January 31, 2003
The Twenty Two Towers
So the finalists for the new World Trade Center plan get picked some time next week. Time to pitch my 50 cents.
Gawker sums up the popular opinion the best:
"The Leftists love Libeskind; the Artists want THINK. From SUVs to bank accounts, bigger is better for the Wall Streeters, so they're going with the Foster Plan. The structural engineers like United because it works mathematically and confuses the hell out of everyone else, and we're not sure anyone likes Peterson/Littenberg."
Libeskind has emerged as the favorite horse. Its not much of a surprise. His ideas translate to paper and web the best. His design is indeed striking, and bold. And he wrote up his thoughts the best. Perfect for a newspaper pitch. He was my first favorite, but seeing the models and plans up close changed that. There is a gloominess to his work. His sunken memorial looks like a pit of dispair, hidden from the street, surrounded by concrete. Correct me if I'm wrong but he's from Berlin, no? And I'm not so sure NY needs some Berlin style concrete oppresiveness. Not that I've ever been to Berlin...
THINK, are true to there name. Their design works best as a concept. Its fun to play with in the mind. Its open, its flexible, its creative. A perfect thought experiment. Two towers as an open framework in which various structures can be built. An architects wet dream.
But how good is open in architecture? On a work place level its great, as Stewart Brand has argued well. But on a building level. Already the THINK plan suffers by letting team members other then Shiguru Ban design structures in the towers. Whose CAD program took a dump up on the 80th floor? Sure computers make it easy to make turd shapes, but do we really need to build them? Guess its better then the potential reality of the THINK plan, an open framework filled with structures designed by the Board of Ed, cheap real estate developers and the city government. It won't be too artistic then...
Foster's design suffers from the opposite, its too well thought out. Too rational, too well designed, makes to much sense. In other words its so boring you'd think he was Dutch. You know the people who made sex and drugs a bland part of the urban fabric. It gets a royal yawn, although it probably get the least complaints from the future tenents...
My suggestion, skip all this WTC crap and spend the money on Gehry's Guggenhiem Downtown. A brilliant surrealist example of what happens when a CAD program gives birth to a love child with an alien graffiti writer. In other words a whole world better then the shit Gehry's imitators pump out. And a true masterwork for Manhattan's downtown.
24 Hour Subway People
1/9 uptown 2am Just saw 24 hour party people. Great flick, gives me hope. Hope that creative vision (madness?) can exist on a large scale. That it moves beyond the individual and the small group and into society. Hope that creativity can be manifested in economic structures, in firms, corporations and governments.
Of course I shouldn't need a movie to that. Our current US government is infested by a creative energy of the worst sort. Bloodthirsty oil men and military officers high off power, partying with war like its 1999. But for every evil there is at least potential for good. These are troubled times, but perhaps they will birth a positive reaction...
January 28, 2003
THE Leap Forward?
This Business Week article describes a new interface designed by Jef Raskin. Raskin was the brains behind the Mac interface, quite possibly making him the most important interface designer around today. His new system THE sounds quite intriguing, but it runs on the Mac Classic OS. Where do I find one of those? Well its not to hard except the people still running OS 9 tend to have really slow internet connections...
From the looks and sounds of it, THE is sort of like layering a command line interface on top of the existing GUI. Kind of like the amazing ActiveWords. Potential, yes potential.
Open Content Network is a new infrastructure for delivering public domain and creative commons content. No idea if its hype or really useful, maybe someone could tell me? Worth checking out none the less.
"The official line is we had our schedules mixed up, so we had to leave, but I didn't like the movie . . . Sundance is weird. The movies are weird - you actually have to think about them when you watch them."-Britney Spears via Page Six
January 27, 2003
Soundtracks from Future Marketing Campaigns
At 01:59 PM 1/27/2003, someone on the Pho list wrote:
"With the dismantling of the big labels, will people still be as interested in music? Why should they? If the demand was engineered as part of a 'lifestyle' on sale, what happens when there's no longer someone to engineer it?"
Well its painfully obvious that the music isn't going disappear anytime soon. Maybe all the dirty details haven't been finalized, but musicians will be doing just fine without the labels. There will always be a supply and demand for music, it core to human nature. That's been discussed ad nauseam. What hasn't really been discussed is the opposite, the fact that if cd sales went to zero tomorrow, there would still be a tremendous demand for "lifestyle". And who better to supply that demand then major label marketing departments?
If this were the 80's the majors would prime targets for a leveraged buyout. A hostile takeover of struggling companies by businessmen who realize that the parts are worth more then the whole. The car might only be worth $1,000 but the engine is worth $800, the wheels and tires $200 and the steel frame $200. Record labels as tools for making that dying technology called Cds? They ain't worth too much. But their marketing departments as tools for manufacturing lifestyle. That's commercial gold. And those A+R departments for filtering talent are worth at least a few bucks too. Course the labels themselves are so hung up on monetizing their assets by monopolizing distribution that they can't figure it out for themselves. And if they can't figure it out they'll be bankrupt soon enough...
How much are you willing to bet that Britney Spears made a large amount of money even without her revenue from CD sales. Between the tour, the merchandise and those Pepsi ads we are talking big time dollars. I'd take that sort of cash any day. And while she might have been constructed with record sales in mind, her counterpart 5 years down the line will be built by other means. And make no mistake there will be a new Britney Spears in 5 years or so. The Pepsi's of the world demand it, and they'll pay for it. The harder it is to make a new teen star the more they'll pay to be associated with the one that emerges. Supply and demand, real basic.
The Skateboarding industry offers a telling example of what might come. Skateboarders are giving away their "music" for free already. Doesn't cost a dime to watch the pros execute tricks down at the Brooklyn Banks in NY, 3rd and Army in SF or the local skate park. They don't get paid to do interviews in the skate mags or appear in skate videos. But they get paid to where brand X shoes, brand Y shirts and ride brand Z boards with brand whatever trucks. And if they are good they get their own board a then the all stars get their own shoes. Sponsorship through and through. And the skate kids eat it up.
This is lifestyle marketing at it essence. Different teams have different styles. Hesher, punk, pure athlete, hip hop, etc. You don't get sponsored unless you have a marketable style. You need enough raw skills to fake it, but pure skills will only get you as far as Joe Satriani, pure niche market stuff. But cop a fresh attitude, a new twist in the style department, say the right things in the interviews and pull off some decent handrails and you have a money machine. A kid who sells mad product, skates a bit and parties like rock stars used to. Its a formula dying to sold back to music industry, and I'll bet good money it will be...
The hip hop artists are halfway there already. Mixtapes and bootlegs are seen as promotional materials, just as MP3s will soon be. And can you name a major rap star without their own clothing line? Not to mention that fact that a hit album is more of a short cut to an acting career then a step towards a music career.
That's the pop/lifestyle way of doing it. The "pure" musicians will have their own paths. Live shows, session recordings, music for movies and tv, etc. Free MP3s will ensure they have a bigger audience they ever could have in other eras. And with more fans comes more support, better touring opportunities and so on. Not always the road to a mansion and a private jet, but a good life none the less.
The only losers in this whole process are the stubborn execs who stand against the wind as it turns into a hurricane. The industry is changing, and those that change with it will do just fine. Try and stand against the forces of history? History will just stomp all over them, or worse yet forget...
Window Shopping: Reflections on New Web Browsers
Posting this from Apple's new Safari web browser, on my dad's G3. Quite a nice program, but still short of perfect. It is indeed fast and I love the stripped down interface, which removes major junk but includes a google search imput. The loading status indicator inside the url field seems great to me, although it seems to annoy some people.
The back button doesn't quite work as I hoped. I had been told it contained a universal history, allowing you to go back pages before the one you actually launched the window with. Only browser that I've ever seen do this is iCab, and its great. Launch a page in a new window and you can still go back a few pages to an early site. Makes no sense to me why a new window shouldn't be able to go back to the page that launched it.
The lack of tabbed browsing doesn't bother me mainly because I haven't spent enough time with a browser that supports them. And in the times I have I could never get them to do what I wanted. Namely open each and every single link as a new tab, while retaining focus on the current page. Would be perfect for what I assume is my unconventional browsing technique, where I open a dozen or two windows and then close the pages as I finish them.
My dad has a different problem with Safari, he's grown attached to IE on OSX's "page holder" feature. And for good reason. It splits the browser into two window panes. On the left goes the page holder web page. Clicking links on this page opens them up in the right pane. Amazing for pages with a lot of links. I want this feature on my PC laptop, but it seems to be a Mac IE only thing. Given that its one of the best interface improvements to the browser yet, I really hope its soon universal...
note: after first publishing this, I noticed that Safari is screwing up some of the type formatting CSS on my site. Isn't this supposed to be Apple's strength?
note 2: and then I noticed IE messes the same formatting up, guess its time to make a Gif...
The Ruralization of the Internet
Adam at V-2 points out several graphics that amply illustrate the socio-geographic divide that underpins the internet. The first is an excellent interactive graphic showing the distribution of blogs around the world. The result is remarkably predictable. The usual suspect of Europe, America and whiter of the English Commonwealth countries lead the pack, with Japan also showing up respectably. Mainland Asia and the Southern Hemisphere? Barely there. The second graphic, a map of all the wi-fi spots in Manhattan shows the same digital divide reoccurring fractal like on a smaller scale. Harlem and points north are poorly represented, while the far wealthier areas of the southern half of the island are virtually blanketed with points. The very scary exception is the chunk of downtown comprised almost entirely of government buildings, which appears to be wi-fi free...
Now the digital divide is a well known phenomena, all be it one that still hasn't been solved. I'm more interested in the distribution of people and information on the internet itself. And what's worries me about those distributions is that they have very strong magnifying potential. That on the internet itself we will find a distribution of power, where certain social groups will find themselves in privileged places that allow for a consolidation of power.
I only have anecdotal evidence of the stratification of the internet, but its enough to be worrying. There are only a few strong social structures on the web: mailing lists, bulletin boards and their cousin the usenet, chat rooms, and linkrings are the ones I can think of offhand.
These communities often start out completely open, anyone can post or join in, provided of course they can find the place. But as these communities grow in prominence they begin to attract unruly members. Spammers and trolls are the most notorious problems. At the same time the shear effects of growth often hurt the community. Signal to noise ratios worsen, or the volume of the noise just gets loud enough to be annoying. The shear number of posts can discourage participation, and the new members often repeat old conversations at the annoyance of the old guard. The result is a need to regulate the community.
There are a handful of techniques of regulation. Slashdot and Kuro5hin style user moderation are among the most democratic. Often only a few individuals are allowed to moderate. But moderation is an intensive job, often its easier to just close the gates. Some sites like the late Dreamless hide their entrance so only those in the know can get access. Others like the Pho list require members to apply for entry. The most exclusive like John Brockman's Edge list are invitation only, a secret society for the information age. Linkrings like those found in the blogger community, are an organic form of invitation only. Bloggers tend to post links to other bloggers they like. Follow these links and you'll quickly wind up back at your starting point. These links tend to reinforce each other, strengthening the positions of the most prominent bloggers, while pushing others to the sidelines.
None of this is a huge surprise. It mirrors the processes found in governments, religions, secret societies and businesses. Like minded people tend to seek each others company and find that keeping others out increases the level of conversation. And often increases their power as well. The internet just makes this process fast and global. If news aggregators and the like represent a suburbanization of the internet, then this is a far older process, a tribalization, or ruralization of the internet.
Each social group is a remarkably isolated information bubble. It might have some established trading routes with other groups with similar interests, but thats about it. The nettime list for instance is limited to discussions of the social implications of technology with a dose of politics and art. Posts from the rhizome net art list, or the futurefeedforward scifi satire list are sometimes brought into the mix by certain trader individuals. But the subjects are well defined, and as insular as an isolated agricultural village. And since these groups often serve as news sources for members, they restrict the diversity of information even more then news aggregators can.
When power is thrown into the mix the result is stratification. A closed group with many powerful members serves to consolidate power. They have an excellent means of communication and sharing information. A group with a few powerful members and other less powerful ones can work as a funnel, bringing members into more prominent positions. And groups without much power? They just get locked out.
Combine this effect with the already existing digital divide and the result is amplification. For all the talk of internet revolution and how it evens the playing field its just not true. Sure there are opportunities for new groups to seize power, new ways for oppositions to organize. But like all revolutions the promises of power for everyone rapidly seem to be shifting towards power to a new group of people. The more things change...
January 23, 2003
Does the Beat Go On?
Well we all know the music industry is the midst of a trauma. Convulsions with the strong risk of death. Technology vs. Tradition. The future business models are up in the air, or if we are lucky getting cultivated in some low rent basement somewhere.
But what good is the new model if their is no new music left? Make no mistake 2002 was a bad year in music. Got to see it in action as I made a hipster hopping tour of NYC.
Started off with the Manhattan upscale crowd at the Tribeca Grand, with James Murphy of the DFA on the decks. DFA is the production team of the minute, and a record label to boot. They are strength behind two of few 2002's songs worthy of being called anthems: The Rapture's "House of Jealous Lovers" and LCD Soundsystem's "Losing My Edge".
If any songs sums up the state of boredom that infects todays music its "Losing My Edge" a flat voice music nerd talking about all the good old obscure music. Like we need to be reminded. The DFA get buzz by making dance-rock mutations that rip off Gang of Four endlessly. The Rapture is as close to enjoyable as it gets. But its not even close to those early Gang of Four records... Needless to say no one paid attention to the music as Mr Murphy spun. Not worth the time. The crossbreeding of indie rock and electronic music is a stop gap, there is no music salvation in this.
Shot off to Williamsburg for the boho hipster scene. The Stinger Club gets raw no doubt. Kill Whitey is the night and music is booty. 5 year old music made in Detroit by taking 10 year old Miami Bass records and mixing them with Techno. It was innovative once, and its damn good party music. But its more house keeping then anything. Hipsters running out of music so they mine the interesting corners of recent history. Only genre left is the slowed down DJ Screw sound of Houston. At least they know how to have fun, the party was as live as the music uneven.
Musical highlight of the night was Avenue D, two girls rapping sex like Too Short over electro beats. Post Electroclash is already hear, and ready to die too. There are only a finite number genre's left to recombine, and after a year in which hip hop featured a handful of hits sampling Indian film scores we are getting damn close. The "bootleg" or "mash-up" scene takes it to the limit recombining the most diverse music is the name of the game. And the game is almost over.
The excellent Simon Reynolds places his hope in "gangsta garage" coming out of the darkside of London. A repeat of the birth of Drum n Bass. Sadlly its not happening. What's missing from the formula is the technological revolution that paralleled the creation of Darkside, the proto Drum n Bass music that Reynolds sees being mirrored in current UK garage. There are surface similarities in the darkness and ghettoized nature of both genre's. But the innovation in the Darkside music didn't come from the evil vibes, it came from Cubase, a program that revolutionized the use of sampled breakbeats.
Reynold's points out the constant use of the words ice and snow in UK Garage song titles, but doesn't connect them to their source, Cocaine. And Cocaine just doesn't make for good music. Good vocals yes, so there is hope on the MC tip. But the crappy Timbaland meets Dancehall tracks that underscore the music aren't taking us anywhere. Nope sorry Mr. Reynolds musical serendipity doesn't strike twice in the same place.
Back in New York the future is just as grim. Hip hop's king of the streets 50 Cent is about the only live thing out there. And he's nothing new, another MC claiming to be the realest of them all. "Me, I'm no mobsta/ me, I'm no gangsta/
Me, I'm no hitman/ (yea) me/ I'm just me/
Me, I'm not wanksta/ me, I'm no actor/
But it's me you see/ on your tv/ cause I hustle baby". No doubt he's got skills, but he not advancing the music either, look for more of the same from hip hop in 2003.
So where is the future music? The live shit that grabs you by the eardrums and into otherworldly states? If I knew I'd be listening not writing, but there are some hints around. Retro trends are rushing through the 80's and simmering on the edges of grunge. As always retro season tells a lot about what's wrong with the current music.
The 80's trend screams of a need for character to return to the music. A need for narrative, drama and straight up fun. DJ culture is bland and faceless, and laptop even more so. And people aren't having it anymore. The next wave needs singers with personality and flair. It needs humor and stories, and once again straight up fun. And it needs to be liver then electronic music, the return to rock is a call for a return to the band. The sampler and computer are instruments, not the end all be all.
If there is a model for the next wave, perhaps its Barcelona's Manu Chao. In a musical world filled with pastiche, Chao is about the only artist who effortlessly blends genres and styles, but at the same time makes it sound unique. Before Chao and his band Radio Bemba Soundsystem, only hip hop artists were able wield samples without sounding overly referential. Rock, reggae, ska, hardcore, hip hop, flamenco and more all get drawn into is world, and the flavors meld flawlessly into a unique, polylingual Manu Chao flavor.
More then that, Chao is a real star, something missing from "serious" music for quite sometime. His personality shines through the music, his anarchist politics bite hard at the establishment, and his nomadic lifestyle a sharp break from the norm. Pull in sample artist and or DJ and the result might look a lot like the future of "serious: western pop music.
While writing this, I started reflecting on how many people I've met recently have mentioned being into jam bands. And it struck me how similar Chao is these bands. Now I avoid listening to jam bands the way I avoid sleeping with HIV positive lepers, but they just might be a model for the future. Reynolds has commented on how innovative music often comes out of the most overlook backwaters of the music world. And jam bands fly way south of both the mass media and the trend media's radar.
More telling is the way these bands present an alternative to the dying major label system. Tour endlessly, encourage file trading, and sell a lot of merchandise. Tighten up the sound with a dose of electronics, reduce the self indulgent jamming, add a flamboyant hip hop punk singer and things get interesting. Get a multinational to sponsor the tour for big bucks, film a slick music video, sell live streams of each show and make merchandise like the band is Yu Gi Oh, and its a highly profitable enterprise.
Right or wrong this musical stagnation can't last much longer...
January 22, 2003
One For the Dreamless Massive
Checked my server logs this morning and found I was getting requests from the legendary and long dead dreamless.org via the Wayback Machine. Guess nothing ever dies on the internet, although the archive is far from complete. Interestingly enough the front door for wayback dreamless is still locked the way it once was. Only those who know the backdoor can get in. Artifacts of the legendary designer's TAZ remain hard to find...
Catching Sent of the Future
Dropped by Sephora this evening to sniff some of my favorite luxury item, fragrence. Smell is the most primal of our senses and I take picking a new cologne seriously. Refuse to buy one withoue wearing it for a day first.
Ideally I would test out all the scents, but there are far too many. And since all you see is bottles, the brand is the only thing you have when picking out what to smell. It brings the importance of graphic design painfully out in the open. If the package doesn't look good to me I won't be able to smell it, there just isn't enough time. I just hope the designers are good enough to represent the scents properly...
Ordinarily I'm not really into brands expanding into endless products, but when it comes to scent it seems like they don't go far enough. You buy a cologne to smell like it, yes? So why cover that smell up with a soap that has one scent, shampoo with another, and clothes with their own detergent odour. Its an area where it makes perfect sense to buy the whole set. But the Gucci laundry detergent is nowhere to be found. Guess its too low rent for those Euro megabrands...
Oh and if you care, my likely choice, an old favorite Comme des Garcons White. They don't even have a matching deodorant, so I guess its more Gucci Rush for the underarms.
January 21, 2003
Its Getting Cold Out Herre
Damn, for the second year in a row I somehow find myself spending January freezing in New York. Love the city too much to come for x-mas and leave. In anycase figured I'd share my cold weather technique for the world. Perception of temperature is mostly psycological, its a relative concept. If you don't think you are cold then you aren't. When heading outdoor the key is to make sure you can forget you are cold.
I use what I call the two option technique, a real simple trick you can play on yourself to stay warm. All it involves is making sure that you have two options to get warmer when you walk out the door. When you walk outside into the freeze the first thing you notice is how damn cold it is. You think its cold therefore you are cold.
If you walk outside completely bundled up, wearing all your gear you are helpless. There is nothing you can do to get warmer except get inside. What you need are options to get warmer, aka options to forget the cold. I always have two, but some people might only need one, others three or more. Generally I leave my coat unzipped and have a hat or scarf in my pocket. Walk a block and if you are still cold employ option one. Hold off on two for as long as possible. Odds are when you finally put on option two you'll feel warm enough to enjoy the crystaline winter beauty.
This trick has weak underbelly, an enemy called wind. Wind slaps you in the face and screams "its fucking cold out". All you need to do is forget the temperature, but the wind keeps reminding you. An unsolved problem so far...
And yes, I promise I won't be talking about the weather anytime soon again, so fear not.
Kabloging on the Run
Sending this from my Treo 300, using a program called Kablog. Pretty cool if it works. Damn hard to put urls in though. Will change the structure of blogging if it takes off...
just added the hyperlink from my computer. Realized while outside that most posts I'll want to make from my Treo probably won't have any uses for links anyway. Who gives an F about hyperlinks when away from a computer screen? Perhaps the future is nature blogging?
Internet Pathways to Metaphors
Doc Searls has an interesting column on the metaphors underlying the recent arguments on copyrights. Even more interesting for me though was the hyperlinked + google journey it sent me on. Been a while since I've jumped off on that sort of exploration of new ideas. An excellent counterpart to warning about over reliance on the internet for news I just posted.
Searls references an essay by George Lakoff, a cognitive scientist I had previously known nothing about. Haven't had enough time to really figure out how much I agree with his theory on the moral metaphors behind American Conservatism and Liberalism, but it is certainly innovative and interesting. Makes a great companion piece to this weekend's "Memo to the Democrats: Quit Being Losers!" NYT Magazine piece.
Looking for more info on Lakoff lead me to this excellent edge.org interview. Lakoff comes off as one of the rare thinkers who is able to let his ideas evolve all over the traditional academic boundries, leaving a trail of insite behind. Leave no doubt his books are now on my wish list...
January 20, 2003
The Suburbanization of Information
Just took a half an hour to get a cup of coffee at the local coffee shop (which in Manhattan means Starbucks 98% of the time). Actually sat down and read the physical newspaper for once. Forgot what a pleasure it is to sit down with the paper literally spread in front of you.
What struck me the most was the way I ended up reading articles I never would have come close to online. It felt like riding the New York subways after spending an extend period of time in segregated California towns like San Francisco and LA.
Los Angeles in particular has infrastructure of segregation brilliantly analyzed by Mike Davis in _City of Quartz_ and _Ecology of Fear_. Leave your suburban castle, protected from the neighbors by a moat of grass. Jump in your air conditioned car, and if your extra paranoid you'll have an extra gate around the whole community to pass through. Jump on the freeway and move at warp speed over all that great American diversity. No need to look at it at all, be hard to if you tried. You're in a climate controlled environment sealed off from realities of poverty and diversity. Sure you might tip the valet, as you slip into your office, and say high to the Baja Fresh counterperson, but that's the limit to your exposure to people from other cultural groups.
The New York subway on the other hand is a great equalizer. On one side of you is a young millionaire stockbroker, on the other a hard working deliveryman fresh from Guatemala. Across the way a middle aged black PR impresario. Selling batteries and small toys is a man from the Fujian Provence in China. A Dominican couple snuggles together in the loveseats found at the end of each car. Every New York commute is a reminder that America is the land of diversity, the place where people struggle to chase their dreams.
Physical newspapers play a similar mixing role, especially those that strive towards mass market audience. The more people they try to attract, the broader the mix of news stories. Turning the pages and sorting the sections is a constant reinforcement of the diversity of information in the world. We may ignore large chunks of it, but somewhere inside we know that other people actually do care about the sports section, science section, international affairs or the local stories.
As more and more people go online for news, we are losing site of the mix. News aggregators, blogs, email alerts and customizable websites give us a tremendous ability to focus our information. We surround ourselves with the news that we want to hear/see/feel. We can zip around in snug little information cocoons, isolated from the harsh reality of different ways of thinking. Those nasty conflicting viewpoints are relegated to trashbin of somebody else's RSS feed.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm and information junkie and the internet is my main source of info, and will remain so for a while. The ability to focus and amplify our our preferred data is a tremendous boost to our ability to learn. But there is a dark side to every advance, one that we need to anticipate and deal with. Lets remember that there is an information world outside our internet bookmarks and Amazon wish lists. And its healthy to get out and stroll through it from time to time.