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Weekendly clickables IX

Posted: Sunday March 29, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment


search terms leading to how to look at billboards

How to look at billboards has NOT spread like wildfire since its launch three weeks ago. It has garnered a not-so-whooping 358 page veiws from 225 distinct hosts. However, at a standard direct-marketing conversion rate of 3%, that means 6 lives have been touched by this project, and since touching even one person would have made me happy, I am SIX TIMES happy. Thank you, internet.

I could show you the paltry few sites that have linked to it, but I thought it more interesting to bring you the above graph, representing the top search phrases that brought visitors to the site. Can you guess how many clicks are represented by each slice of the pie?



How to make an e-reader

Everybody’s raving (via Fimoculous, where I first typed most of this out) about the Kindle, and I do not doubt their sincerity. But neither Amazon nor Sony have quite figured out what they need to make. These devices are the Treo of five years ago — good enough to be loved, but about to be made irrelevant by the coming iPhone.

No matter how good the Kindle is, it is patently absurd to pay $2.50 per month to read Slate on it. And Bezos should be blushing at the contortions people go through to get PDF on their Kindles. The point here is that mostly what people want on an e-reader is not books — it’s the internet, stupid.

So, what do we want? Simple: a Kindle form factor with the guts of a Dell Mini, and a little sprinkle of iPod Touch. It goes roughly like this:

The Kindle is $350, as is the new Sony reader (which has the touch-sensitive screen). The Dell Mini starts at $199. The 16GB iPod Touch is $300. Come on hardware makers, you can do this.

Update (4/13/09): TechCrunch is working on it.

Posted: Wednesday March 25, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [7]


Cecil Taylor

Posted: Tuesday March 24, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment


24 and The Ramones

Misael and I sometimes debate the relative artistic merits of film vs. television. Lots of different analogies are possible in these discussions (e.g. film as short story, television (think The Wire, etc.) as novel), none perfect. In the end though, I think this exercise is a little like arguing the relative merits of dance and architecture; each is a distinct artform that deserves to be judged on its own merits.

Or maybe it makes more sense to say that each is a family of different artforms. Shows like Murder She Wrote have very little to do with shows like Lost, and few things are as open-ended as a feature film (I note Gummo without further comment). Nonetheless the argument that film is inherently an inferior artform (because (1) a television series is not conceived as a single artistic statement, as every film is, and (2) however deconstructed and contemporary, every episode of every television show must be stand-alone satisfying to a certain degree) has obvious appeal, on its face. And “sometimes you’re in the mood for bubble gum” is sort of like damning TV with faint praise.

But so I’ve been watching 24 lately (I’m on season 3). Structurally, the show is fascinating: each season is 24 episodes, each of which is part of one intense 24 hour period in the life of the California anti-terrorism unit. The show runs in real-time, while juggling numerous interconnected story lines. The politics of the show are sometimes questionable, but the achievement of crafting the stories is staggering.

Yet what’s most impressive about 24 is something else. The Ramones claimed that their idea was to take the peak moment of pop music — the most energetic dizzying crescent — and create music that was about extending that moment for an entire song. Somewhat analogously, 24 takes the most intense moments of spy movies (Bond), and attempts to stretch them into an entire season. The idea is that the tension does not let up — indeed, does not even ease — for the entire 24-hour season (this is best experienced, as much modern TV is, by watching the entire season on DVD over a short period of time (in fact, a season of 24 could arguably be best experienced in an actual 24 hour period, watching time synchronized to the fictional time)). This is odd, since even a Bond movie has peaceful and romantic interludes between sequences of action. Here are 24 hours of unrelenting tension.

I’m not making a case for 24. I’m making the case that despite the illusion that film is a more free-form artform, in reality television has the ability to do certain things that cannot be done in any other way.

Posted: Tuesday March 24, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment


There’s a great bit in the middle of this talk where David Weinberger goes off on Melvin Dewey, inventor of the Dewey Decimal System. Skip to 20:00.



wendy's mcgangbang

A version of the McGangBang made out of Wendy’s parts. Double stack and a chicken sandwich, 99¢ each.



Available online for free.



Design less

Today, the revolution is digital and the age is informational, but design confronts a similar crisis. We have amazing electronic tools at our disposal; culture has modernized at staggering, computer processed speeds. But the tools are abused and cultural change is stupefying. We embrace technology because it is there and embrace change for change’s sake. Our buildings, objects, and graphics suffer as a result. Things are over-designed because new tools must be exploited; here, design says “look what I can do!” Things are poorly-designed because new tools provide templates and shortcuts that are mistakenly substituted for design itself; here, design says “look how easy it is!”

To rectify this situation we must Design Less!

I couldn’t agree more. But Gabrielle Esperdy leaves her essay, Less Is More Again — A Manifesto, much more ambiguous then any manifesto I’ve read before. Here’s the ending:

Whether we are sitting at our computers, shopping at Target or Ikea, or walking down the street with our handheld devices, we are effortlessly, endlessly, unavoidably, inevitably, and mindlessly consuming design. Or to put it another way, we are consuming a thing — a website, a font, a screen, an icon, a t-shirt, a store, a sidewalk, a car, the list goes on and on — that someone, somewhere, sometime designed. If this is the designless world we welcome it and, with apologies to William Shakespeare, first thing we do, let’s kill all the designers.

The best way for me to make sense of this is that she’s saying a whole bunch of things at the same time. First, we’re obviously living in an age of a lot of folk design, especially folk digital design. Ze Frank brilliantly explored this issue with the this episode of the show. After a goofy song about a contest to find the ugliest MySpace page, he dives right in the philosophical deep end, suggesting that giving design tools to the masses brings into question the very essence of how aesthetic judgments will be made by the next generation.

In light of this, the reaction of many “serious” designers is to retreat into minimalism. (This has certainly been my instinct.) Note, just as a ferinstance, Pitchfork Media, which has just recently shed its grunge-n-small-fonts look for a sleek suit of light grays. Then again, is there really such a benefit to looking like every other site on the internet? And anyway, if the ubiquitization of design tools tends to make our environment more visually cluttered, over time this might desensitize us to said clutter, which would tend to make designers un-minimalize their work again.

Posted: Wednesday March 18, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment


Mugshots of Phish fans. Police in Hampton, Virginia raided a series of Phish concerts last week (apparently they haven’t heard that the Obama administration is legalizing pot) and confiscated $1,213,882.80 (?) worth of marijuana.



Joaquin Phoenix rapping

Quick video of Joaquin Phoenix rapping. This is from Las Vegas; no video has surfaced from the Miami performance, which apparently was replete with a fake fight with a fan. This is all pretty good, but I think the Andy Kaufman comparisons are still a bit premature.

Posted: Monday March 16, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment


Weekendly clickables VIII

Posted: Saturday March 14, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [2]


I have been waxing philosophical about U2 over at this post, btw.



Explaining the banking crisis

At the beginning of last week’s This American Life, Ira Glass suggests that many of us are resigned to not really understanding what’s going on with the financial sector. Then the NPR boys go straight into explaining it, starting in the simplest terms and working up to the global collapse scale. Required. One of the more interesting people in the show is Simon Johnson (a former International Monetary Fund bigshot who’s worked with many other countries fixing exactly this situation), who Terry Gross had an interview that is also very interesting. That should prepare you for the Baseline Scenario post from Johnson’s blog, and all the other jargon-heavy reports you’ll to be encountering.

Update: Spoilers (don’t read on if you’re going to listen to the programs): The amount of debt Americans hold, as a percentage of GDP, typically oscillates between 20 and 50%; at two points in the last century it’s hit 100%: in 1929 and in 2007. So all these people yelling about how banks should lend out the money the US government is giving them are exactly wrong — arguably it was our level of debt that, as much as anything, caused the current crisis.

Johnson believes that the solution is fairly obvious: nationalize the banks. You nationalize, clean up the mess, and re-privatize them. Apparently that’s what the IMF, with the USA’s blessing, has been helping/forcing governments with similar problems do for decades, and it works reasonably well. Also, the US government does it all the time, just on a smaller scale than would be presently required. But were it not for the “obvious” political problems, the IMF would advise us to do exactly that. There’s also the suggestion that — maybe — that’s exactly what the Obama administration quietly is preparing to do.

Posted: Thursday March 5, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [6]


Bizarre devices from medicine’s dark past. (via)



Lawrence Lessig presents a more fleshed out argument for public funding of Congressional elections at Google. Supports withholding money from elections for members who don’t support the plan … an interesting strategy.



How to look at billboards

One of the truly inspirational and thought-provoking things I’ve read is Howard Gossage’s essay from the February 1960 issue of Harpers, How to look at billboards. I got so exited when I found it yesterday that I whipped up a little home for it on the internet. Thanks to Carrie McLaren for hosting it all this time. It’s probably through Stay Free that I originally ran across it (but I couldn’t find it despite much googling when I was writing about billboards back in 2006).

Gossage is not prescient — he argues that billboards are on their way out. But his arguments that billboards have no right to exist rings just as true as it ever has:

What a billboard looks like has nothing to do with whether it ought to be there. Nor does the fact that it carries advertising have anything to do with it, either. It would be the same thing if it were devoted exclusively to reproductions of the old masters; just as the open range would have been the same thing if they had only run peacocks on it. The real question is: has outdoor advertising the right to exist at all?

The industry says it has. It claims two rights, in fact. In asserting the first of these it clasps the flag firmly to its bosom and, in cadences worthy of William Jennings Bryan, invokes the spirit of free enterprise. Now, it should be understood that the outdoor industry is fighting only against what it regards as discriminatory regulation. It seems never to have occurred to the industry to question its basic right to any existence whatsoever. Therefore, when it protests against operational restrictions, it is not effrontery, as one might think, but outraged indignation. Its reaction is that of an old-time cattle baron the first time a farmer dared to fence in his potato patch.

Outdoor advertising is, of course, a business and as such would ordinarily have a strong case against inroads on its domain. However, there is a very real question whether it has title to its domain. Outdoor advertising is peddling a commodity it does not own and without the owner’s permission: your field of vision. Possibly you have never thought to consider your rights in the matter. Nations put the utmost importance on unintentional violations of their air space. The individual’s air space is intentionally violated by billboards every day of the year.

Please go read the whole thing. It’s a pleasure, and while its arguments are unlikely to sway any public policy now, almost 50 years later, you never know. At the end, Gossage asks you to complete a little billboard ballot, indicating “there ought to be billboards” or “there ought not to be billboards,” and send it back to him so he can track the results. The Stay Free version of the article says, “since Howard Gossage is dead, you can send your coupon to us at Stay Free! . . . and we will take care of it.” I’m not sure whether someone is still compiling these, but even if so it doesn’t seem particularly useful. If you don’t like looking at billboards, I think a much better course is to write to your city, county, and state elected officials. They are the ones that can actually do something, and a little sometimes goes a long way with moving your local governments. Good luck.

How to look at billboards

Update (4/13/09): Linked at Kottke, Boing Boing, and elsewhere.

Posted: Tuesday March 3, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [10]


Since the word “juice” printed on a package legally means that the substance inside is 100% juice, you could be forgiven for thinking that especially “not from concentrate” orange juice would be some fairly straightforward stuff. But you would be horribly wrong, because actually orange juice is a vile and mostly industrial substance (via), which sits around in huge vats, and has chemical flavoring added to restore the flavor lost through processing.



Weekendly clickables VII

Posted: Sunday March 1, 2009 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [2]