An ivory-billed woodpecker, thought to be extinct since 1920, found alive in Arkansas. Ok, now rustle us up some passenger pigeons.
Yuri Lane demonstrates his beatbox harmonica technique. Saw this guy today at GEL...fricking great.
The High Line problem APR 29
The problem is that linear parks don't really ever function as parks, a place to hang around and enjoy nature, they are often built (like the highline) in a place that does not lend itself to mature planet growth and the spaces themselves are not 'static' - in short they become expensive, fancy, shrub lined, bike lanes.
The double whammy for the Highline project is that it is a raised linear park, with all of the problems that separating pedestrian flow from the ground produced in large urbanism projects in the 50's and 60's.
The really unfortunate thing about it is that the High Line is really cool and I would love to see it developed into something great. Walking along it, you get a unique view of Manhattan, both literally and figuratively. And from below, it just looks cool, especially when you catch people up there looking down on you. I think of the High Line as a bit like TiVo was a few years ago...difficult to explain to people who had never seen it, hard to understand why you'd ever need such a thing if you'd never used it, but once you'd used it for more than 10 minutes, it's hard to imagine how you ever did without it. And so it is with the High Line; it's hard to understand the appeal unless you've been up there. But as David notes, the linearity and elevation may make it difficult for many to find their way up there and discover that for themselves.
The Sony Librie APR 28
I spent the afternoon at the half-day session that GEL has added this year (it was formerly just a one-day conference). There were twelve different sessions described as "hands-on experiences" to choose from and I attended the gadgets session with Dan Dubno, who is a self-described lunatic when it comes to gadgets and technology products. I'm not much for gadgets, especially new ones...I'm a fairly late adopter among my tech-savvy friends. But some of the stuff I saw today...wow. Aside from the thinnest touch-screen tablet PC I've ever seen, the thing that blew me away was the Sony Librie, the first commerically available electronic ink e-book reader. Here's a photo I took:
What you can't see from the photo is how insanely crisp and clear the text on the "screen" is. It was book-text quality...it looked like a decal until you pushed the next button and the whole screen changed. It was *really* mind-boggling and you could instantly see how most books are going to be distributed in the very near future. Despite looking like a computer, when you were reading, it felt like a book because of the resolution (a very odd sensation). And it's not only for books...I was told that there's e-paper that's capable of full-color 24 fps video. Can't say enough about how blown away I was by the Librie. (Now for the bad: 10MB storage capacity, uses Sony's Memory Sticks for more storage, and the content self-destructs after 60 days. If Sony opened this up and used normal flash memory like everyone else, this thing would be huge. Enormous. It's a TV, video player, book, magazine, gaming platform, and hybrids of all of the above. Instead, they'll probably keep it closed and someone else will capitalize on it.)
Anyway, if you can handle navigating the Japanese menus, you can get one from Dynamism for $600 (which I would totally do if I still had my old job).
"Amazing New Hyperbolic Chamber Greatest Invention In The History Of Mankind Ever". "Popular Science quickly placed the chamber on the fold-out cover of its next issue, which reads, 'FUCKING AWESOME!!! THE BALLS-OUT H.C. IS 40 TIMES BETTER THAN SEX... AND COUNTING!!!'"
How a couple of mathematicians helped the Met accurately photograph some priceless tapestries. The difficulty in piecing together the different photographs was because when the tapestries were taken off the wall, they "began to breathe, expanding, contracting, shifting"...that is, they were changing between photos.
Man bitten by a deadly Brazilian Wandering Spider is saved by his cameraphone pic he took of the spider. "Experts at Bristol Zoo were able to identify [the spider from the photo] and suggest an antidote."
Super Size Me APR 28
Finally got around to seeing this documentary and loved it...but wanted to love it even more. There's so much going these days in relation to America's relationship with food: the growing obesity problem (especially among children), corporate exploitation of food for profit, governmental agencies like the FDA and USDA supporting corporations rather than educating consumers, corporate sponsored school meals, the never-ending diet mania, etc. and SSM only touched on these things tantalizingly briefly. I'm not sure how much of this stuff could have been explored more without disrupting the main narrative of Morgan Spurlock slowly killing himself with McDonald's food, but a bit more substance would have been nice. Maybe co-writing the film with Eric Schlosser would have done the trick.
But still, for all the attention that Fahrenheit 9/11 received, the better documentary to open in the summer of 2004 was Super Size Me.
How big is Jesus? APR 27
How big is Jesus?. Based upon the amount of communion wafers and wine consumed by Christians, Jesus "weighs twenty million times more than you, and contains ninety-two billion times as much blood".
Does advertising still work? APR 27
Does advertising still work?. "In 1965, advertisers could reach eighty per cent of their most coveted viewers -- those between the ages of eighteen and forty-nine -- just by buying time on CBS, NBC, or ABC." Now it's a lot more difficult and expensive to do so.
The NY Times' Randy Cohen is making a literary map of Manhattan. Not a map of where authors hung out, but where their characters did.
NYPD: web sites are not eligible for working press credentials. Wait, doesn't the NY Times have a web site?
Why geeks and nerds are worth dating. "They actually give a damn about you. Not how you look (though that's a plus), not how skinny you are, not how much make-up you primp yourself up with, but they like you for you. That kind of thing lasts longer than 'DaMN baby you got a fine ass!!!'"
A whole new internet? APR 26
After reading Janice's piece, It's a Whole New Internet, I didn't really know how to feel about it. It is an exciting time on the web right now, but it doesn't seem any more exciting than 2-3 years ago. At that time, blogs were really taking off, people were paying more attention to structured data in the form of RSS & XHTML/CSS, and using web services to paste together various apps and bits of data from around the web into new and useful services. But after thinking about it for a couple of days, what bothered me about it was echoed by Andre Torrez, who puts it a tad stronger (and funnier) than I would have:
Anyway, yes, there's more money that seems to be available for people who have been building these apps, but the suggestion that people who make these sites are only now springing to life when money is available is kind of disappointing. I hate the equation that $1 million in funding == EXCITING OPPORTUNITIES. It's how you fools lathered yourselves into the last bubble.
If your focus is on the neat technology shoehorned into some idea to make money then you're going to be up to your ass in sock puppets again.
When the dot com economy was crumbling in 2000 and 2001, I remember thinking at the time that although everyone I knew was out of work (myself included), that is was a good thing for the long term. One of the more pleasant side effects of the dot com boom was that billions of dollars were spent training indivduals how to design web sites, program, write, etc. In the years following the bust, when all those people were suddenly unemployed or stuck in high-paying jobs that they didn't care for very much but needed to pay the bills, they responded by starting to tinker around with all sorts of neat things, just for the hell of it. Because they could, because they wanted to, not because they had an artificial deadline to reach or some arbitrary client requests to satisfy.
They made apps and services that they wanted to use or thought that others would like to use, not only apps for which there was money available to build. There was no pressure...these people had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Out of this period came All Consuming, Movable Type, Amazon Light, millions of blogs, thousands of very active blog communities, the first consumer-grade newsreaders, Wikipedia (and thousands of other wikis), Firefox, FilePile, lots of social software (admittedly much of it of dubious value), Muxway (which became del.icio.us), a huge push toward XHTML/CSS-only sites, and a billion other things I'm forgetting, all when no one was putting any money into anything.
If you're buying low and selling high, the time to buy optimism was two to four years ago, not now. That was when a small group of friends looked at a horrible economy and saw an opportunity to educate their clients and the rest of us about the value of user-centered design. When a husband and wife decided to build their own blog tool in their spare time because they wanted to use it. When an entreprenuer gambled that you could make money publishing weblogs. When a few folks decided that people needed a place to share their photos with friends. When a loose collective of designers showed us the possibilities of semantically correct standards-based web design. There's still lots of opportunity these days, but it's more expensive with less return.
Now that the money is back, the focus will necessarily shift even though, as Janice notes, we'll be a little wiser about it this time around. There will be less innovation and activity from individuals because they'll be snapped up by companies to work on their projects for their customers. The information flowing out of companies, even those that are pretty open, will be limited because of competitive and legal concerns. A person who -- when she was unemployed 3 years ago -- could spend a couple weeks in releasing a neat web app for anyone to use because she wanted to or could say what she wanted on her blog will now be putting all her coding energies into an application that serves a few customers & needs to be cash-flow positive and won't have the time to post anything to her blog (and can't say much about what she's working on anyway unless all her readers want to sign NDAs). (Not saying this is bad...this is just what companies are for. But what's good for companies, their shareholders, and their customers isn't necessarily what's good for environment those companies inhabit. On the other hand, everyone I know has more work than they know what to do with and that's a good thing too.)
Consider Six Apart as an example of what I'm talking about. 6A is like a black hole for creative people. Folks who, a year or two ago, were among the leading voices in the discussion of how weblogs were changing our culture, were coding all sorts of useful plug-ins for Movable Type, or were pushing the edges of web design are now focused on making software that generates revenue and aren't saying a whole lot about it. (Sort of ironic that working for 6A kills the weblogs of their employees, isn't it?) That's great for them, for Six Apart, their customers, and their partners, but it kinda sucks for the community as a whole.
(And just to head off some of the obvious criticism here, of course companies contribute to the common good (some more than others), competition creates opportunity, investment isn't evil, Ajax is cool, innovation is still happening, etc., etc.)
Steven Johnson: "Imagine an alternate world identical to ours save one techno-historical change: videogames were invented and popularized before books". "Reading books chronically under-stimulates the senses. Unlike the longstanding tradition of gameplaying -- which engages the child in a vivid, three-dimensional world filled with moving images and musical soundscapes, navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements -- books are simply a barren string of words on the page."
Some guy named Lee Walton versus Shaq in a free throw shooting competition. After each Heat game, Lee would attempt the same number of free throws as Shaq and tally the results. He lost to Shaq by 8 points.
"More big chefs are getting paid to pitch everything from shrimp to raisins -- and not telling their customers". "The Seafood institute pays [chef Ty Fredrickson's restaurant group] $10,000 a year to have the word Alaska in front of its king-crab and halibut dishes."
The stupid West Side stadium APR 26
Amen to Kurt Anderson's comments about the ridiculous proposal to plop a huge stadium for the Jets on the West Side of Manhattan:
When I asked the Planning Department's spokesperson why the city needs a stadium for the Jets on that spot, she said it was "essential to jump-start development" in the neighborhood. Really? Essential? Right on the Hudson, immediately north of the successfully renovated Starrett-Lehigh office building and a thriving art neighborhood and Chelsea Piers? "There's a hole there," she said, referring to the MTA yards over which the stadium would be built. Holes can be filled in lots of other ways when they're adjacent to living urban tissue, albeit not as quickly. Well, she said, the stadium--that is, the New York Sports and Convention Center--is the best option on the table.
With the stadium, what they're doing is replacing one hole with another higher priced hole (with football!). But what's the alternative?
But why not, as the transmogrified High Line helps propagate the Tribecafication of the adjacent blocks, imagine a tightly woven extension of the southern and eastern neighborhoods into the rail-yards site? Why not build apartments and hotels and theaters, a better, funkier Battery Park City? Or a big park? Or the second Guggenheim Museum? Or a campus for New School University? Why can't this city assemble a brilliant team of designers and entrepreneurs to dream up a thrilling new piece of New York--people with as much visionary gusto as, say, the man who started a new kind of digital data and news company a quarter-century ago? It wouldn't be finished in five years, because creating great new places that people are eager to visit and live in is not easy or fast. But wouldn't it be better to be driven by the ambition to create a 21st-century Rockefeller Center than by a deadline to hold the 2010 Super Bowl and a 2012 torch-lighting ceremony?
Putting that stadium where they want to put it seems to me like sticking one of those huge outdoor gas grills in the middle of your bathroom. However yummy the food that's made with it, that grill isn't going to turn my bathroom into a kitchen and is only going to interfere with the proper operation of the bathroom (my dream of cooking a meal while showering as a time-saving technique notwithstanding). Like Anderson, I'll be pulling for some other city to win the 2012 Olympic Games this summer. Anything to get another chunk of New York City breathing comfortably again.
The Gunning Fog Index of the last month of kottke.org posts is 10.70. That's a little less than the Wall Street Journal and more than Time or Newsweek. (Three years ago it was 9.61...I'm getting less readable.)
David Byrne on how the tightening of US borders keeps creativity out of our country. I imagine this has had an effect on the scientific community as well.
"There's a game I like where you have to think of people whose name makes a complete sentence". "Tom Waits. Jeremy Irons. Jeff Bridges. Wesley Snipes."
Audio from the Who Owns Culture? talk by Lessig, Tweedy, and Johnson now online. Streaming audio or mp3.
In preparation for a larger project, I recently spent some time playing around with PHP5's DOM support to scrape web pages. Basically you point your script at a page and use the DOM methods to root around in it. This little chunk of code gets you a tree of the contents of all the <p> tags in document.html:
= new DomDocument();
I never learn anything like this without a little project to do, so I decided to use the above to make an RSS feed for McSweeney's Lists (which currently doesn't have one and now that I'm using a newsreader to keep up with the web, I never remember to visit there on anything resembling a regular basis). I've got a cron job set up that goes out and gets the lists page each night (using Tidy to convert their circa-1999 HTML to proper XHTML that can be easily parsed with the DOM), scans it for new lists (and if it finds new ones, puts them in a DB), and then writes an RSS file.
Anyway, here's the RSS feed for McSweeney's Lists. Since it relies on screen scraping, my meagre PHP skills, and the good graces of McSweeney's in not asking me to shut it down, there's no guarantee this will work forever, so enjoy it while you can. I'm trying out Feedburner as well, so we'll see how that goes.
Update: my code snippet was incorrect and is now fixed. Thanks to Eliot for pointing that out.
Update: As some of you may have noticed, the above RSS feed has not worked for some months now...it broke at some point and I never got around to fixing it. Additionally, McSweeney's has contacted me and asked me to discontinue the feed, so it won't ever be fixed. They're looking at doing their own RSS feeds and hopefully that will happen sooner rather than later.
Kerry supporters barred from international telecom meeting by Bush Administration. This type of thing makes me *so* angry. It's the fucking **US** government, not the Republican government or Bush government. So! Angry!
Maybe the high price of oil isn't such a bad thing. "When you look closely, it is hard to know what effect, exactly, oil prices have on the economy."
Part one of Elizabeth Kolbert's three-part series on global warming for the New Yorker. "Disappearing islands, thawing permafrost, melting polar ice. How the earth is changing."
According to this article, The Simpsons have some new writing blood and the episodes are getting better. I'm skeptical because the show has been marginal for years now...maybe I'll have to give it another try.
How to make a fire using just a Coke can and a chocolate bar. You use the chocolate (which is a minor abrasive) to polish the underside of the can into a mirrored surface shiny enough to focus the sun's rays effectively.
Comparing newspapers' online "circulation" (# of blog links) with their offline circulation. The Christian Science Monitor had the highest ratio by far, with the Wall Street Journal being almost invisible on the web (which will eventually affect their influence, I think).
Steven Johnson says watching TV makes you smarter. The argument is that media has had to get more cognitively challenging to hold the attention of viewers. Evolutionarily speaking, attention is the scarce commodity that creates competition here, driving adaptation in the direction of more social and narrative complexity to hold that attention.
Creative writing time APR 24
My pal Kdunk, who gave me a lucky dollar to hang on my wall on the occasion of my going full-time on kotte.org, recently posted an intriguing photo to Flickr. As the first commenter notes, "there goes a story". As a creative writing exercise, what's your take on what's going on here? Doesn't have to be true, just make something up. A picture is worth a thousand words, but I think this one may have a few more in it than that.
"Get over yourself and drop the 'MSM' bullshit, please". "If you use the term 'MSM' in a unironic way to denote the 'Mainstream Media' I will write you off as a quack, unsubscribe from your RSS, and stop reading your blog."
Taste of Chinatown 2005, April 23 from 1-6pm. Fifty restaurants are offering $1.00 tasting plates in Chinatown tomorrow afternoon. Delicious!
More Paris in April APR 22
I've been back in NYC for a couple of days and am still jet lagged as all get-out...I was up at 5:05 AM this morning, about an hour before the sun decided to make an appearance. Getting a lot done with all this early rising, but I'm looking forward to more sleep soon.
Oh, and for the completist, here are all of my photos from past trips to Paris:
Wow, there's some bad ones in there. (And not so bad ones as well.)
Books that changed the world APR 22
Books that changed the world. Just a few of the things that have changed the world so far: cod, salt, chips, radio in Canada, sewing machines, atomic weaponry, quinine, cables, sheep, gunpower, etc. etc.
Woman goes into labor on the F train this morning. Aha! That's why my train was so slow this morning.
Keyword Assistant plug-in fixes iPhoto's stupid ass keyword-adding interface. Software developers, say it with me: "auto complete, auto complete, auto complete!"
On shopping cart coin replacement things. The plastic coin replacement thingie is a "perpetually reusable currency for the shopping cart leasing market."
Ask and ye shall receive: Google Maps with the NYC subway stops on it. A little flaky in Safari, but works well in Firefox.
Street art legend Revs is back, but this time he's (almost) legal and working with iron sculpture. I've seen a bunch of his work in Dumbo.
Processing, a programming environment for designers and artists, is in beta. It's the first public release.
The Fat Duck, a UK restaurant known for its "molecular gastronomy" approach, has nabbed the top spot in Restaurant magazines best of list. El Bulli is #2, French Laundry is 3rd, Per Se is 6th, and several other London spots made the top 20.
John Gruber's plain English version of the Adobe/Macromedia Acquisition FAQ. "Please also note that PDF is an excellent format for sending out resumes."
Nine Inch Nails is offering a GarageBand file with the complete mix of a forthcoming song. Can't use the remixes commerically, but still pretty cool.
Ridiculously comprehensive movie genre primers from GreenCine. If you've ever wanted to know what French New Wave films to watch or what "Hammer Horror" movies are, this is the resource for you.
Bill Brown has uncovered some interesting Slashdot comments by an Apple employee about Spotlight and future Apple's future plans. (Ed note: it's unclear whether As Seen On TV (ASOT) is indeed an Apple employee, but even if he/she isn't, the thoughts are still interesting.) In this comment, ASOT talks about the future direction for Spotlight, Apple's new finder (not Finder, but it seems clear that as Spotlight matures, it will become the de-facto way people use OS X), specifically about speech-to-text capabilities:
Example: You're doing a multi-party teleconference. A recording is made of that teleconference (each angle), and separate audio tracks are recorded for each participant. In real time, your computer transcribes each voice track and stores it as ancillary content on the recording, content that Spotlight indexes for you. At any time, you can type "meeting in San Jose" into Spotlight, and it'll take you right to the angle and track on which your co-worker Laurent talked about next week's meeting in San Jose.
and "anything" relationships:
Take two files, any two files. Say it's a PDF representing an invoice and a Photoshop file representing a poster you designed. You drag the invoice over the Photoshop file and a marking menu appears, giving you the option of establishing a relationship between the two files. If you want you can annotate the relationship. If you don't, you don't have to. The computer will simply note that a relationship exists.
Now extend that idea. Instead of it being two files, it can be two ANYTHING. Drag a contact from Address Book to a Pages document; up pops a marking menu asking you if you want to establish a relationship. Or an song from iTunes to a picture of your girlfriend. Or your daughter's birth certificate to her birthday in iCal.
What's next? We're going to find new ways of attaching automatic metadata. Here's one we've been talking about a lot: Your laptop has a GPS receiver in it. Tiny thing, about the size of a pencil eraser. At all times, your laptop knows where it is on the face of the Earth, accurate to about thirty feet.
Every file you create is tagged with three new, additional pieces of metadata: latitude, longitude and altitude. That's on top of the date and time data we already attach to every file.
Say you go on a business trip to Seattle. A year later, you can search your laptop for that e-mail you sent to your coworker Tom while you were in Seattle.
S/he also notes that "It's going to be a while before we start shipping GPS-enabled Powerbooks...but it's on the drawing board." And you thought that gestural control of applications with the Powerbook's accelerometer was fun.
The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, a cache of previously unreadable ancient documents discovered a century ago, are now being read using IR imaging techniques. "Oxford's classicists have used it to make a series of astonishing discoveries, including writing by Sophocles, Euripides, Hesiod and other literary giants of the ancient world, lost for millennia."
Macromedia may be a bit concerned about Ajax competing with Flash's XML socketing. "Kevin [Lynch] specifically wanted to explore the possibility of hooking into the Ajax system with Flash, via Flex."
An update on the development of the High Line. The latest designs will be on display at the MoMA.
Microsoft recently licensed their core and web fonts (Verdana, Georgia, etc.) to Ascender. These fonts were formerly distributed free of charge on the web by Microsoft...now they only come free with MS products.
The NY Times recently posted a press release about last month's record-breaking traffic to their web site. In the release, they cite content as the main driver for the growth ("the journalism and voice of NYTimes.com continued to attract an audience interested in a wide range of subjects..."), both month over month and year over year:
Pageviews for the National section of NYTimes.com experienced a 96% increase year over year, due to reader interest in the news surrounding Terri Schiavo. Also, pageviews for the Travel section increased 238% year over year, as a result of the site's coverage on a number of topics of interest including Paris restaurants and Maureen Dowd's article about visiting Cancun, Mexico, entitled "Girls Gone Mild." The Real Estate section grew 22% year over year, with several articles on a potential real estate market bubble. College basketball, baseball's spring training and the steroids debate fueled growth of the Sports section with pageviews up 12% year over year.
Having some experience building and running content-based web sites, I'm skeptical the specific content offered by the NY Times is the whole story here. (This is a bit like Amazon saying their sales increased mostly because the quality of the books offered went up.)
Across the board, more Americans are getting their news online (25% in 2002 up to 29% in 2004) and Internet usage in other countries is growing as well.
RSS is mentioned in the release and is a small factor, with only 1% of their traffic coming directly from RSS feeds, but the vast array of blogs acting as entry points to Times' content has to be having an impact. By some counts, the number of blogs is doubling every few months and the NY Times, despite their content being behind a registration wall and their links expiring after a few days (unless you know the secret code), is a favorite source that bloggers link to. During the 2004 Presidental campaign, the Times was the #1 most cited media source and was cited equally by both sides of the political aisle.
Design and user experience changes to the site might also be a factor. The NY Times has not radically redesigned their site recently, but like most large media sites, they tweak little things here and there all the time. Redesigns can dramatically increase (or decrease) traffic, but those small changes can as well. A quick change in the location of the "mail this article to a friend" link could result in 30% more mailings, which may translate into 20 million more hits down the line. Making RSS feeds more widely available, even though they only account for 1% of the site's traffic directly, puts information into the hands of bloggers and may account for more indirect traffic than direct (I visit an article once through the Times' RSS, but if I then link to it on my site, they'll maybe get 2000 hits). Moving headlines around or tweaking the font size of the article summaries could result in more or less clickthroughs from the front page. Etc, etc.
(And there's also business and marketing to consider. Did they make any deals to drive traffic? Did their marketing expenditures increase over the past year? Are they advertising the site any more in the print publication than they used to?)
The Times talking about their content being the sole driving force behind the increased usage of their web site certainly bolsters the NY Times brand (and this is a press release after all and PR is typically about promotion and not information), but I would be interested to know how much other factors contributed to the rise in traffic.
Google Maps launches in the UK with London Tube stations right on the map. Google, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please do the same for the NYC subway. Please?
As you might expect from a story with design, media, and technology angles, Adobe's impending acquisition of Macromedia has resulted in much reaction from a big chunk of the blogosphere. Here are what some technologists, designers, and pundits have had to say about the deal so far:
Mike Chambers, a Product Manager at Macromedia, had a few things to say about the acquisition on his blog. He can't say too much because of legal constraints around the deal, but he specifically mentions Macromedia's "culture of openness and participation" as one of the reasons that Adobe was interested in the company.
Kevin Lynch, Chief Software Architect for Macromedia, posted what sounds like a press release about the deal on his site. He's very hopeful about the future of the combined company.
(Note: if you're keeping score, that's three employees of Macromedia chiming in about the acquisition on their blogs. And many more MM employees keep active blogs, so I'm sure we'll be hearing more from that side of the fence (although because of the legal stuff, it looks like posts about this need to be approved). On the other side, I've never heard of an Adobe employee that keeps a blog. Anyone?)
Marc Canter, one of the founders of the company that eventually became Macromedia, wants his name back, along with Director because MM "more or less have abandoned it". Marc seems fairly negative about Macromedia ("Lord knows they [can] teach a class in how NOT to run a software company") and thinks that maybe Adobe can turn things around, but only if they can shed the software-in-a-box paradigm and start making multi-user, community-based software with online components that don't rely on patent protection.
Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen said in the announcement conference call that 9/11 was a bit of a catalyst for the deal: "after 9/11, we both realized that being enemies didn't make sense". Zuh? But the new company still has enemies worth fighting, even in a post-9/11 world...here's what Chizen had to say in an interview a year ago: "Microsoft is the competitor, and it's the one that keeps me up at night."
Tim Bray, co-author of XML and Director of Web Technologies at Sun, thinks that Adobe got Macromedia for their web products. Unlike most other commentary I've seen, Bray feels that "Macromedia's DreamWeaver is the single most important Web-design product" and that "Flash is a distraction" that Adobe may drop because "near as [Bray] can tell, Macromedia has never made any serious money with Flash". What's the alternative for web developers? Ajax.
Dave Shea, well-known and respected web designer, echoes the thoughts of many in saying that Adobe bought Macromedia for their web products and savvy...and Flash in particular. Shea also wonders "what will become of Adobe's long-standing commitment to SVG, now that Flash is in the fold", names Microsoft as Adobe's main competition now (MS seems to fighting on several fronts now...the Google/Yahoo/Jeeves, Apple, and now this), but is also worried about the loss of competition in the design space: "the combined Macromedia and Adobe stable of design software is industry standard; with this buyout, Adobe essentially has a monopoly over the design world. (Quark aside. Very far aside.)" Flash/web developer Todd Dominey echoes many of Shea's comments in his post about the deal.
Dave Winer, who has his fingers in too many pies to summarize, compares the Adobe/MM acquisition to MM's purchase of Allaire: "Remember all the hooplah over the Allaire-Macromedia acquisition, and all the synergies that were supposed to happen. Hmmm. Did any happen? BusinessWeek didn't think so. Will any happen here? Heh. Slightly more exciting than Microsoft's acquisition of Groove."
TidBITS has a good overview of the evolution and history of the relationship between Macromedia and Adobe by Glenn Fleishman.
Broadband pundit Om Malik calls it a Web 1.0 (or even a desktop publishing) merger: "They are becoming increasingly irrelevant in digital worlds where free programs like iPhoto and Picasa are setting the tone on the desktop. Don't expect innovation as a result of this deal - this is a deal to boost the revenues and maybe profits."
Russell Beattie, who works for Yahoo! on mobile products and services, is heartened to see Adobe's focus on mobile cited in their reasoning for the merger and "can see a combined Flash/SVG player (Flash Lite 1.1?) from Adobe becoming a really viable platform". But Beattie also notes that "Adobe will always be the company that had a researcher *thrown in jail* for publicly explaining flaws in their product" (see here for details). Back to mobile, a commenter on Beattie's thread warns, "PDF is the dog that can bring a 2GhZ PC to its knees to display a text file. not the kind of attitude thats right for mobile."
Don Makoviney is looking forward to the stabilization in the tools competition: "As a working designer and developer of enterprise applications, I am tired of the battle over tools. When a carpenter buys a hammer, he doesn't have to change the way he builds houses based on the hammer he buys."
From the survey of all the commentary out there, the general feeling seems to be that Photoshop will kill Fireworks, Illustrator will kill Freehand, and Dreamweaver will kill GoLive. This seems to be confirmed by Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen's thoughts in a statement about the deal.
Mark notes that this is the second time Adobe has purchased Freehand. :)
The Macromedia XML News Aggregator (time for a new name?), which is a good place to keep up with all of the news and commentary about this deal, also displays a list of recent searches. There aren't many searches about the deal right now, but just after the deal was announced yesterday morning, the most recent search terms were "suck adobe", "adobe rape mm", "adobe ruin flash", "f._.ck adobe", "really upset", "stop adobe", "against adobe", and "hate adobe". I'm detecting a tiny bit of anti-Adobe sentiment here...
BusinessWeek has excerpts of a conversation with the CEOs of Adobe and Macromedia.
Jeremy Allaire, former CTO of Macromedia, had this to say about the acquisition: "Macromedia lost the enterprise publishing race to Adobe, and Adobe lost it with the Web publishing community. So the deal combines the best of both worlds. It gives Macromedia a huge sales channel, especially on the enterprise side. This will probably make the channels as strong as say Microsoft has."
Knowspam shutting down with little warning. I know it worked, but I never liked the "hey, you emailed so-and-so and you need to authenticate..." It's the kind of service/software (like the hated Plaxo) that makes you dislike your friends.
Whoa! Adobe to buy Macromedia?!!?!?!. Wow! ??!!?!??!! I don't think there's enough room in my MT database for all the question marks and exclamation points I want to use here.
Sin City APR 18
When I telephoned to see if he wanted to go, a friend warned me off Sin City. But since both Metacritic and Ebert (who has tastes similar to mine) gave it good marks, I decided to ignore his advice; I'm glad I did. Although it was violent and misogynistic as hell (as many comics and graphic novels tend to be), Sin City was a lot of fun and as beautifully shot as recent cinematographic favorites House of Flying Daggers, Hero, and Kill Bills I & II. Rodriguez and Miller (whose comics the movie is based upon) translated the style, framing, and abstractness of a comic to film better than I've ever seen...you can see that they really understand how both genres work and how to move between one and the other without forcing it. If you can stomach the violence (it's one of the most violent films I've ever seen), I'd recommend checking it out.
And if you ever need to move APR 18
And if you ever need to move the Earth, here's how you might accomplish that. "The Earth is very big, moving very fast, and therefore very difficult to stop or even slow down."
Forget how life will end, here's a bunch of ways you can destroy the entire Earth. This is a really fun read: "keeping the strangelet stable is incredibly difficult once it has absorbed the stabilising machinery, but creative solutions may be possible."
Ten scientists on how human life on earth might end (or be severely curtailed). Super volcanos, killer robots, viral pandemic, oh my!
Bruce Schneier on how to mitigate identity theft. "If we're ever going to manage the risks and effects of electronic impersonation, we must concentrate on preventing and detecting fraudulent transactions."
A look at the terms of service for Google Video. Several potential areas of concern there.
Explicit Content Only, NWA's Straight Outta Compton edited to contain only the swear words. The full version makes it seem like my laptop has Tourette's and the edited version is pretty funny.
Reflecting on 10 years of ESPN.com. Starwave! There's a blast from the past.
HTTP in tha House takes the text from a URL and constructs a rhyme out of it. Here's what it spit out for kottke.org this morning:
i'm in fission
been asking and
have made bland
flat out fantastic
what a drastic
purchase a movie on dvd
basically done ghee
since u been
study tall slender chagrin
rates of whites go
women who had a low
lines more than
d levitt stephen plan
fake restaurant quot
plasticbag a glee
WWW DOT KOTTKE DOT ORG IN THA HOUSE
WWW DOT KOTTKE DOT ORG IN THA HOUSE
WWW DOT KOTTKE DOT ORG IN THA HOUSE
WWW DOT KOTTKE DOT ORG
See also old school kottke.org content Straight Outta .Compton, a collection of rhymes inspired by the dot com boom:
i'm gonna touch your audience, touch them down below
wave our space inter-face 'til your eyeballs glow
stick my vortal in your portal and suck your paradigm
we're a reinvented army whose gonna revolutionise
Shout out to my homie Sean for emizzailing the HTTP in tha House link.
Some bacteria in Africa beat Fermi to the first stable nuclear reactor on Earth by almost 2 billion years. The bacteria enriched the uranium into a critical mass and the flow of water through the reactor kept the reaction going for millions of years.
Paris in April APR 14
So, I'm in Paris for a few days. It's a pseudo-vacation of sorts, but I'm keeping up with the site while I'm here as well. I've had the chance to get out with my camera the last couple of days, something I always enjoy doing here. It feels like cheating in a way...it's so easy to take good photos here. Anyway, here's a selection from the last two days:
The above photo (larger version) is one my favorite photos from the past few months. I was walking around in the Jardin Des Tuileries, saw him reading by the fountain, and just knew I'd found a good picture. I imagine actual photographers get that feeling all the time, but it was a new one for me. Hopefully I'll find a few more good ones for another one or two selections while I'm here.
Apparently, all umbrellas kinda suck, unless you want to pay $225 for one. Author notes it would be better to stock up on $3 Chinatown umbrellas instead.
AIGA's Design Annual for 2005. Lots of good work in there; I saw the book design winners on display in NYC last fall.
Mark Bittman cooks homemade food in challenging America's top chefs. Daniel Boulud laughed at the complexity of Bittman's dish, but gave an 8/10 in taste...and it only took 10 minutes to prepare.
Is some of the music on Bush's iPod stolen?. This is "exactly the kind of behavior the music industry characterizes as theft".
Mobile rudeness APR 13
While browsing the magazine section in the bookstore today, I heard a peculiar laugh. A few seconds later, a slightly different peculiar laugh but enough alike the first laugh for me to realize it was the same person. Then a few moments later, another odd laugh by the same person. And by odd and peculiar, I mean this person's laughs were really pretty loud, obnoxious and disruptive in the quiet of the magazine-browsing space, like someone portraying a horrible laugher in a comedy skit. But whatever, she's having fun with a witty friend or something.
After a couple more minutes, I turn to walk out of the magazine section and I catch the laugher in action and she's cackling at something she's listening to *on her headphones*. I just about throttled her.
Meetup is now requiring all groups to pay $19/month. Seems like this will kill off a bunch of the more casual groups.
Several news organizations, including the Associated Press, are supporting the bloggers in the Apple trade secrets case. This is an interesting development...the argument I've heard is that no newspaper would have run this story because there were trade secrets involved.
Electric Universe APR 12
This biography of electricity -- and of the men and women who had a hand in uncovering its inner workings -- begins in the first moments after the Big Bang. Which is probably not where your high school textbook started its exploration of the subject, nor will you find many of the oftentimes surprising stories Bodanis uses to illustrate his tale.
The first mobile phone was developed in 1879? Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, "had a vacuum where his conscience ought to be"? Alexander Graham Bell, in part, invented the telephone to impress a girl (well, acutally the girl's parents)? Samuel Morse stole the telegraph from a guy named Joseph Henry and patented it, but not before he ran for mayor of New York City on an anti-black, anti-Jew, and, most especially, anti-Catholic platform? None of that was in my high school science textbook and such is the authority of the textbook that I have a hard time believing some of it. You're thinking maybe Bodanis is embellishing for the sake of making a more exciting story (history + electricity? wake me when it's over!), but then you get to the 50 pages of notes and further reading on the subject and realize he's shooting straight and science is more strange, exciting, and sometime seedy than your teachers let on.
Interview with Bob Mankoff, New Yorker cartoon editor, on the humor research he's doing at the U of Michigan. "It's a 3-year research project with their psychology department, using New Yorker cartoons to see how people process humor."
Good visual instructions on how to cut all types of food. "Good knife skills are a combination of knowledge and practice -- the knowledge of which knives to use for which tasks, the knowledge of how to hold and move a knife, the knowledge of how various foods are structurally composed, and many other little bits of knowledge."
Money Counter: visual comparisions of government funds spent on this versus that. The Whitewater/Lewinsky vs. 9/11 Commission comparison is especially, I don't know, surprising? not surprising? maddening? ridiculous? disheartening?
I'm not much of a golf fan, APR 11
On the Segway flop in the UK APR 11
On the Segway flop in the UK. Hasn't been doing too hot in the US either.
The Man Date: can men meet for dinner instead of at a bar without feeling, like, completely queer about it?. The real question here is how did the reporter get all these guys to reveal their monumental insecurities to the NY Times? What a bunch of tools.
Why Robert Rodriguez quit the Directors Guild to make Sin City. They wouldn't allow Frank Miller, a first-time director and non-Guild member, to be Rodriguez's co-director on the film.
Some interesting stats and observations about tipping. "Tipping is less prevalent in countries where unease about inequality is especially strong" and "drawing a smiley face on the check increases a waitress's tips by 18 percent but decreases a waiter's tips by 9 percent".
Airlines are trying to cut down on people selling or trading their frequent flier miles for stuff like concert tickets. One traveller is "trying to sell ''an authentic envelope' for $600 that also comes with two free round-trip tickets to anywhere in the continental United States."
Freakonomics APR 11
Two years ago, Stephen Dubner wrote an article for the NY Times Magazine on Steven Levitt, an economist with a knack for tackling odd sorts of problems. Last year, Dubner and Levitt collaborated on an article called What the Bagel Man Saw about the economic lessons gleaned from a man who's been successfully selling bagels on the honor system in offices for more than 20 years. Now Levitt and Dubner are out with a new book called Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Nearly Everything, an overview of Levitt's work and collaborations with other economists.
Dr. Levitt was kind enough to answer a few questions I had about the book:
jkottke: In Freakonomics, you state that you're interested in applying economic tools to "more interesting" subjects than what one may have learned about in my high school economics class. What's your definition of economics? Is it a tool set or a science or what?
Steven Levitt: I think of economics as a worldview, not a set of topics. This worldview has a few different pieces. First, incentives are paramount. If you understand someone's incentives, you can do a pretty good job of predicting their behavior. Second, the appropriate data, analyzed the right way are key to understanding a problem. Finally, political correctness is irrelevant. Whatever the answer happens to be, whether you think it will be popular or not, that is the answer you put forth.
jkottke: Your talent for ignoring seemingly applicable but ultimately irrelevant information (not that different from a professional-grade batter taking cues from certain aspects of a pitcher's mechanics and ignoring the extraneous ones in order to hit well), where does that come from? Good genes or was it all the books in your childhood home?
Levitt: If nothing else, I had an unusual home environment. My father is a medical researcher whose claim to fame is that he is the world's expert on intestinal gas (he's known as the King of Farts). My mother is a psychic who channels books. From an early age, my life was different from that of other kids. For instance, when I was in junior high, my father would wake me up at night to drill me with questions in hopes that I would be the star of the local high school quiz show.
jkottke: In looking at the world through data, you've investigated cheating schoolteachers, falling crime rates due to abortion, and the parallels between McDonald's corporate structure and the inner workings of a crack-dealing gang. What's the oddest or most surprising thing you've uncovered with this approach? Maybe something you still can't quite believe or explain?
Levitt: It's not the oddest result I've ever come up with, but there is one finding I have always puzzled over: when cities hire lots of Black cops, the arrest rates of Whites go up, but no more Blacks get arrested. When cities hire White cops, the opposite happens (more Black arrests, no more White arrests). It was an amazingly stark result, but I'm not quite sure what the right story is.
jkottke: In the chapter on the effect of abortion on crime rates, you and Stephen take care emphasizing what the data says and the strong views that people in the US hold on the issue of abortion. Still, if someone wants to twist your observations into something like "abortion is good because it lowers crime", it's not that difficult. Have your observations in this area caused any problems for you? Any extreme reactions?
Levitt: I have gotten a whole lot of hate mail on the abortion issue (as much from the left as from the right, amazingly). What I try to tell anyone who will listen -- few people will listen when the subject is abortion -- is that our findings on abortion and crime have almost nothing to say about public policy on abortion. If abortion is murder as pro-life advocates say, then a few thousand less homicides is nothing compared to abortion itself. If a woman's right to choose is sacrosanct, then utilitarian arguments are inconsequential. Mainly, I think the results on abortion imply that we should do the best we can to try to make sure kids who are born are wanted and loved. And it turns out that is something just about everyone can agree on.
jkottke: In the book, you say "a slight tweak [in incentives] can produce drastic and unforseen results". If you were the omnipotent leader of the US for a short time, what little tweak might you make to our political, cultural, or economic frameworks to make America better (if you can forgive the subjectivity of that word)?
Levitt: I would start by increasing the IRS budget ten-fold and doing a lot more tax audits. If everyone paid their taxes, tax rates could be much lower and otherwise honest people wouldn't be tempted to cheat. For some reason, everyone hates the idea. But we can't all be cheating more than average on our taxes. I think it would be for the better. And after I got done with that, I'd legalize sports betting, and I would also do away with most of the nonsense and hassle that currently goes into airport security.
jkottke: In the war between the film and music industries and their customers, there's an argument over how much the explosive increase in Internet piracy affects sales of CDs, movie tickets, and DVDs. Using the same data, the music/movie industry argues that sales are down because of piracy (or at least diminished from what they "should" be in a piracy-free marketplace) while the other side argues that sales are up and that piracy may actually have a beneficial effect. The question of "how does piracy affect record/movie sales?" seems well suited to your particular application of economic tools. Have you looked at this question? And if not, do you have sense of which special view of the data might reveal an answer?
Levitt: I have not myself studied the issue. I have a former student who has studied this issue. Alejandro Zentner. He argues that music sales are way down as a consequence of downloading. He uses the availability/price of high-speed internet across areas and relates that to patterns of self-reported music buying.
But on the other hand, I have a good friend Koleman Strumpf who has also written on this and comes to the opposite conclusion using a whole bunch of clever arguments.
This is a great issue - an important one and a tough one. Having studied both of these papers, I don't know which one to believe.
Thanks, Steven. For more information on Freakonomics, check out the book's web site -- which includes a weblog written, in part, by the authors -- or buy the book on Amazon. Check out also this email conversation between Levitt and Steve Sailer on the connection between legalized abortion and reduced crime in the 1990s, a short profile in Wired, and this profile in Esquire (free subscription required).
Update: Here's a Freakonomics excerpt from Slate on how distinctively black or white names affect a child's course in life.
People have been asking and I have been promising, so here it is: the "how the kottke.org micropatron fund drive went" post. And then we shall never speak of it again until, maybe, next February.
(Oh, a quick note about the gift giveaway. I have distributed all the gifts, so if I contacted you about winning one and you wrote back, whatever gift you received should be on its way to you shortly, either via email or snail mail. If you haven't received anything or don't received anything in the next week or so, drop me an email and I'll follow up with the lackabout that's in charge of distributing your particular gift. Thanks!)
Instead of just droning on for many paragraphs about the fund drive, how much I made, the lessons learned, etc., I'm going to show you this graph that sums up the whole thing...and then I'm going to drone on for many paragraphs about the fund drive, how much I made, the lessons learned, etc. etc.
Note: This "graph" is not actually from the data and is not to scale. But the general trends and zones are fairly accurate. Plus, it's kinda purty with the blue there.
(And before we get going, I'd again like to thank everyone who has contributed to the site so far. I really appreciate it.)
So that's how much money came in over the three week fund drive period. As you can see, there was a rush at the beginning (over half of the total amount came in during the first 48 hours), followed by a small-but-steady stream of contributions until the end of the drive. The curve blasted through the "I have to move back in with my parents" barrier within the first few hours and exceeded the point at which I could eat something besides ramen noodles for every meal sometime during the second day.
The most I got from any one individual was $500, with a couple more people giving $200 or more. The majority of people gave the suggested amount of $30, which demonstrates the power of suggestion but leaves me wondering what people would have "priced" the site at had they been given no suggested amount. (My guess from the responses is that $30 was artifically high, but not too far off as an average. But that's just a guess.) Four people contributed two cents or less, either as a joke ("here's my two cents") or as the equivalent of leaving your waiter a penny tip for crappy service, but since PayPal takes the first 30 cents of any payment, I didn't see any of it. Two people handed me their contributions in person at SXSW and it was fun to able to thank them in the flesh.
And a bunch of people gave $1-5 each, usually accompanied by a very nice note that said something like they wished they could afford more because they really wanted to support me but money was tight or they were in college or grad school or something like that. Those were my favorite contributions to receive because it shows that there are people out there who value media and think about what kinds of media they want to support financially, even though they may not be able to afford it. And that they chose to support kottke.org makes me feel good about my efforts here. (And also nervous because I feel the need to really kick some ass to put their scarce dollars to good use.)
As I mentioned in my initial post about all this, my goal was to make "about 1/3 to 1/2 of my former yearly salary to support my efforts here for a year" and I very nearly reached that goal, although not quite as you can see from the graph. But it's close enough that I'm not going to worry too much about it and I won't need to supplement my income with any freelance work, which means I can focus on the site full-time, something I'm very pleased about. I probably could have made more had I pushed harder or guilted people into giving a little more to "put me over the top".
Near the end of the drive, a friend commented to me that he was impressed at how restrained I had been in not pimping the fund drive out to the max. A better salesman than I could have made a lot more, I think...maybe even double. (Then again, a better salesman would probably do the whole site differently and I'm not sure it would be quite the same, you know?) But I knew that the regular kottke.org readers would read what I had to say about why their contribution was important to me and the site, consider what it meant to them, and then make a decision...no coercion necessary.
And finally, the answer to the $64,000 question: is this a sustainable business model for independent media on the Web? The short answer is probably no, with a few caveats. I did make enough to support myself for a year, but I'm already worried about next year (if I decide to ask for contributions again at that point) because there's going to be the inevitable drop-off in year-over-year contributions. I think several people who contributed this time around did so as an experiment or as "back payment" for the previous 6-7 years of content and may not be so likely to contribute next time. And some are going to decide it's not worth it to them to keep up their "subscription".
Some who didn't contribute may look at the site's performance over the next year and decide to contribute the second time around, but all things remaining equal, I think the overall amount of contributions for the second year will be 1/2 to 2/3 the first year's amount. However, now that I'm focusing on the site full-time, the traffic will probably increase over the next year, which will add to the pool of available contributors, but it would probably need to increase quite a bit to make up the difference.
Looking at the numbers, less than 1/3 of a percent of my current average monthly unique visitors contributed to kottke.org...that's less than 1 in 300. I expected more than that, but I think it's difficult to "sell" media in an environment where people are increasingly not paying directly for media. Most media is bought for viewers/readers by advertisers, making it either free or much cheaper than it would be. We pay for cable (and most of us are paying for a ton of channels we don't even watch), but NBC is free and they support themselves by advertising to their viewers. Magazines are heavily ad-supported...an issue of Vogue or Wired would probably be $30 if they didn't run ads. Most of the commerical media on the Web is free and supported by banner and text ads. Many movies are subsidized by marketing tie-ins and cross-promotions and movie theatres make their money by getting people into the theatre to munch on popcorn & candy and view the ever-growing amount of ads they show you before the previews (more ads!) start. And those smaller movies that you love because they don't suck like the big Hollywood films? They wouldn't even be made if they weren't subsidized by the Shrek 2s of the world bringing hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide. Plus, when Coke runs an ad on TV or in a magazine, you may not be paying a lot for that show or magazine, but you're probably paying a lot more for that can of Coke.
But anyway, it's all indirect so people don't think too much about it, and so it's difficult, I think, to get people to support media directly (myself included...I certainly don't want to pay $30 an issue for Wired). Difficult, but certainly not impossible.
So and but anyhoo, where does that leave the folks who want to do reader/viewer supported media? Can you actually blog for a living and not plaster ads all over your site? Here are a few suggestions from what I've learned so far:
1. Consider advertising. No, really. If you're ok with the trade-offs involved, it's easier, more stable, and more lucrative. There's a reason media is heavily supported by ads.
2. Think community (or cult of personality). The more investment people have in a site, the more they will be willing to pay for it. There are a lot of people who have been reading kottke.org for a long time (thanks!) and are probably fairly invested in it, but compare that to any of the popular political sites or knitting sites or other topic or event-based sites that intensely involve their readers (through various means) and make them feel as though they are part of a group. kottke.org doesn't have much of a community associated with it or a rabid following and I don't polarize people the way some of the political blogs do, so my "earning power" is limited, but that's not what the site is about. But if you site is about community and/or getting people rallied around a cause or something, you're going to have an easier time raising funds.
3. Be committed to growing traffic. That's not one of my top priorities here, but if your primary goal is making money, increasing traffic is the best way to do that. (How? Posting more often is the easiest way. If you can, get Slashdotted...that'll get you more traffic that the front page of the New York Times.) If you're doing something like subscriptions or contributions, you've always got to replace the people that you're going to lose for whatever reason.
4. Keep costs low. Duh. I guess what I mean by this is because you can run most types of blogs from anywhere, if you live in Brazil, the Czech Republic, Malaysia, or India, you're going to have an easier time supporting yourself than if you live in a big city in the US...as long as you have reliable high speed internet access. Bad news for Americans, Japanese, Europeans, and those who live in other places with a high cost of living...unless you're in high school and still living on your parent's dime.
And that's about it for now...that's more than I wanted to write, but once I get rambling... If anyone is interested, the contribution form is still available for use and will be available for the next few months, but I just won't be bothering you about it.
 Are you getting the sense that I don't treat this site as a business too much? Good, because I don't. Most of that stuff I wrote above (traffic, the "price" of the site, conversion rates, etc.) doesn't factor into how I think about the site at all. The fund drive was, for me, a fairly uncomfortable undertaking that I would have liked to avoid if I didn't need to support myself financially with it. The day that kottke.org becomes a real business that focuses on profit first (instead of the pseudo-business labor-of-love it is now) is the day the site will probably start to suck. Instead, I'm going to do my best in setting a course I think is favorable for the site and hope that there's a way to support myself with it along the way.
 The wiseacres in the back will no doubt exclaim at this point, "start to suck? Ha, you're long past that!"
The Since U Been Gone-nomenon reaches Howard Stern. Stern: Ted Leo "sounds like Tiny Tim."
Domestic life APR 09
So, it turns out that weird popping noise I heard last night from the direction of the kitchen was the can of Pepsi I'd put in the freezer exploding. And now the inside of the freezer has cola-colored ice sprayed all over; it looks like a yeti projectile-vomited in there or something. Sometimes I don't feel ready to be an adult.
 "Huh," I thought when I heard it, "I wonder what that was?" And then before I could go check, "Ooh, something shiny on the Web!"
 To cool it down quickly because I was out of ice because, surprise, the ice trays don't magically fill themselves when you live alone.
Nikon is coming out with new D-SLRs soon. The successor to the Nikon D70 (dammit, I just got mine a few months ago!) as well as a more entry-level D-SLR.
Remembering Phil Hartman APR 08
Remembering Phil Hartman. The Sinatra Group is probably one of my top five favorite SNL skits ever.
Lauren Greenfield photo series documenting the beauty regimes of 6 New York women. "Some women spend $1700 monthly on beauty, more than many women pay for rent. Does spending more mean looking better?"
Nominees for the 2005 James Beard Awards announced (PDF file). Nominees include Steingarten, many Minneapolis journalists, Blue Hill at Stone Barnes, Per Se, Keller, Boulud, Danny Meyer, Dan Barber. All five best new restaurtant nominees are in NY.
How to Blog Safely (About Work or Anything Else). I can hear Dooce now...JUST WHERE WAS THIS TWO YEARS AGO?
Study: tall, slender, beautiful people get paid more. "They showed that women who were obese...earned 17 percent lower wages on average than women [of recommended weight]". 17%! That's quite a disparity.
Stewart Brand interviews Jane Jacobs about cities. "Cities are about the most durable things we have. People think of them as superficial things, but they aren't. They're very, very basic. Rural places, which are considered more fundamental and more basic, actually are hangers-on of cities in most cases."
Just got back from seeing Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, Larry Lessig, and Steven Johnson talk about "Who owns culture?" at the New York Public Library. They webcast the event, so if you've never seen Lessig wield his formidable PowerPoint clicker, you may be able to catch it archived there at some point. I'm not going to try to weave this into something narrative, so here are a few random thoughts/observations:
My favorite quote of the evening, from Tweedy (I think I got this down accurately): "I'd like people to hear my music and say they don't like it rather than not be able to hear it because they can't afford it".
Tweedy: "Music is finished in the audience". He credited the audience with 50% ownership in the creation of a musical piece...the creator is not much until someone listens to the music they've created.
Lessig: Fair use doesn't apply to music or movies like it does for text. I can excerpt a book and critique it, but if I wanted to play a clip of a new Fischerspooner song on a podcast and then review the album, I'd need to secure the rights ahead of time.
Johnson: Why isn't there a company that has come along and basically done what the record companies do for artists (distribute and promote records) but do it without all the overhead and let the artists keep the rights to their material? This is probably being done on a small scale (Factory Records comes to mind), but at first blush, this seems like a fantastic business opportunity. All the economies of scale without the monopoly.
Wilco's cover of Don't Fear the Reaper. I think it goes without saying that it needs more cowb, ah screw it.
Tweedy: Wouldn't it be great if an artist like Paul McCartney decided that he had made enough money and just started giving his music away to people to enjoy because that's what music is all about for him. Quote from this Wired article: "If Metallica still needs money then there's something really, really wrong."
Tweedy: What the music and movie companies are asking of artists, to create in a vacuum, is impossible. Not being able to sample, use a piece as a jumping off point for another piece, borrow tunes from other songs, or otherwise be influenced by an artist or poet or writer, it's not possible because that's what art is.
Lessig/Tweedy: Legislating against things like remixing and sampling is racist (also mentioned briefly in this Wired article). The argument goes that genres that tend to rely heavily on sampling and remixing (like hip-hop and rap) tend to be practiced by minorities and that legislating against them is de facto racism. More generally, it's about the powerful (who, in the US, tend to be middle-aged white men) trying to keep their power by limiting the powerless (i.e., the poor and otherwise disenfranchised, who, in the US, tend to be minorities). (Apologies if this is confusing or I misrepresented Tweedy's views on this or overused the word "tends"...racism is one of those hot button issues and I don't want anyone to fly off the handle and say Tweedy or I said that all poor people are black and like rap music or some nonsense like that. Anyway, tried to be careful with it, but the above may not necessarily reflect the nuance of Tweedy's views on this issue.)
At one point, Johnson and Tweedy started talking about alternative models for music distribution and Tweedy made the point that music has been around for a lot longer than the record companies and there's lots of ways that music (and other forms of media) has traditionally been distributed, like via subscriptions and patronage. And Steven missed the perfect opportunity to say, "a friend of mine is exploring a micropatronage model for blogging...." ;)
James Kunstler lays out a gloomy and depressing energy crisis future in The Long Emergency. "Our lives will become profoundly and intensely local. Daily life will be far less about mobility and much more about staying where you are."
Terry Gross interviews The Incredibles director Brad Bird on NPR. "So, what does the director of an animated film actually do?"
Great list of favorite memories from Sesame Street. I'd completely forgotten about the noo-ne-noo-ne-noo typewriter. I'm gonna be humming that all day now.
Henry Blodget goes DVD shopping in Shanghai at a fake restaurant. That reminds me, I should write up my Beijing CD-ROM shopping experience sometime.
The Binary Bonsai Approach to Copyright. Right on, brother. Preach it.
Poetry takes more brain power to read than prose. "Subjects were found to read poems slowly, concentrating and re-reading individual lines more than they did with prose."
I always feel a bit stupid when I purchase a movie on DVD. With networks getting faster and hard drives & flash memory prices dropping, it's only a matter of time until a gigantic catalog of movies is available online or on USB keys sent back and forth in the mail like Netflix rentals. Things are moving in this direction already: Sony wants to create an online movie service like the iTunes Music Store and a huge amount of movies are already available online on Usenet, BitTorrent, and various P2P networks. The upshot is that all those movies I have -- because the technology companies and the media companies are making it so I can't make copies of my movies to move them from the DVDs to whatever the hell device I'm going to play my movies on in the future -- I'm going to end up purchasing them all again (or worse, renting them each time I want to watch them...movie and music ownership may soon be a thing of the past if the media companies have anything to say about it). Which is great if you're a big media company but makes me, like I said before, feel a bit stupid when buying DVDs.
Life's top ten greatest inventions. Includes the eye, sexual reproduction, photosynthesis, and language.
Venture capital is flowing back into Internet companies. "It is too early to say whether the flush environment heralds another tech investment bubble, but there are echoes of the dotcom boom."
Developers are using urbanist ideas to turn shopping malls into "lifestyle centers". "They are upscale outdoor shopping areas designed to look like city streets, with an emphasis on restaurants and spaces for people-watching. They also have what planners call 'a mix of uses' -- a bit of housing, some offices, and, occasionally, actual people living in apartments above the stores."
The Visby lenses indicate that the Vikings may have had working elliptical lenses centuries before they were though to have been invented. "But it seems clear that the Vikings did not make the lenses themselves. 'There are hints that the lenses may have been manufactured in [the ancient empire of] Byzantium or in the region of Eastern Europe.'"
Earlier this week, Google integrated their recently acquired Keyhole technology into Google Maps, allowing the user to toggle between the abstract map view and a satellite view. The addition was pretty big news, and I was pretty excited when I saw this feature, as were many others. Matt Haughey even did a Maps/Flickr mashup in creating a memory map of his childhood stomping grounds; others followed suit.
The ability to view satellite images online has been around for years in the form of Microsoft's Terraserver (and also on a mapping site that I can't locate right now...I swear Mapquest let you switch back and forth between the two views, but I can't find it), so this really isn't anything new. Terraserver lets you zoom in/out, move around the map, and view other versions of the map (they have a topological version), and I know that many of the people who are so excited about Google Maps are familar with it. So why is everyone so excited about it?
Part of it is Google's involvement...they draw a crowd of attention anytime they do anything these days. But it also has a lot to do with someone I wrote about a couple of years ago: it's the user experience, stupid:
Robert Morris from IBM argued last year at Etech 2002 that -- and I'm paraphrasing from memory here -- most significant advances in software are actually advances in user experience, not in technology. Mosaic was not an advancement in technology over TBL's original browser. Blogger is a highly-specialized FTP client. IM is IRC++ (or IRC for Dummies, depending on your POV). The advantages that these applications offered people were user experience-oriented, not technology-oriented.
The satellite feature on Google is no exception. They took something that's been around for years, made it way easier to use (reposition & zoom maps without reloading, pinpoint addresses and routes onto the satellite imagery, toggle between sat and road maps, map size automatically scales to the browser window, etc.), and suddenly this old thing is much more useful and fun to play around with. Ajax is the underlying technology (which isn't new either) for many of the notable Google Maps features, but how Google used it to make a useful user experience is the real story here.
Apple has launched a version of its online store for mobile devices. Only in Japan for now, but may expand elsewhere eventually.
Amazon is trying out a new design for their book detail pages. It's about time...I was just complaining to someone the other day about how cluttered their pages have gotten.
NASA may be cutting Voyager's funding, but the Mars rovers got 18 more months of funding. I can't believe they're still going...they were each only supposed to last 3 months!
Interview with Amazon's most prolific book reviewer. She's up over 8600 reviews and reads 4-5 books per day.
Great review of The Modern, Danny Meyer's new restaurant in the MoMA. Andrea Strong is quickly becoming a favorite restaurant reviewer.
Article on the WWW from 1995, when the Web was new. "The newest segment of the global Internet, the Web lets users wander by clicks of a computer mouse among thousands of custom-designed multimedia documents stored in linked computers."
Dabblers and Blowhards, or Why hackers are nothing like painters. Maciej takes issue with Paul Graham's non-technical body of writing.
Voyanger funding may be cut just as the craft is reach the edge of the solar atmosphere. "Virtually nothing is known about this boundary...where the sun's magnetic field and the solar wind give way to interstellar wind."
On Sony's "not invented here" problem. "A quarter century later, Sony is still pursuing its own obsessions, but it hasn't produced anything like the Walkman for a long time. Today, Sony is known for floundering into new markets, not for creating them."
Lifehacker interviews Merlin Mann about 43 Folders. It's a life hacking mash-up.
Pick two APR 05
I've always liked the old designer's adage of "good, fast, or cheap, pick two". That is, a project can be completed quickly, it can be done cheap, and it can be done well, but you need to choose which two of those you want. If you want a good project done quickly, it's gonna be expensive. Fast and cheap? It's gonna suck. In his talk at SXSW, Jason Fried outlined another pick two scenario clients need to be aware of: "fixed scope, fixed timeframe, or fixed budget". Here are some more variations:
Elegant, documented, on time.
Privacy, accuracy, security.
Have fun, do good, stay out of trouble.
Study, socialize, sleep.
Diverse, free, equal.
Fast, efficient, useful.
Cheap, healthy, tasty.
Secure, usable, affordable.
Short, memorable, unique.
Cheap, light, strong.
In considering these sets of trade-offs -- accepting that they are cliches and therefore both overly general but also fairly accurate across a range of diverse situations -- two questions come to mind.
- Why is "pick two out of three" the rule? Why not "one out of two" or "four out of six"? Or is "pick two out of three" just a cultural assumption?
- Is there some underlying scientific or economic relationship here? What do the situations in which "pick two" logic applies have in common? In clumsily casting about for an appropriate explanation/metaphor, I considered the triangle (all interior angles add up to 180 degrees), thermodynamics and entropy, Boyle's Law, Hooke's Law, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (although that's a "one out of two" thing), Ohm's Law, and Newton's Second Law of Motion, but none seem to fit well.
I've poked around a bit online looking for discussions of "pick two" systems and have come up empty. Anyone have any ideas about this? Any good resources to check out? Something tells me I'm missing something obvious here. (Or onto something interesting.)
Trailer for Mad Hot Ballroom, a documentary about ballroom dancing kids. "Gentlemen, where's my tango face?"
Google Maps now has an option to switch to a satellite view. Holy crap, try the zoom!
We're living in a crazy world when a former Vice Pres. of the US launches a TV news station and explains what he's up to in terms of video blogging. So, this TV I've been hearing about...it's like blogs?
The people behind the DVD APR 04
The people behind the DVD. On the making of DVDs and how it's just as or even more important than the release of films in theatres.
Watching TV in bed with an iSight, or "a webcam is basically a light cable with a wormhole in the middle". Matt, take a picture of Vega for me as it flies by.
Adobe Ideas Conference APR 04
I'm at the Adobe Ideas conference today, so posting may be a little slow. Or non-existant because this is the first conference I've been to in, oh, 4 years that doesn't have wifi available to the attendees (I had to retreat to Bryant Park for lunch to soak up some free wireless). For all the talk about connectivity during the keynote, there isn't much evidence of it so far. :(
Anyway, Adobe announced Creative Suite 2 today, as rumored. One feature that got the crowd oohing and aahing was the Vanishing Point tool in Photoshop. It lets you map the perspective out on an image and then place text, images, etc in the proper perspective on that map. Perhaps some more later when I get to a connection again.
Update: got a better look at CS 2...looks pretty sweet. Looks like Adobe has learned quite a bit from Apple: Bridge does for design assets what iTunes has done for music files (and, with lesser success, iPhoto does for photos); namely it abstracts the file structure away (mostly) and gives the designer all kinds of views/tools with which to keep track of your work. This is something one needs to spend time with to fully gauge the impact of, but from what little I saw, Adobe has done a great job with Bridge. (And it reads RSS!!?!) I know Apple is heading in this direction with Spotlight, but I've decided that I never want to see the file system ever again...just give me views into each type of data or project that I'm doing, tools to manipulate that data, and let the OS worry about where it's storing things.
Photobloggers take note, Photoshop CS has been updated with photographers in mind. The Spot Healing Brush hides blemishes with a click or two. Three new filters deal with noise reduction (woo!), lens correction, and "smart" sharpening (superior to the current Unsharp Mask). There's new features for mainpulating RAW images and also an exposure filter for non-RAW images, with an f-stop range of -20 to +20 (how's that for overkill?).
I know it's kind of pointless to review some of the most re/viewed movies in history, but I'm working my way through the original Star Wars trilogy on DVD and I haven't seen them in awhile, so I'm putting down some thoughts anyway.
Something that struck me while watching Empire is that every time I see a Star Wars film, I catch something I missed the previous 50 times. I generally chalk this up to my not paying close enough attention or forgetting that I actually caught it the last time around**. But I also think, begrudgingly, that Lucas is a little smarter than I give him credit for and the first three movies are more complex than they seem.
The novel thing this time around for me occurred during Luke and Vader's first meeting in Cloud City. I never noticed that Vader isn't trying to turn Luke to the Dark Side to join him and the Emperor. He wants Luke to help him overthrow the Emperor and they'll rule as father and son. And then that sets up all sorts of weird shifting alliances and intrigue between the three of them...the Emperor is trying to play Vader and Luke off of each other, Vader is trying to keep his true goal a secret from the Emperor and might have to kill Luke to do so, and Luke's trying to fend off both of them and keep his own secrets (Yoda, his sister). I mean, it's not The Godfather, but it's not bad.
** This happens to me all the time, especially with shows like Law & Order. I can't remember a single episode from start to finish, which means I can watch them over and over again and always be surprised about what happens at the end.
Maybe the reason that Neanderthals went extinct is their lack of trading prowess. "Trading would have allowed the division of labour, freeing up skilled individuals, such as hunters, to focus on the tasks they are best at."
The world's saddest TiVo wishlist. What, no Michael Jackson?
New hypothesis claims that black holes don't exist and are in fact "dark energy" stars. Could help to explain the universe's missing mass.
Unexplained effects during solar eclipses and with the Pioneer spacecraft may indicate non-constant gravitational, er, constant. Pendulums speed up during solar eclipses.
Getting design done APR 02
Jeff Veen has a good post describing his working method in approaching design and how it has a lot to do with the inspiration that occurs after stewing in lots of collected data:
This leads me to believe that doing research in web design -- for me at least -- has more to do with Method Acting than ethnography. Robert De Niro used this technique as he prepared for his roll as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, spending a month pulling late night shifts as a cab driver. He did this not to mimic those in the profession, but to be able to react on screen in a way that they would. Applied back to design: Rather than figure out how to design for your audience, design for yourself after becoming like your audience. At that point, I find, snap decisions become good decisions.
The piece is a summary/continuation of his How to Inform Design talk at SXSW, which struck a nerve with me when I heard it because I'd always felt a little strange (insecure is probably a better word) working in exactly the way Jeff describes. Everyone else, with their mountains of data, carefully crafted use case scenarios, iron-clad five step design processes, personas, and strategic analysis made my off-the-cuff process feel a little inadequate. Several years ago, I figured out that a significant part of a designer's job was to (somehow) come up with the correct solution for a given problem and then sell that decision to the client. For me, like Jeff, the solution would usually arrive fairly late in the game after I'd been soaking in the problem for 90% of the available time. But like he says, you can't sell client services with that approach, which is why you need to sell all the fancy sounding stuff and just get it done right however you can.
Short slideshow of chef tattoos. My favorites are Jill Barron's "Duckfat" ("I love duck fat," she explains) and "Pork!"
Kevin, though a little biased, is pretty much on target in his analysis of Hammersley's Guardian piece about Yahoo being the new Google. If Yahoo! has any great advantage, it's media-related.
Man recreates the movie Rocky. I laughed so hard watching this that actual tears were streaming down my face.
Star Wars, A New Hope APR 01
I didn't realize how much the recent two Star Wars movies had sullied my once-fond memories of the first three films until I sat down to watch the original Star Wars. The acting is marginal at best and the story is a little clunky in places, but that's really beside the point, isn't it? The special effects have been digitally retouched and remastered on the DVD, but even without all that, I can see why SW was such a huge deal when it appeared in theatres in the late 70s. Space opera indeed. And the last scene with the X-Wing fighters and the Death Star -- don't worry, I won't give the ending away if you haven't seen it -- I've seen that scene about 30 times and it never fails to entertain; I know every line by heart almost and I was still on the edge of my seat.
The only April Fools "joke" from today worth linking to: Sixfoo! 660, a social networking site for social networking sites. "Make the same lists of crap you made somewhere else last week, send out a BLAMMO, crush on an indie chick and abandon it all after only 12 days. See a confusing example."
Using a bit of science for the high art of distracting free throw shooters. "If fans behind the backboard waved their balloons from side to side in unison, opposing players would perceive a field of background motion" and (over)compensate for that motion by shooting against the direction of the balloon motion at the time of the shot.
Inc. Magazine's Twenty Six Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs. Ray Kurzweil, Diane von Furstenberg, Craig Newmark, Michael Dell, Martha Stewart, etc.
Clay Shirky rants about the absurd US copyright laws that are preventing him from copying his own media. "Copyright laws do not exist to defend the moral rights of copyright holders -- they exist to help enforce artificial scarcity."