to effect change through the ‘consequences of their assertions’ (Bleecker 2006: 9); and (7) is programmable and thus mutable to some degree (that is, it is possible to adjust settings, update parameters and to download new firmware6). Logjects then enable the kinds of unobtrusive machine-to-machine, machine-to-person and person-to-machine exchanges that are a fundamental trait of pervasive computing and are diverse in their nature. We can identify two main classes of logject: impermeable and permeable.

[via Pasta&Vinegar]

April 25, 2008

Inside the BBC Radiophonic Workshop

BBC News has a nice, five-minute video doc about the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, an early (late 1950s onward) sound effects and experimental music hotbed (most famous, I guess, for supplying sci-fi sounds for Dr. Who). See also entries at wikipedia, some BBC Four clips, and several articles on the history of the workshop.

[via createdigitalmusic.com]

Take That, Swan Lake

The Pixies as ballet.

[via Boing Boing]

April 23, 2008

Fonts and Politics


The NYT has another entry in the ask-designers-about-candidates'-graphic-identity articles, this time about McCain's use of Optima Bold. This article goes a little deeper because of its focus on a single candidate and just one element: font choice. Most designers quoted offer up a standard (sometimes conflicting) description of what Optima Bold means, Matthew Carter does a little more work to set that choice in context (including the image at the top of this post):

The moment of typographic truth will come when Senator McCain picks a vice presidential running mate and two names have to be combined on banners and bumper stickers. By choosing Optima, a rather distinctive typeface, he may have seriously limited his options.

I set the possible names in a bold weight of Optima caps and certain things became clear. HUCKABEE looks awkward in Optima, and ROMNEY is afflicted with the same difficult ‘EY’ combination that has plagued the current vice presidency. Perhaps because Optima is a German typeface, the word SCHWARZENEGGER looks predictably good.

Although it’s German, Optima took its inspiration from Quattrocento inscriptional lettering in the cathedrals of Florence and Siena, which may explain why GIULIANI looks so simpatico. In the end, however, my research suggests that the optimal running mate — so long as you don’t have to typeset her first name — is RICE.

I should add here that Optima is among my favorite fonts. Often criticized for being too middle of the road—a sans serif font that has suggestions of serifs, leading to charges of not being able to make up its mind—Optima works in most places (for me, at least) as being relatively neutral but still somewhat unconventional. Although obviously now all those meanings are going to get shifted around for me, given that every time I use it I'm going to feel like I'm backing McCain. (Posting that image above made me feel a little queasy.)

April 21, 2008

work/space: kitchens

At Metropolis, four influential chefs talk about the kitchens. Here's Alice Waters:

There was also a restaurant in an old house, called the Gibson House, that I used to love eating at, in Bolinas, California, way back at the end of the sixties. It had patchwork quilts hanging on the walls, a great front porch, and flowers. I had filed that away someplace in my mind, so I could imagine having a restaurant in a house. Then when we had a fire, in the tenth year of the restaurant, that burned down the wall between the kitchen and the dining room, I just said, “We’re not putting it back up again.” I never liked the idea of a restaurant where all the beautiful things are in the dining room, and all of the things you don’t want to see are in the kitchen. If I was going to cook in the kitchen, then I wanted it to be beautiful, and that came with a combination of influences such as hanging copper pots, France, and the Royal Pavilion, in Brighton.

(The other chefs are Grant Achatz, Dan Barber, and Wylie Dufresne.) Chefs are, not surprisingly (at least for good chefs) extremely particular in a thoughtful way about workspace.

[via kottke.org]

"Charlie Rose" by Samuel Beckett

It could be just that I'm worn out by this semester, but this "'Charlie Rose' by Samuel Becket" video is amazingly funny.

[via Fimoculous.com]

DJ Spooky Lecture on Remix Culture and Sampling

Hour and a half video of DJ Spooky on sampling, remix culture, copyright, and more (from a UNC-Chapel Hill talk).

[via Remix Theory]

April 19, 2008

Political Rhetoric + Media

I make it a policy to ignore most media coverage of politics, with the exception of meta-satire: The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858 (Slight Return).

LINCOLN: Ahem, I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect slavery will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you love America this much (extending fingers), this much (extending hands slightly), or thiiiiiis much (extending hands broadly)?
LINCOLN: I think we covered this…
GIBSON: If I may interrupt…
LINCOLN: Please.
GIBSON: I noticed, Mr. Lincoln, that your American flag pin was upside down…
LINCOLN: Yes, the wind caught it. Now, as I was saying...
GIBSON: We get questions about this all the time over at Powerline and on Hannity’s talk show. Mr. Douglas has said this is a major vulnerability for you in the fall. So I’ll ask again – do you love America?
LINCOLN: (scowling with a forced smile). Yes.
GIBSON: If your love for America were ice cream, what flavor would it be?

[via Boing Boing]

April 18, 2008

Typographical Errors (Real Type)

Although most people use the term "typo" to refer to any mis-pressed key in text product (often mis-spellings), Receding Hairline discusses ten typos that fall more squarely in the realm of typography: includes both usage rules and keystroke combinations for the obvious smart/typographer quotes, but also lesser-known degree symbols, true ellipses, straight quotes for measurements, hyphens, fractions, and the interpunct.

[via Lifehacker]


The Design Observer offers some personal reflections and a quick, informal survey on the music designers listen to at work.

Today, the headphone-clad designer locked into his or her own audio bubble is a familiar sight. Graphic designers it seems like music and abhor silence. But is it possible to claim that music contributes more to the creative output of a studio than, say, comfortable chairs and a good coffee machine? There is no shortage of theories about the way music influences behaviour. It began with Pythagoras and his discovery of the music of the spheres, and can be found today in such disparate musicological thinking as Brian Eno’s theories of ambient music, and in the way institutions are using classical music to reduce violent behaviour in public places. Music’s ability to act as a sedative has long been know to medical science, as are the mesmeric effects of music as a means of inducing heightened states of emotion.

As you might expect, readers have posted a wide range: Burning Spear, New Order, podcasts, the new R.E.M., drone metal, and Wu-Tang.

[via Design Observer: Main Posts]

Sweating the Details: Storyboard for The Shining

One frame of the Overlook Hotel from The Shining along with Kubrick's detailed storyboard for the shot, which includes (among other annotations),

In order to accurately get the
central path curve, you have to
set up the shots and put stakes
in the ground so that the curve
as seen through the ground
glass corresponds to what is
WAY exercise the greatest
care as the compositional
effect of a different path might

[via Daring Fireball]

April 17, 2008

User Centered Design as Dogma

At the IA Summit this year, Jared Spool's keynote questions the relevance of user-centered design. Putting People First summarizes some key points:

In fact, the UIE researchers found that design teams who tried to adhere to a set methodology and loyally followed a process often struggled and tended to blame the methodology for the failure of the design effort. ‘Finding a new methodology’ was often cited as a possible way of addressing this problem.

Spool placed heavy emphasis on the culture of the firm, suggesting that those firms that celebrated failures were most likely to see real innovation and impactful insights from research, betas and frequent ‘tweak, release & watch’ cycles.

He suggested a preference for ‘informed design’: design informed by a vision, research feedback and tricks & techniques

The link above has additional notes, summaries of responses from the audience at the talk, and Spool's slides from the talk.

It's interesting to watch evolving fields like IA and UxD struggle with complex issues like this: UCD can be useful but, as Spool suggests, it can also be extremely limited when applied dogmatically. And it's often applied just like that: the hammer that makes every design context look like a big, stupid nail. Getting beyond that mindset to something more robust (and, admittedly, more complicated) is necessary.

[via Putting people first]

Typography and Music: The Mountain Goats

The Mountain Goats' new video for Sax Rohmer #1 is a nice run (nearly literally) through hand-drawn type, aesthetics, and camera movement.

[via metafilter.com]

April 16, 2008

Knowing Jack: Interactive Conversation Principles

Jellyfish, the people behind You Don't Know Jack (among other things), have published a nice, concise overview of principles for interactive conversation: The Jack Principles.

The Jack Principles are the result of 15 years of continuous research and development on Interactive Conversation at Jellyvision. A well-executed interactive conversation encourages you to suspend your disbelief and allow yourself to "feel" that a prerecorded host is talking, listening and intelligently responding to you. This illusion of awareness is the key to the success of Interactive Conversation.

The Jack Principles is the first set of comprehensive guidelines for designing, writing and performing for an interactive conversation.

[via the IxDA discussion list]



FontStruct offers a free, web-based font construction environment (with a grid and primitives) that outputs TrueType fonts to use on either Windows or Mac. There's also a gallery for sharing fonts created on the site.

Not high end, but probably a useful space for experimenting and teaching about type. (As you can probably tell, I haven't actually used it, but it's on that long, long list of Things I'll Work On After the Semester is Over, I Mean It This Time. Also, there's the fact that the userid and password I registered on the site aren't working yet.)

April 15, 2008



Le Corbusier's A/V Architecture

Interactive Architecture has a nice report (with links to video including the one above as well as other links) to Le Corbusier's poém électronique, extensively audio-visual-enhanced architectural design for the Philip's Company pavilion at the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels.

The whole project was initiated and directed by Le Corbusier, who also created and/or selected the images for the audiovisual show, with the organized sound composed by Edgar Varèse, and the stunning surfaces of the building designed by Iannis Xenakis. The result was a ground breaking immersive environment, since the space of the Pavilion hosted the audio and the visual materials as integral parts of the architectural design.

[via Interactive Architecture dot Org]

April 13, 2008

An Engineer's Guide to Cats

(I have nothing to add to that title.)

[via metafilter.com]

April 12, 2008

Live! Nude! Copyediting!

cnet edits.jpg

One of the interesting features in NetNewsWire, the OS X RSS reader I use, is the ability to highlight edits and other changes made to weblog entries after their initial publication. The grammar/style geek in me enjoys watching writers refine their style, catch and fix typos, and generally tweak things.

In the old publishing model, text was more or less fixed once it was published. And I'm sure there are some people who lament the "sloppiness" of online texts that isn't perfect the minute it hits the user's screen the first time. But the tradeoffs between finished text and publishing deadlines, especially for news stories or casual posts to a weblog, are complicated—enough so that it's frequently worth it to post something now with minor (especially surface-level) problems than to have to add in the time for an additional round of copy editing. For everything published.

Take the NNW screenshot above, showing a c|net report on the Yahoo/Microsoft merger. The red highlighted text was deleted and the green added after the initial publication of the story. Some of the edits are completely stylistic: "is not expected," for example, has been replaced with "have left the decision of who" as the story unfolded. This seems like a useful edit. Similarly with the replacement of "converge on" by "negotiate" (although neither version is "more" correct, the latter seems less charged). Were those changes that the writer should have caught the first time around? Possibly. But the story was useful in the initial form but improved in the revision. So the live editing seems like a good compromise. (I'm not sure about the change in the source being cited, from "CNBC report" to "Wall Street Journal," but it's not clear why that change was made—could be an error in the original report or it could be that the WSJ source appeared later.)

In a perfect world, all published text would be utterly polished, tweeked, and always up to date. If by "perfect" you mean extraordinarily dull.

April 09, 2008

The Opening Shots Project


The Opening Shots Project collects analyses of opening shots from movies. Jim Emmer's list includes some basic theory and language for analysis, then offers a slew of analyses (including visual, audio, and thematic aspects), including Slackers, Altered States, Fight Club, Star Wars, and a few dozen more. Here's a small portion of the discussion of Day for Night (above):

A bus crosses the frame from left to right and we follow a woman in red walking from right to left, who stops to get a magazine. Notice the curves and circles that establish a pattern for the shot -- the curb, the kiosk, the fountain.

[update: Bonnie discusses some additional material (w/YouTube clips) from the opening Scenes of Lolita]

[via metafilter.com]

April 07, 2008

Responding to Search Engine Queries (Vol. 2)

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

03 Apr, Thu, 08:22:13 Google: background color of work space for best work

I decided to check in with the experts at Pantone, since any corporation that can build a multi-million dollar business on getting people to pay hundreds of dollars for chips of paint that hardware stores across the country give away for free must know something, right? They said it's Pantone 18-3943 (aka, "Blue Iris"): "As a reflection of the times, Blue Iris brings together the dependable aspect of blue, underscored by a strong, soul-searching purple cast. Emotionally, it is anchoring and meditative with a touch of magic." Cool.

03 Apr, Thu, 15:53:31 Google: johndan johnson
You know, there are a lot of days when I just want to throw in the towel and bag that whole "then a hyphen, then E-I-L-O ... no, O ... right, O-L-A ... No, the there are two L's, but there's an O in the middle. Right. That's close enough; most people don't even try to pronounce it. It's Finnish. You're welcome."

05 Apr, Sat, 05:30:14 Yahoo: WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY WORK SPACE DESIGN?
I don't really mean anything; I just named the weblog "work/space" (note the slash mark--it's edgy) because I was surprised to discover that Boing-Boing, Gizmodo, and Bitch, PhD were taken and I couldn't come up with many better alternatives.

06 Apr, Sun, 10:34:26 Google: "parent directory " /color climax/ -xxx -html -htm -php -shtml -opendivx -md5 -md5sums
I have no idea what the hell that means, and I feel a little dirty just for reading it.

music video

pitchfork.tv launched. Damn, this is going to cost me some bandwidth and attention.

April 06, 2008

Documentaries and Cinematic Truth

Errol Morris' weblog post at NYT has some interesting discussion about the complex role of re-enactments in documentary film:

Critics argue that the use of re-enactments suggest a callous disregard on the part of a filmmaker for what is true. I don’t agree. Some re-enactments serve the truth, others subvert it. There is no mode of expression, no technique of production that will instantly produce truth or falsehood. There is no veritas lens – no lens that provides a “truthful” picture of events. There is cinéma vérité and kino pravda but no cinematic truth.

[via artblog]

April 04, 2008



Web Zen this week covers links to net.art sites, including 99Rooms.com (above).