November 13, 2008
Outlier Tailored Performance
Outlier is my new venture. Probably find me writing a bit more there then here for a while. Outlier makes tailored performance clothing for cycling in the city. SItes filled with info so take a look. Smart shoppers probably want to head here or here to catch a discount...
January 25, 2008
January 20, 2008
Vampire Weekend - The album is not even "out" yet and it's already 6 months too late say that their parents listened to Paul Simon's Graceland too much while they were in utero. They might not steal quite as much from Africa as Paul but they do manage to sound even whiter than he does while in the act. I know they went to Columbia but the African guitars plus indie rock is genius enough that one wonders if they were in the MBA program. Good but not nearly as good as Boubacar Traore. I expect to be guiltily enjoying this while ordering americanos for years to come.
Lil' Wayne - If you say you are the best rapper alive enough times over and over again it just might come true. I'm pretty sure at least half the songs I listened to in 2007 came from a Wayne mixtape. Talk about the album not even being out yet... Fuck "In Rainbows" Wayne is the one blazing the trail for what the future of the music industry looks like. Sure no one quite knows where the money is coming from but you know it works out somehow. Main variable is just how long before Wayne's childstar symptoms take him down the Britney and Michael Jackson path. Plenty of warning signs out there, but so far his growing insanity seems to be more of the musically productive Prince variety...
The Cool Kids - I've been saying it for a while but the music industry really needs to look at the skateboard industry to learn how to monetize a product that's essentially free. The Cool Kids sound like some Columbia MBA realized the same thing and you know it works out somehow. If it comes out in a year or two that some streetwear company cooked them up to sell product I wouldn't be surprised at all. And as long as the beats stay hot I don't really care. As for the rhymes, not bad at all, but they could probably switch up the front men the way skate teams change riders and only the hardcore obsessives would care.
October 24, 2007
Photoshop by Committee
It's easy to just say design by committee. The story behind the new New York City Taxi graphics reads like a text book case. A firm makes a design. The client gives feedback. A new look comes in. Another firm comes late in the game with a new design element. A powerful department rejects a design for intruding on it's turf. The result is a sloppy hodgepodge of elements. Designers are rather predictably lining up to critique it.
Personally I rather like it. NYC Taxis have always had a sloppy mix of design elements on their side. Anything cleaner and neater, anything better designed, would threaten the only design element that matters. The bright yellow color screams "New York Taxi" louder than anything millions of design and innovation consulting fees could ever generate. As long as the cabs stay yellow, those taxis will look the same. What will never look the same again is NYC.
The new taxis provided a bit of political cover for an even bigger design project. New York City has a new logo. The suddenly infamous Wolff Olins designed it. and the new NYC taxis are the first place most New Yorkers have been exposed to it. Those taxis are design by committee, but that logo is something different. You can call it Photoshop by committee. Get used to it cause you'll be seeing a whole lot more of it.
What happens when you have a committee where every single member has a copy of Photoshop on their computer? Or worse yet every member has a designer on staff? Design by committee once broke down to a bunch of opinions and needs, all sorted out by one or two designers. The committee stacked up its requirements, its problems and its bullshit, and the designer cooked it all up into some bland result. A designer in that situation today would feel blessed.
What happens in Photoshop by committee is far worse. The needs and the problems and the bullshit are still there of course. But then comes the designs. Not just from the designer, but from the committee members. From their staff designers. From their assistants. From their teenagers and toddlers. From their neighbors, coffee shop baristas and dogs. Committees were once additive, the members just piled on the guidelines and suggestions and the designer boiled them down into a result. Now committees are recombinant. They warp, splinter and evolve into competing designs. The designer is barely the designer at all. They are the person who must make these mutations all work together.
Design by committee is about making rules. Photoshop by committee is about breaking rules. It's often the only way the designer can get the multiplying designs to recombine. Wolff Olins' professional salespeople call this "container logos" and it seems to be winning them some super premium clients. Most of us would just call it bullshit, but we aren't the ones with the super premium clients.
In the case of New York City what this amounts to is a big old smudge of the letters NYC. Not surprisingly it looks a lot like design from the early days of Photoshop. A design from an era where designers had no idea how to use the powertools in their hands. It's ugly and clunky and has nothing to do with NYC beyond using the letters. I love it. It follows none of the rules of design that stifle the profession. It's loud and bold and will show up in all sorts of places. Like the full NYC taxi design it graces, it will never step out of the shadows of a far bolder design, Milton Glaser's classic I (heart) NY logo. Is it great graphic design? Not at all. But it is great Photoshop by committee and it will work just fine.
July 05, 2007
Notes on the iPhone
- I wasn't planning on buying this thing, really. But after a trio of raves from some of my favorite interface commentators, I quickly realized I pretty much had no choice. There is no question the game has changed with this device.
- There was a period of time where the iPhone sat in the cradle, iTunes with the AT&T sign up screen loaded and the Treo on speakerphone hold with Sprint. For a half hour or so I sat there essentially debating which corporate force I should commit my soul (or at least my personal data) too.
- Of those three corporate monstrosities Apple is by far the scariest to me as it functions as a dictatorship. Whatever control Sprint or AT&T have over me is at least modulated by their natural bureaucratic inefficiencies.
- The fact that Apple went with what is apparently the weakest/worst cellular company shouldn't be surprising as they are also naturally the company most likely to give in to Apple's demands.
- The fact that I am once again an AT&T customer has not really set in yet. Once it does I'm sure it will be depressing.
- Palm/Treo is just too sad of an entity to be counted as either a corporate monstrosity or a threat. If they had expanded upon the Treo 300 in any sort of semi reasonable rate of progress over the past 4 years they'd have a device at least as exciting and useful as the iPhone. Who knows what the story is over there, but it's got to be too pitiful for me to want to hear it.
- There are about 18 million things that my Treo 700p does better than the iPhone, yet I have no intentions of ever going back. The Treo is just too damn heavy compared to the iPhone. Not in weight really, but in thickness, in processor slowness, in interface sludge and a stubborn resistance to evolution.
- The iPhone is really a computer. It's explosive success in part comes from being the first mobile device designed as such and actually succeeding. Most phones are designed like overgrown pocket calculators. The Palm and Treo owe there success to working well with the limitations of late 90's chips and making a great intermediate device. The iPhone is the real thing.
- The iPhone fits in my pocket so well it convinced me to eliminate half the items in my pockets.
- The iPhone is too symmetrical, there are no great tactile clues on how to orient the phone when you take it out of your pocket. It is just as intuitive to hold it upside down as it is right side up.
- The multitouch interface is incredibly intuitive, you feel like an expert user from practically the first touch.
- An incredible effort has gone into making this thing feel smooth and seamless.
- All the organic sliding looks and feels great and also owes an incredible debt to the much maligned interface designs of Flash websites.
- The iPhone interface designers could learn a fuck load from the early Palm's insistence on eliminating as many unnecessary clicks as possible. There is a subtle tendency to hide poorly thought out interface ideas under animation effects. It's not to bad yet but I can easily see it becoming an issue in the future.
- There is some serious inconsistency in the interfaces. Notes gets a big WTF for one, did someone's grandkid code that one? Weather gets a whole icon on the home and then leads to an essentially flat app, no detail. The little one that annoys me is the edit button on the sms & email apps, it's in a different place on what are otherwise nearly identical interfaces. The lack of search in contacts is mystifying as there are contact search functions in other parts of the phone, it's a bit odd.
- What retard decided there was no need for any sort of multi-selection? Deleting email one at a time is a serious chore and copy and paste just doesn't exist. This better be a temporary glitch not some one button mouse obsessive disaster.
- As much as it pains me to say it, the flexibility of the multitouch interface seems to trump the tactile feedback of hard buttons. If anything there might actually be one hard button too many on the iPhone.
- Tactile buttons aren't going anywhere though, they just need to be built for specific uses and separated from the general device. The iPod aspect of the "phone" is in parts exceptional, but doing something as simple as skipping to the next song can be a laborious chore.
- Adding physical buttons back onto the iPhone is pretty much the kiss of death, the computer in your pocket effect only works as long this device stays as slim and seamless enough to be able to forget you are carrying it.
(update - I quickly realized I'm wrong on this, a standard phone like five way button where the home button is now would be great. A button or two on the left & right of that would really help too.)
- Externalizing the physical buttons into an external device (an iPod remote for instance) seems like the best solution, but it's still a compromise, the proliferation of devices does not end with the iPhone. It may be the most convergent of all mobile devices yet, but convergence is starting to look like a phenomena that occurs in tandem with, rather than in opposition to the seemingly exponential growth of devices.
- Is anyone working on a tactile touch screen? A screen capable of producing some sort on non audio-visual feedback? The future is begging for it.
- The iPhone needs 3G badly, the difference between using it on WiFi and on AT&Ts network is radical.
- The lack of 3G sucks for us early adaptors, but it might be great for WiFi. I'm almost certainly reopening my personal connection up to the public, after knee jerk adding a password to it. I wonder if Apple will start shipping Airport stations that default to open?
- Using the iPhone gives you a totally different understanding of WiFi, a real understanding of what a WiFi mesh might be, as opposed to an isolated set of access points that you laptop into the internet from.
- If this phone shipped with 3G wireless data, WiFi would be pretty much a mute point.
- The difference between using a WiFi mesh network and 3G network provided by a cellular company is intensely political. Yet the only difference the end user might will generally notice will probably be in their cell phone bill. And it's unclear whether that difference will be an increase or decrease.
- Playing with the iPhone really does feel like you are playing with the future. Yet function wise the only real difference is in the interface. Other than perhaps the very nice visual voicemail, there are no applications on the iPhone that aren't already bundled together in most of the smart phones that have been on the market for a while already. Is this device just a slick slight of media trick, or has Apple (and/or Steve Jobs) really singlehandedly pushed us into the next generation?
February 19, 2007
Symbolic Action (In Defense of the New Radiation "Symbol")
Well next time you see that sign a coming you better run. It's a new supplemental symbol for radiation danger, commissioned by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and designed to convey danger in a more intuitive way then the traditional radiation "trefoil". Now the interaction designers over at Adaptive Path are absolutely turding all over the results (and Michael Beriut just sighs), and in many ways they are right, it clearly is the result of design by committee and there is nothing elegant nor simple about symbol they generated.
Then again, there is nothing simple nor elegant about dying from radiation poisoning is there? And to ask the IAEA and ISO to do anything but design by committee is akin to something in between asking for a complete redesign of international relations and the impossible. To accuse them of design by committee is a completely valid statement of fact, but it's also a rather impotent critique. To ask them not to design by committee may be fantasy, but we can very reasonably ask and expect them to design by committee the right way (or at least in one of the right ways) and with the new radiation symbol that appears to be be exactly what we got.
Now I have a lot of respect for Adaptive Path and I'm sure with the appropriate time and resources they could produce a symbol at least as good and most likely better than what has been created. In that process one of the first things they'd probably learn is something that is clearly not evident their current critique, that it is radically more difficult to create symbols that invoke action then it is to create symbols that describe objects.* At least at this juncture in time signage symbols are inherently static, solid and rigid. To transform a static, solid or rigid object into a symbol, is a relatively straight forward act of abstracting the objects characteristics into lines shapes and colors. Some objects are easier to work with than others, but all at least possess tangible starting points to abstract from. Verbs however are by there very nature intangible, and more difficult to capture in abstraction. When the goal is not just to encapsulate the verb, but actually trigger it, to create sign that does not just represent but actually creates an action then the challenge is exponentially harder, and that is exactly the challenge the IAEA and ISO were faced with, creating a sign that does not just warn people, but actually causes them to turn and run for their fucking lives. Not exactly the easiest task.
There is one sign that is radically more effective at creating action than any other, and that is the stop sign. Part of it's effectiveness is it's ubiquity, it many cultures you can find the stop sign just about everywhere, so it's easy for the meaning to get ingrained. The red color helps as well, but ultimately the stop sign is successful because all symbols are stop signs. Often it's more of a mental stop then the physical stop, but one can not process a symbol unless one pauses for microsecond and then reads it. When one reads the stop sign one has already begone the process of stopping, all the sign does is say continue on through with the stopping process. No matter how fast one might be traveling as soon as one actually sees the stop sign there is at least a little bit of inertia going into the act of stopping.
What this means in terms of making signs like the radiation symbol designed to induce action, is that task is even more difficult. Conveying an action in static is hard enough, and getting people to follow through and actually do the action it is exponentially harder, but on top of that the very fact that the message is embedded a symbol is invoking the exact opposite effect, causing the reader to pause and stop for at least a second before hopefully doing a 180° turn and running away. And it's this challenge that the committees of the IAEA and ISO were faced with as they went about designing their new symbol.
The result is indeed neither very elegant nor simple, but it is in fact I think rather effective and quite interesting.** Rather then produce a symbol as they claimed to have done, they actually produced something rather different, a small comic, five symbols sequenced to invoke an action. It's actually a rather innovative solution, something which contrary to the Adaptive Path post, you actually would not really expect to emerge from a committee in action. For if the goal is to create an action, a static symbol is not the right way to do it. But by creating a microcomic, a sequence of symbols, what emerges is not just a static sign, but a sign filled with action, filled with invisible gaps between the actual symbols, gaps that the mind fills in with actions. Gaps that turn the static noun of a flat still piece of signage into an active verb, a true call to action. It might not be the best looking sign but it pretty clearly warns far better than then old abstraction of the "trefoil." So there you have it, read the signage on the wall and get the fuck out of here ; )
- This lack of distinction is clearly apparent in the hypothetical symbol for taxi that is used as a rhetorical device in the Adaptive Path blog post. A taxi is of course an object, a noun, while running from radiation is an action, a verb, yet in the post they imagine that the taxi symbol would be created in a similar manner as the run from radiation symbol.
** It is however certainly not perfect, I'm a bit concerned with how people accustomed to reading right to left would interpret the bottom, it could well mean "if you run you die". However the symbol was apparently tested in China, Saudi Arabia and Morocco, so at least due diligence seems to have been done in that regard.
February 14, 2007
Reading Googlection 2008 makes it look like the Republicans are way ahead on using search engine advertising to push their candidacies for the US president. It's not super surprising knowing that Karl Rove comes from a direct marketing background and the GOP has historically been better at micro-targeting voters. It is ironic though that for all the Democrats diversity rhetoric, they still market themselves to the masses, while the Republicans push a monoculture world view and then push their candidates to diverse niches...
January 20, 2007
DJ Dramas || Parallel Economies
Close followers of hip hop, the music industry or the sidebar to this blog are probably well aware that the suddenly rather aptly named DJ Drama and his associate Don Cannon were arrested earlier this week and charged with the rather dubious felony of selling hip hop mixtapes. Drama was at the absolute top of his game, producing some of the most spectacular mixtapes of the past few years, most notably of late catapulting Lil Wayne into the role of hip hop's crown prince. Quite coincidentally (or perhaps not?) Drama was also about to receive some serious big journalism coverage, exposing the mixtape underground to a large audience almost completely outside it's standard base of operations. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) was the prime driving force behind Drama's arrest and quite clearly they saw a threat in both his own rise and in the rise of mixtape itself as both an artistic and economic endeavor.
Over the past couple years the mixtape industry has grown into a rather uneasy but working relationship with the traditional music industry that the RIAA represents. The mixtape world was a place to find new talent, test new songs, and build up street level buzz for artists. For artists like 50 Cent, T.I. and the Dipset crew the result was millions of dollars for both the artists and the record labels. Many of the songs on those mixtape cds may have been unauthorized and living in a legal gray area, but their existence was sparking the sales of those officiated CDs that make the dues paying members of the RIAA their money. That relationships clearly is no longer, although it's rather unclear whether RIAA ever quite realized what sort of relationship many of its member had with the mixtape industry, ironically enough DJ Drama was due to release his first major label back mixtape.
Culturally the RIAA's actions are about as hamfisted and assbackwards as it gets. They just went out and arrested a friend and associate of some of their best artists and members and alienated even more of their customer base. But economically it's a whole other story. The mixtape industry operates in what could be called a parallel economy. It's products circulate in shadowy networks, it's transactions off the record, it's details unreported. One can imagine situations where big rappers get paid by DJs to appear on mixtapes, and one can also imagine situations where rappers pay DJs to place them on mixtapes. What actually goes down is pretty much behind the scenes and off the books.
The music and mixtape industries may have had an uneasy but working relationship, but now that the RIAA has gone on the offensive one can see just who really threatened who. The music industry has been running scared since Napster first rolled on the stage like the chupacabra, and the mixtape world is just the latest, and quite possibly the greatest threat yet. Peer to peer file sharing threatened the music industry right were it hurt the most, the area of distribution, the point where the record labels were taking in all their money. But distribution is only one part of the music industries much larger business structure. They are also in the business of what they call A&R, the finding, filtering and amplification of new talent. They provide high risk financing to artists. They are in the manufacturing business, creating the physical products for sale. And they are in the marketing business big time, hyping up artists and getting them the attention they often want, and almost always need in order to sell large amounts of music.
What is some remarkable about the mixtape industry is just how thoroughly it threatens the established recording industry. The mixtape industry has a manufacturing base, the ability to make hundreds of thousands, and most likely millions of units. DJ Drama alone had 80,000 CDs taken from him during his arrest. More importantly though it has a distribution network, the ability to get it's products into the hands of retailers across the entire US, and those retailers are for the most part completely outside the RIAA's standard sphere of influence. Then there is the A&R, a role that mixtape DJs played so well that more than a few have been recruited to the major labels, and sometimes even given their own imprint to develop. All that the mixtape industry lacked was large artist development and marketing budgets of the major labels. But even with marketing the mixtape players were in all likelihood selling far more CDs per marketing dollar spent than the labels, and with that sort of result the artist development budgets might well be there sooner than later. In other words at least within the world of hip hop the mixtape industry has just about every component they need to replace the traditional music industry completely. If an artist can make as much or more money on the mixtape circuit why bother signing with a major label at all? Given how much more vital and exciting mixtape music is compared to the overproduced major label product it'd probably be a good thing. Of course a more likely result is probably closer to a semihostile merger/takeover than a slaughtering, but no wonder the RIAA is scared of the very mixtape DJs who are threatening to revitalize the world of music. The recording industry has lost everything on the cultural and artist side of things, all they have left is the money and lawyers to bully the real competition; at the expense of just about everyone else out there no less.
January 16, 2007
When I read about counterfeit sneakers nowadays my first thought is "how can a get me a pair of those". Over the past few years the street, skate and sneaker industries have swiped a page out of the art world and mastered the science of manufacturing artificial scarcity. As a marketing trick it's probably got a long life ahead of it, there are always people around who want what they can not have regardless of of how obvious the artificiality of the process is. But as a story it's pretty damn, blah... Thousand dollar ostrich leather sneakers, limited edition of five? That's not exactly much more of a story than those five hundred dollar limited edition camel leather ones in an edition of 20 is it?
When it comes to telling a story you see, the counterfeits are the real deal, whatever authenticity they lack on the branding and legal sides they more than make up on their backstreets round the world journeys. From shady factories in the Pearl River Delta, through backroom deals cut in cities that may not have existed ten years ago, across oceans and through government checkpoints in a one skillfully packed two TEU shipping container with an artfully doctored collection of shipping papers, finally landing in ever shifting locations on the fringes of your hometown. The fashion companies may be toying with "pop up stores" but the bootlegger's move with a rapidity that authentic goods are in no shape to keep up with, and with a necessity the bootleggers must hate and fear but that real brands can only dream of obtaining.
As "design" continues to seep into every crevice of our culture, counterfeit goods also offer a level of authentic undesign that legal corporations are practically incapable of producing. The off the books and in the shadows production style might be focused upon replicating name brands, but it also generates an environment ideally suited for the art of the machine and the art of the accident to thrive. The counterfeit good is all about "brand", but it also lives free of a brand manager. It's all about design too, yet it is made without any concern to the designers intent. And in this freedom mistakes thrive beautifully. The counterfeiters may want to be as accurate as possible, but they lack the lines of communication to make that happen nor do they have much incentive to correct mistakes. The accidents after all damage only someone else's brand, and when they are capable of being sold they almost certainly are. Without the designers the machines are also set free, the counterfeiter's push them for accuracy, but without the designer's pushing them to meet the intent and not just the surface of the design, the machines can shape the form upon their own paths.
Once it's made, once it's shipped, once it's slipped past customs, once it's settled lightly in some temporary location, then you still need to find it. There are no insider announcements, no camping sessions lining up to buy the goods the second they hit the shop, no fevered eBay auctions for the newest of the new, and there is almost no way of knowing how many were made and how many more will follow. Value and excitement both tend come from the thresholds, and nothing navigates the thresholds of taste and legality like a counterfeit good. These are the real artifacts of the industrial age, the goods with real stories. Goods you can wear both with pride and without fear of harming their secondary market value. More authentic than any brand can hope for, welcome to world of the authentic counterfeit.
December 30, 2006
The cliche goes that the flapping of a butterfly wing in Asia just might be the movement of air of that triggers a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. The math of that cliche is relatively developed, but it's mainly a computer simulation situation, actually showing the effect of those flaps is a beyond our sensors...
Somewhere on the edge of academia circulates the idea that economics is defined as the "study of how human beings allocate scarce resources". It's a definition that doesn't show up in most dictionaries, but it has a stubborn persistence. Scarce resources are of course an important component to economics, but is it really all there is? Most definitions instead fall rather close to Webster's: "a social science concerned chiefly with description and analysis of the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services."
It's a curious distortion to make economics strictly a study of scarcity, and like the textbook chaos theory case it starts out as a rather minor disruption. Scarcity is after all essential to the generation of price and value, and economists hold those processes dear to their hearts. There is of course more to economics than just studying scarcity, but it's not exactly an alien concept. What's curious is what happens when non economists start latching onto the distortion, what's curious is when scarcity meets attention from three different directions.
Michael Goldhaber, Richard Lanham and Georg Franck, all more or less independently converged on a phrase, "the economics of attention" in the past decade or so. At the core of their thought (which varies widely in quality) is the observation that in a time where information is becoming, in Goldhaber's terms, "superabundant" what is scarce is attention. It's an interesting observation, one well worthy of economic exploration, but oddly enough Goldhaber, Lanham, and, from what I can tell without reading German, Franck as well all want to go much further. They pull back and wheel up with their distorted version of economics as being solely the study of scarce resources. It's a funny equation, an interesting observation plus a distorted definition equals a call for a whole new construction of economics.
The first irony is that if economics was really just to be about the distribution of scarce resources it wouldn't even be about money. For money is about as far from a scarce resource as there is. It can be printed out by any government and by a skilled counterfeiter too. Or it can be generated by any group or organization with enough clout. Airlines for instance have essentially created their own currencies of frequent flier miles, while towns like Ithaca, New York have created their own regional currencies with little more than a printing press and a PR campaign. Of course in this digital age a printing press is way to heavy, banks of course can famously create money by lending out money that people deposit for savings and in the twenty first century this operation has been extended into financial maneuvers of baroque complexity that span the globe in seconds. Money is anything but scarce. The problem is not there is not enough, but that it circulates with a damaging inequality.
Goldhaber and Lanham though don't seem really want economics to be about money anyways though. They'd much rather refocus it all around attention. It's an act of overstatement that probably does them far more harm than good. They get to make exaggerated statements about the need for a new economics, perhaps it makes their observations seem bigger, but it also makes it far easier to ignore them. They might want it all to be about attention, but quality and accuracy still have a bit of value left in them. Someone is going to make a career pulling attention scarcity into the wider economic stream of thought, but it just wont have the extreme ramifications the attention lovers vest into it. Goldhaber's work in particular is still worth of future attention, but until he pays a bit more attention to what economics actually is his insights will probably remain obscure to the discipline...
November 01, 2006
It's a statement so dangerously wrought with oversimplification that I've been avoiding saying it for a while now. But simplification can sometimes be as, or more, useful than oversimplification is dangerous, and nothing sums up my political economic stance better than reducing it to two positions: pro-markets, and anti-profits.
First and foremost this stance requires a split from a great mistake made by most traditional appwroaches to economics from critical marxism to laissez faire boosterism. Market activity and profits are not the same thing, but in fact too very separate forces and while they can and often do work in concert with each other, they do not always do so and certainly do not need to. If the goal of economics is to gain an understanding of how economies operate in order to improve them, and I believe that that has to be a major goal of economics, than coming to grips with this split is absolutely essential.
My stance may simplify down to "pro-markets", but it is essential that this stance not be confused with the far more common "pro-market" approach. The difference might on the screen or page be a matter of one letter, the addition or absence of an "s", but like many differences between the singular and plural this is actually a difference of nearly infinite ramifications. There are many (upon many) markets in this world, but "The Market" in the sense it is often used does not exist at all. Of course "the market" can exist in a very local sense, the way a mom might tell a kid to "go to the market and pick up a quart of milk." But "The Market" in the abstract sense that both proponents of "The 'Free' Market" and their many critics like to use it just does not exist at all. There are many markets in this world and the behavior of these markets in fact varies wildly. The baazar in Marakesh just does not function the same way the London Stock Exchange functions or the the way my local coffee shop functions. Heck, even the New York Stock Exchange functions differently than the NASDAQ market, and in fact there are even multiple markets for New York Stock Exchange stocks, each of which behaves slightly differently. The market for art at Sotheby's auction house is different than the market for art in a Chelsea gallery, which is different than the market in an Amsterdam gallery which in turn functions radically different than the nearby Dutch flower auctions.
A market is at it's core simply a place of exchange, a bounded area where people converge, either physically or via a mediating technology, in order to move exchange goods, services and information. To be pro-markets is to be in favor of the existence of markets, and to understand that each and every one of them behaves differently. Sometimes this behavior can have quite positive results, sometimes they can be rather negative and generally what reality gives us is a complex and nuanced mix of the two. Overall though markets are places of exchange and exchange itself is a healthy operation. By realizing that some markets behavior better than others we can begin the process of designing better markets, emphasizing those that work well and improving those that need work.
In order to evolve and create better markets, we need to make at least one key conceptual leap, me must break the historic tie between market functions and profit. Markets do not need profits in order to function at all. In fact it's possible to interpret profits in such a way that they are actually indications of an improperly functioning market, where the existence of profits indicates an inefficiency in market actions, a flaw that a more perfect market would correct. It's not an approach I'm about to follow, because perfect markets do not exist in the real world, and what I'm interested in is working markets, and the task of making them actually better.
Profit is perhaps one of the more unclear and misunderstood words in the english language. So much so that a large portion of the entire profession of accounting is dedicated to the art of obfuscating profits, pushing and shifting them around in ways that tend to be highly unprofitable to the public at large but rather rewarding to a select group of individuals. And just as profits can miraculously transform in the hands of a skilled CPA, the very meaning of the word has evolved in a rather confusing mash of economic theory and government action.
In classical economic theory, profit was deeply associated with the figure of the entrepreneur. Profit was how these idealized people would make their way in the world, they would purchase goods, transform or move them and then resell in a market. The difference between their expenses and the selling point, provided it was positive, was profit and this profit functioned as the entrepreneur's reward, salary and means to continue their business. It's quite a positive viewpoint of profit, and unfortunately it has little to do with the reality of how business is conducted and profits actually calculated today.
The entrepreneur as mythologized by classical economics barely exists anymore. Even those bold individuals who embrace the title today tend to wrap their enterprises in the protective skin of some form of limited liability corporation rather than proceed as sole proprietors or in traditional partnerships. Profits that pass through these organizations take on a radically different form than they do in the naive view of an entrepreneur. In fact even in a sole proprietorship or partnership profit transforms the minute that salary is introduced to the equation. For salary is after all an expense and profit is from a legal standpoint what occurs after all the expenses are paid. As soon as an entrepreneur is getting a salary, suddenly profit is no longer their just compensation for effort and risk, but in fact what is left over after they have been compensated for their time and work. Some of this profit is reinvested back into the enterprise of course, but all to often it is extracted from the system and into the hands of a limited set of individuals.
Classical economics is essentially about "individual profit", yet in this day and age while there are plenty of individuals making profits, it is almost always "organization profit" that they are making. Organization profit is not the organization's reward for good work, but in fact it's punishment, this is money that is extracted from the organization and back into private hands. It is still entirely possible to incorporate and run a business as a not-for-profit corporation, and that's an action with rather interesting ramifications. Such a business would not be eligible for federal tax exempt status in the United States, and it still could generate surplus revenues for which it would need to pay taxes, but those surplus revenues would not actually be profits. These revenues would have nowhere to go but back into the not-for-profit corporation. This is the corporate for as a (semi)closed loop system. There is still plenty of money going in and out as expenses and revenue of course, but ultimately the money flowing through the system must remain concentrated on the organizations goals and purposes. For profit corporations are not closed at all, but in fact function as the opposite, they are designed explicitly to function as money extraction machines concentrating wealth into the hands of a few individuals.
A certain type of reader might be tempted to look this view of profits as something akin to Marx's "surplus value", but nothing could be further from the truth. Marx's construction hinges upon a rather absurd and mythical idea of labor value, and ultimately views all surplus revenues as a negative. I however take the exact opposite stance, that surplus revenue is an incredibly positive thing, it is ultimately a key engine of economic growth. It is only when surplus revenue is transformed into "profit" and then extracted from the organizations that created that a real problem emerges. So while marxists like to see the economic problems of the world as being a function of "the market", I locate those problems in a very different place, in the hands of the individuals that skim off the top of market activity, and in the organizational forms that enable and encourage this behavior. This leads us to the second challenge of a pro-markets and anti-profits stance, how do we develop better organizational forms for economic activities?
The for-profit corporation in it's current form is less than 200 years old. It is only in the last century that it has truly erupted to become the dominant economic form in Western economies. There is no reason other than historical circumstance that it needs to be the dominant form now. In fact from the Korean chaebols to the Basque Mondragon Cooperatives there is plenty of evidence that other organizational forms can function on a global industrial level. In The Wealth of Networks Yochai Benkler has argued that the networked efforts of open source programers and wikipedia addicts represents a whole other economic organizational form. But ultimately I believe that's just the beginning. Organizations and markets are two forms of entities that exist on a scale larger than the individual. It makes them exceedingly hard to conceptualize, understand and transform, but they are ultimately the creations of humans and it is well within our means to improve upon them. Pro-markets and anti-profits, it is an over simplification for sure, but that is where I start.
October 27, 2006
Waistline Banging Like a Bassline
You can call it a general lie, a lie so big yet so harmless that no one really cares that it's a lie. Like many American boys and to a lesser extent girls, I was introduced to the general lie via comic books. Comics for whatever reason tend to arrive in the stores about three months before the date on their covers. I've never heard the definitive story as to why, but the common explanation is that it makes them seem newer, but really, even avid comic book fans don't really think they are getting shipped in from 3 months in the future do they? Instead they just accept the general lie, a small quirk of a medium that thrives on quirks.
I've been slowly testing and exploring a venture into producing a line of clothing and it's there I stepped upon another general lie. One that lies around the waistline. Women's clothing comes in more or less abstract sizes, a size 2 or size 12 connotes nothing in itself, any information it communicates comes from it's relationship to the other sizes and to past experience trying on clothing of a similar number. Men's clothing on the other hand is often sized in inches, a shirt with a 16 and 1/4 inch collar, a pair of pants with a 34 inch waist and 32 inch inseam. These are numbers I always took for granted where pretty much true, and sometimes they even are. But when it comes to the waistline, well the truth is far fatter than the numbers, at least when it comes to American (and British) garments... About four inches fatter by my calculation. A size 32 waist in a garment is closer to 36 inches on the tape measure, a 34 closer to 38...
Has it always been this way? I doubt it. When I told my patternmaker that the first sample would be a 32, she took it literally, on her side of the garment industry the numbers don't lie. The lies don't start till the inside of some factory, maybe it's in Guatemala, maybe in Turkey, maybe in China, maybe in a few cases even in the US still. There the garments are put together under one number and with just a few swift stitches to a label walk out under another number altogether. All for the sake of protecting the male ego it seems, for at least in the eyes of the garment industry Americans just can't handle how fat we are getting...
As I inch closer to actually producing garments, this presents an interesting dilemma. I could tell the truth, sell pants with the actual waist size labeled. But to do so would mean I'd be out there making people feel fat as they try on my clothes, not exactly the best sales tactic, no? More than that I'd be paddling upstream, pitching garments that just don't fit the way people expect them too, despite being more honest about their size. One can imagine comic publishers faced with a similar dilemma as they slowly inflated the dates on their covers. On one hand they all knew the dates where a farce, yet at the same time no one could turn back without risking looking like they where behind the times. So as the American waistline slowly creeps up undercover of the garment industry, don't blame me, I'm just following the crowd towards bigger and better things...
October 10, 2006
It's the year 2006, how do you get away with publishing a book without ever googling your title? I have no idea but Richard Lanham's new book The Economics of Attention curiously has no references at all to Michael Goldhaber's The Attention Economy: The Natural Economy of the Net, hmmmm. Goldhaber's work was published online in a peer-reviewed journal nine years ago. It's core premise is practically identical to Lanham's. Google the title of Lanham's book and Goldhaber shows up as the third full result, behind only references to Lanham's book. I'm all of nine pages into that book so who knows how it stacks up, but it sure hasn't started out right, at least if your a nerd like me who reads the bibliography first...
October 08, 2006
Why is it that anytime you read about the advertising or video game industry, both of which are massive profitable and pretty much icons of our culture, they always claim to be struggling? Are industries based upon rapid fire information inherantly less stable than ones based on selling material goods?
September 29, 2006
Identity and Identification in a Networked World / Ian Kerr
Identity and Identification in a Networked World started today. It's a free conference held only minutes from my home so my attendance stems mainly from convenience mixed with mild interest in the subject. That means I walked in without any expectations and that's great cause I walked out pleasantly surprised despite a rather uneven selection of talks.
Ian Kerr keynoted on the topic of DRM and was quite enjoyable. It was pretty much Adam Greenfield's Everyware rewritten by a law professor. The QA was frustratingly short, but from his quick answer to my question I have a sense he's way too far into the technodetermanistic side of life for my taste in the end, but he managed to provoke and stimulate quite well. I believe in a degree of technodetermanism too, but what frustrates me about those who take a harder version of it, is that they never seem to be able to grasp the concept of cultural responses evolving over time in order to deal with a problem.
Good thing Kerr is a professor, for he was far more entertaining and thought provoking than convincing. His whole argument about DRM somehow veered entertainingly into the world of shopping carts, via the example of carts that lock their wheels as they leave supermarket property. But is that digital rights management? Somehow it seems a bit more like physical rights management to me...
September 10, 2006
Emergence 06: Daniel Letts
<a title="Service Usability" Daniel Letts is a founder of Service Usability. Hist talk was a welcome dive into the nitty gritty of what actually gets produced by a service research organization. So nice to actually get a look at some of the deliverables.
Services are not getting tested properly.
Web companies are rigourous testers though.
Apply the methodologies of online usability to the offline world.
SU Index, a one number score generated by there service usability audit.
September 09, 2006
Emergence 06: Oliver King
Oliver King is the founder of Engine a UK service design consultancy. His talk was pretty much a service design textbook as a powerpoint. He's also by far the most dynamic and charged of the speakers, perhaps he is the natural public spokesperson/sales person for the service design movement?
Started as a product designer, wanted to take it in a new direction, define the product brief, not follow the brief.
"Translation space", in between corporate strategy and implementation
Recommended Pine and Gilmore "The Experience Economy"
Making services U2D2: went by too quick for me to write down what this is.
5 Types of Projects
Specifying (most important from service design perspective)
Principal Methods of Service Design:
Emergence 06: Chris Downs
Chris Downs of livework :: service innovation & design talked about the evolution of his company as the first ever service design consultancy. A good talk, they do good work, not sure what I can add.
"try and speak the language of business and not design"
"difference between systems design and service design"
"system is really efficient but the service really sucks"
"we design more products now as service designers then we did as product designers, but we design them from a service perspective"
Emergence 06: Mary Jo Bitner
I'm out in Pittsburgh at Carnegie Mellon's Emergence 06 Conference, focused on Service Design.
The opening keynote is Mary Jo Bitner, Director for the Center for Services Leadership at Arizona State University.
The reason I'm here, and I suspect a healthy part of why this conference is being hosted by a design school, is due to a particular vision of services exemplified by the environmentally centered service vision exemplified by Interface Carpet and Paul Hawken. Bitner is a nice lead off as an explicit reminder that services are a far bigger, older and more staid world than the Hawken/Interface eco-revolution vision. She leads an institute firmly rooted in the business school and marketing world.
Coming from this space of academic business thinking, Bitner of course wants to talk about "innovation" in 2006. Unsurprisingly though nothing is particularly innovative about her talk and this is a good thing. Innovation is overrated and what Bitner has to offer is experience, a less exciting but far more valuable service. Service makes up as much as 80% of the economy in America, and according to Bitner yet service innovation lags significantly behind product innovation. It's probably true, but I have to wonder if that might have something to do with many services, hotels and restaurants for instance, have been evolving for thousands of years, while something like portable music players have at most a handful of decades behind them. The exact relationship between product innovation and service innovation was left unsaid. The airline industry can draw upon thousands of years of transportation services, yet at the same time many of it's core particulars are obviously dependent on airplane and airport technologies.
Bitner stresses that services are intangible (more on this later) and processes. She is also keen on pointing out that it's a very person driven industry, she quotes several CEOs talking about taking care of their employees, which somehow translates into taking care of the customers. The customers in Bitner's view are "in the factory", and studies apparently show that the more they get involved the more satisfied they are. Just how taking care of the employees translates into taking care of the customers is left unsaid and unproven.
September 05, 2006
The Abstract Dynamics Bookstore
Occasionally I've thought it might be a good idea to build up a little Abstract Dynamics bookstore of sorts using Amazon's rather powerful API and referral setup. But given how little money I've ever made off my experiments with their setup and given how much time it would take it has never happened. Until now, when Amazon decided to make it ridiculously easy to set up. So easy that it was live before I even really got to mull over the appropriateness of it all. Basically it's a store dynamically generated by Amazon using 9 of my selections as a base, it's an experiment do with it what you will, while I figure out if there is a way to get way past that nine selection limit...
August 20, 2006
Verticality in Advertising (Fractal Chinatown)
It took me six weeks of subletting in this building to realize this fire escape signage only really worked well because Chinese can be read vertically. I suppose if english functioned the same way New York would be littered with these things on every block. Two potentially countervailing factors, most of New York does not have the same density of mixed commercial and residential streets that Chinatown and the Lower East Side have. It also might be illegal, the rules after all are different in Chinatown...
This building interestingly enough marks a sort of fractal border to Chinatown, it's technically in the Lower East Side, and while most of block is Hispanics being pushed out by upper middle class whites, this building is 90% Chinese. With the white money pouring back into the hood it may well demarcate a limit to Chinatown's explosive expansion into the hoods formerly known as the LES and Little Italy.
Truth in Advertising
What a clever way for Ben and Jerry to tell us their ice cream is probably full of rBGH!
August 10, 2006
100% For the Planet
How do you react when you see a label that says something like "1% For the Planet"? I mean it's great that they are making an effort, and 1% is infinitely more than 0% — but 1%, is that supposed to impress us? We are talking profit here, and that means the other 99% is going into the owners pockets (or to be fair it might get reinvested in the company.) 1% percent is a nice token gesture for sure, but how about seeing some labels that say "100% for the Planet"? Or really I'd prefer "100% for the World", something about being "for the planet" makes me think these companies care more about the environment than the people who are integrally connected to it...
August 03, 2006
July 31, 2006
Wireless Warfare in the Streets
It's a pretty innocuous headline and photo, but make no mistake this is an early salvo in what looks to be a heated battle over the control of the wireless infrastructure. The cell phone service providers are on one side, the equipment makers and software companies on the other. Governments? They are both omnipresent yet conspicuously absent from the core of the debate, they seem to only have a clue as to what is happening at certain key junctures (ie when municipal WiFi discussions get serious like in SF or Philadelphia).
At the core this is an issue of information, an issue of which corporations are controlling the gateways between you and the network(s) you need to access to connect to the world. To a large extent it seems the wires are already laid down, at least for the moment it seems there is plenty of fiber in the ground and the providers are reduced to the status of commodity sellers. Net neutrality might change that, but that is an issue for another day. It is the wireless protocols that are up for grabs. So far the cellular companies have a massive lead, they have the infrastructure both to provide and to profit built up, running and accepted by the public at large.
But with that advantage comes a huge arrogance, and perhaps a short-sightedness as well. The cell companies think they can call the shots and in the process they've pushed aside the handset makers and locked the software and information technology companies out almost completely. They also have with typical phone company airs completely failed to win the confidence of their users, do you know anyone who actually likes their cell phone company?
The cell phone companies are gambling on controlling the airwaves, on staying oligarchical. This threatens a whole other group, perhaps we can call them the network idealists, the coders and hackers, activists and enthusiasts that drive the networked underground of global information projects. I call them Benkler labor, after Yochai Benkler and his theory of networked productivity.
The anti-cellular company strategy combines a hodgepodge of consumer dissatisfaction, plain old desire for better prices, Benkler labor and in places old school government public works projects into the creation of a so far mythical, but theoretically very possible, wifi meshwork. If there are enough accessible wifi hotspots overlapping each other in a giant mesh of wireless connectivity, it becomes possible to route around the cellular providers. Instead of a handful of capital intensive cellphone towers, the plan is to provide connectivity via a swarm of wifi routers connected to people's broadband lines in their homes and offices. It sounds a little precarious to me, but if you were a mid to large sized company coming face to face with the fact that your livelihood is dangerously close to being controlled entirely by a handful of cellular companies any way out probably looks like a good gamble.
At the moment at least the wifi forces are all about open technology, they are at such a disadvantage compared to the already built up and profitable cellular networks that they need every advantage they can get, and open network infrastructure is a key one. Some of the players are idealistic about it, others I suspect not, but for the moment at least this is in a large part a battle of openness versus closed and controlled access to the networks, which is what the cellular companies have now and want to keep. If the cellular companies win this battle it is tantamount to handing over your personal information to your provider. It isn't pretty, but you probably have done it already. They know where you are, or at least where your phone is. They know how to reach you. They know who you talk to, and if they wanted to I'm sure they could figure out exactly what you said, although it would not exactly be legal in the US for them to do so. All they want to do is add the contents of all your emails, web browsing and file sharing. Yeah not too much.
The stakes are high, whoever controls the pipes in which your information flows essentially occupies a position where they have the potential to exert incredible control over you. Whether that potential is realizable though is a huge issue. The wifi activists offer a solution with unclear long term ramifications. They want to ramp up the wifi network to a point somewhat akin to where the wired internet lies today. One that is relatively open, somewhat balanced but with huge weakness just beginning to emerge, as American's are learning with the current net neutrality legislation churning in congress. In other words we are on the verge of a round of corporate warfare with potential to be as messy as that "real" warfare engulfing the middle east. So pick your carrier carefully, who knows where this leads...
July 17, 2006
Well maybe it's a good teaser ad, or maybe some couple has way to much money in their joint bank account. Either way it is effective, first street ad I can remember that sparked a conversation with a stranger since the Time graffiti billboard.
update: yep an ad campaign, looks like it got the PR they wanted, wonder if it translates into any viewers? Certainly makes me feel a bit manipulated, and thus less favorable to the advertiser, despite the fact that I suspected it might be an ad from the outset.
July 11, 2006
Innovation & Design
1. The action of innovating; the introduction of novelties; the alteration of what is established by the introduction of new elements or forms.
2. A change made in the nature or fashion of anything; something newly introduced; a novel practice, method, etc.
5. Comm. The action of introducing a new product into the market; a product newly brought on to the market.
Just when did design start turning into innovation?
I had been waiting for Business Week's new design "magazine within a magazine", Inside Innovation, with considerable interest. My own tastes in business weeklies runs more towards Barron's and The Economist than to BW itself, so it's not that I excited about the prospective content and writing. But the very fact that BW was launching a design focused magazine is news itself and I was quite interested in just what their take would be. Peter Merholz reactions to the content itself are pretty spot on, but what really struck was the branding. I was expecting a design magazine, and indeed there are occasional indications that was what it is or was supposed to be at some point. But for the most part what came out from the title on down was not a magazine about design at all but one about "innovation". And design is quite explicitly not equal to innovation.
No one is explicitly claiming design and innovation are the same thing, but in Business Week you can see the story of innovation implicitly being used to substitute for design. Their recent extensive design coverage is mainly driven by one man, Bruce Nussbaum, who is both the editor of Inside Information and the person who has been getting all sorts of design focused articles into the plain old Business Week. His blog, dating back to September 2005, is NussbaumOnDesign. Clearly design is the focus, although it is subtitled "inside the business of innovation and design". Innovation is there, yes, but it is clearly distinguished as being distinct from design. The distinction is echoed by some of the more interesting and larger design firms. live|work for instance is in the business of "service innovation & design", while Frog splits it's site navigation into "Design Services" and "Business Innovation" at the very top level*. Meanwhile "IDEO helps companies innovate. We design products, services, environments and experiences."
The distinction remains on the Business Week cover as it introduces Inside Innovation, but the weight has shifted. Innovation occurs three times, once as the first word in the headline, once as part of the sub-magazine title and once in the blurb, where design makes it's one small appearance. Flip inside to the actual "magazine" Inside Innovation, and you'll find no mention of design at all on the cover, perhaps because the cover is nearly completely devoid of content. Meanwhile what started out as Business Week's design magazine is teetering on the edge of not being about design at all.
Innovation has always been an important aspect of the design process, but innovation alone can never be a substitute for design as a whole. Design, at least when it is good, is about solving problems. Innovation always possesses the potential to produce a solution, but the only thing it can guarantee generating is novelty. A designer must always be open to the possibility that the best solution is one that already exists. There is probably room for innovation in the realm of the book for instance, but most writers are going to be far better served by the book designs already in existence. One of the higher profile attempts to produce innovative book designs is MIT Press' Mediawork Pamphlets [sic] series, and the results are often atrocious.
This past winter I walked into St. Marks Books three times with the explicit intention of buying Bruce Sterling's Shaping Things. It's a well written and thought provoking book, and one that is relevant enough to my work that it really needs to be in my personal library. Yet the design itself is so innovatively bad that I could not bring myself to buy it the first two trips. Worse yet though is the fact that it actively distracts from the legibility of the text, although some of the other Mediawork Pamphlets, Katherine Hayle's for example, manage to be even worse. It might be an innovative series, but it sure is not a well designed one.
So design and innovation are not the same thing, but what exactly are the implications of the two increasingly entering into a slippery confusion? Innovation it seems is becoming the catch phrase under which the design world and big business are conducting their increasingly hot flirtation. Design of course has always been about business, but the relationship has tended to be small and discreet, something to be conducted on the edge of the business world.
It was of all people Tom Peters who really took the relationship public, shouting in his trademarked manner that "design matters!" But at the same time some of the larger design firms, particularly of the product design type began to see themselves as consultants. Their situation was similar to that of many of the accounting firms that birthed management consulting offshoots years ago. As outsiders working extensively inside of companies, both the designers and accountants found themselves in positions uniquely suited for seeing ways to improve a company that the insiders might never see. Suddenly design firms started to see themselves as consulting firms, with "design thinking" and then "innovation" being the pitch. In this regard the innovation movement is good for design, a trojan horse or perhaps mutual cover story under which design thinking can be applied to business.
If good design is about solving problems, well then good business is often about selling solutions. Add the two and two together and it seems like a good, perhaps even ideal mix. Design might just might be the skill set needed to seriously improve business' ability to discover the solutions that are so necessary to good business. But things are not always good in both the world of design and business. Bad design would rather cover over problems than solve them while bad business is about just plain selling, not selling solutions. Innovation might just be the buzzword under which the two worlds meet, or it just might be the way in which design thinking is dumbed down into just another consulting buzzword.
Business Week is obviously not a design magazine, so it's no surprise its design quarterly is written in a language somewhat different than what designers choose for themselves. But it's not exactly written in the no nonsense, cut to the chase, language of hardcore business either, but rather in more nonsensical cheer of management speak. Language constructed for the explicit purpose of asslicking all the way to the top, or if that fails, at least fluttering all the way out of trouble. In the case of outside consultants it also means keeping the clients both confused and scared enough to keep paying, while flattered and massaged enough to keep paying. It's a language that has no direct ways to address problems, only ways to avoid the messy truth they contain. Problems after all are bad your career if you are on the inside. Outside consultants are of course supposed to identify and help solve problems, but there is a big problem with that task itself: very few clients actually want their real problems pointed out. It makes them look bad, after all and why pay someone to do that?
If innovation in the hands of a designer is an important part of a problem solving process, in the hands of Business Week it seems it is a part of removing the very idea of a problem from design. It smoothly separates what is useful and what is just fun in the design process, and leaves a rather worthless buzzword on the other end. Innovation is a means of producing novelty and novelty is exactly the sort of stuff that is good for bad business. Novelty can be sold for the sake of selling, it can be hyped, pumped, churned, and then forgotten once the profit margins fade and the new consulting trend is catching on.
Of course Business Week is new to the innovation/design game so there is plenty of time for designer to make a legitimate impact. The only question is how? What is so worrisome about the latest trend over at Business Week is how clearly professional they are at the language of co-option. Both the magazine and the consulting companies have been in this game forever. Designers are new at it, and for all the solutions and skillsets they bring in, they lack an infrastructure to fall back on and ride. In other words they are just a bit outmatched here. But perhaps with a little innovation they will end up on top in this ride.
*Frog actually launched a new site while I was in the midst of writing this, so that is no longer true, and to their credit they have buried the innovation language deeper in the site than it once was.
June 19, 2006
Open Apples and Rotten iPods
Is the iPod rotting Apple at the core? If the recent stories about the atrocious working conditions in the Chinese factories making iPods are true, than there is a simple and obvious answer. Yes. Apple to my knowledge has until recently maintained very close ties to it's factories, and if working conditions were an issue, I certainly have never been aware of it. But with the success of the iPod, as well as the Chinese tech explosion, Apple is now just another company shopping for cheap Chinese labor, and it's subcontracted out to companies that make whatever electronics device you pay them for. Apple is well funded and I'm sure their design team is more involved in production issues than many companies, but they are no long in charge of the end production the way they once were, and the result is sweatshop labor. Labor I might add, that if my shipped straight from Suzhou BlackBook is any indication, appears to be hard at work on the new Intel Macs as well.
That's the simple answer, yes the iPod and its mass appeal is rotting Apple's ethics away. Fortunately that has a relatively simple answer too, one that Apple's massive brand investment gives leverage too, Apple can demand better labor conditions. The brand comes in because Apple needs to defend it, and that means it can't afford to have people start thinking of iPods as sweatPods. Then again if the recent iPod/Nike collab is an indicator, perhaps that's not a great assumption. For now though this is the first news on the Apple exploitation front, it's a strike against them for sure, but they aren't out of the game yet. Plenty of time for them to make amends.
It's the complicated answer that really worries me. It's an answer that stems from a long, twisted and ubergeeky series of blog posts, starting with Mark Pilgrim announcing he's switching from Mac to Linux and including an epic response from John Gruber and
Mark's incredibly insightful reply. It's that last one that is the killer, detailing an old school Mac hacker's constant frustration with digital data decay. What is scary is it's culmination, detailing how Apple's Mail.app program moved from an open data format to a closed proprietary one, without bothering to warn anyone. As an isolated case it's an annoyance, but it's not an isolated case and Tom Yager's detailing of Apple's attempt to shut him up, makes that very clear.
Now Apple's never been known as an open company, so in many regards none of this should be surprising. In fact it's only newsworthy in that it marks the end of what history might see as Apple's golden open era. In it's very early $666 computer days Apple was of course part of an open source culture that didn't even have a name yet. But from the Macintosh era onward they were very much an instrumental force in the closed source computing that dedicated up the eyes of the idealistic programmers and birthed the free software and open source movements. Despite it's brief experiment licensing it's operating system the Apple of the 80's and 90's was all about close proprietary hardware running a closed proprietary operating system and for the most part closed proprietary software. And in this exact time period Apple developed into an awkward and bloated company that stayed alive mainly on the inertia of innovations dating back to 1984.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple and began to turn the company around, he essentially stripped the company down to it's core competency. In order to survive and thrive Apple had to be about making great computers. It's widespread commercial success depended selling lots of computers in the mass market of course, but in order to do that it relied upon a core of dedicated power users, designers, programers, and other digital geeks. Apple could only thrive by making great (or at least greater than the competition) computers, and with that as a foundation is was able to sell tons of good computers in form of iMacs and iBooks. But with the entry of the iPod suddenly that story has changed.
In that one little window, the post Steve Jobs return, pre iPod era* of Apple history, the company became increasingly tied to the idea of open computing. Plenty was still closed for sure, but with OS X built on the open source Unix core of Darwin, Safari built on the open source KHTML project, and iTunes and earliest iPods driven by the open MP3 format. It was in this golden era when people like Mark Pilgrim were very much part of Apple's core user base, and the fact that Mail.app was designed to use the open mbox format completely reflected this reality. This was also the time of Apple's infamous "Rip, Mix, Burn" advertisements and for a while the MP3 driven iPod was actually part of the company's open wave.
The iPod though was not just successful, it was dominant. Suddenly Apple did not just have another small product in it's line up, it had a cultural icon. An icon that sold by the boatload from China at correspondingly large profit margins. In the iMac era Apple had been a computer company first and a cultural icon second. With the iPod Apple has become first and foremost a brand, with computers relegated to second place, or perhaps even third behind consumer electronics. This doesn't mean Apple is going stop making good computers, but it does mean that making excellent computers is no longer crucial to their success. The core of the Apple is no longer the expert user but instead made cheaply in China.
What exactly this means for the future is of course uncertain, but what is clear is that Apple is already backing away from its short romance with open computing. It probably won't effect the stock price, it might even increase the profit margins, but it just might threaten what was once Apple's key strength, the overall usability of it's technology. The Apple isn't rotten yet, but man there sure are some suspicious marks on that skin...
*I by this I don't really mean the era ended with the introduction of the iPod in 2001, but instead the era slowly faded away as the iPod became a mass pop culture success over the next five years.
June 12, 2006
Ritual Coffee pulls one of the two or three best espresso shots in San Francisco, but it's not the coffee that hit me when walking in, but the laptops instead. I spent nearly four years living and working out of a carry on bag, so I'm certainly no stranger to cafe's filled with laptops, but I can't recall ever walking into a storefront so large are so completely overflowing with white people lined up and devoted to the screen. I couldn't quite tell if it was a sweatshop for freelancers or a sweatshop for laptops, but there certainly was way too much work going on to classify this place as a cafe. In fact the main thing that seems to distinguish it from an open plan office with an expensive espresso machine is that you need to fight for a deskspace... That and there are people there trained to pull that coffee deliciously.
I've been spending far too much time and money on delicious coffee lately. Ritual is part of the new school of American coffee, the post Starbucks wave of shops that aim to distinguish themselves via an obsessive devotion to the perfectly pulled espresso shot. Visually this tends to manifest itself in the rosetta, or latte art, that the barista will cap off your milky drinks with. But the root identifier is probably behind the counter or in the office, where you'll likely find a devout fan (or perhaps knowledgeable critic) of David Schomer of Seattle's Espresso Vivace. Through books, videos, and extensive semi-scientific experimentation Schomer is the lead evangelist or perhaps religious leader of the next generation coffee house.
The last few weeks have taken me from New York to Montréal to San Francisco and inevitably to these new coffee shops. Coffee shops that all seem to share the same awkward discord between the two sides of the counter. Coffee shops once came in two flavors, local and Starbucks (a category that of course includes Starbucks many corporate imitators.) Follow the online trails to your local espresso obsessive shop though and more likely find a space that feels like a teenager struggling to grow out of local and into something that maybe doesn't quite exist yet. Perhaps it's the counter Starbucks, perhaps it's the future replacement, or maybe something else entirely.
Whatever it is though, it's clear it will be well branded. The new school of espresso shops is almost always well branded, often too well branded for local comfort. Perhaps the fact that the shops are always filled with designers (you know like me) is to blame for this, but then again the whole western world seems to be filling up with designers... Ritual's knock off of the Soviet flag, with a coffee cup replacing the sickle and the hammer of labor absent entirely is slickest and most symbolically relevant of the brands I've seen. The revolution might not be televised but it will cost $3 a cup.
The rise of $3 cup (aka coffee culture) in America over the past decade or so has dovetailed nicely with the napsterization of music, ably sucking up the daytime jobs for musicians slot that the decline of the record store opened up. In an indie record store though there is a relative homogeneity you won't find in a new school espresso shop. It's a high end product and the crowds tend to vary from the sort you'd expect to find in a high end car dealership and a high end drug dealership. The only common bonds are a shared addiction to caffeine, electricity and wifi. Sitting in the packed and well branded cavern that is Ritual Coffee makes it pretty clear that this uneasy mix has a clear economic viability, but just what it will look like as it grows beyond adolesence is beyond my powers to forcast. In the meantime I guess I'll just enjoy the espresso.
June 04, 2006
Economies of Design and Other Adventures in Nomad Economics
Ok, time to go a bit more public. That image that should be showing above is the front cover of the public draft of my first book Economies of Design and Other Adventures in Nomad Economics which you can buy by following this link. You can also download the pdf for free. It's a public draft which means its far from done, filled with typos, and due to the magic of print on demand it should be updated frequently. It's also the first(ish) draft of my first book, which means I've learned a tremendous amount just in pulling it together. If things work out the second draft will be a complete rewrite and a far better organized one at that. But the raw ideas are out on paper and I'd love to get as much feedback as possible, so please read, enjoy and comment!
The book also has a site, and like the book it's so far been semi-public. No longer. Feel free to point your browsers to nomadeconomics.org just what will happen there is slightly indeterminate, but hopefully informative and entertaining.
March 21, 2006
Friendster lost steam. Is MySpace just a fad? is danah boyd's latest essay on the big social network sites, and her continued defense of MySpace against rising media driven fears. I'm pretty much in agreement with her on the level she has framed her argument, as the freedom of users to create their space versus the attempts of managers and concern parents to control it. Yet something big is missing from that story, something about MySpace being created by an internet marketing company know for spam, adware and spywear. Something about it being bought for a rather large sum by news corporation known for pursuing power first and profits second.
Through out her writing danah constantly invokes a bottom up defense of youth culture. Essentially that the kids are alright they just need space and privacy to develop their own identities. It's an argument I'm totally sympathetic to, but it becomes completely problematic when one realizes that something like MySpace just isn't a traditional bottom-up youth culture situation at all. Rather it's something more like an engine, a structure to contain the bottom up energy and transform it into something else entirely.
Now that probably comes off as rather critical, yet it actually purposefully devoid of value judgments. If all MySpace is doing is giving kids a place to be themselves on line and transforming that into ad revenue its a rather benign operation in my book. But is selling ads the only reason for MySpace as a company? Is it the only reason News Corp was willing to pay many hundreds of millions for the service? Without inside knowledge it's difficult to answer, but it is an undeniable fact that the MySpace database is filled with a massive, perhaps unprecedented, amount of demographic data.
MySpace knows their users basic info, name, email, age, etc. Then it also knows their friends, their friends data, their favorite bands, the way they speak, who they like, who they don't. Heck it can probably run a simple algorithm and figure out your favorite words (assuming you use MySpace). A more complex algorithm and it can probably imitate they way you talk.
Not only does MySpace have an absurd amount of personal data on people, the sort of stuff traditional demographics companies have been collecting for decades. But it also has something perhaps far more valuable, a wealth of data on the relationships between all those people. And just what emerges from those relationships remains to be seen. We can speculate a little though.
Imagine a new friend request, good looking person, same style, likes the same books and movies you do, never met them but sure you say yes. Something maybe a touch off, a touch cold, robotic maybe. But they are in your network, in the conversation churn. But slowly they push in odd ways, push certain products, certain activities, push for more info. The future of marketing just might read the same zines as you, buy the same punk 7" as you, watch the same YouTube as you. Perhaps they might even know just what you'll buy better than you.
That's just a scenario, imagine another one. One where it's not about the personal touch, but instead the bigger picture. Youth culture has always relied on reality moving faster on the ground than it does in the board rooms. The ability for kids to find and build their own worlds outside of the ones filled with parents teachers and cops. But what happens if MySpace can see trends faster in their data than kids can actually see them on the ground?
Just a scenario, but remember it might be my space and your space, but it's their data in the end...
October 12, 2005
ITP Podcasts: Technologies of Persuasion, week 6
Want to keep all these podcasts over on my ITP server space, but the MT install over there seems to have failed me... Here is the latest while I work out a better place for this stuff. Part 2 is better than 1, more animated discussion.
October 03, 2005
Viral marketing is disgusting. Nothing proves just what a cesspool the world of marketing is better then the way they picked up the term and made it their own so lovingly. When Rushkoff it was a critique, the viruses where supposed to infect the media carriers, undermine them. Of course the situation quickly flipped, the marketers got themselves inoculated and got busy trying to infect consumers.
In practice viral marketing consists of content so insanely stupid that people pass it around saying "can you believe someone paid to make this crap!" Chickens and dancing hamsters and a bunch of other stuff you'll remember about as well as that nasty cold you caught back in the winter of 98. Yeah, remember that one, it was great wasn't it? To be a viral marketer must be worse then being a hollywood player, not only are you only are only as good as your last hit, but your last hit (and all the others) are rapidly revealing to the world what crap they are... Thank god we have elections every couple years to hire all these failed viral marketers, if they don't keep jobs I think they all turn into spammers pretty quickly.
What marketing really needs is reproductive marketing. Instead of spreading by infection these are marketing campaigns that have sex with each other, spawning new campaigns that demand excessive attention, force the creators to go home early, suck up loads of cash in tuition, and then turn into teenagers are rebel against their creators. That would be useful marketing, no? If we get lucky we'll get some real Oedipus campaigns that actually rise up and kill the people that create them...
June 20, 2004
The Champ is Here (Street Fire)
With a hat tip to Jon Caramanica we snag that fire for the streets. Jada as in Jadakiss. "he's been a threat from the hood to the internet". The Champ is Here. Green Lantern branded. Big Mike branded. "this right here is an official doctrine/ from a smart young real nigga with options" The options are the mix tape. Put the streets in a frenzy. Only the permanent button ups call it guerilla marketing. "ya know wha the fauck I'm talkin bout here guys?"
We bootleg the bootleg. Slsk represents true. Options. The "official" release is up there. We don't think twice, all we need is that mix tape. Never had love for the Jada before. Never had love for Yonkers, never felt substance past those beautiful DMX growls. Lox/D-Block always rolled like number 8 batters. Defense, a single here, a single there. No big hits. Major label maybe, but their game is still pick up. Street ballers. "Why is the industry designed to keep the artist in debt?".
When the legal single drops does it still ask: "why did Bush knock down the towers?" Jadakiss. "Currently a slave to Interscope". But does he stay that way? The mix tape economy is strong enough to make the hottest records. Is it strong enough to support the artists, or does record company capital reign supreme? Symbiotic, parasitic, or at war? There are two record industries now. One perpetuates legal crimes, the other criminally illegal. "Why sell in the stores what you can sell in the streets?"
June 17, 2004
The Corporation, Take 3 (of 3), Constructions:
The jewel of The Corporation is its conception of the corporation as being a psychopathic organization. I've previously mentioned its value (or invalue) as a propaganda tool. But this also stands as a key point from which to begin constructing solutions.
I'm not sure to what extent the filmmakers view the psychopath diagnosis as metaphor versus being the actual truth, but I'm fully in the metaphor camp. As a metaphor the psychopath construct's utility is basically constrained to its propaganda value. I don't think you can give a corporation the same therapy you would human psychopath. But right beneath the surface of the psychopath metaphor is an extremely useful analysis of the corporation.
Essentially the filmmakers look at the Corporation as an organizational form, one with a deep genetic flaw. Within the legal and cultural code of the contemporary joint stock corporation are serious flaws that influence the behavior of many, if not all corporations today. By locating and analyzing these flaws we unlock the potential to both alter the corporate legal code for the better, and to construct better organizations capable of replacing the corporate form.
The film underscores one particular flaw in the legal status of a corporation, corporate personhood, the fact that corporations have many of the rights of people under the law. Pretty much an absurdity, so much so that the law doesn't always actually follow the concept. Still a strong legal acknowledgement that corporations are not humans and thus subject to a completely different set of laws and rights could go a long way towards a better conceptualization of what roles these entities should play in society.
Ultimately though I suspect that corporate personhood is an effect of the corporate drive for power, not a cause. Is shifting the balance of power back towards another organization with repressive tendencies, the State, an answer to the problems posed by big business? In order for the answer to be "yes" the State must be ready to recode the corporate laws in a constructive manner. A dubious but not impossible prospect, and one that can be furthered greatly if the ideas on how to recode these entities are in existence. And this my friends is our job.
plus a note: this piece was actually intended to be much longer, and might be updated, or might birth another piece. I'm putting it up now mainly because I dislike having an essentially negative piece as the first one on my site, my personal take on the Corporation is more positive then critical and hopefully the site will reflect that now.
June 16, 2004
The Corporation, Take 2 (of 3), The Permanent Critique:
The contemporary left has seemingly unlimited capacity for the negative. Their ability to find faults with world is match only with their in ability to offer viable alternatives to the awful picture of the world they generate.
An hour into The Corporation I'm fully convinced of the evil of this organization form, and I want to change things. Another hour passes, and I'd would like to thinking about the viable alternatives, the course of action. Instead I'm approaching the point of nihilism, of surrender, situation normal - all fucked up.
Its is at this point where point where one thread in my mind leaves the movies flow. If the world is really as awful as this movie paints it, then perhaps I am better off not caring? Would you rather be a medieval serf, toiling in servitude, or instead the king, living in luxury off the exploitation of the same serfs? Robber baron or the labor leader shot dead by Pinkerton guards? If the world is so bleak in helpless, perhaps you best of accepting that and living in ignorant pleasure.
Happily that is not my world view. I do not see world as half empty and out of resources for a refill. I don't see critique as a bludgeon or sword, but instead think it should be wielded more like a scalpel. With extreme precision and only when deemed necessary.
The king of the American left's materialist ubercritics is linguist Noam Chomsky. Now Chomsky occasionally is spot on. But I've never yet seen Chomsky acknowledge that life has room for pleasure. Chomsky seems to believe the overriding goal of most people's lives should be worrying about the world's atrocities. And from a propaganda standpoint that's a dud. Doesn't matter if he's right or wrong, few but the pessimists and sadists are going to subscribe to that world view. Critique as a bludgeon. Can someone please surgically remove this man from my mindscape?
It's not that The Corporation is 100% negative, there are a couple mild positives in the mix. Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface an industrial carpet company, pops in repeatedly through the film as a something of a hero. His Paul Hawkin inspired transformation of his company into a vision of sustainable development comes off quite well. Of course there is a certain violence between the possibilities he preaches and the filmmaker's "corporation as a psychopath" thesis, that unfortunately never gets addressed. Hmmmm.
The other hero is Oscar Olivera the Bolivian anti water privatization activist. And while I don't know his story other then through the film, he serves as a guide to what seems to be an old school marxist revolt against government privitization. Inspiring, yet hazily told, with no indication on how to reproduce or maintain such an action. More please!
Ultimately looking back on film (and bare in mind I have only had the opportunity to view it once, I will be rewatching once it is fully in the theaters), there is a clear junction of potentiality where the film could have run in any number of directions. The point is maybe an hours in, when the corporation is diagnosed as a psychopath. This could have easily been the climax of the film, a critical point, made sharply and strongly. Or it could have been the point of inflection, the diagnosis is in, time to develop a cure. Instead the filmmakers opt for more brutalist approach, they have diagnosed the corporation's illness and then proceed to kick the shit out it. And I'll admit I took some pleasure watching the god of neoclassical economics, Milton Friedman, hang himself with his own rope, for the most part the film criticizes endlessly into a cycle of despair. A cycle that seems perhaps perversely enjoyable to a certain breed of leftist. Count me out, I exit at the point of inflection. Critique ultimately breeds more critique and so its time to jump back and move on.
June 15, 2004
The Corporation, Take 1 (of 3), Propaganda:
The Corporation - A film by Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott, and Joel Bakan is some damn good leftist propaganda. Be even better where it 40 minutes shorter (cut Noam no pleasure Chomsky please...) but well worth watching. The corporation as a psychopath is brilliant meme to propagate, let it spread. Propaganda is a good thing, Emma Goldman proudly produced it, todays left could gain a lot taking that perspective. Hopefully a couple kids with some free time and a copy of Final Cut Pro will do just that and make a good piece of propaganda even better.
March 28, 2004
Pattern Recognition, Mediapunk
Somewhere, some space, I've seen the term 'nowpunk' tossed around . More apropos perhaps would be 'mediapunk'. Provided of course were willing to live with the fact that there is nothing even vaguely punk rock about this genre...
As for a review, you'll have to go elsewhere, the book is enjoyable enough for the few hours it take to complete. For what its worth perhaps Gibson's best. While is clearly a far more influential work, the dirty secret is that, beyond its impressionistic near future cityscapes and new terminology, nothing in the book actually makes any sense. Gibson the author is never quite going to live up to Gibson the sound bite. Mediapunk.
February 27, 2004
Magazine, Blog, Future
En route to Texas I got plenty of chances to browse the magazine racks. And what struck me hardest is just how out of date the content seemed. The rapid fire publication form of web and blogs in particular seems to have routed the news around the magazine magazine world. Once I used to devour dozens of mags a month, all in the name of information, and now I struggle to find glimmers of new information inside an overstuffed newstand.
Magazines aren't going anywhere of course, the demand for print is real and nothing digital in the pipeline will replace it. But content wise the mags are at an extreme disadvantage. The only thing they provide that isn't free online is the long form investigative piece. And how many mags offer that at all?
During last fall's Creativity Now conference writer and editor Carlo McCormick told an anecdote of his first meeting of his eventual wife's father, an old school British ad man.
The question of his work of course emerges and McCormick begins going into all the fantastic cultural events he's covered, interviews done, major magazines he's written for and so on. The father listens patiently. Finally he speaks:
"oh, so you write the stuff that goes on the back of the ads".
Ok, so its only a half true statement, but that half a truth is painfully clear. There is of course a degree of consumer demand for magazines and for high quality content to fill them. But the demand that is really pushing these magazines to the press is the demand by advertisers for a high quality space in which to promote their products. Nothing testifies to this fact more then the way magazines determine how much content to publish based on how many ad pages they've sold. The ratio of ads to content remains constant, so more ads means more content, less ads less content.
Now at the moment advertisers are far happier spending their money on high res tactile environment of a magazine then on the viscous ether of blog space. But as more advertisers get comfortable with the web and web advertising begins showing more clear results the balance will begin to shift. I wouldn't be surprised if the top political blogs this year pull in north of $100,000 in ad sales.
And if and when blog ads can generate enough revenue in the realm of real salaries we are going to see something interesting occur. Suddenly the blog space will begin generating stories that compete directly with the higher levels of magazine journalism. And that feedback loop just brings in more audience and more ad revenue and then more writers.
Magazines strength once was that they could be printed cheaply and quickly, read then disposed of. Unlike the even cheaper and quicker newspapers though, they were also highly filtered and focused. Weblogs hit at both these strengths simultaneously. There is no way magazines can compete on the quick cheap and disposable front, they'll get lapped by the rapid fire publishing of blogs every time. On filtration and focus magazines are on better ground, the art of the editor is a refined one and it works well in the magazine context. But the blog form has its own filtration dynamic, one that overlaps significantly with the magazine space.
So what happens to magazines when their chief value as a medium shifts from being a fast and cheap information delivery vehicle and towards a dense, hi res marketing tool?
The process of course is well underway and I think we can see a few trends. One is the all ad magazine. Lucky and Sony Style capture this dynamic well. The difference between editorial and ad? I wouldn't know I don't read those things. The question is does anyone? Lucky (a magazine about shopping) at least appears to be a smash hit. I'm not even going to try and guess what comes out of this space, other say: 1 - given how much demand there is from the marketing side for this stuff at some point something interesting is bound to emerge. 2 - the amount of money it will take for each interesting thing to emerge is going to be abysmally low.
There is fortunately a more interesting demand for magazines though, one driven not by the advertisers or readers, but by the producers. The cost of becoming a designer or photographer has lowered dramatically over the past couple decades, leaving us with a excess of wannabe magazine producers. The results are perhaps most visible in the space of fashion, which now churns out dozens of glossy expensive magazines. And for the most part what these multitude of producers want is use the magazine as a space of creative expression.
These are forces pushing the magazine towards being a work of art. For the most part they have not succeeded. Instead they collide with more material forces. The magazine as creative showcase has a tendency to demand expensive production. More gloss, more color, more resolution, better paper, die cuts, and onward. Suddenly the push is no longer towards art but towards luxury. It here that the creative push meets the needs of potential funders. Visionaire is the trailblazer here, and I suspect that trail is about to get paved over, and perhaps turned into a mini-mall, high end of course...
A Token Fair
Ok, unlike some of my generation I am down with chain stores. Fascinated really. But of course there are... problems. Peet's might be the best of all chains, the coffee is damn good. Their brand is obsessive attention to quality, and it works. Austin TX is coffee shop heaven, indies everywhere and atmosphere wise many blow away Peet's NPR set piece interior. But for better or worse Peet's still has the best coffee I've had in this town, so far at least.
But then, the sign, pictured above. Obviously not written by the central office, but still. Read it. "The current average price paid to growers is below production cost" Stated as fact, may well be true.
What's fucked up is that they try and pimp the fact that they sell Fair Trade coffee. The problem, Peet's sells 32 types of coffee. One of them is fair trade. ONE.
So read the sign, what does it say. 96% of the coffee Peet's buys is purchased at below production cost for the grower. Then as a token, once a month Peet's brews up it's fair trade jammy. And that's supposed to be a good thing?
Now I appreciate that Peet's is making a little bit of an effort, but who the hell wrote that sign? And is it a product of just plain stupidity or an environment that encourages the celebration of token actions?
February 25, 2004
A Quick Magazine Note
I've never been much of a fan of either Paula Scher or Print Magazine put the work she's done for the current issue is brilliant. Whole issue is far better then I remember the mag being in fact. Perhaps they have turned themselves around while I was sleeping?
I also been quite critical of Adbusters in the past, but the current issue is a lot better then anything of late. There are actual instances of pragmatism inside Adbusters, whoa... That and they learned that headlines are not a means of corporate mind control reinforcing the hegemony, the result a far more readable mag then its been in a while. Still make plenty of the old mistakes though...
February 09, 2004
Putting the Mass in Mass Media
What, what, hold up. Did I just catch a glimpse of intellectual insight coming from a Bush administration official? Media Czar Michael Powell called the Super Bowl a "sacred period of time". And I couldn't agree more.
I grew up in a home without television, a fact that made me acutely aware of its power to bring people together. It sucks pretty hard rolling into school knowing that everyone else watched Alf last night and you've got no place in half a days worth of conversation... May well be a better person for it all, but it sure didn't seem that way back in 3rd grade.
Adam looks towards cathedrals for comparison, and perhaps he should have stopped there, cause in all honestly his airport analogy baffles me. But the cathedral, the mass, that is the appropriate space to be looking at the sacredness of the ultimate mass media event, the Super Bowl.
The religious ritual is all about shared experience. Everyone under the cathedrals arches shares one unifying experience, one replicated quite similarly in cathedrals and churches round the world. But as religion fragments and threatens to fade, this unity dying in the margins.
The Super Bowl is close to the last mass event on television. The only time when the majority of America comes together in one massive unity, one shared experience. A beautiful thing really, and a beauty that seems lost on many of television's critics.
Ironically the core ritual of the traditional mass seems to have made the leap, with the communion wafer and wine, becoming wafers of potatoes and bottles of watery beer. And this being America of course proportions grow by several orders of magnitude. But still the nation communes. The same game, the same play by play. Same grease-carbohydate-salt delivery systems getting swallowed. Same Ads. Same offensive half time show. Unity for once. Enjoy it while it lasts.
January 24, 2004
UPS Rebrands Redux
Back in March when UPS rebranded, I shrugged. Sort of liked the tacky metallic of the new shield. And despite the fact that the new logo launched at the same time as the neocon invasion of Iraq I missed the violent symbolism of the shield.
But two UPS trucked ended that. West Broadway, in the heart of Manhattan's Soho shopping mall, two UPS trucks back to back. One with Paul Rand's old gift + minimal shield design, one with a glossy new school UPS shield. One truck branded to say "we deliver your presents safely" and another truck branded more like an armored car.
Its not a pretty contrast. Is this what Bush's new world order looks like? Even a parcel delivery company feels the need to wrap itself in the cold paranoia of security? Apparently when Paul Rand showed the old design to his young daughter and asked what it was she replied delightedly "a present!" But now it's the 21st century and all presents now must pass through a full security screening before they arrive...
Geopolitics aside though, its also clear that the old trucks are just plain better designed. The old globe makes UPS worldwide scope far clearer then the new "Worldwide Services" tag. They've tellingly dropped the "delivery" from that tagline. Clarity is apparently a weakness in times when Cheney and a Bonesman lead the worlds most powerful nation.
The url and well thought phone number (800 pick ups) are gone on the new truck as well. If you need them you'll find them I suppose, but its another step towards closing their doors to outsides. Perhaps on the flip side of the new truck is a drop of slot similar to the one you can see on the back of the old one. But perhaps that charming detail has been stripped as well. I wouldn't be surprised if the slots get used about once a year. Doesn't matter though, the fact that they are there speaks more of the thoughtfulness of the company then a cold metallic shield ever will.
January 14, 2004
Gorilla not Guerilla
"GoGORILLA Media was founded with a mission: to bombard and overwhelm consumers with advertising messages as they go about their daily lives. In our view there is nothing more regrettable than an empty space with no advertising printed on it. We believe that consumers must be told as often as possible which brands to buy and that they must be spoken with at every concievable oppurtunity. Our goal is to inject advertising into life's most mundane experiences..."
January 02, 2004
Sex + Advertising
The headline reads "Top 100 ad campaigns of the 20th century", but the article is about sex and advertising.
[via Agenda - Breaking News]
January 01, 2004
Writing about Missing Monuments, must have put Missing Foundation into my head. Missing Foundation is one the few bands that are known more for their iconography then for their music. Even in their hometown of New York few have heard their raw industrial sound. But for years in the late 80's early 90's their upside down wine glass was spraypainted and stenciled all over Alphabet City. The defacto logo of the squatters and housing activists fighting a loosing battle against the gentrification of the area. And it quite literally was a battle, with squatters squaring off against cops in shantytown of Tompkins Square Park.
Of course now the hood resembles the Upper West Side with pr girls sipping lattes at the dog run, and its pretty arguable whether the city is any worse off for it. The spirt of the old Alphabet City has long since journeyed through the Lower East Side and Williamsburg and hovers over Bushwick and perhaps the northern tip of Greenpoint.
Meanwhile the music world is poised to move into an industrial revival as the cocaine highs of Electroclash, the Eighties revival and Garage rock comes crashing down together. September brings the Republican National Convention to New York, and I suspect the echoes of Missing Foundation will ring louder then they have in a decade.
December 23, 2003
The Gucci Gucci and More Advertising Hits of 2003
That's from ADd Age's Top 10 Lists which also features a bit of honesty from the Philippines FHM and a bunch of other crap. Bit hard to take seriously any set of lists that includes the god awful Electric Moyo campaign for Nissan as a hit. Still worth a visit for those interested in advertising.
[via Adrants who should focus more on the rant aspect of their name...]
Structures of Advertising Power
December 22, 2003
State of the Brand
Oregon, We Love Dreamers and the branding of a State.
[via LucJam - Breaking News]
December 21, 2003
Designs on Democracy
Designs on Democracy is conference this coming March. The always excellent Social Design Notes reports that its being organized by Design Action Collective, the Ruckus Society, and Change the Game. Design plus activism, expect to see me there.
December 18, 2003
Daily Candy = $3.5-4 Million
The Pilot Group, an investment firm founded by former AOL chief Pittman, quietly bought privately held DailyCandy a few weeks ago for roughly $3.5 million to $4 million. Holla! The blog game is changing quick, no? Well Daily Candy isn't a blog, but damn its similar...
December 15, 2003
December 12, 2003
Cleaning up Paris photoshop contest. Includes the beautiful media recombinant of Paris as Jessica Lynch...
Flyers from an era just begging for photoshop...
December 11, 2003
Busting the Busters
To the East, Propaganda
December 10, 2003
This is one example among many at danwei of Chinese firms appropriating Western brands and imagery. I absolutely (no pun intended) love this stuff. Its sampling in my book and its often beautiful. Of course sometimes it will be unimaginative and poorly done, but its not exactly like all design is done well at the moment....
Jeremy Goldkorn of Danwei clearly disagrees, it seems he's on the side of hard intellectual monopoly. Still his reports from China fascinate me. This is where the battles over the territorialization of ideas really start to heat up. From what I can tell the Chinese must see the West's current position on intellectual property as absurd, and perhaps uncomprehensible. So do I of course, but China as a country, culture and economic force is in a position to radically transform the game...
December 04, 2003
Been recieving Trend Central's email newsletter for a couple weeks now. Not enough info to really judge how accurate they are, yet. But I did find today's mail interesting:
At a school in Brooklyn where the students are required to wear uniforms, 7th grade boys are using black markers and Wite-Out to pen the names of their favorite skateboard and snowboard brands on their book bags... Girls in the same class are writing popular fashion styles like “velour” on their book bags so as to indicate that if they had the choice, they would be looking cool in velour.
Interestingly, brand names like Element, Blind, Venture, and Zero are more prevalent on bookbags than favorite bands such as Sum 41 and Blink-182...
no indication of sample size or methodology, treat as suspect, but its interesting none the less...
November 30, 2003
On Adbusters - [grid::brand]
Adbusters is a lifestyle magazine for consumerist anorexics and bulimics. Everyone in the western world enjoys shopping wether they like to admit it or not. Even those who hate to shop do buck eighties when it come to their product. Maybe its high heeled shoes, maybe its obscure Japanese comics, X-mas ornaments or hemp jewelry.
But even in the consumerist paradise of America, people sometimes feel a bit bloated. And Adbusters is where they go to purge. Feeling guilty about buying that handwoven toilet paper in a custom carved wooden box? Or maybe the fact that it only took 94 minutes to get bored of your new cellphone/vacuum cleaner has got you down? Adbusters sells the perfect remedy, anti-consumption in nice bite sized, well designed chunks.
Most readers don't even need to really purge, they just need the dream of purging. A fantasy of anti-consumption to occupy brainspace next to the dreams of having a body like Giselle or becoming the next Tiger Woods with that $5,000 golf club. "You too can save the world" screams the Adbusters salesman. Its a good fantasy, worth maybe $6 or whatever it is they charge.
And then tomorrow you can wake up, toss Adbusters on top of Wallpaper in the pile and read Look Look for a while.
Now don't get me wrong, Adbusters sometimes does great work. But for the most part their grip on reality is just south of Mr Jackson's. Issue after issue reads like a deep denial of the fact that the circulation of goods and information is necessary to the functioning of the world. There is a constant inability to distinguish the very criticizable manipulations of corporations from the unfortunate but acceptable side effects of living in a world of six billion interconnected people. Advertising a new cereal just isn't the same as Nestle pushing defective baby formula in the name of profit, yes?
If the closest you've gotten to growing your own food is leaving yogurt in the fridge overnight, how do you expect me to take seriously your anticorporate ranting? I've yet to see Adbusters and its crowd come remotely close to explaining how to feed and clothe 6 billion without corporations. Well I guess the marxists of the lot have a theory, but its not one I'm buying...
That's not to say everything in Adbuster's is wrong, from time to time they hit targets right on the money. But is a little rigor too much to ask for?
[please also note that tobias c. van Veen has his own lengthy critique of the mag up here, go check it out, its good.]
[grid::brand] has begun. Here in the US its not officially the date yet, a small lesson in globalism I suppose.
You can keep track of some of the activity here.
This might be a working RSS Feed, although it looks a bit funny.
Keep an eye out for the [grid::brand] brand across the internet.
And of course Ashley Benigno deserves massive credit for imagining this experiment and bringing it to actuality.
Heads Up Design Fans
November 29, 2003
November 22, 2003
November 21, 2003
Lynn Fox sounds like a porn star but instead they make the sort of things that motion designers fantasize about.
[via beverly tang]
November 18, 2003
From now on it looks like Abstract Dynamics will be known as: Diwrecktive
We'll of course have this fabulous tagline: "then three come at once"
Best of all we got all this rebranding work done for free. And What Brand Are You?
and on the other side of the joke, it appears some companies are actually using the fake names.
[via things magazine]
November 15, 2003
Sex Slave to the Dataset
Reading Paco Underhill's renowned marketing text , I can't help but think Mr. Underhill is one sexist mofo. Now there are plenty of good and/or interesting things inside the book, and I hope to hit them up at a later date. But for now, lets talk about this sex problem.
The core of it sits inside a pair of chapters "Shop Like a Man" and "What Women Want", and the rest leaks out all across the book. Its almost as if the author is on a mission to reinforce the hard social divides between man and women that constantly fall apart when looked at in the real world. Of course there is no denying the physiological difference between the sexs, nor the cultural forces that shape and reinforce some of those differences. But the fact is these differences are far more graded and interwoven then can generally be represented by ideas "male behavior" and "female behavior".
Now the complexity of this situation is actually illustrated well inside of Why We Buy, when Underhill looks at how certain stores actually reverse his proscribed male and female shopping behaviors. Enter a computer store and suddenly the men shop like women and the women shop like men. One might think this would be a warning sign, a big flashing light in the data saying that perhaps sex is not the appropriate determinant here. Perhaps people shop differently not because of their sex but because of their interest in a particular subject?
People shop for things then need and for things they desire. Wouldn't it make sense that people would shop differently for each item. Sometime you think "fuck I need to get that damn item, lets do this quickly" and sometimes you walk into a store loaded with your dream goods. Perhaps those goods are photo equipment, perhaps antique furniture, perhaps rarefied cheese.
Underhill's male and female shopping behaviors seem to me to have a lot more to do with how excited a person is about the objects and tasks contained in the store then about actual sex. Now there are plenty of cultural (and perhaps biological) factors that push women towards different interests. But there also a massive amount overlap. Men who spend half their day dreaming of clothes, women who flaunt their Gigabytes of RAM and all kinds of spaces in between.
Now what's really interesting here is not that Underhill is intent of reinforcing male/female distinctions that show up only in broad averages, but how it must have come to be that way. There are strong clues in the very first page of the book, where Underhill describes the methodology of his company. He employees crew of stalkers (er sorry "trackers") that follow people through stores recording all their behavior. And he video tapes store after store from angle after angle observing. Observing from afar.
Now try and ignore Orwellian side of it all for a bit and step back. What's happening here is that Underhill is collecting massive amounts of data about shoppers actions and almost no data at all about who they are or how they think. In fact just about the only meaningful data he has on these shoppers is their sex. And of course even then he's just guessing.
So what we have is a massive dataset where the only meaningful difference contained inside is the shoppers gender. No wonder Underhill harps on endlessly about the difference between male and female shoppers, its the only information he has at all. He becomes a slave to his dataset, taking what little he has and stretching it out throughout his whole book. Which is a shame since his information on actions is quite excellent, and indeed the book is quite good (although sometimes frightening) once you ignore the underlying sexism to it all.
November 11, 2003
Behind the Scene
icon | november | art factory is a profile of the Uk's leading art fabricator. You know the business that actually makes the expensive art. Interesting, but don't believe the bit about them being the only business really doing this stuff, there are other games in other towns.
[via rodcorp ]
Double Edge Blades (for your feet and closet)
Now the photos don't do these shoes justice, especially with the precision manicure they are shown being given. What's exciting about these shoes is that they are built to decay. The outer layer is canvas, and underneath is an intricate screen print design. As the shoes get nicked and scuffed up, the very design of the shoe changes, transforming itself with every use. Pity most of the people buying these shoes will never actually wear them...
Couple other points:
1 - they launched these shoes with an art opening style party, giving free alcohol to sneaker fanatics is a devestatingly effective way to sell.
2- releasing light colored shoes at the start of winter? they must be designed for the Japanese market, where light colored shoes are far more popular then they are in the US.
More of the Same (Design)
Design Observer: writings about design & culture: The New Certainties. Should be pretty familiar to any graphic designer, although its got a decent new twist in the form of a chemist.
Bottom line, designers love to talk about how important and powerful design can be, and if it can be done while knocking other designers or older styles, all the better. And if it involves doing more then talking...
November 06, 2003
100% Pure Premium Propaganda
I'm a big fan of propaganda, especially when it comes from causes I support. The Meatrix is some of the best propaganda I've seen in a long while. Best of all its not the militant vegetarian shlog I expected, but instead is quality anti-factory farming propaganda. Good stuff. Requires Flash.
October 25, 2003
Look Look, This Is Cool (Hunted)
aka notes from the Look-Look Magazine Launch.
Amateur is in.
Fawns are the new black.
I think there were more cameras in attendance then people.
So Look Look Magazine had a launch party. One of many I suspect, but being the NY launch for an LA mag this is probably one of the better. Art world, fashion flavored, big photos, good party. The mag itself is "amatuer", art and photos from "youth", which now seems to mean under 30. Ok. Its a better looking mag then most of the ones filled with "professional" photos and art. Its a dirty little secret that most "pros" in the 21st just know the tech a bit better then most, talent is optional.
But the event. At some point the spider sense went off, something ain't right. I think it was watching the aging art ladies ogle the 15 year old kids playing live classic rock (really fucking well I might add) that set it off.
Where to begin? As it turns out Look-Look is a trend forecasting (aka cool hunting) firm run by one DeeDee Gordon, who is damn prominent in the field. The whole mag is put together by their "correspondents" aka "cool", "youth", who get photographed, interviewed and probed for insight that can be sold to corporate America for big old checks.
Now I don't want to come off as critical here, because this is not a straight forward situation. Its easy to make a story of Corporate International exploiting youth culture while craftily covering their tracks. And its not like that story would be false. But its important to realize this is a two way communication. Its a bit unclear whether the whole thing is perverse or subversive. Perhaps its the corporations being exploited to support Look-Look's agenda? The balance of the whole situation is hard to gauge. Is this a way to distribute corporate wealth to deserving artists and give new voices a forum to emerge? Or is it a way to sell more Pepsi? Both I suspect. Tread carefully in these waters. Risky but perhaps rewarding.
October 23, 2003
What the Hell is Amazon Thinking???
So Amazon.com has turned on some fabulous new feature. Search inside a book. Allows you to find words that appear inside the text of a book, not just in the title and metadata. Sounds great, yes? And I'm sure it is at times.
But. the. implementation. sucks.
Problem is its on by default with no obvious way to turn it off. And its a big problem.
How big? Well I just did a search for who I believe has written . Amazon now returns 16 results. His book is the last of those 16 results. The proceeding 15 mention him once or twice in the text. What the fuck? That's not an improvement, that's a disaster. More popular authors return almost worthless results. Searching for like I did last night should give me the handful of books he wrote on the subject, not a few hundred results.
This is a mess. Its compounded by the fact that each result is now twice as long as it was a couple days ago. The lists of results are noisier then a deaf death metal band. Bad. I need to figure out how to turn this off... No luck so far. And yeah you can send email to Amazon here. I'm disappointed.
Design Critique Please
Beautiful readers, these are beta versions of a logo and site, any and all critiques are both welcome and desired, fire away if you will. Obviously more functionality is to come on the site.
And of course wonderful clients are very welcome...
oooh, and a secret too, keep those voices low, so I heard this is a site you can grab by the heart and lead around, give it a try its easy and fun...
October 22, 2003
Remember How Amazing that Abstract Dynamics Experience Was?
Once again our friends in the Ad business are fucking with our minds. Or trying to at least. Remember how manipulative those old advertising techniques were? Well now they are worse. Er, if they actually work of course.
Up now is "memory morphing", which apparently involves implanting false memories into "consumers" (you know you and me), through ad slogans. So if Oldsmobile puts out an ad saying "remember how great that first blow job in the back of an Olds was?" a whole handful of us will remember just that experience. Lets hope it wasn't all at the same time.
Sadly enougth this stuff probably works. Didn't half the country claim to have gone to Woodstock? And 0% of the country vote for Nixon? This time I'm starting early aight?
Remember how great it felt to vote against Bush in 2004? I thought so. Lets roll.
Oh and yeah read about it here: in the Independent
[via Jens Christoffersen @ No Sense of Place
who need to fix their archives]
How visual simplicity can harm usability
How visual simplicity can harm usability, so true.
October 20, 2003
"Classic" Video Games + Today's Kids
on Handheld Football:
Brian: What's this supposed to be?
EGM: Football. It's one of the first great portable games.
Brian: I thought it was Run Away From the Dots.
Tim: Which button do I press to make the blocks explode?
EGM: Sorry, they don't explode.
Becky: This is boring. Maybe if it had characters and stuff and different levels, it would be OK. If things blew up or something or—
Sheldon: If there were bombs.
Becky: Yeah, or special bricks. Like, if a yellow brick touched a red brick it would blow up and you'd have to start over.
John: Why haven't I won yet? I've paired up so many of the same color.
EGM: Don't worry about colors.
John: I just lined up six of the same color. Why didn't they blow up?
EGM: Nothing blows up.
[via the Noah Sachs Report]
October 14, 2003
Aspen must have been the Visionaire of its day, except er... it was intelligent, you know with actual writing (by actual hippies no less). But yeah, it was a magazine in a box, with all sorts of goodies inside. Ubuweb has archived all 10 issues of the magazine extensively, enjoy the wander.
October 13, 2003
So is nikeground.com a clever hijacking of the Nike brand to make a critical and artistic point or is 0100101110101101.ORG a clever Nike marketing vehicle disguised as an arts organization? And does it really matter to Nike in the end?
Quite honestly I think it'd be more interesting if Nike was pranking the cultural jammers, then vice versa. Are these heads ever going to learn that free advertising is still free advertising no matter how clever the critique is?
So how much is that ad space on the American flag actually worth?
October 11, 2003
I'm a touch worried the one of my favorite words, serendipity, is about to become a buzzword du jour. Perhaps it already has, oh well perhaps some good will come of it.
October 05, 2003
Truth in Advertising
This video has been circulating for years and its still one of the funniest things on the interweb. I dig it up a few times a year. This time I archive it for you.
all my best
October 03, 2003
October 01, 2003
Abercrombie & Zizek
I keep meaning to write a little about the issue of A&F Quarterly, but I keep forgetting as I don't own a copy of the issue, nor can I find any good images online. A&F Quarterly is a magazine cum catalog that has turned Abercrobie & Fitch into one of America's top clothing retailers for teenagers. It's known for masterfully pushing sex and homoerotism to the precise point where it outrages parents and excites kids while still being acceptable corporate behavior. All (or most at least) of the photos are by , 80's master of the underwear ad.
The latest issue adds a twist, all the copy in the massive photo spread that takes up half the large magazine, is written by philosopher . And it reveals one thing, is a far better copywriter then philosopher...
Ok that's unfair. I never managed to read any sizable amount of , although I've tried quite a few times. Put fcuk he sure is a good copywriter. And his philosophy often reads more like ads for his mind then actual thinking.
Got to stop talking shit, someday I'll read him properly...
September 24, 2003
Currency for Sex
apparently this ad for a Russian financial magazine has just been banned...
September 22, 2003
15 Second Holla
Discovered a new hidden pleasure of the internet, getting quoted without even knowing it.
So let me return the favor and tell you to read Wired News: Uncovering the Napster Kitty Ads, which has Mark Schiller of Wooster saying much smarter things then me about the new Napster ad campaign. I'd agree its one of the better street art attempts by corporate America, although I still am partial to the IBM peace, love and Linux stencil run. About as close to subversive that the fortune 500 is ever like to get.
The one question the article didn't answer though was whether those Napster paste ups are done in the printing press or on the wall. I'm thinking they are pasted by the printer, before going up. Don't think it matters, no millions of ad dollars are going to get kids paying for music in large numbers. Lets face it Mp3s are free and the artists will get rich off concerts, merchandising and by selling their services to the ad agencies...
September 19, 2003
Victorian Hip Hop
Peeped out the Nike Laser on a quick run through Nolita, 255 Elizabeth is the unmarked "gallery" space being used by Nike. The shoes really are beautiful and I really want a pair. Of course they promise to be some of the most expensive sneakers ever. $250 -500 is what I've heard, which puts them in the range of a extremely nice top of the line dress shoe. F'in Ouch.
Yeah, so that's the gushing bit, getting over it quick. Now for the critical and the meta. First off Nike has truly mastered this exclusivity marketing game, its getting absurd. Worst bit is I have to assume its working on me, since I want a pair of the shoes (although I'd like to imagine its just the beautiful craft of the laser etching). The private club, secret address bit is going over the top though, on might say things are getting positively Victorian in this post hip hop space.
Part of it is just the invitable fusion of hip hop culture with the mainstream power structure, the new generation is building its base. But this old English gentlemens club thing that is infecting the culture is quite odd. Could it be that hip hop is becoming bourgeois? Private clubs and ornately crafted status symbols, there are real echoes.
Perhaps hip hop is following the Bushco lead. We've got a old boys club of politicians linked to 19th century industries, trying to build empires in back rooms. Perhaps Nike, Alife, Mo' Wax and Bape crowd are just unconsciously emulating politics in a pop culture context. Is a post hip hop/skate/graf cultural imperialism about to crystalize, centered on the Tokyo-NY-London axis? Or perhaps in this accelerated age, its already about to collapse?
One thing is for sure, the populist in me is hearing warning sirens loud and clear, duck and cover y'all or maybe just hide out in your private club.
Caught Sleeping, the Nike Laser
Damn, I got caught sleeping on the Nike build up for their new Nike Laser shoes. Hot shit, people were buzzing about the party as I got back to NY, but no one was talking about the shoes! And damn they are hot, this is the problem with the anti-Nike crowd, they can talk all the shit they want, but in the end true innovation is going to trump sweatshops everytime. The best way to move toward 100% ethical sneakers is to make them yourself, blackspot is half way there, hope they are down to innovate not just preach...
Anyway look at the shoes, engraved by laser into the leather, absolutely beautiful.
Crooked Tongues (free registration)
September 10, 2003
A Bathing Ape Makes Its Own Clothes
So my friend Adam Greenfield recently called attention to an older article of his The bathing ape has no clothes. All sorts of discussion follows. And in the midst of it all I realized I didn't really know to much about Bape (as the brand is often called) and its star designer Nigo.
Well the web doesn't offer much, but it offers some. The best perhaps is this site which rocks the old geocities style flawlessly and just might be the official site. Note that its not 100% predictable what you might actually wind up seeing there... As for text and real info, one slim interview turns up, and thankfully its pretty good.
As I had suspected all along Nigo appears to work extremely hard with a strong devotion to detail and quality.
He describes himself as 'a bit of a loner' who works all the time, though 'my work doesn't feel like work to me. I feel like I have a lot of free time because I love what I do.'
To watch Nigo hovering over a conveyor belt of sneakers and shoes in one of his outlets, carefully positioning and repositioning the goods so that they gleam pristinely beneath soft-glow lamps, is to understand Nigo's admixture of lordly control and personal, hands-on engagement. Willy Wonka and the clothing factory.
One final irony: Nigo's obsessive, detail-oriented solemnity results in clothes that are most notable for being…fun. BAPE wear features surprises to delight a childlike curiosity—untuck a pocket in a pair of jeans and voila!, there's the tiny ape-head on the inner lining. Hold a short-sleeve button-down shirt sideways and stare into the camouflage for a few minutes: “BAPE” is spelled out, embedded in the pattern like a Rorschach inkblot.
I could just smell this sort of thing beneath the Bapa hype. There are a million and a half companies wanting to be where Bape is now, or even where it was 2 years ago. But only one really made it. Dismissing Nigo as a "stylist" as Adam did seemed a bit too off the cuff. Success doesn't just emerge from nowhere...
Yes! Finally, this is something that's needed to happen for a long time. Activists love to go after Nike like the company is sitting on a mountain of cocaine and the activists need a fix. I agree strongly with these activists on some issues and disagree with them just as strongly on others. Regardless I as so damn down with what they are doing with blackSpot.
This is protest as it should be done. There is a space for criticism, especially of the constructive sort. But bitching and moaning will only get you so far. And boycotts and protests will only get you another inch or two farther. If you have a problem with a product or company then the constructive path is to build a better product.
Now I have certain doubts and issues with their approach, and similar issue with their parents at Adbusters, but that is for another post. Right now I am here to praise them. I once spent an entire day researching alternatives to Nike. The short version? There are Nike's on my feet right now.
The Longer? Well, most sneakers are built in sweatshops and even if they aren't the products they are made of probably are. Even if they aren't its almost impossible to prove it given the messy chain of suppliers involved, information that is often not publicly available anyway.
The only really sweatshop free sneakers are made in the US or Europe, and personally I like my money going all over the world, even if it risks funding a sweatshop or two. Plus the two US made sneaker brands are Sausony and New Balance. Now Sausony makes great shoes, but every pair I've owned has warn out at the rear inside corner of the sole within a few months. They just aren't made for my feet. As for New Balance, lets just say you couldn't make an uglier sneaker if you wrapped an insole in plaster then ran over it with a tractor while a dog humps it. I'll take my Nike's instead please, size 11 thank you.
But now we have an alternative in the mix. More importantly it sets the stage for a whole new breed of protest and transformation of the world. Finally activists might start waking up and realize that capital is a tool not the enemy. I'll be writing a lot more about this in the near future.
September 01, 2003
Back in the Teletext Day
Relics from some parallel preinterweb in Europe...
[via Marc's Voice]
Noney is a new currency. Each Noney note is a hand drawn, hand printed and hand signed piece of art. Each note can also be traded for things. Like all money, Noney is for people to circulate. The result is a combination of public art, performance art and printmaking.
Each Noney note has the same denomination: zero. This doesn't mean each note has no value... just relative value. There's no fixed exchange rate or area of operation. Noney's worth as both art and currency is something to negotiate through each individual transaction - anywhere.
August 24, 2003
Its been a long time coming and its so close I smell it. Creative doldrums have dominated the past few years in music and style. These are dark economic times and creativity has been nursing a major hangover after partying like 1999 for most of a decade. But I see buds breaking, rhizomes reemerging above the ground. A new mutant aesthetic is on its rise. Imagine it as a building. It has history, 100 years back it was a tenement. 2 years ago it was crumbling husk of shattered brick wall. Weeds growing everywhere, graffiti covering all smooth surfaces. Today you enter through a side door, black painted steel covered in tags, stickers and stencil. You are in the back, you are in a garden. Bamboo shoots and white orchids. A small stream wanders through. The walls are covered with the original graf, throw-ups mixed with fantastic wild style pieces. You turn and head up the stairs, clear plastic meets plate glass, you are back in a dream of the future. Hi tech form and function. You reach the landing and pause, the wall is a shifting plastic, the latest of tech you presume. But the door is almost floating in it. The doorway has moldings, left over from a past life perhaps? Layers of paint are peeling of the door like a beach shack, the knob is dented copper.
You enter to a space of pure light, projections dance around you all walls, floors and ceiling, this is pure information transformed in pure beauty. Needless to say the sound system is slamming. Your eyes shift to the corner, an space between the walls you missed on the first scan, you head into it. Another staircase, heading up. The walls are covered with drawings, their are hundreds of stories on these walls, dozens of artists intertwined as they tell their tales. Perhaps you spend years deciphering them, but more likely you reach the landing and a door slides upon for you. Now the floors are hardwood. Large windows cut into exposed brick on three walls give you a view back into the street, you are still in your city. The back wall is bookshelves, the collection is of course flawless, there are comfortable chairs, you'll need to return to read. Display cases filled with scientific curiosities are scattered through the space, their is much to learn. But first you push forward rooms splattered with paint, rooms that make you think you are pac man, a fireplace someplace, a rec room, low ceilings for intimacy, high ceilings to uplift the soul. Intricate carvings contrasted with minimal simplicity. This is a meshwork, a space of cross breeding. At first perhaps you attempt to localize everything, give it a name, a place, a time. But this doesn't last long, the handcrafted weaves back and forth with the digital, the historical melds seamlessly with the hi tech.
Who created this space, a graf artist? media mogul? perhaps a woodworker, but then maybe it was a plastics designer. You look for the cracks separating the spaces, and they are not there. There must be a point where one craftsman transitions to another, but you can not put your finger on it. Could it be that this space was not created but grew instead? I suppose that means its still growing.
Sort of sad that Simon Reynolds is talking about nadirs so much lately, cause its looking increasingly like the best music critic of the 90's is dangerously close to his own nadir. ? please Simon, how long before you realize that the British just can't make hip hop. Like all British hip hop the beats are solid. And like the best of the bunch the content of the lyrics is pretty intelligent. But fuck he could have wrote a book or something cause it ain't hip hop unless the shit flows. And Rascal's flow is about as forced as the case for the invasion of Iraq...
Now lets get to the irony. Not sure what's up with Mr. Reynolds, but he claims not know whether is hip hop's nadir or the start of something entirely new. Truth is its a manifestation of something Reynolds predicted a few years back in more astute times, black American ecstasy music. A song of pure E stabs, makes my skin tingle just listening to it. Who needs a groove when the beat keeps lifting that E higher and higher? goes one better with an E rushing voice, who needs Mentasm when you can just use your lungs?
I'm beginning to think much of the British Rave Explosion E was laced with major amounts of speed. Would certainly explain the constantly escalating BPMs of the early 90's. Its not a property of the E at all, and the dirty south is showing just how effective the slowed down E sound can be. Finally, been waiting for this music for a while now. This is the sound of ecstasy plus soul, lets hear it multiply.
One last thought, could it be that Timbaland, in all his genius, might have actually slowed down this development? Don't think he actually eats the pills, but his excellent ear has been offering up audio close enough for the crowd. Fake black ecstasy for the club. And being on top of his game and commercial gold equals soundwave domination. But now the homegrown producers have found the space to emerge; the real black ecstasy sound is stepping forth. Tellingly their models seem to be DJ Screw and Manny Fresh, not Timbaland and Dre. This is music for the mixtape economy not the major label economy.
August 12, 2003
Amis on Porn
' "Answer me something," I said to John Stagliano. We were stepping out of the porno home - on to the porno patio with its porno pool... "How do you account for the emphasis, not just in your . . . work but in the industry in general, how do you account for the truly incredible emphasis on anal sex?" After a minimal shrug and a minimal pause Stagliano said, "Pussies are bullshit." '
[via die puny humans:]
August 09, 2003
Damn, ever wonder why so many women have body issues? Here is one big reason shown in action. Its not all good when it comes to photoshop. Well its nice on the eyes, but nasty on the psyche.
Punk Rock Cell Phone
My Treo 300 cell/pda broke the other day. Not in any digital or electronic way, its a pure mechanical failure. Phone and pda work great still, but the flip mechanism for opening the device is straight busted. Flip open the phone and the top half is left dangling. Worst part about it is anyone with a couple weeks of high school physics could have predicted this issue, the failure is engineered right into the device. Every time you open the phone, a strong metal spring pushes the soft plastic flip top open. Hard metal pushing on soft plastic, its going to break, guaranteed. And I've only had this particular Treo 300 for 7 months.
Planned obsolescence sucks no matter how you cut it, but I've come to expect I'll be getting a new phone every 12-18 months or so. 7 seems a short for an obvious design flaw. Especially since the replacement model isn't even due out for another few months.
Anyway despite this problem I still think the Treo's are the best devices on the market. The killer app in a palm for me is email, so it needs to be a phone combo. And it needs a keyboard. The Treo is the best of that small bunch.
Anyway for reasons I'm not going to go into here, I'm keeping my current Treo till the new model comes out, rather then having insurance replace it. So that means I'm going full cyberpunk on it. A pda phone held together with wire, velcro and electrical tape. Its the new style, you hear me? All those shiny new devices need to get out like Tom Cruise, its all about the hacked up tech pappi.
August 05, 2003
Growing Digital Trees
ecotonoha [medium high bandwidth flash link]
wow. Yugo Nakamura does it again, still the best and most refined Flash artist on the web today. Funded by a big corp in order for them to look better of course, but hey they are growing trees, and I'd rather they spend money on things like this.
August 04, 2003
You Have Total Creative Freedom
"Isolation Remixes" is open to the global creative community. Designers and creatives are invited to remix any of the photographs provided on this site. Photographic Library will be updated each month with new photographs to give you more interesting and exciting objects to remix.
Selected remixes will be published in an art-book (minimum 60 pages) together with the new Funkstörung album, each contributing artist will receive a free copy of the book when it is published. A few selected artworks will be displayed on the website as well as being exhibited in Europe and Australia during late 2003 - early 2004.
The selected images will also be compiled into a motion graphics clip for the new Funkstörung music video. Chosen music video clips will appear on the new Funkstörung Album as well.
August 03, 2003
Post I'm back to my usual read a lot of books at once style. Here is the state:
Wolfe slices through the bs of modernist architecture with his usual flare and wit. It came out in the early 80's which probably added a cocaine fueled bitchy edge to all. Quite enjoyable, even if the targets are damn easy ones. Read it course with a grain of salt of course, not all the modernists are as bad a Le Corb...
A good 2 hour scifi read to cleanse the palette. Ignore the fact the "deep philosophical questions" are a silly bore and its an entertaining read.
Its a collection of essays by various authors so its a bit hard to judge the whole book at this point. The intro however is an excellent introduction to the current state of thinking on the organization of firms. The whole field is still too deeply interwoven with free market capitalist thinking, but its ripe for a divorce. And that's the exciting part. There is a new approach to political economy in the making and some the roots (rhizome?) are nicely traced in this book.
Towards Transparent Shopping
Consumerium is link from my comments page. Its a wiki site, and a bit indirect in stating its goals, but what I make of it is they are trying to build a handheld tool to access product data while you shop. Could be amazing if they succeed. Need to pick between two cereals on the shelf? What if you could instantly see that one company is involved in several lawsuits claiming they mislead consumers about chemical contamination of their products. Valuable information, but damn hard to access when you really need it in the shop. Looks like Consumerium is out to change that.
Big caveat though. Like many open source and social software projects, their is very little on their site to give confidence that they will actually be able to build their dream. Don't get your hopes up. Still I wish them all the luck, can't wait to see this product turn real.
July 29, 2003
Issue to of the revived21C Magazine is now out. It used to be an Australian mag, but now Paul Miller is running it. Its online only at the moment, but he's been promising a print version for a while now...
Anyway loads of good stuff, including an article by my partner in 47, [sic] on Propagate, his collaboration with Shepard Fairey. The video clip doesn't seem to be working, but keep on the look out cause its impressive. And yeah, he's looking for funding to take through round through, so if you got the cash, get in touch...
[via Quadrant Crossing]
July 24, 2003
Street Car Desire
Electric Moyo .com will not get a proper link in this post. Still haven't seen the "street" component of this Nissan campaign, but street art central the Wooster Collective has photos and comments. And from a designers perspective What Do I Know has a good write up and discussion.
The jist, Nissan deliberately "vandalizes" its own ads in order to look "cool". The reality, if you get Ali G to write you copy you are going to look retarded. And more importantly if you want to make a car look "cool", make the actual car look good. Pretty simple. A cheap ad campaign is never going to make a shitty car hot.
The funniest shit is that they are the second car company this to try and borrow off graf culture. First attempt was so bad I can't remember what car they were trying to pimp, needless to say it was fucking ugly as sin. And had a "new" brand to hide its corporate roots. Don't think that campaign is going far. At least they had more subtlety, an art opening with free drinks and bad art from young artists. Good young artists too, there must have been something about the sell out that kept them from producing quality.
Truthfully I'd like to see this done right. I have no problems with big car company money funding young artists. But do it in a way that doesn't embarrass us ok? It might even sell a car or two.
July 10, 2003
Ok, so Google isn't turning into an insect, but there is something Kafkaish about the place. Alert readers of the site might have noticed that some Google AdSense powered ads showed up on the site a week or two ago. Don't look, they aren't there now, so let me kick you the story.
I'm an info junkie and an early adaptor. New technology comes around and I'll play with it. Not blindly cause its new, but with a critical eye, I want to know what it does, how it works and if its useful. So of course I signed up for AdSense the moment I heard about it, didn't even cost anything. If fact it could have even made me money.
Sign up was as easy as they come, the Google simplicity was on point. More importantly though Google was serving based on the content of the page so the ads promised to be relevant to reader. I was impressed, they started serving up ads that were genuinely interesting to me, at least from a curiosity standpoint. I've always felt that when advertising is done right its actually a good thing. If the information delivered is useful to you then you're happy to see an ad. People hate ads cause they see to many that aren't interesting to them, and that sucks, especially if they try hard to grab your attention.
But Google was getting close to the advertising wholy grail, ads that people really want to see. And not just because they are funny, because their interests and needs match with an advertiser. Naturally I was interested on what Google served on my site, so I clicked on a few ads. Nothing in the terms of service indicated I shouldn't and Google provided no backdoor into the ads. Was mildly interesting, and I moved on.
Then I decide to place the ads on the subpages of the site. Now that was interesting. Each page now got its own specially tailored set of 4 ads. Most were quite different. Now I was really interested. I clicked on almost all of them. Some were great, sites on globalisation in Africa, philosophy books, and political sites. Others were somewhat relevant, and a few were pretty wrong. A couple right wing organizations would pop-up. The word Iraq seemed to trigger only ads for those Iraq's most wanted trading cards. Felt a bit guilty clicking on all those links, but hey, it was my site, and there didn't seem to be any other way to see what was getting linked. Plus I posted a huge link list of most of sites I visited, figured they deserved some free linkage for advertising on my site.
That sedated most of my curiosity, but I was still wanted to know more. Google never told which links were getting clicked, why a given link would get served, or how much a given link was worth. But they did give frequently updated reports on the total clicks and the total money earned.
My site's pretty low traffic (I was on course to make maybe a $1 a day), so I found I could inter a bit more info by clicking on a few links and then checking the reports. Most of the links were worth about 10¢ a click. Some were closer to a penny it seemed. And one page in particular stuck out. I had used "cash" in a post title. And that seemed to trigger ads for borderline loansharking operations. "Instant Cash". Not exactly my favorite kind of people.
What was interesting was that these links seemed to be worth a lot more then most, close to $1 a click was my guess. The post in question was pretty long and political too. It could have easily triggered a lot of other ads.But the "cash" seemed to win out every time. The loansharks were obviously willing to pay a lot more per click. And this seems to have triggered Google's ad placement algorithm to give them priority. Interesting. Wonder what the tipping point was. Larger archive pages with that post on them weren't getting the loanshark ads. Made a mental note to research more later.
Instead I got a terse letter from Google informing me my account was cancelled. I guess I had clicked on one click to many. I was a bit worried that all my clicking on the "subpage" day would trigger something in their system, it had pushed my click through rate to 40%. But it also resulted in a whole $12 of money, not exactly high impact. Figured a computer might notice it, but then a human would get involved and it would get worked out.
Humans, yeah remember them. Turns out they are in short supply at Google. The first letter was almost certainly computer generated. And the tone was nasty. "Subject: [#2801845] Account Terminated", what a way to start off an email... I was a bit taken aback by the brusk language. I expected at most a warning, which I hoped might actually lead to a dialogue about making more info available to people serving AdSense ads. Instead I got accusations:
"It has come to our attention that fraudulent clicks have been generated on the ads on your site(s). Please understand that we consider deliberate attempts to violate our policies and compromise the integrity of our program a serious matter. Furthermore, your actions have cost Google and our advertisers both time and money. Actions such as this are not tolerated by Google."
Hmmm, guess they are sort of new to customer service. I reviewed the terms of service, I wasn't in violation, although it did say they could cut anyone off. Time to get a human involved. I wrote back asking for a review of the situation and included by phone number. As I sent out the email I noticed the return address. firstname.lastname@example.org, hmmm maybe its not going to be as simple as talking to a person.
After a day of no response I decided to call them up. Took some digging on their site but I got the phone number. It lead to a labyrinth. There were a surprising number of dead ends. If you want to talk about "x" hit 1. Hit 1 and you find out that google won't talk about x. Great. As far as I can tell there is no way to get a human on the phone at Google without randomly dialing in extensions. This was beginning to feel a bit like 2001, slowly dealing with a computer out of control.
On Saturday night I got an email back. It seemed to be written by a human, but was signed the "The Google Team". They had no problem addressing me by name though, a nice demeaning touch on their part. Still accusing me of fraud too. No details as to what that fraud was though. Great.
Figured I'd give one more shot, wrote back explaining everything I had done that might have set their computer off, and tossing in some suggestions on how to make it better to boot. Pretty much given up at that point, but it was worth a shot. No love back on their part. Guess the experiment was over.
The worrying thing about it for me is the inhumanness of it all. The money was pocketchange wasn't going to turn it down, but it would have been server costs and small xmas bonus at best. But I enjoyed watching the ads, seeing what got served up, and actually getting paid at least a token amount for writing. And the more I look at Google the more worried I get.
Google of course is still the best search engine around. But there is something brewing there I think that's a touch unsavory. They hold their information really tight to their pockets. They'll gladly lead you to other people's information, but won's share their own. Even their trends pages is hidden and sparse, in pretty dramatic contrast to the Lycos 50 and Yahoo Buzz Index. They've got a treasure trove of data, and it doesn't seem like they plan to share it. Too much potential profit buried there. But that just makes me jealous.
What makes me scared is that they are dangerously close to becoming the only search engine that matters on the web. And that gives them tremendous power. If they use it well then its all good. So far they have done a pretty good job. But they are young, they could change. Going public could change them. Political pressure could change them. Greed could change them. And the fact that they refuse to put out a human face doesn't bode to well. I'll be keeping my eyes open.
July 07, 2003
Hello Muller, excellent design from Belgium. Very much on the grid tip, with a contemporary flair.
July 01, 2003
From the Ads
Been watching the ads that google is serving up on this site. An interesting mix. This one in particular is worthy of a free link:
Theme is dialogues on globalization. Worth exploring. Not to everyone's taste of course, but definitely a space to get alternative perspectives.
continue on for a couple other interesting ones...
Dubyabot - didn't actually bother to try this, but it sounds funny...
Phlog - a photo moblog site.
Cash, the Concrete and Political Abstractions: Towards a New Economy of Ideas
did $100 million in book sales just last weekend alone. A successful Hollywood movie does $100 million in a few weeks.
The reason that political giving does not reach these sorts of totals —in a nation of over 280 million people—is not that people don’t value the presidency—but that the conventional mechanisms for political donating don’t scale. George Bush’s money is raised through small networks of wealthy individuals who tap their friends, family, and business associates. While this network is effective up to a point, it cannot compare to the scalability of a nationwide system of theaters, retail stores, or the Internet.
That's from Moore's post linked previously. And he's entirely right. But there is another dynamic at work here as well, one that politicians and non-profits have never successfully addressed. These groups are in the business of selling abstract ideas. A politician is selling the idea that he can improve the nation, community or world. An non profit sells the idea that they can fix a particular range of problems. They are selling intangible products.
Corporations on the other hand sell tangibility. A soda you can drink, a service that effects you quickly. These are easy sells. People are willing to drop $100 million on because they walk of with a book in their hands, or at least in the mail.
What do you get when you give to a politician or non profit? Its hard to say, maybe a t-shirt or mug if you are lucky. And then if things work out you get the reward way down the road, when you read the paper and hear you're candidate or group is doing a good job.
Now there is a massive amount of support for political and social action in the abstract. But cash is concrete. Credit cards and the internet make it a bit less tangible, but we still feel the flow of money. Its finite and has concrete effects. The problem facing candidates is that they need to transform abstract support into cold hard cash. Right now they use a few techniques, the main being face time with the candidate (for the wealthy only). They also throw in those mugs, stickers and t-shirts. You know the ones no one really wants unless they are obsessive...
The internet solves some of the problem by making the flow of money less concrete. Its easier to part with money by clicking on a link then by handing over cash or writing a check. But it still takes motivation to click that link. And how often do you wake up and say I feel like giving some money away to a candidate?
What politicians and non profits need to do is provide a more concrete method for abstract supporters of the cause to transfer their money. Here's one potential way it could work.
Suppose you are thirsty and walking down the street. You walk into the nearest store and head to the bottled water section. The usual corporate brands are there, Crystal Geyser, Poland Spring, Arrowhead, etc. But there is also bottles of Howard Dean and George Bush water on the shelf. They are well branded and taste great. (And whoever says water has no taste is just wrong). You can give your money to some corporation or you can give your money to a political cause. What are you going to do? I'd say most people would support a cause they care for.
So someone buys a Howard Dean water, and the campaign makes 20¢. 5 million supporters buying one bottle a day equals a million dollars a day in campaign funds. $350 million a year. More then the whole presidential election is expected to cost, for all the candidates combined... And that wouldn't even put a dent in the multi-billion dollar US market for bottled water.
Now this raises a lot of issues I don't have time to get into at the moment, but the bottom line is that opening up new paths for people to express their political views could transform politics dramatically. For the better and for the worse, but more for the better. More soon.
June 30, 2003
Digital Shoplifting: Cameraphones and Secret Social Rules
This is pretty fucking funny. People going into stores and taking pictures of magazines, and they call it stealing? I've been pretty surprised how fast these cameraphones have taken off. And I think a lot of people are going to be surprised how much they effect society. We are about to hit a point where almost every social interchange is going to be potentially recorded and broadcast. Stopping it will require big time effort on the part of government and corporations. I don't think they'll make the effort to stop it.
You are under surveillance, live with it. explores some of the potential effects. But its a bit bland, I still haven't finished it... It's hard to say exactly what will happen, but I am pretty sure some of the unspoken mores that govern our society will break.
Monogamous marriage for one is a prime candidate for shattering. Its already worn down with our divorce rates. And what happen's when you can tell where your spouse is at any given time? Cheating is supposed to be wrong, yet our society if rife with it. It falls into a shift gray zone, and is ignored in order to maintain a system of monogamy. What happens if technology makes it virtually impossible to cheat? Does monogamy break? Or do we change our codes of behavior? Society as a whole may be heading for some cognitive dissonance. Heads up y'all.
I'll Trade you Two Pinochets for One Franco
Remember the Friendly Dictators? Well America want's you to forget them. But way back in the day (1990) one of my favorite comic artists illustrated a set of Friendly Dictator trading cards. Beautiful in that twisted dictator sort of way. Not sure if I used to own them, or just got to rub my grubby hands on them at some point, but they seem subtly pertinent in this day and age. How? Well, now we don't need to hire freelance friendly dictators in other countries, we just keep them in house. You know, the white one... Anyway enjoy em you sick mofos.
[via Social Design Notes]
and since we brought up Franco, lets make it positive by mentioning the other . A true master musician. Hopefully he's remembered far longer by history.
June 22, 2003
The Marketing of No Marketing
P.B.R. was starting to sound like some kind of small-scale National Endowment for the Arts for young American outsider culture, which seemed pretty cool, although not quite a marketing strategy. But think back to the notion of P.B.R. as a somehow ''political'' brand. It's a cliche to say that political parties operate like marketers. But here it's marketing that is like politics. When Pabst provides direct support to the subcultures that first embraced P.B.R., it is shoring up its new base. The brewer still needs the swing voters -- beer buyers whose loyalty is up for grabs, and who may latch on to a hot-button brand -- and hopes that its conspicuously cool base will influence them. But without the base, the whole structure comes down.
yep, yep, small tastes of the strange future.
June 20, 2003
Dinner and Drinks with the Good Dr Ellis
Met up with Josh Ellis of Zenarchery fame for dinner, drinks and wandering. He's up in the Bay to meet with his new employer and is moving here for good soon. We talked a lot about the old SF of 7 years ago when he lived here. I think he's in for some surprises given the mass exodus of the past few years.*
Josh has been mysteriously hyping up his new gig on his blog for a while, and while I'm not liable to reveal many details there is tremendous potential. Lets just say this company claims to have found one of the internet idealists' holy grails. I'm somewhat skeptical, but I do believe this particular change does have the potential to be revolutionary. More likely though it will successful and useful, but not quite as earthshaking as some cloudy eyed proponents make it out to be. Regardless its great news and exciting stuff, congratulations Josh, the bay area needs some new troublemakers.
We talked a bunch about SF rent, its ridiculously easy to find a nice space in SF right now, which makes it a once in a lifetime opportunity to move to the city. Jump in while you can kids, things are going to change. I just hope enough of the freaks pushed out by the dot com era move back. And yeah I still won't be making this place home, fear not, I'll be gone before you know it, hopefully to Barcelona.
While on the subject of places to live Josh has some crazy stories about people living in the storm drains below Los Vegas. They're 10 years old and already have a vibrant community of living in them, and a legendary Gollum like figure who is rumored to stalk down and kill strangers that come into his dark private space. Josh has written a few articles on these communities, which I need to track down and read. Sounds like a great book to me, but apparently there isn't much interest yet.
Interestingly I just started reading , which is about a world of people living beneath the streets of London. So far its quite good, although Gaiman's prose doesn't have nearly poetry of his comics. Fortunately his ideas are just as imaginative and inventive as ever.
*on a somewhat related note though, its good to read danah boyd's enthusiastic posts on how much she loves SF. This city will return to its former glories at some point.
June 18, 2003
Keep meaning to post some book reviews, but it doesn't seem to be happening. So here is the quicky version.
Good stuff, made me realize how little I've kept up with science fiction over the past few years. Lots of hardcore fringe politics mixed in with the space age. Lots of interesting speculative economics in the mix. Certainly will be reading more of his work.
Not quite on the level of but excellent none the less. DeLanda's big trick is to take the theories of and very lucidly graft them into concrete real world history. Its far more impressive then it sounds at first. I reread this book mainly to get some insight into the Iraq war. And its scary. There is loads of background on the divide between the RAND corp theories exposed by Rumsfeld and dirty "intelligence" of the CIA. It sure doesn't make me feel anymore confident in the Rumsfeld doctrine that's currently hard at work losing the Iraq "peace". Be warned though, this is a somewhat dangerous book. In the end its really a critique of the military, but at time it makes the world of strategy quite seductive.
Btw that I've yet to read. Soon.
June 17, 2003
Jim Moore on Lakoff and Metaphors for Politics
Jim Moore has a couple excellent posts on Lakoff's Moral Politics and the need for the Democratic Party (in America) to find a new guiding metaphor. Plus he's got some kind words for this very weblog, thanks Jim!
Lakoff has been on my mind a lot lately. I haven't been able to really push his theories in my mind to the point where I can say I fully support them, but so far they resonate pretty strongly with me. His conception of the liberal moral model for government as a family gels very well with my own liberal upbringing. And until reading Moore's posts I was mainly focusing on finding better ways to communicate Lakoff conception of the liberal moral view to the world. Now I thinking more along the lines of Moore, that we need a new moral model to guide 21st century politics.
June 14, 2003
Unbrand America (with another brand)
Ok, I have really mixed feelings about Adbusters. On one hand I think they are dealing with some very important issues in Western culture and are quite vigorous and creative in the way they push their ideals. On the other hand I think they are often just plain wrong in the way they look at the world and its economics. They are infected by a very serious case of blame the messenger and also suffer from a serious case of delusional hypocriticalness. But often I find myself supporting their individual causes.
Brands and advertising are not the problem. The problem is the way certain corporations use brands and advertising. A subtlety that seems to be completely lost in world of Adbusters and Naomi Klein. The Brand is a tool. Advertising is a tool. Both are extremely useful. And both are used far more effectively by corporations then by their opponents. Blaming brands and advertising for the ills wrought by the likes of Enron, Monsanto and Dow Chemical is like blaming steel for the fact that Hitler and Bush use it to build weapons.
Branding and advertising are powerful tools. And in the right hands they can be used for very positive effects. And while they might not admit it, Adbusters just launched a potentially powerful branding campaign, ironically entitled Unbrand America.
The brandmark is a black dot, simple, bold and effective. The goal is get people to put it everywhere, blacking out corporate logos by the ceo-load. Good stuff. I support it completely and hope it takes off. Its about time we reclaim the power of branding and symbols from the publicly traded corporations that have been using them against us for the past century.
So go ahead and savor the irony by Unbranding America, with another brand of course.
June 12, 2003
ePatriots is a new grassroots online campaign to raise money for the Democratic party. DailyKos is behind it and I like it so far. But note I'm not a member of the Democratic party, I just hate Bush. And I really like the way the fundraising operation is moving towards aggregating small contributions rather then focusing only on the big money. There is a real opportunity to change a bit of the political balance here, even if we are a long way from any real equality in the system. Check it out, I'll be exploring it more too.
June 10, 2003
These are examples of information that is neither worthy of interrupt (push), nor worthy of investing time (pull). This type of information should be glanceable, like a clock or barometer. We call this ambient information, and we've created the technology to deliver it.
Interesting. Ambient Devices is the company and I like what I've read. Course that's only their site and the "glowing" review in the NYT. Still as an information junkie and interface lover I'm super intrigued by where they are going. Rendering information as beauty, damn I hope this is the future.
May 31, 2003
Apple As Big Budget Conceptual Art?
Steve Jobs is a top caliber conceptual artist. His vision seems to be more of an aesthetic vision than a technical or even a marketing vision. In this regard, I think that the Apple saga may be far from over. I'm mindful of Dave Hickey's observation in Air Guitar, his wonderful book of essays about pop culture: when the automobile became something of a commodity, Harley Earl, who headed the design division at General Motors after WW II, turned the auto industry from one driven by manufacturing innovation into one driven by design. As the computer industry is increasingly commoditized, will the computer market too become more of an "art market", one that, in the words of Hickey, "stopped advertising products for what they were, or for what they could do, and began advertising them for what they meant"?
May 24, 2003
NYT on Matrix Philosophy
So the third movie, scheduled for November release, faces its own choice. It could end up moving even closer to the nihilism of Mr. Baudrillard and its ultimately sordid message. But faced with what Mr. Baudrillard has called "the desert of the real," it could also find some other path, as yet undreamed of in its philosophy, that may bring hackers, humans and machines together.
from a good NYT article on the Matrix and philosophy. That's right along the lines I'm thinking of. Only way to find out is wait.
May 22, 2003
Are the Matrix directing Wachowski brothers the biggest subversives in America? Well, if they are getting any sort of percent on the box office receipts then they certainly are the richest subversives not named Soros or (for the brief moment) Buffet.
Forget the action and the sci-fi minutia and ignore all the player haters while your at it, the untold story about the Matrix franchise is that its the biggest piece of leftist agitprop to hit the western mediasphere in years. And so far only Salon seems to be getting it. And they only touch on the beginning it (not to mention their bizarre enjoyment of the worst sex scene to grace an A list movie in years). In a time when Bush and Co are trying their best to make American's believe in a one dimensional world of us vs evil, the Matrix is an elaborately crafted vehicle for undermining the conservative message. And countless Americans are eating it up. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw the effects come the 2004 elections.
Hollywood is a left wing paradise with a big problem. Most of the major movie players lean heavily to the political left, but their bread and butter comes from pumping out Good vs Evil themed flicks that play directly into the Lakoffian moral politics of the right wing. Regardless of the explicit messages in a film, the very structure of a Hollywood Blockbuster leads to a reinforcement of a conservative world view.
The first Matrix had a pretty explicit leftist agenda: rise up and revolt against a rigid power structure, question reality, the wool is getting pulled over your eyes by those in control of the system. But that message was undercut by the reliance on the standard Good/Evil binary. For every person driven to question the hidden network of powers driving our world, there is someone who sees another example of the good guys beating the bad guys.
The Matrix Reloaded is out to shatter that trope and its far more effective at calling attention to the structures of power. Remember those hippie "Question Reality" bumper stickers? Well the Matrix is getting people to question reality on a scale that Timothy Leary couldn't even dream of when high off his premium LSD + bullshit blend. The left has been content to release memes into their own marginal subcultures for far to long. The Matrix unleashes memes into the heart of pop culture. "Choice is an illusion created by those with power to control those without", says the Merovingian and the Architect adds in: "nearly 99.9% of all test subjects accepted the program, as long as they were given a choice, even if they were only aware of the choice at a near unconscious level."
The way the Matrix Reloaded points out the multiple layers of control built into society is perhaps the most potent of the messages it carries. Its one thing to make people aware of the first layer of control. Its far more powerful to make them aware of the way that a built in "resistance" can be used to solidify the power structure.
These are powerful seeds for any campaign to make the American public aware of the way the Bush administration is using the rhetoric and the media to sell a system of control. The left has been pushing these ideas for decades now, and general public couldn't give a fuck. Thanks to the Wachowski the ideas are now seething through the subconscious of the suburbs. And its far to soon to guess at what the ramifications are.
Six months from now, when the Matrix Revolutions hits theaters, we'll have a much better sense of it all. Most exciting to me are the indications that the Wachowski's are ready toss the Good/Evil binary out the window in a big way. Neo is the hero of the series so far, but everything else is way less clear. (*Spoiler Alert*) Who are the bad guys though. The Agents are now apparently on their own, at least those without earpieces. Morpheus is now a deluded fool of a leader. And where the Oracle, Merovingian, Persephone, Locke and the Architect fit into it all is up in a cloud of mystery. Perhaps it all collapses back into a nice binary, ala classic Hollywood. But I have a feeling we are in for something more complex. Perhaps a Princess Mononoke style peace making is in the offering.
Regardless of the binary, the leftist agenda is pretty advanced already. The Berkeley wet dream make up of the Zion Council, the Baudrillard references, the Cornell West guest appearance, the unverified anti-Bush jab, the corporate blandness of the Agents, the pro revolution plot-lines, etc, etc. Six more months and we'll find out exactly how extensive the agitprop goes.
May 19, 2003
Building the Presidential Facade
All Democratic presidential candidates should read this religiously and learn every lesson. The 21st century president exists mainly in the media, and any winning candidate is going to have to embrace that fact.
May 15, 2003
The Matrix Reviewed
In short, go see it.
In just slightly longer form:
Overall: Pretty damn good, certainly blew away my muted expectations.
Fight Cinematography: Absolutely amazing in the prime sequences. Minus one for there being at least two too many fight sequences. Whole movie was 30-60 minutes too long but not in a really bad way.
American Style Action/Car Chases: Top notch, plenty of Ron Silver in this film and its done as good as its ever been.
Philosophy/Thought Provoking: Pretty damn solid, although they will need to come through in final film or I'll be taking back that statement. The "head trip" of the first film actually never really phased me, it was done well but still pretty predicable. This one had me thinking a bit more. Need to see the climax or at least see this one again to get a better read on how smart it really is though. Bonus points putting Cornell West in the movie, with a speaking role no less.
That's the core elements of the film. 90+ percent of the movie. A good thing too cause the rest is poor, humor and love story were crap and the "rave" sequence laughable. The worst is visual aesthetic though. Mediocre at the best points and straight awful at times. Bad sunglasses and black leather trenchcoats. You have got to be shitting me. It was bad enough the first time around, now it just looks fucking backward. The Wachowski brothers have learned tons from past sci-fi movies, but they must of cut the class on how good sci-fi should feature innovative fashion and design that defines how a generation envisions the future. Apparently this generation will think the future is a Kenneth Cole ad.
Nah, they'll just do what I did and ignore the backward ass aesthetic as best as possible and enjoy the ride. Well worth seeing.
Support Independent Journalism
Quark Soup wants to raise $200 for an investigative article on the Sugar lobby. That's a bargain if I even saw one. Kick in a few if you got em and lets make truly independent journalism a reality.
[via Back to Iraq]
May 14, 2003
The Dark Side of the Social
May 12, 2003
Obligatory Usability Rant #1: Hot Keys
Not sure if I've posted any usability rants on this site yet, but I'm sure to post more, so lets call this the first of many.
It be ironic if it wasn't so annoying, but every time I find a product that enhances the usability of Windows, I end up not using the product because it has hot keys that fsck up my ability to use other programs. WTF?
The worst offender is ActiveWords, which is a pretty brilliant app. It basically transparently overlays an invisible command line interface onto your computer. Its implemented flawlessly. You type as usual, and if you happen to want to trigger ActiveWords you just hit a key of your choice (F9 for me). It launches apps, scripts, spell checks, you name it. Let you do almost anything without moving your hand to the mouse. Loved it. Would be using it right now, except for one flaw, it had a hot key that overwrote the universal keyboard shortcut for zooming in withing graphics apps. Which meant that every time I opened Illustrator, Photoshop or Flash, I'd end up closing ActiveWords. First of course I tried disabling the hotkeys in it, but for whatever reason it never worked. Needless to say it was not worth the trouble to keep turning the program on and off depending on whether I had a graphics app running. The trial expired and I didn't buy it, despite the fact I'd been telling everyone how much I loved the damn application.
Yesterday, I discovered MultiDesk a program for ATI graphics cards. Brilliant, it gives you multiple desktops you can easily cycle through. The web running on one desktop, swap over to another with Photoshop, switch to an email one, switch to a blank one. Reduces desktop clutter dramatically. Good stuff. I'll be using it for a while.
But WTF is up with their hotkeys. I had a very specific combo I wanted to cycle through the desktops. Windows Key and the Arrows. Can't do it. Ctrl Alt and Shift only, and only with the number and F keys. Why? No idea. Can't get it to work anyway...
There is a solution to all this. Not sure if Microsoft would allow it of course, but here it is. Have one hotkey that triggers OS level functioning (switching monitors, opening apps, and the like). I thought that was what the Windows key was for anyway. That would leave ctrl, alt and shift combos as being defined by the apps only. No OS level application would be able to block internal application functionality. Hit the Windows key and all of a sudden you can access all sorts of meta functionality. Simple. But it doesn't work. Instead there is some sort of hidden warfare between apps, fighting for key combinations. The loser is the user of couse...
May 10, 2003
Tufte Takes on Powerpoint
There's No Bullet List Like Stalin's Bullet List!
Looks like it ships Monday, should be yet another Tufte gem, the cover is classic...
[via the always enjoyable and informative Kathryn Cramer]
May 07, 2003
Flight Risk: the Blog as Future Fiction
Intriguing. Visited a few times, never been able to dig deep enough into it. I like what I see though. May be real. Probably not.
I'm all for blogs a medium (or part of a medium!) for fiction. Wrote about it a bunch in an altsense thread a while back. Good discussion. My comments are under the name abe1x or a variant thereof.
May 05, 2003
[[ LOVE IS WAR -- WAR IS LOVE ]] and its damn good design.
May 01, 2003
Direct from SARS infested Hong Kong my old friend John Bershaw aka dijon sends this example of Western vs. Asian web design. It begs the question of whether the difference is style is mainly cultural or technological?
April 28, 2003
The Structure of Media Bias
The Liberal Media, the Conservative Press, which one is it? I find it interesting and sometime amusing the way liberals and conservatives always seem to think that the media swings the other way. I once thought it was a nice indicator of a relative balance in the media. And the media is a bit more balanced then many give it credit. But there is something else, something structural, let me break it down.
There is a strange dynamic inside our most popular media of today, minus the internet and books. That means TV, movies, radio, newspapers and magazines. Those 5 media have a structural bent towards conservative messages. But counteracting that bent, is a tendency for the staff to lean a bit liberal.
The typical result? A liberal leaning reporter trying to act balanced, but producing a story that comes off with a bit of conservative edge to it. The dynamics are easiest to see in Hollywood. Politically the players in the movie industry on average are strongly to the left, and they contribute mainly to the Democrats. But somehow a fuck of a lot of patriotic movies with strong moral messages come out of system.
Why? Because the conservative approach of pushing strong simple moral messages is tailor made for movies. It makes a nice strong ending to the story. Same goes for TV spots, newspaper headlines, and magazine covers. Simple, basic and familiar but dramatic. Its the conservative way. The structure of these media encourages the right wing worldview to show through on the simplest level.
However, the traits that make good reporters, actors, directors, editors and the like are more in tune with a liberal world view. Creativity, rational thinking and detailed exploration of stories. The nurturing liberal worldview breeds these ideas and encourages liberal reporters. Hence the "liberal media". And in times of slow news, the questioning liberal worldview slowly takes over the tone of the news.
You could see it in GW2 when news was hot and running quick the tone was pro-war, celebrating the moral clarity of soldiers heading to battle. A couple days later as things settled in, the questioning and exploration of the darker sides would return. And then bam! more war motion and the bombastic conservative headlines were back. Slow down, more liberal, explode fast, more conservative. Cycle. Repeat.
I have a feeling this sort of dynamic has been around for a long time. What's different now is that the Bush administration has a great feel for the rhythms of media, and have been timing there actions remarkably well. Their over the top conservative rhetoric and action is pace perfectly for maximum US media exposure. They understand the structure better then the Dems and it shows. And the advantage is huge. The left just doesn't have the rhetoric to win in the game of overblown headlines. Their arguments are better suited for a slower more reasoned environ. Its no coincidence that the lefts biggest media victory of late, the downfall of Trent Lott, came during the slow news time around Xmas. The Left needs to throw off the Bush administrations rhythm and slow the pace down. Summer is dead when it comes to news, and they'll need to maximize that to their advantage. And come Fall its all about setting the pace, whoever does it going to control the media game.
April 27, 2003
The Decline and Fall of the OED Empire?
Ok the title is an exaggeration. The Oxford English Dictionary is going to be the academics dictionary of choice for a while I think. But they are really missing an opportunity. How? By charging a shit load to gain access to their dictionary online. Fits in with their snob appeal and they probably make good money selling to institutions. But they are missing a huge window of opportunity to become the one and only dictionary that matters.
What? Here is the pitch. The OED has a well deserved rep as the definitive dictionary. But most writing is now done on computers connected to the internet. And its a lot easier to look things up online. And if OED was available online the way Merriam-Webster is, they could gain a dominant market share. Who wouldn't go with the definitive dictionary given an even market place? But pay $500 for the privilege? Forget it. The free dictionaries are going to win every time. The OED will retain its elite appeal, but at what cost? Another loser in the attention based economy...
April 22, 2003
Michael Wolff on Al Jaz
"Al Jazeera, like so much else in the region, becomes part of an Americanization machine." Michael Wolff's latest column,
Al Jazeera's Edge digs into the breakout network of the GW2. Good stuff. His point is that Al Jaz is a business, a TV station. What grabs me more then that though, is that its making money by selling a political viewpoint. On a similar note is Mecca Cola, pitched as an alternative to Coca-Cola.
Both are examples of something, I've been thinking about a long time, the commercial viability of ideology. I call it Revolutionary Capitalism, and there will be more coming in the near future.
April 17, 2003
Your Privacy is Now Sponsored By Doubleclick, If You Wish to Opt Out Please Uncheck Your Passport and Leave the Country
Whiskey Bar informs us that we have a new privacy bar. Former lawyer for Doubleclick, an online ad company that wants to collect data on all your browsing habits, and has the tech to do it. Great. If there is anything resembling an upside then I suppose its the fact that she didn't come from an industry that could have existed in the 19th century like the majority of the Bush appointees. I would have expected them to get a Pinkerton to handle privacy...
BTW Billmon's Whiskey Bar is rapidly becoming my favorite political blog. Excellent blend of high quality info, opinion and much needed humor.
April 14, 2003
Will T-Mobile ever get it?
T minus 1 year and counting. Been over a year now that Starbucks has been offering 3rd party wireless internet. Forgot the initial company name, but the service is run by T-Mobile now. And its a case study on how not to attract customers.
Would you rather rip off one customer or have 10 happy customers? T-Mobile apparently wants the former. From the get go the Starbucks wireless service had 2 pay options. Pay by the minute at super sized prices or unlimited access provided you commit to a year contract. What's missing is a middle ground, the space where all most all their target market lies. People's need for wireless internet comes in bursts, on random trips where they don't have access in an office or hotel. And when they have need for access they want it to be unlimited. If T-Mobile offered day passes for $10, weeks for $20 and months for $30 they'd be racking up customers. Instead they rack up animosity. I've paid them at times, but each time I do I hate them more. And I sure don't recommend them to people.
Writing this up now because for a second I thought T-Mobile had learned. They finally offered a month to month option for a sort of reasonable $40 I only need a week but I almost paid up, it make this week a bit smoother. Until I saw the $25 cancellation fee. WTF? What is the point of a monthly option if you get penalized for only taking a monthly. Could have easily bought 3 or 4 months scattered through this year at $40 a pop. Instead I'll be taking my business else where, thank you.
And just for google let me add that T-Mobile sucks.
April 09, 2003
I'm an American, no doubt about it. I was born here and lived here for all but a year of my life. America represents a lot of things I'm proud of and some I'm not. I'm not a big fan of nationalism, but I still love this country, despite all that Bush and friends have done lately. Been pretty disturbing since S11 to see just how much the anti-war movement is willing to hand over the American Flag to the conservatives. Waving a flag is almost like being pro-war. And that's fucked up.
The American Peace Sign flag is my favorite response to the co-option of the flag by the right wing. It simultaneously promotes a support for America and support for peace. As my small contribution to spreading the meme, here is vector version of the peace flag. Its an Illustrator 10 .ai file so its really for designers only, but if anyone wants other versions just email me. And yeah feel free to do whatever you want with the file. If you improve it at all, be cool to get sent a copy, but there are no restrictions.
March 31, 2003
From the Good Design (aesthetically) Department
March 30, 2003
March 29, 2003
The Chairman Smiles
The Chairman Smiles is a web exhibition of propaganda poster from Russian, China and Cuba. Great stuff, loads of images of beautifully designed posters. The Cuban ones are especially good. Wonder what Saddam's propaganda looks like.
[via the maine page]
March 27, 2003
UPS Rebrands in Time for War
Feel a touch bad posting this in times of war, but I'm still a graphic designer sometimes... UPS has just rebranded. They've been using a Paul Rand logo forever now. Always thought Rand was overrated as a designer, although as a thinker he's far better. The UPS logo was one of his better works though. Still if looking for a designer to represent his era I'd take Saul Bass or Erik Nitsche in a flash.
Guess it comes as no surprise then that I sort of like the new logo. A bit sad to see the whole wrapped gift aspect of the logo go, it was a nice touch, but times change. Ex to the next. Wish they had got rid of the shit brown though, was that Rand's choice back in the day?
[via v-2 ]
March 12, 2003
Fuck Art Lets Make Money
Only a year or two ago every web designer was claiming to be an art star. Reality has hit in, a branded advertising star is more like it. Some car company has the big names lined up to sell its new youth oriented (aka cheap and crappy) cars.
Truth be told I have nothing against artists and designers making money off ads. Or against big companies using artists in exchange for cold cash. But as a creative you need to retain some integrity. And more importantly make it good. And if they are using your name, then that's 1000x more reason to make it good. Erik Natzke, Bradley "Gmunk" Grosh, and Joshua Davis were all once seriously talented. Still might be, but the crap they made for this campaign is an utter embarrassment. Sad.
Only Lia + Miguel (the brains behind the amazing dextro and turux sites) retain their integrity with a decent piece. And they are smart enough not to attach their art names to the site. Quality control is the name of the game.
February 07, 2003
The Matrix Marketing Machine Hits Another
The first of a series of animated Matrix backstories hits the web. Now this is good marketing, hook the Libertarian party up with these cats... Like music videos it looks like movies are moving toward a point where the advertising is an art form in itself. Its a lesson the ad world needs to learn quick in this Tivo age. If the ad is good enough, people will want to watch it.