Monday, April 30, 2007

Famous Altered Photographs


Wired has a great image set of famous altered photographs, ranging from the recent (Lebanese bombing, U.S. military operations) to the historic. Above, Trotsky is "disappeared" from an event photograph (the man next to him in "Before," and next to a big gaping void in "After," is Lenin).

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Google Themes: Not Dynamic.

Google got a nice bit of buzz when they released their new Google home page themes, and I was an early joiner. But despite the widespread praise they received for the user-friendly act of having dynamically-updating themes, the theme I have applied is completely out of sync with the information it is supposed to be in sync with. In other words, it is not dynamic at all.

Click on the image above, my Google personalized home page, and note two things: the time of day as represented by the image "theme" (sunset) and the time according to my date and time clock widget, which is accurate. It is almost TEN O'CLOCK AT NIGHT. I have provided Google with my zip code, which will remain nameless but which is in the Central Standard Time zone.

Not true - at least not from where I sit. The sun set about two hours ago. It is very dark outside. What gives, Google?

The simplicity of the claim and tool pretty much rule out user error. But maybe it's just screwed up for my zip code, or for my time zone. That seems hard to accept - this is the company behind Google Maps, after all - surely they can corrolate my sunrise and sunset to my zip code using the their own mapping data and the METAR data every weather website accesses from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But what's the alternative?

That Google themes are not dynamic at all.

I mentioned a ways up that the sun set about two hours ago. There is a place where it is, metaphorically speaking, two hours ago: the west coast of the United States. Pacific Standard Time. Very far away from my time zone, but very convenient to Google HQ and and the backbone of the Internet. Is it possible - is it even possible... that everyone who has been praising Google Themes and verified their functionality, everyone who actually adopted and lovingly watched their local sunset or sunrise from their Google home page, lives on the West Coast?

I changed my location to "New York, New York." It is now a little past ten o'clock p.m. here in Texas; in New York, for those of you who don't have your pencils handy, that means it's after 11 p.m. The Theme, which "will dynamically change" to "match" my "local sunrise and sunset times," now shows the sun ALMOST having set. Dusk. At 11:15 p.m., it is now OFFICIALLY nighttime in New York City. After 11 p.m., folks.

Let's all take our Google-goggles off for a moment and admit to each other that this is a poor standard of performance. identifies today's sunset in NYC as 7:44 p.m. - three and a half hours after it occurred on the Google home page which "matches" New York City's conditions. Insert your own analogy regarding three and a half hour delays here, and then fire them, miss the wedding, or lose the girl.

Why hasn't anyone written about how poorly Google Themes interact dynamically with the simple data they claim to track?

TV-B-Gone Winners and Their Nefarious Plans

I picked five winners at random (thanks to for our TV-B-Gone Giveaway, and emailed them this morning. What they'd like to do with their new devices, as stated in their comment entries:

Brian Sawyer of Hackszine said: "I met Mitch last year and had a great talk about the many uses I'd have for his invention. But turning it off in the pediatrician's waiting room alone would justify the entire purchase price. In fact, that power would truly be priceless."

AJ of Thingamababy also wanted to power one off for the kids. "I'd like to turn off the TV in the play area of our health club," he wrote. "Here you have a spot filled with toys and other kids ready to play and interact with each other and staff paid to engage the kids in activities. But there is a TV mounted on the wall blaring cartoons, encouraging the kids to sit quietly and stare into oblivion. This makes as much sense as mounting TVs on playground equipment."

Zoe said: "Yes, I love TV-B-Gone! In my former welfare office the TV was often blasting Jerry Springer. I will go back and help others with my TV-B-Gone!"

Sandi wrote: "I would turn off the TV at private parties where the TV is on for no reason to begin with. Everyone is talking and enjoying themselves, but someone in the room felt compelled to turn on the TV as background noise instead of playing music. Annoying!"

Brian didn't exactly follow directions, but hey, the random number generator does not lie. He wrote: "This has to be one of the best inventions of the past 25 years or so. I enjoy TV, I do, but it has a place, and that place is not public places. Thanks for passing on this great invention!"

Judging from the highly scientific sample represented in these comments, the following truths can be discerned:

  • Televisions in hospitals and other clinical care settings should be banned by government decree.
  • Shutting off televisions in crowded sports bars is likely to be hazardous to your health.
  • TVs are often on when there is no one but you around, which is pretty much the purest case of non-harmful use of the TV-B-Gone that can be found.
Jim (of Linux Activist and Baby Toolkit) wins the reinvention award (sorry Jim, no prize for non-random acts) with this completely unexpected use: "The appliance store. If I want to focus on one set, it is nearly impossible. Being able to turn them all off and then hit the power on the one that I am interested in would be great."

We Have Your Bees

etc. etc.


Fast Food Ads vs. Fast Food Food

Many more at the link. [Via]

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Readings In Media Literacy

Selections from a list of books and viewings now in the Think In Pictures store:

  • Marshall McLuhan: Escape Into Understanding
  • About Looking
  • How To Talk Dirty and Influence People
  • Hoax: The Inside Story of the Howard Hughes-Clifford Irving Affair
  • Understanding Comics
  • Jerry Springer: Too Hot For TV
  • Bob Roberts
Comment below to suggest more!

TV-B-Gone Giveaway and 20% Off Sale

Photo shared on Flickr by jasoneppink

Yesterday I defended television's right to exist and our right to watch it. It was a lot of words. Too many, probably. But this I can say in pictures.

This is when TV sucks. Worse - it violates our moral, if not specifically our political rights. And we have a right to combat it.

Photo shared on Flickr by bradlauster

Photo shared on Flickr by Bill Ruhsam

There are an increasing number of interesting ways to turn television in public space on its head; I write about them whenever I see them.

When all else fails - when you need public space to be truly public, and not dominated by the presence of CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, or whatever channel some unnamed and absent social planners decided to inflict on a bunch of people who have better things to do, there's TV-B-Gone.

Thanks to Cornfield Electronics and inventor Mitch Altman, I have five TV-B-Gone devices to give away. These are third-generation TV-B-Gone devices, programmed with the latest power codes for new-model big-screen televisions.

Post a comment telling others where you'd most like to turn off a TV not your own. I'll select five commenters at random tonight at 10 p.m. CST and announce them Wednesday morning. I'll ship out the five donated TV-B-Gones to the winners on Monday or Tuesday.

I've also negotiated an exclusive 20% discount on the third-generation TV-B-Gones through the end of May. This is a deal you won't find anywhere else, and can get a new TV-B-Gone into your hands for less than you'll find anywhere else online. Less than a buck from every purchase will go to support Think In Pictures. To buy one, go to the TV-B-Gone website, buy a new 3G TV-B-Gone, and use the coupon code THINKPICS. Thanks, Mitch!

Orange Clothing Company, Makers of Accidental Nazi Propaganda Sold At Wal-Mart, Looking For New Blood. Mock Resumes Needed!

Apparently things didn't work out for the last Vice President of Sales at the Orange Clothing Company, the maker of the SS-Totenkopf T-shirt still for sale at some Wal-Marts. The OCC is currently looking for a replacement.

From their Craigslist post:

Are you looking for a fun work environment, but still want the professionalism and opportunity for advancement, growth and personal satisfaction? If so, ORANGE CLOTHING COMPANY is the perfect place for you to further your career. Orange Clothing is a fun, cool, young mens clothing company, specilizing [sic] in branded and private label shirts, hats and boardshorts. We take the product from design to production to sales, and everything in between. Our customers include retailers such as Wal-Mart, Macy’s and JCP, and specialty stores.

We are looking for energetic, aggressive, motivated and dynamic sales associates to manage our growth and sales efforts. The ideal canditate should have:

• Minimum 2 to 4 years sales experinace [sic]
• Established relationships with retailers
• College degree
• Computer literacy [actual literacy not required!]
• Be a team player [should have be? wait a sec...]

This challenging position calls for a self directed and energetic person with excellent communication skills. Responsibilities will include:

• Developing new business
• Coordinating sales
• Cold Calling
• Input in marketing

The company is based in Miami, and will provide a competitive salary plus benefits.

If you have what it takes E-mail use your resume and [wha?] WE WANT YOU!!
Submit your fake resume here.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Five Questions TV Turnoff Week Does Not Answer

Today marks the start of the official week dedicated to celebrating our national pastime by exhorting each other to abstain from one of life's great joys. Yes, it's TV Turnoff Week. Eat your heart out, Marshall McLuhan.

I love the original and modest goal of TV Turnoff Week: Be aware of how much TV children are watching, and limit it. Whatever else TV may or may not do to developing brains, social skills, or worldviews, watching seven hours of TV a day is guaranteed to make a child as fat and gullible as a Christmas hen.

But TV Turnoff Week is undergoing an identity crisis.

First, there was the change in the organization's mission to address all issues of "screen time," encompassing video games and all time spent online while acting as though this introduced no new issues, no alternative set of pros and cons. Then activists adopted TV Turnoff Week as a rallying cry against corporate culture and state-licensed brainwashing.

The end results have been damaging to both parties.

TV Turnoff Week, as mundane and invaluable a call to sensible parenting as the food pyramid or early dental checkups, was radicalized against its will, losing precious ground in a battle that never needed to be turned into a class war.

Meanwhile, the anti-corporate message that animates much of the cultural far left gets a yearly drubbing while attempting to bully the general public into making a pointless and symbolic gesture that does not reflect most TV-watchers' beliefs about the world. The general public is quick to appreciate the fact that anyone preaching to them about the benefits of living TV-free were asking them to do something they themselves could not relate to: giving up something they value and then getting it back, fully intact, a week later. It's nonsense, and what is true about the message - that TV will turn you into a consumer zombie if you don't manage it wisely - which is true! - is completely missed.

I'm tired of the passion play. TV is here to stay, and it ain't all bad. Here are five ways that the ethos of TV Turnoff Week does not reflect the complex relationships we have with our "screen time."

  1. John, a young parent, meets several fellow toddler dads at a bar. They all watched the season finale of their favorite reality television show the night before, which they enjoy mocking but simply couldn't stop watching. Most of them got interested in the show because one of the contestants was a friend of a friend who has been blogging about the show since she got kicked off early on. In addition to swapping a few recent parenting stories, John and his friends discuss the ramifications of the show's final challenge, how the contestants responded to the pressure, and what the blogger thought about it. Can television inform, harness, or even boost social engagement, or only diminish and impoverish it?
  2. College freshman Sam begins attending a friend's "Lost" viewing parties midway through the season, and started reading a lot of online commentary to help catch up with all of the plot strands. His girlfriend, who has a night job and doesn't watch much TV, mentions that she always thought that show looked interesting, and Sam ends up renting the first season on DVD and watching the entire thing with her in a marathon weekend. The next week, Sam has plenty of theories of his own to share with others at the party. No one wants to hear them, so he decides to start his own blog about open-ended mysteries, starts pirating "Twin Peaks" episodes from a bittorrent client, and shells out cold, hard cash for Umberto Eco's "The Open Work," which he loans to three people in six months. Can television engage and stimulate our intelligence, or only deaden or distract it?
  3. Sixteen-year-old Vivian gets a digital video camera for Christmas and starts creating short video sketches with her friends and posting them on YouTube. Other kids at her high school see them and think they're pretty funny, and they end up getting written about in the school paper. Before long, other kids at school are making their own response videos. A group of black students publishes a video that highlights what they see as their ostracization from school life, which surprises Vivian, who thought that the black kids at her school didn't want to have anything to do with the white majority. Other students follow up with videos that are deliberately offensive and intend only to heighten conflict, and the principal decides to ban YouTube access from school computers. A programmer at the local cable access channel hears about the situation and invites students to organize a variety show, which could draw from the already-produced videos and be only lightly censored for television. "Why?" Vivian asks. "People can just watch them online." Who here needs to brush up on their media literacy? Who speaks the language of television - and how did they learn it?
  4. Eight-year-old Anna doesn't have much time for TV - she's too busy playing video games. Sometimes kids from her neighborhood come over to play on her Wii, which a lot of other neighborhood parents can't afford. Other times she plays live multiplayer games on her computer, working to slay virtual dragons, solve mental puzzles, and share information with other players to develop the talents of her virtual persona. She did start watching one show last year because her friends started talking about how there were parts of the show you could only learn about online, but she found the format too restrictive and quickly abandoned the PR vehicle for more open-ended games. Is "screen-time" really equivalent to TV-watching time, as TV Turnoff Week's campaigns in recent years have suggested, or is there something fundamental that is changing about the way visual media impacts children?
  5. Seventy-four-year-old embittered former faith healer Frank used to sit and feed pigeons all day in the courtyard of his nursing home. Once a passionate birdwatcher, he spent years in his retirement community with his hobby sustained only by the the incessantly-chirping finches his son misguidedly gave him for his birthday, which Frank has devotedly worked to slowly poison with negative mental effluence and cold, hard stares. But a few weeks ago his son brought over a computer, and Frank discovered an interactive and competitive birdwatching site which invites viewers to help identify birds in San Francisco's Sutro Forest. Frank is rapidly climbing through the ranks and fantasizes about the day he will surpass the point total of Morgan, the site's top contributor, at which point Morgan will collapse and die of shame. How do personal values impact the relative importance and resonance of TV for individuals?
I'm currently finishing this post while watching the new episode of "The Riches," one of the best dramas I have yet seen on cable television. Eddie Izzard's confident slur is a small revelation. Half an hour ago I was debating with my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter about whether we should listen to a CD storyteller recount the story of the "Three Little Pigs" or read a fairy tale from the copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales I just dug out of a box of books we've been saving. On nights when we read stories involving complex machines or unusual animals, we might take a quick break to look up images on Google to see what something looks like, or search for a video on YouTube to show her how something works. In a world where Americans struggle to silence their TVs for a week to justify their year's worth of regular TV-viewing habits, there may seem to be a disconnect here. But not in mine.

Tomorrow, the TV you should be turning off. Plus a first - a Think In Pictures product giveaway. Stay tuned!

We Need A New Word For This. Let's See, What Should We Call It?

Artists are increasingly being "commissioned" to produce brand-friendly works of "art." From AdAge (registration required):

Agneessens takes an active role in the creative process, collaborating with brands on the vision for art projects as well as artists. "Ironically enough," he says, "I personally prefer to work on branded art projects than for galleries. Of course, there is the constraint of being close to the brand value in the content you generate, but if you select the right artist, this should come naturally." [Via|Link]
All of the times you called an artist a "sellout" sound a little hollow now, don't they? The bands that signed with major labels. The artists who started repeating themselves for sales potential. Good times!

Don't you wish you could take it all back, so you could use the term now and it would really matter? No, we need a new word for this. Any suggestions?

We could do worse than looking to David Lynch, who was asked about a related topic in a recent interview: product placement in movies. Strong language alert!


From today's front page on Slate:

Isn't there something in the Patriot Act about this sort of thing?

Publicizing Pollution With... Pollution

The World Wildlife Fund used this promotional vehicle (sorry) to publicize the effects of auto exhaust on the environment in China. The balloon inflates as the car idles. Apparently, the ballon represents the amount of carbon monoxide an average car releases in a day. Kind of cool how the total exhaust is being used to simulate the portion of the exhaust that is carbon monoxide... I'm sure there are interesting analogous visualizations. [Via|Link]

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Frequently Or Infrequently Asked Questions

Q: What?

A: Frequent.

Q: Why me?

A: Frequent.

Q: Did you see what they did to that House bill on C-SPAN last night?

A: Infrequent.

Q: How do you spell "phlebotomist" again - one "f" or two?

A: Infrequent.

Q: Are you going to eat that?

A: Frequent.

Q: That Confederate flag on your bumper - is that intended to be ironic?

A: Infrequent.

Q: What possible benefit could an actor of Steven Segal's talents derive from a relationship with organized crime?

A: Infrequent.

Q: Gold, with a density of 19.3, weighs 1204.7 lbs. per cubic foot. The golden plates of the Book of Mormon are reported to have been 7" x 8" by about 6", and thus would have weighed approximately 230 lbs. How did Joseph Smith carry home the golden plates of the Book of Mormon, and how did the witnesses lift them so easily?

A: Infrequent.

Q: Are you kidding?

A: Frequent.

Q: Why are they called apartments when they're all stuck together?

A: Infrequent.

Q: Seriously?

A: Frequent.

Q: Was Mozart murdered by Freemasons for revealing their secrets in his opera, The Magic Flute?

A: Infrequent.

Q: Would you like fries with that?

A: Frequent.

Q: I have a few extra items, I like to tell rambling stories and I'm paying in change. Would it be inconvenient for anyone here if I stay in this "Express" check-out lane anyway?

A: Infrequent.

Q: Huh?

A: Frequent.

Q: Under my visa as a temporary nonresident alien, I'm not subject to social security and Medicare withholding. My employer withheld the taxes from my pay. What should I do to get a refund of my social security and Medicare?

A: Infrequent.

Q: Mozart vs. Joseph Smith - who'd win?

A: Infrequent.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Hidden Symbols: Wal-Mart (Still) Selling T-Shirts With Nazi Insignia

Consumerist reports that 22 weeks after Wal-Mart agreed to stop selling T-shirts bearing the insignia of the SS-Totenkopf, they are still on the shelves. Read the backstory here. Consumerist wrote:

Our bets are on a hack designer Googling for skull pix, or a very subversive designer.

Why can't anyone track this design down?

Update: Consumerist did just that. Thanks to the commenter who pointed this out. Too bad the company's owner didn't accidentally have the symbol tattooed on his chest... now that would be a courtroom scene I'd watch! Tattoo artist: "But I saw it in a European trend magazine!"

Pixel Breaker's Polar Clock: A Beautiful Visualization That Still Needs Work

Pixel Breaker has made a lovely visualization of a clock with the time of day, date, and day of the week represented by colored bars growing in a circular pattern and changing colors to represent how soon they will advance the digit above them. (Awkward, but I'm not sure how else to put it.) You can see the clock in action here, and download it as a screensaver as well.

Although the hands have been replaced by advancing bars, the bars all click in chords (six degrees per click for seconds and minutes, 30 degrees for hours. This makes sense for days of the week, dates, and months, but for the time of the day, it seems odd that the function of the clock would not reflect the fluidity of time that a growing shape, rather than a physical hand, suggests. I wonder if this was planned or not.

Less of an aesthetic choice and more of a true problem is the syncing of the second hand's numbering and its advance. Notice it? [Via]

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Paolo Magari's photographs

smile :)
Originally uploaded by paolo margari.
I don't know this girl, but she's in Think In Pictures' blog header now. Collaboration made possible by Creative Commons.

Self-Portraits by Gisela Giardino

One of two images used for the new header. Giardino has a lot of interesting self-portrait projects on Flickr; check them out here.

Collaboration made possible thanks to Creative Commons licensing.

Sao Paolo, Post-Billboards

Originally uploaded by Tony de Marco.
I wrote last year about Sao Paolo's ban on billboard advertising, which sounds like heaven to me. Here's an image set Flickr user Tony de Marco uploaded to Flickr that shows some images of the city after the ban took effect.

More Sketchbook Inspiration

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Terrible Titles For A Post Acknowledging That You Are Fiddling With Your Blog Design

  • Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes
  • Men At Work
  • Watch Your Step!
  • Here We Grow
  • Blogging, Redefined
  • Belly Button Musings

Did I miss any?

Jim Woodring's Moleskines

Artist Jim Woodring shows off some amazing moleskine pop-up books on his blog. [Via] Amazon has a surprise clearance sale on Moleskines. Dated 2007 materials are obviously going for bargain-basement prices ($6-7), but the rest of the Moleskine line is on sale, too, perhaps to generate buzz - the full range of non-dated Moleskine books is 50-66% off. Check it out here, while they last.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Perspective-Based Street Art: How To Tell The Story?

Probably executed using a projector from a fixed viewing point, then painting in the areas designated by the projection. More pictures at the link. The real question (for me, anyway) is does the project look its best when shown from fragments leading towards the whole, as my source blog chooses to present it, or is it better viewed from the whole into fragments? Which tells a better story? Obviously, fragments -> whole best represents a visitor's actual experience at the site. So why do I like seeing the whole first better?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Power of Journalism, The Camera, Or Something Equally Dangerous

Follow the link to a great clip from the new television series for "This American Life" illustrated by comics artist Chris Ware. The animation is great - I think I like him better when he doesn't tell his own repetitive and depressing stories, which strike me more for their formal construction and lettering than for their storytelling and grim pathos. The subject here is an interesting true story about a fake video-camera-making craze at the interviewee's elementary school years before, and what it did to the kids. They seem to try to nail it at the end as a story about "what the camera does to you," but the kids aren't just "being watched" - they are playing multiple roles in a news agency. To me it sounds like more of a case of "what journalism does to you," or, to be more realistic as far as how young kids like that see the world, "what truly immersive role-playing does to you." And did I grow up in a truly vicious elementary school, or is it actually not a sign of total decadence for a group of 11-year-olds to stand by and fail to break up a scuffle, fake newscast or no?

Good stuff anyway. [Via|Link]

Friday, April 13, 2007

Dan Goodsell Interview

There's a great interview with Dan Goodsell, the tireless artist behind Mr. Toast and his "immersive world," on Old Man Musings. I have admired Goodsell's work for a while, and included him in a recent post on Z Recommends about artists to collect for young children. So I was pleased to have the chance to learn more about him. In the interview he cites his influences:

My childhood heroes were Dick Bruna (Miffy books), Ed Emberley (drawing books) and Bill Peet. Dick Bruna gave me my love of line. Ed Emberley taught me about the creation of worlds and populating them. Bill Peet taught about story and context. I didn’t know I was learning these things when I read their books as a kid but looking back as adult these are the things I strive to accomplish in my work.
All three have a ton of stuff online if you aren't yet familiar with them:

From Ed Emberley's Great Thumbprint Drawing Book [artist website|books]

Dick Bruna's "Miffy" [artist website|books]

Bill Peet sketch for The Whingdingdilly [artist website|books]

Goodsell later cites Harry Nilsson's film The Point as a major influence, which is a favorite of mine as well. The video segment from the film's song "Think About Your Troubles" was featured in Z Recommends' Toddler Arthouse Cinema last year in a set of music videos, along with videos for songs from Royksopp and Minilogue. You can watch them all here; the animation for the Nilsson film is brilliant. Who knew a decomposing whale could be so beautiful?

Visit Dan Goodsell's blog and website to see his unique work.

Scrabble Furniture

Watercolors of Moira Hahn

"Blue Moon," a watercolor by Moira Hahn. [Artist's website]

[Via the brilliant new blog]

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Joshua Gibson On Susan Sontag, Annie Liebowitz, and Camille Paglia

Joshua Gibson at Fagistan posted a great piece yesterday about Camille Paglia's ongoing war on Susan Sontag. Here's an excerpt to entice you:

Paglia has a well-known problem with Sontag, though it's one that, even after reading "Sontag, Bloody Sontag", I've never really been able to understand. Paglia hypes herself as one of "Sontag's most outspoken critics" based, almost solely, on that one essay. The essay doesn't really make any particular intellectual charge against Sontag, but instead focuses on how Paglia invited Sontag to give a lecture at Bennington College. Sontag was late and then had the audacity to read a new short story rather than deliver a grand cultural lecture. She was also mean to Camille. This "outspoken criticism" is nothing more than girlish humiliation and resentment and hardly worthy of a serious intellectual attacking another serious intellectual.
It gets even better. And then better still. Read it here.

An Open Apology to the Late Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut photo by Zach Fine.
Copyright the University of Washington Daily.

Listen: You died yesterday after falling weeks ago. You were one of the most important writers of the 20th century. I miss you already. And I'm sorry.

I interviewed you almost 12 years ago, when I was in college, and got to follow you around for a day while you met with people on campus. You were 73 then. I was 19. The university's student activities committee paid you $10,000 to come speak; it was practically their whole budget for the year. I wrote a long profile to advance the event, assuming as so many college journalists do that whatever they have just discovered is news and that they have to bring everyone else up to speed on it. I don't recommend rereading the whole thing, but here's a good excerpt:
What he learned, of course, is that public support doesn't have much to do with American foreign policy. It's a nice thing to have, but our leaders can get along without it. And it really would be ridiculous for any writer to expect that a well-crafted novel could actually change their priorities.

So Vonnegut has a different goal: to catch young people before they become corporate leaders and politicians and, as he puts it, to "poison their minds with humanity."

Take this opportunity to be poisoned. There are few authors, dead or alive, whose work so skillfully marries criticism and compassion, who have so comfortably combined intelligent ideas and a lucid style, and even fewer who have written as seriously and as humorously at the same time.
I meant it then, and still do. You are still one of my favorite writers. More importantly, you influenced which writers would become my other favorites - Thomas Hardy, Donald Barthelme, Laurence Sterne, Saul Bellow. I can trace my appreciation for many of them back to my reading and re-reading of your books.

When you came to campus you let me follow you around for the day. You met with a graduate-level creative writing class which was absolutely in awe of you, and you gave them truly devastating career advice, which was basically that the market for new fiction was total shit and that they should really consider another field. It was hard for them to hear.

Then I got to interview you, which was a disaster. I had a new tape recorder and a tiny directional mic and I was too timid to ask you to wear it, so I put it on the table between us in your hotel room and it picked up maybe 10% of our interview, which the paper had heavily hyped on my behalf. I was also incredibly nervous, and you responded to all my overwrought questions with canned responses I had read years ago in his book of essays Palm Sunday, down to the word. You were quoting yourself.

After you left I promised I'd send you the pieces I wrote about you. I sent you the profile I had written before the event and you sent me a letter typed on a typewriter, which I still have, in an envelope on which you had typed my name and address.

Here's what I never told you. It probably isn't a big deal to you, but it has bothered me.

I published what I could salvage of the interview. I also wrote a follow-up feature based on my day with you, which it was very hard to write and to publish. I liked you a lot and am one of the many tremendously grateful fans of your work, and I hated saying what I believed was true about you. What I believed was this: That as a cultural figure your work was already finished, your voice had lost much of its relevance, and that young writers should not let you dampen their spirits. I counted myself among them, as I was writing fiction at the time and had spoken of "growing up" to be a novelist since I could remember, although I didn't tell you that. Wherever you are now, I'm sure you have Internet access. You can read the interview and the profile online if you want.

I considered you a friend even though we only had that one encounter. You were kind to me and very thoughtful to send the letter.

When I heard years later that you had been injured in a fire in your apartment and were in the hospital, I felt a wave of relief that you were still alive, and thought about sending you a letter. But I assumed you would not remember me, and I didn't send one.

I now realize that it was cowardly for me not to send you the commentary I wrote after your visit, as I said I would. At the time it felt self-important to assume you would want to hear a 19-year-old's criticism, but I have since learned that humility is often a mask for other, more selfish concerns. (I think that's in one of your books, too.) You had the right to see it and to react to it if you wished to do so.

So I'm sorry, Kurt Vonnegut, that I never sent you the piece, which I still think is true, although you did say some interesting and very brave things about terrorism in an interview a few years ago. I'm also sorry I didn't at least send you a card when you cheated death in 2000. I'm sure a lot of other people did. But I should have.

More than anything, though, your death for me raises the spectre of a much more intimate relationship that ended very badly several years ago, with a truly disturbed mentor and friend's attempt on my life. He may already be dead, although I can find no word of it online. He is half a world away and I am not sure if I will ever have the chance to make amends.

You would have liked him, and my stories about him. He'd be 75 now - about the same age you were when I interviewed you. He is depressed, as you were, and angry, and confused. He is the person who taught me that we do not necessarily grow wiser as we grow older, and that this is not always our fault. I'll tell you his story sometime.

Icons: One Laptop Per Child

My only criticism is that the "child" icon looks, iconographically, like it should be negating something. I get the arms-and-legs intent, but the "x" is a bit too pure. Why not draw on the iconography of signs relating to children? Perhaps because the silhouette additions to a figure to denote a child (rather than an adult) are either to pair them with an adult or to use a culturally-specific referent - lunch box, baseball cap, balloon - and that the mens' and women's restroom style figure necessarily comes with gendered baggage. Is there any universal symbol of childhood that could be attached to a small person, and any way to strike a unisex chord as well? Perhaps not. And perhaps this can explain the magenta x we are greeted with. [Via|Link]

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Icons: Chinese Opera Characters

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Icons: Beijing Olympic Games

From the official website:

Designed to express the playful qualities of five little children who form an intimate circle of friends, Fuwa also embody the natural characteristics of four of China's most popular animals - the Fish, the Panda, the Tibetan Antelope, the Swallow - and the Olympic Flame.

Each of Fuwa has a rhyming two-syllable name - a traditional way of expressing affection for children in China. Beibei is the Fish, Jingjing is the Panda, Huanhuan is the Olympic Flame, Yingying is the Tibetan Antelope and Nini is the Swallow.

When you put their names together - Bei Jing Huan Ying Ni - they say "Welcome to Beijing," offering a warm invitation that reflects the mission of Fuwa as young ambassadors for the Olympic Games.

Fuwa also embody both the landscape and the dreams and aspirations of people from every part of the vast country of China. In their origins and their headpieces, you can see the five elements of nature - the sea, forest, fire, earth and sky - all stylistically rendered in ways that represent the deep traditional influences of Chinese folk art and ornamentation.


Permanent Errors

A tattoo artist in Chicago is being sued for misspelling a customer's requested tat "Chi-Town" as "Chi-Tonw."

This cracks me up because graphic designers are typically very poor spellers. This is either a hemispheric brain thing or just the product of their intense training to look at text as a compositional and graphic element rather than reading it. As an editor I have had designers produce typographically-driven graphics which completely fall apart when a key misspelling is corrected.

The tattoo has been fixed as well as possible, but the lawsuit is still going forward. Meanwhile, fellow tattoo artists are signing up to let the offender replicate the misspelled tattoo on their own skin to show their support. Can't say I've heard of anything like that happening in the design community...

Monday, April 09, 2007

Good Morning, Meat Man. Why Hello, Cigarette Face!

From a series of images designed to illustrate the nutritive paucity of various "diets."

Many more frightful images at the link.

R.I.P. Johnny Hart

OurTVAd Sells Single Frames For 8.5-Minute Advertisement

You too can have your logo on TV for four one-hundredths of a second or less for only $39.

The individual behind this project is trying to sell individual frames for an eight-and-a-half-minute ad. Hurry, only around 13,000 frames remain.

If you like this idea, I would be interested in selling you advertising space on my left pinky toenail for a mere $38, and will wear sandals all day Saturday to display it. Just as many people will see your ad, they will be just as impressed, and you will save a dollar.

I predict abject failure for this project, but such a statement presupposes that Mr. Augusto actually believes it will work. Perhaps he is simply doing what he can to draw attention to his other project, a half-baked predictions market.


Friday, April 06, 2007

Motion Pictures

Leonardo Bonanni's three-dimensional nuclear bomb zootrope


Sidetrack Technologies' subway tunnel advertising

Inside-Out Bears By Kent Rogowski

Photographer Kent Rogowski turned teddy bears inside out and restuffed them for a great photo series. The book will be published in May.

Photograph copyright Kent Rogowski 2007.



Originally uploaded by littlewing_78.
I saw a post highlighting 'unrecycling' on Boing Boing and started poking around Flickr. Apparently these cans are popular subjects of photographs for American tourists in China.

An interesting symbol. I like the idea of treating recycling as the primary result of consumption and the alternative as somehow derivative or aberrant. My only concern is that "un" paired with "re" is linguistically troubling, but "uncycling" looks a lot like "unicycling," and that's just asking for trouble. There has to be something better than "un."

Decycling? Excycling? Landfilling?

Imitation for Education

Recreating an artwork's composition is one way of "looking" intensively at it. I love what instructor Glenn Zucman is getting his Art Appreciation students to do at California State University-Long Beach. These photos crack me up.

Jacques Louise David, The Farewell of Telemachus and Eucharis

Diego Rivera, Flower Day

These photos are alive with thought and meaning but are totally hilarious at the same time. I had friends in college who sketched on index cards to use as flash cards for art history tests. This method seems so much better, because it looks like so much more fun.

Glenn, will you please make your students recreate one of the photos below?

One of my favorite people. Kind of hard to reproduce though, what with the hierarchical scale. The Photoshopping jobs are pretty rough, so scratch that one.

Hmmm. Better. I'm now reminded of a Sesame Street coloring book which put the show's characters in all of these famous paintings. I think Grover was Washington. Or was it Bert?

Okay, this is my real request. I'm sure you're covering Botticelli, this is a very important painting, and it also happens to be one of my favorite paintings of all time! That grace. That tension! It's like a dance, but also like a marionette dancing, with the angel pulling her into that angle like she has a little string. Beautiful. I'd like to see the kids in Long Beach pull it off.