July 25, 2009 by Colin
” … It used to interest me to see the brutal cynicism with which Christian sentiment is exploited. The touts from the Christmas card firms used to come around with their catalogues as early as June. A phrase from one of their invoices sticks in my memory. It was: ’2 doz. Infant Jesus with rabbits.” … ”
” … [Being a bookseller] is a human trade which is not capable of being vulgarized beyond a certain point. The combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman …”
- “Bookshop Memories,” 1936, George Orwell
Ah, the comfort and security that used to accompany topical expertise and local presence. And then someone had to go and invent punchcards, databases, and recommendation engines.
February 2, 2009 by Colin
I have fond memories of frantically waving Polaroids to help speed the exposure process. I also have fond memories of the oblong telephone table (with built in seat) and ceramic dial phone that used to sit in my grandparents’ front hallway.
I would not want either of those technologies to dominate my life today.
“… Its hazy, dream-like film and inherent singularity belong to a time before Flickr, Facebook, and the amateur camera phone artiste. The Polaroid camera is a snapshot of an era when capturing a memory was an instant memento — not an instant upload …”
This startling piece of pseud writing from a post on The Moment, a NY Times blog.
December 13, 2008 by Colin
“Disney’s Tomorrowland is deeply, thoroughly, almost furiously unimaginative. This isn’t the fault of the “Disney culture”; it is the fault of our culture. We seem to have entered a deeply unimaginative era.” (PJ O’Rourke in the Atlantic)
Obviously, O’Rourke has some significant issues with the redesign of the venerable park, inflamed by an Associated Press story about the redesign that originally ran in February and confirmed during a visit to Disneyland with his family earlier this year.
This is not a new topic: Tomorrowland was originally built in 1955, rebuilt for the 1967 season, “renewed” in 1998, and new components were unveiled earlier this year.
(flickr is strewn with pictures from all three eras: pre-67, pre-08 and today)
“In updating Tomorrowland these days, where thematic concept has gone off-track – - for the original Disneyland anyway, as Walt had a specific vision for his work and park that should be maintained – - is to discard the idea of utopian modernism.
When Imagineers turn instead to recent trends in fantasy-science-fiction, Hollywood (Star Wars), eco-futurism (agri-future gardens), dark apocalyptic vision (Alien Encounter), cartoon franchise marketing (Buzz Lightyear) or nostalgic pre-modern futurism (Jules Verne, steampunk), it no longer feels like Walt Disney’s Tomorrowland …
Disneyland should always be a complementary platter of Past, Future, Fact and Fantasy, Nostalgia and Challenge in all its angles, a unified timeline with a running theme. The recipe for the future is on the dedication plaque.
Go back? Go forward?
It’s easy to decry a lack of imagination or reliance upon corporate sponsorship on Disney’s part, especially if a portion of your childhood memories are vested in the fantastic and seemingly unattainable technologies first imagined and sold forty years ago.
With the acceleration of personal technology, Disney executives recognized ten years ago that all of Disney’s vaunted imagineers and the displays at Tomorrowland would never be able to outrun the work of millions of nerds, techies and scientists.
“Nicholas Negroponte, [former] director of the media laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of whose sponsors is Disney, thinks that the company has realized that the future, as it unfolds today, is no longer good entertainment.
”The story line just doesn’t carry with it the same sort of punch as going off to the Moon,” he said. ”Things like highly personalized information services and computer agents that do things for you just don’t make a good story.” (NY Times, February 1997)
*”Technical Difficulties” hed lifted from a Wired article about the rationalization of the Imagineering team.
November 29, 2008 by Colin
On the occasion of Claude Levi-Strauss’ 100th birthday, a quote about the great anthropologist:
“Roger-Pol Droit, a philosopher who read from “Tristes Tropiques,” said that he “would have loved a text from Lévi-Strauss today saying, ‘I hate birthdays and commemorations,’ just as he began ‘Tristes Tropiques’ saying, ‘I hate traveling and explorers.’ “
“This is all about the effort of making him into a myth,” Mr. Droit continued, “because that is what we do in our time.” (NYTimes)
May 27, 2008 by Colin
“… What we have right now, in Brooklyn, the Bay Area, Portland, East Los Angeles—neighborhoods where bourgeois young people work at magazines, movie studios, TV shows, Web sites and advertising, so that cultural trends work like weather at sea, offering the newcomers a chance to prove themselves, upending the complacent— is a similar choice on the part of the privileged to identify with the outsider.
The outsider in this case is the nerd, because nerds are people incapable of, or at least averse to, riding cultural trends. When your greatest fear is that you will become a loser because your intuition will fail to keep up with tastes, you embrace the nerd like a little harmless teddy bear who’s the one creature in the whole wide world who would never do anything to hurt you…” (from the excerpt)
American Nerd: the Story of My People, digs deep into the recent history of nerd-dom:
“… Sure, you may have an image of an MIT guy in your head—thick glasses, pocket protector, thin-limbed, buck teeth—but there’s not one clear definition of what makes that unattractive, awkward dweeb a nerd. Once you begin to create criteria and apply them to a range of individuals, the nerd stereotype becomes even more problematic. Nugent breaks down the nerd into two basic groups: those who are excluded socially for arbitrary reasons and those who are excluded for “intrinsic mental reasons” because they prefer rational, rule-bound activities over more intuitive or emotional ones. …” (from the interview)
No, I am not sixty. No, I don’t live in New Haven.
I am preppie. Hear me roar!
[tags] nerds, prep, sociological survey, booger [/tags]
May 3, 2008 by Colin
The lilting harmonies. The aged war veterans, Salvation Army Band volunteers and balloon-wielding youngsters, meandering down the northern dell to the village centre. The overgelled hair.
Those are my memories of “Life in a Northern Town,” a wonderful song by Stephen “Tintin” Duffy and the Dream Academy, and a top ten hit in 1986. A real product of 1980s Britpop.
As an economic history nerd, I also saw the song as an homage to the personal experience of a region stereotyped by a several centuries of wrenching industrial development – textile workers, shipyard workers and miners.
Which is why I was confused to see this video on CMT today:
Thankfully, Sugarland, Big Town and Jake Owen don’t drift too far from the original … and didn’t make their version too “twangy.”
Still, Blake’s Jerusalem did not refer to the hills of West Virginia, and neither does Life in a Northern Town.
[tags] Dream Academy, Life in a Northern Town, Sugarland, country music [/tags]
April 4, 2008 by Colin
Ofcom, the British media regulator, has just released hundreds of pages of qualitative and quantitative research into participation in social networks.
There’s the predictable division of social network members into cute little persona or caricatures, and then there’s a much more detailed breakdown of the impulses, activities and omissions of people participating in social networks.
I think it’s essential reading for anyone at all interested in the behaviour of youth online, as well as those interested in how regulators and ombudsmen view online activities.
Interestingly, Ofcom has also recorded a commentary on YouTube to accompany the release. Granted, it’s a one-sided commentary that evokes memories of Betacam video sent out to regional offices from corporate headquarters, but it does add a layer of interactivity and visual stimulation.
The qualitative research suggests five distinct groups of people who use social networking sites :
- Alpha Socialisers – mostly male, under 25s, who use sites in intense short bursts to flirt, meet new people and be entertained.
- Attention Seekers – mostly female, who crave attention and comments from others, often by posting photos and customising their profiles.
- Followers – males and females of all ages who join sites to keep up with what their peers are doing.
- Faithfuls – older males and females generally aged over 20, who typically use social networking sites to rekindle old friendships, often from school or university.
- Functionals – mostly older males who tend to be single-minded in using sites for a particular purpose.
The qualitative research also suggests three distinct groups of people who do not use social networking sites:
- Concerned about safety – often older people and parents concerned about safety online, in particular making personal details available online.
- Technically inexperienced – often people over 30 years old who lack confidence in using the internet and computers.
- Intellectual rejecters – often older teens and young adults who have no interest in social networking sites and see them as a waste of time.
[tags] Ofcom, Facebook, MySpace, youth online [/tags]
March 1, 2008 by Colin
Finally. A tenuous reason to link to Russell’s splendid blog, eggbaconchipsandbeans – where he provides reviews and photos of the tasty grub prepared by local snack shops across the UK.
And the far less splendid, but somewhat entralling Grocery Eats. Deep fried White Castle Slider. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.
Euan Ferguson, writing in the Guardian, takes a light hearted look at the relationship between food and the senses, building off the ideas of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, in particular his loaded manifesto on “futurist cooking.”
[Marinetti, in a remarkable move for an Italian, suggested there were many more things better to eat than dried pasta]
Ferguson harkens back to his own memories – and the feeling of comfort brought on by otherwise boring and even unhealthy food:
“… A Ginsters sausage roll has to be accompanied by the sound of the M25, the feel of a crappy rental plastic gearstick, the gaze into rain, the smell of a cigarette to annoy the rubbish rental company and also because you cannot physically eat a Ginsters without smoking; the sound of the suburbs.
My favourite being-down meal, macaroni cheese with sweetcorn with an egg beaten into it, is best (trust me) accompanied by the feel of the remote, the opening bars of Armageddon, the smell of fresh-drying clothes, the sight of my kicked-off boots …” (Guardian Observer)
photo courtesy of DavidRLewis
[tags] Marinetti, futurist cooking, service centres, Ginsters [/tags]
February 21, 2008 by Colin
Forget beta testers in Russia, India and Iowa. Forget launching a 0.6.3 version with only 10,000 users. Here’s an excerpt from a 1981 market research report on the first version of the arcade classic Centipede:
“… Although test results from these locations should still be valid, the CENTIPEDE games tested at the Mountain View Time Zone, the Cloverleaf Bowl, the Albany Bowl and the Ice Cream Dock are not identical to the production version of CENTIPEDE …” (Atari documents, pg. 26)
What names! You can imagine each of those locations, down to the placement of the snack bar and the stoners hanging out in the back. Here’s some more insight from Atari Marketing Management:
“CLOVERLEAF BOWL: This location does not seem to have a large base of highly skilled players. The clientele is similar to a typical street location in terms of the level of game play. The average age of players seems to be 9 to 16, with a fairly high ratio of female players.
For the first 2-1/2 weeks CENTIPEDE was placed near the bowling lanes. The game was then moved near the front entrance of the bowling center and seemed to pick up slightly in earnings …” (pg. 29)
In case you’re wondering, the game made between $210 and $260 a week.
“… ICE CREAM DOCK: During the fourth week [of the beta test] the ASTEROIDS CT game was robbed, which resulted in an artificially high percentage of gross figures for the other three games…” (pg. 31)
Here’s some statistics on the Mountain View Time Zone:
“… There are a total of approximately 87 games … with a mix of about 75% video and arcade pieces, and 25% flipper games. Berzerk, Gorf, Pac-man and Rally-X are the newest videos in the location…”(pg. 37)
This from the “lessons always repeated, never learned file”:
“…The most frequently mentioned negative attribute of CENTIPEDE was the trak ball… [34% did not like it]” (pg. 39)
And, finally, an observation from focus group tests:
“…The older group discussed cabinet styles [between the "upright" and the "cocktail"]. A strong preference was stated for the standard upright cabinets over the shorter versions because it gives them a feeling of control and allows “body english.”
You just KNOW that their “body english” was accented by tight jeans, headbands and maybe even mullets.
h/t to Banner Blog
[tags] video games, 80s, Centipede, bowling [/tags]
February 17, 2008 by Colin
The Washington Post appears to have a strong online presence to complement its historic reputation as a news organization.
So why is the online news room across the river in Virginia? Washington City Paper takes a lengthy look at the conflict between the new kids and the kids with all badges.
Whose arts coverage gets precedence online? What about breaking coverage and on-the-scene photography? Can a newspaper reconcile a desire for consumer-generated recipes online with a strict “tested-in-house” policy in the paper?
What about online comments? Can racist and derogatory comments affect the reputation of a newspaper – even if they are from readers (leave alone the acknowledgment that they are WP readers)?
The WCP’s piece examines all these issues – dissecting them from both points of view – online and the newsroom.
“… Newsroom staffers frame the clash as a question of tastes and standards. As in, those people have none, and we do. The cry from the other side of the river is that the newsroom doesn’t get the Web. So long as the two organizations remain separate, those aspersions will continue crisscrossing the river, carrying more than just a nugget of truth with them.
It’s hard, after all, to expect washingtonpost.com to soak up the journalistic culture of the Washington Post. Newspapers don’t codify their standards and ethical sensibilities in a companywide memo. The process is far too sprawling and random: An editor kills a story over inadequate sourcing, a reporter makes a Jayson Blair joke on the elevator, a discussion breaks out in the cafeteria—can Woodward really reconstruct all those high-level conversations? Dot-com operatives, hunkered down in Virginia, miss out on all of it…”
[tags] Washington Post, online newsrooms, web editor [/tags]
February 9, 2008 by Colin
Oh my. In grade 4, I spent several months learning the role of second trumpet in the Richard Harris classic Macarthur Park. Paired with the theme from Rocky, it was the centrepiece of our annual music recital.
And it was painful. It scarred me for life.
And now WFMU has dredged up all those memories by featuring 12 – twelve! – different versions of the song.
I really like the SCTV version, with “Richard Harris” appearing on Mel’s Rock Pile. And here it is:
WFMU also featured a commentary on the song as one of the “top one hit wonders of the 20th century”:
January 25, 2008 by Colin
As I made the transition into grown-up, collecting a full-time job, a marriage and a suburban home along the way, part of my youth remained sealed away – in a box of carefully collected and reluctantly ignored vinyl.
Limited editions, special imports, extremely overpriced rarities: they’re all there down in the basement. The cheap turntable of my teen years broke down long ago, to be abandoned for the trash pickers on Bathurst Street. The mix tapes lasted a little longer, but were eventually crushed under the weight of feet, coolers and seats on numerous road trips.
The result? Bands like the Merton Parkas, the Lambrettas, Selecter, and Makin’ Time receded in time, and in my memory.
One record prompted an unusual absence – The Truth’s Playground (on their MySpace) – despite its relative lack of sophistication. It was one of three cassettes I brought with me on an 18 hour trip between Toronto and New Delhi, and was played over and over in my Sony Walkman (the silver one, barely larger than the cassette itself. Don’t you remember? Sony was the Apple of the early 80s, with a new and cooler version of the Walkman every season!) as I sat on the tarmac at Heathrow during an interminable flight delay. I guess the album was burned into my sub-conscious.
Which is why I was surprised – and pleased – to find a glut of Truth-based material online in the past few months. YouTube videos. Mp3s. A concert recorded in 1983 (that doesn’t sound like it’s a dub of a dub)
It’s like the second-generation mods took ten years to jump onto the web revolution and start to use media sharing apps.
Which is understandable, since we’ve long been programmed to take our obsessions slowly: when I was a teenager, a new single from a British band could mean sending off a letter and a postal order to a shop across the Atlantic. From purchasing decision to delivery, it could take three to five weeks!
If I wanted to “build a conversation” with my favourite band, I either joined the fan club and wrote to the quarterly newsletter, or wrote off to the record label and hoped the snot nosed school leaver in the mail room felt inclined to pass my scrawlings along.
We’ve come a long way, baby.
January 4, 2008 by Colin
I suspect that Angelo Bepp is an everyman, hiding in plain view although ostensibly disguised as a long-term resident of the state detention facility at Attica, New York.
Angelo is a regular comment contributor to the New York Times online edition. And his comments are funny. Consistently funny. I present a selection:
What have you done to make yourself more attractive on the Web?
I post a picture only showing me from the neck up. That way my prison fatigues & number can’t be seen. I thought it was my car, I really did. How many powder blue 1971 Pintos can there be in New York?
January 3rd, 2008 Link
Executive Who Moved ‘Dem Bums’ Out of Brooklyn Is Hall of Famer
Get over it Brooklyn, its been 50 years. When I lost my dog Blinky, I got over it. Man, I loved Blinky.
December 3rd, 2007 Link
What has been your most memorable culinary experience while on vacation?
Best meal I ever had was in Tibet, a yak burger. Tastes a bit like cheetah.
November 21st, 2007 Link
Where is your favorite place to stay in a national park?
Any where that doesn’t have padded cells or bars is fine by me. I didn’t do anything to that mannequin, it fell on me.
December 21st, 2007 Link
What is your favorite easy-to-make holiday starter?
When I was allowed to indulge myself, I always enjoyed a hot dog with Worcestershire sauce & cottage cheese. Then wash it down with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue. Man, Angelo was living the life back then, before the legal thing.
December 19th, 2007 Link
Which band would you like to see reunited?
The Archies. Still listen to their albums every night. I’m 54 years old.
December 11th, 2007 Link
Shootings Test Limits of New Self-Defense Law: What do you think of Mr. Horn’s actions?
Over reacted. My house was broken into 2 years ago. I confronted the 2 misguided young men. I told them what they were doing was wrong. They still took everything of value that I owned, but they know they did wrong.
December 13th, Link
[tags] comment policy, commenter, New York Times [/tags]
December 22, 2007 by Colin
There will be pretty pictures. There will be enigmatic pictures. There will be badly composed pictures. But the idea is fantastic. Two minds quite capable of making the leap between diverse subjects, disciplines and concepts have cooked up a competition to identify the World’s Best Urban Places and Spaces.
I like the idea because it is so loosely defined. Sifting through my memories of my favourite places, I can sort memories and images according to the effect of space, weather, feelings elicited by crowds, an absence of others, or my reaction to a conscious attempt by some smarty-pants architect or artist to define the place.
Here’s Russell’s description of the project:
“We’ll leave you to interpret ‘best’ ‘urban’ ‘space’ and ‘place’ as you like. Could be anywhere or anything; bus shelters, buildings, bombsites or benches. Rather than wait until we’ve got enough for a book (which, of course, may never happen) we’re planning instead on doing a series of pamphlets. We’re going to try and persuade some top designers to do them for us. There’ll be a free one as a pdf online and lovely specially printed ones for everyone who contributes and/or who’d like to buy them.
Obviously we’ve not really worked out all the details on that yet, but will let you know when we have.
Does that sound interesting? I think it might be. Pile in, if you’d like to.”
You can find the Flickr pool they’ve set up, either to contribute or simply to gawk. Consider the submissions according to your own criteria, or to explode in Photoshop looking for naked ladies and other privacy violations.
[tags] World’s Best Urban Places, urbanism, place [/tags]
November 9, 2007 by Colin
Remember the faux news conference put on by FEMA last month to brief about the response to the California wildfires?
The Department of Homeland Security has completed an “internal investigation,” and some people have fallen under the bus.
Apparently, some poor decisions were taken in deciding to hold a news conference at short notice, then, when reporters could not make it in time, have agency communications staff substitute for reporters by lobbing questions at the Deputy Administrator.
“Much like in an airline crash or automobile accident that was reconstructed, there were several different points leading up to the press conference where, had a single decision been made differently, the event itself could have been averted,” [DHS spokesperson Russ] Knocke said Thursday (AP, via TPM)
Wow. We get a pretty clear impression of what Knocke thinks of how the news conference rolled out. All it needs is a soundtrack. And Gil Grissom.
There have been repurcussions. The man who was FEMA’s press secretary (read his Potomac Flacks profile) will be working for a public relations agency in Utah (For those of you keeping track at home, that’s Washington to Utah in three weeks). The Director of External Relations had been scheduled to take up a new job with Office of the Director of National Intelligence. That job fell through.
There’s a couple of hints in the AP story that the FEMA staffers fell victim, in part, to a predetermined PR strategy and poor communications between the press shops at FEMA and DHS:
- DHS had asked the agency to hold a press conference before the DHS Secretary and the FEMA Administrator landed in California that day; and
- FEMA’s press secretary had sent an email to his boss and the DHS official responsible for communications, asking for more time – but only 43 minutes before the scheduled start of the news conference.
In the end, the comms shop had about 75 minutes to put the news conference together. Which makes you wonder why they didn’t just allow callers on the teleconference call to ask questions.
And, to top it off, the FEMA Administrator seems to imply that the career civil servants could have prevented their bosses from pursuing this course of action:
“Those are career people. They should have stepped up and said something, they really should have. But their bosses said ‘Do this,’ and they did it — some reluctantly, but there’s no excuses for that,” Paulison said. He called the impact on FEMA’s credibility “devastating.” (Washington Post)
This is what happens when you try to throw a media briefing together very quickly – and execute your strategy rather strangely. Unfortunately, the execution has coloured our impression of FEMA’s attempts to get information about the California wildfires out quickly.
And that hits to the heart of effective crisis communications.
[tags] FEMA, puppet theatre, DHS [/tags]