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I'm going to tell you one last time about The Awl

Last Friday I deleted the 400+ to-read items from The Awl in my RSS so that I could start fresh and really stay with it. And before I did, one thing caught my attention that deserves a little bit of explanation. If ever there was one canonical example of the sheer brutal Strength of this particular little site, maybe this is it.

Okay, so here is the post: I Mean, Really, “J-Setting”? I Spent Half An Hour On Wikipedia Figuring Out What That Is. You’re going to want to read it before I go on, and you may want to click through to the “J-Setting Marmaduke Welfare Office Cat Fight Video Dance-Off” link in it, and watch both the videos. I don’t want you to get lost here. There’s going to be a quiz.

A little backstory: Choire Sicha is a guy primarily known for being the editor of Gawker a few years ago, and though he’s been published in all sorts of other publications (even in print!), his name redirects to the entry for Gawker on Wikipedia, just to give you some idea. (I just added “wtf?” to the discussion page for the discussion page of the redirect, so that’s your half-hearted attempt at making the internet more coherent for the day.) Alex Balk worked for Gawker too, tho him I’d never heard of before the two launched The Awl last April. The consensus (scroll to #2) is (a) the Awl is fucking great and (b) how the hell is it going to survive, if the people who are writing it are hoping to eventually/soon do it as a major source of their income and not as a hobby (and keeping in mind that they’re good at their fucking job and live in New York City so a salary of like $30,000 is not really what we’re talking about here), considering the state of the publishing world and the generally accepted suckiness of online advertising revenue.

So you could be forgiven for thinking at first blush that this post is pretty sincere — we’re trying to make money, can we please take it just a touch more seriously. And while I ponder that there may be a grain of that literal sentiment behind it, I presume that would be about all there is. It’s an inside-joke of a throw away-post, quickly typed up by a guy who’s got so many hilarious/great ideas going that he can just pull stuff like this out of his ass anytime he wants. (Or is it? Read on!)

OK now on to the post with the videos. I’ll save you the 30 minutes on Wikipedia and just tell you that J-Setting is the dance that Beyoncé does in that Single Ladies video. Watch carefully: The guy in the first video does it as he’s being escorted out the welfare office. And the dogs do it at the end of the Marmaduke trailer. They are both fucking upsetting. Furthermore, you will note that the pairing is pretty interesting and maybe even says Something Important about our culture, and that the headline “J-Setting Marmaduke Welfare Office Cat Fight Video Dance-Off,” is just about prefect (if smart-alecky, but of course smart-alecky is what sites like this use to make the medicine go down).

But there is more. Because, it is not enough that The Awl (I’m pretty sure I need to capitalize the “T” every time for the title to hold together) publishes 25 posts per day, at least a few of which run long. Also shockingly great are the comments, and sometimes indispensable. That fake Balk memo? Well take a look at this and try to not crap your pants. You probably know that Nick Denton is the wildly controversial head of Gawker Media (not just internet-controversial either, since the wider journalism world is afraid that his management model may be the way of the future for writers, and it’s not representative of a world in which they feel they can live), and as such Balk and Sicha’s former boss. And so yes, this is how “successful” blogs are run, and this is how successful blogs that are not run this way mock and poke fun at the ones that are, while simultaneously wondering what the future holds for them. And more to the point, this is how clever you have to be in 2010 to make it out here on the internet.

Posted: Tuesday March 30, 2010 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [1]


YOUR president has been rocking it since health care reform passed this weekend: jobs package, financial reform, and now an arms deal with Russia. Also, going out of his way to publicly support Biden’s dropping the f-bomb in the oval office. Next up, getting tough on Cuba and help for underwater homeowners. Bonus link: healthcare speech with edits showing on the White House flickr stream.



You can add health care reform to all the other cornerstones of American society that Conservatives fought against: womens’ suffrage, civil rights, social security, Medicare.

I posted this to facebook, but I hate having stuff live only there, so here you go.

Update: Gloat-tastic: Obama stopped after every letter when signing his name to the bill to switch pens, creating 20 historical souvenirs.

Update #2: Here is the video, and here is the signature. Fast stuff, these interwebs!



The future of the location-based Internet

Here’s the text of my introductory talk from last night’s panel. I think it took me about 6 minutes to get this out (the closest to the 5-minute allotment that any of the panelists got, I timed them), but I think I might develop it a little more and present it maybe at a future BarCamp or something.

Around the beginning of the 2005 I came across the websites Gothamist and LAist. They were part of a network of blogs dedicated to what was happening in one particular city, along with a network called Metroblogging. And I said to myself, why doesn’t Miami have a blog like this?

It wasn’t quite as easy to start a blog in those days as it is now, but I was coincidentally just getting to a place in web design where the idea of creating a blog seemed possible. And what’s striking is how odd that sounds today, when everybody has a blog. Because what I had in mind was a site where there were five or six people contributing, and I talked to lots and lots of people, but for some reason the idea of writing for a blog was really intimidating back then. I got lots of interest, but with some notable exceptions, Critical Miami ended up being basically a blog that I wrote.

And it sort of took off, and by the time I packed it in three years later, it was getting around 10,000 page views a day, and around 100,000 unique IP addresses visiting every month. There were over 11,000 comments posted over the three years. And still to this day, two years later, when people meet me they say, ‘aren’t you that guy, who used to have that blog….?’ So, it hit a nerve.

But something else happened during that time, and since, which is that everybody else started blogs. When I stopped writing Critical Miami there were dozens or maybe hundreds of great local blogs, lots of them wonderfully specialized.

But what’s happened since then is even more interesting. Because today everybody I know has a blog. And a twitter, and a facebook, and sometimes a Yelp account and a Foursquare. And what’s happened is that the internet has become, instead of this flat thing where everyone is accessing more or less the same stuff, it’s become this very personal and social thing. I read my friends’ blogs, and I see what they’re reading on twitter and facebook, and it’s this interconnected thing where you’re still reading stuff on the internet, but you’re also connected with your network of friends and acquaintances.

But what Yelp and Foursquare do is, they also begin to connect the internet to the physical world. So, I get here to MoCA, and I check in on Foursquare, and now not only does it know I’m here, but if one of my friends is here, or say a few blocks away, we instantly know about each other. And right now it’s this manual thing that I have to remember to do, but phones have GPS and WiFi, and it’s only a matter of time before it’s completely automatic and integrated into all the other services. I want to know what’s around here, I pull up Yelp, which incidentally just got this spiffy Augmented Reality feature built in, and I can look up what bars are nearby, and see what people have said about them.

So, in a very real way, the internet is becoming aware of where it is, right? We have WiFi hotspots here, and we can look up what people have posted to Twitter from this room over the last few months, and you can drop a pin on a map and get information on the architecture of this building and the history of this neighborhood and see what’s going on.

But this is all just the beginning. Jesse Schell gave a talk to game designers recently (there’s link on my blog, which by the way is Buildings and Food) where he was talking about how little video games are beginning to permeate out lives, and how in the future everything — every coke can — would have a little camera, a touchscreen, and a WiFi connection. Everything you interact with knows who you are, and the internet, instead of being this thing that lies on a screen that sits on your desk, is literally right there around you. For now we have these little screens we carry around in our pockets, and we have screens on the walls at the bank and at the theater, but soon the augmented reality tech will be built into regular eye-glasses, and it’ll be exactly as pervasive as you want it to be. And the internet will be sort of right there between you and the wall, and it can give you whatever you want anytime, usually before you have to ask for it. (Think how Twitter feeds you information you want and need, without you having to request it.)

Posted: Thursday March 18, 2010 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [6]


I'm on a panel: "New Paradigms in Communicating Design Culture"

This Wednesday I’ll be part of a panel discussion, and no, it’s not at SXSW. It’s at MoCA, and it’s about, I guess, contemporary digital design, social media, and architecture? The info is on Facebook, I’m reproducing it here for those who haven’t seen it. There’s also an e-flyer, and here is the sparsely populated MoCA link. Come by and say hi!

New Paradigms in Communicating Design Culture
‘Time for Design’ Panel Discussion at MOCA – moderated by Armando Montilla

7 pm, Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami
770 NE 125th Street North Miami, FL 33161

Traditional ways of communicating design though printed media now share their role in communicating the culture of design with subversive/alternative publishing means such as blogs and social networks sites. Physical versus virtual, high-institutionalized versus low-alternative; and individual versus collaborative are the new paradigms in communicating design culture in times of financial challenges.

This event will suggest Mediation and Subversion as means of spreading Design Culture, in the format of discussion panel with short (5 min. max.) visual presentations included, within the frame of the ‘Time for Design’ Discussion Panel Events at MOCA.

The underlined questions of the discussion will be:

1. Can we go beyond traditional means of mediation in architectural design such as printed publications?

2. Can we promote a good design-oriented culture through the use of Internet blogging at the present lacking of available funding to produce publications?

3. What could the role of sub-cultures in the city to promote ‘unappreciated’ aspects of innovative design?

4. How can we have a participative ‘design community’ exchange using virtual/non-traditional means?

5. How can we activate community participation in collective design efforts?

The discussion will also aim to: “[The] identif[ication of] different actors in the mediation process of the city, particularly in what refers to the realm of contemporary artists, urban hackers and para-architects dealing with media and the city…[..]…‘Wiki’ collaborative modes and ‘Smart Mob’ organizational strategies, not only lead to physical manifestations in real space – such as the so-called ‘Flash Mobs’ – but also enable bottom-up, edge-in social innovation in times of financial hardship and environmental consciousness. How are these platforms envisioned by designers today in search of social impact in the city? What are architects to learn from the field of contemporary art at the level of capacity to mediate with different actors in the city? …[…]…how can designers learn from the latest field of digital techniques and prototyping, in order to allow collective authorship to come into the realm of collaborative design?” Link

List of Panelists:

1. Damir Sinovcic, Editor, South Florida Design Book Magazine and Principal of Liquid Design in MIami

2. Elite Kedan, Architect, Faculty at FIU School of Architecture, Editor of the recent Book: Provisional: Emerging Modes of Architecture Practice in USA

3. Eric Goldemberg, Faculty at FIU School of Architecture, Principal of MONAD Studio in Miami, and Editor of the forthcoming book “Pulsation in Architecture”, a Catalogue of the accompanying same name upcoming Exhibit.

4. Michael Alfonso, Graphic and Web Designer, editor of the Site The Graphic Gospel

5. William Virgil, former Grafitti Artist, who has now gone into graphics and into underground pop sub-cultures. Partner of ABSOLELUTE, a company producing custom laser printing on Sneakers

6. Alesh Houdek, Internet Blogger of the Site Critical Miami and Buildings and Food

7. Martha Skinner, Assistant Professor at Clemson University School of Architecture and a graduate of the University of Florida; who has been very active in interactive projects involving Social Networking Sites and the community


Armando Montilla, Assistant Professor of Architecture, History & Theory and Criticism at Clemson University School of Architecture

Posted: Monday March 15, 2010 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment


What's up with Aerosmith?


Of all the developments in popular music over the last decade, none is as satisfying as the disappearance of Aerosmith from radio and the popular consciousness. To today’s ear, their music is so stultified and artless that it is difficult to appreciate how popular they were. We’re talking like three decades of on-and-off strings of multi-platinum albums here — Wikipedia it.

Now, I don’t typically begrudge anyone their cheap thrills, but there’s something particularly annoying about this particular band, and I think I’ve recently realized what it is. Consider AC/DC. Even their fans acknowledge they make stupid music (erm, “but fun!”). Now the Rolling Stones. Not the smartest band ever, but certainly smarter. (Yes, also just straight-up better, but follow along here, I’m trying to, like, make a point or something.) So, I think the problem is that a lot of people think of Aerosmith as falling in between these two bands on the scale of rock band intelligence.

And they are just wrong. Aerosmith is precisely as stupid as AC/DC. If the truth of this realization is not immediately obvious, a little side-by-side listening will convince you more easily than objective argument.

Aerosmith’s fundamental problem is that sometime in the late 80s, they began to buy into this misperception themselves, and this confusion led to a streak of pop-rock deck, beginning with the infamous Janie’s Got a Gun and proceeding sharply downward. Through most of the 90s, despite having obviously worn out their usefulness, they were pretty fucking ubiquitous, prominently featured on pop radio, teenbop movies, television, video games, and (!) a Walt Disney World ride. Around the turn of the century, they dropped one last mega-turd, the prom-ready I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing, and probably did a Superbowl halftime show or something.

And then something wonderful happened. They vanished from the popular consciousness. I don’t remember the moment when I realized that my life was Aerosmith-free. It’s like when a nasty smell gradually clears … you just suddenly notice that it’s gone. And while I gather from reading the disgustingly detailed “history” section of their Wikipedia entry that the Aerosmith boys are keeping plenty busy (mostly getting injured while touring, which is sort of funny in itself). But it’s become downright hard to run into news of them, or their music, without actively seeking it out. And that’s something we can all get behind.

Posted: Tuesday March 9, 2010 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [3]


Oval - Wohnton

Oval - Wohnton We could really use a 5,000 word look back at the glitch movement from Pitchfork or someone, couldn’t we? It ain’t happening, but in any such feature, Oval would play feature centrally. They began by experimenting with manipulated CDs (played in primitive CD players that wouldn’t give up in the face of extreme digital errors), and soon were exploring complicated computer-based composition. At its best, their music was hazy, gentle, and abstract; here’s a great example. They released about a half dozen albums through the 90s, oscillating between accessible collage anchored with the (surprisingly melodic) digital skipping and a completely abstract soundscape (Dok being an example of the latter, and maybe their best work).

The one album that is all but forgotten is their 1993 debut, Wohnton. Long discontinued, it is from before Oval was just a solo project for Markus Popp, and features, unexpectedly, singing. We’re talking here a sort of untrained German warble, which appeared on less then half the songs. What’s impressive is that while the group didn’t think so, and never attempted anything like it again, the singing actually works? Kind of? But so I was looking for one of these weird charming lyrics for “my music video blog“ the other day, and was bummed to not find any. But hey, I’ve got the technology. I decided to make one myself. Warum nicht?

So without any further ado, here’s my little video:

Posted: Monday March 8, 2010 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [1]


Weekendly clickables XXII

Posted: Sunday March 7, 2010 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [2]


11111 Lincoln Road

11111 Lincoln Road

Herzog & de Meuron’s 11111 project recently opened on the west end of the Lincoln Road pedestrian mall. It’s a shocking structure — large, raw, and unfinished looking (there is some ongoing construction on the top levels, but the basic appearance is as it will be). The architects were able to pull variances, convincing government officials that the size of the building was determined by aesthetic reasons, but an effort to maximize capacity. And indeed, several of the levels are soaringly high, while others have the cramped height of a standard parking garage.

11111 Lincoln Road

The building is “mixed use,” though the majority of it is open and designated for parking (currently $15 flat rate, and well utilized). The “its a garage” mindset may explain how this project was sold to planners and citizens, since there is precedent on South Beach for unusual garages (and anyway there is a pretty universal agreement that parking garages should be ugly). But I suspect that many residents are horrified by it, and this makes it all the more delicious.

11111 Lincoln Road

The core of the building is a completely unconventional staircase, with every level blending into the next, attached with concrete stairs that jut in chaotic directions. Generally the details do not play up the under-construction thing, but do note the safety-mesh like steel wire on the railings (it is actually very high-quality braided wire).

11111 Lincoln Road

Most of the retail is on the ground floor, with one solitary (and unfinished) location on the 5th floor. There is also some residential space on the top floors, but this is still under construction and probably off limits for good. The horizontal cables that make up the guard rails are set back a foot or two from the ledges, and they tend to disappear, creating spectacular vistas.

11111 Lincoln Road

The lighting and other metal details are stridently mimimal, and most of the signage is painted onto the building in oversize Helvetica. The whole thing comes across as a monument against design-by-committee.

11111 Lincoln Road

A view from the rose-colored windows of the movie theater across the mall. One of the best aspects of the project is Herzog & de Meuron’s transformation of the pedestrian area for a block or two around the project. They brough in black and white stone and created a slightly irregular surface, with landscaping inspired by the Everglades.

11111 Lincoln Road

There is probably more going on with the planters then is immediately obvious, they are almost an exhibit recreating what’s happening 25 miles to the west.

11111 Lincoln Road

I’m pretty sure they actually went out there and hand-picked the trees.

11111 Lincoln Road

… replete with air plants. They are using some sort of cloth rope to hold them up while they root, not the standard 2×4 treatment.

11111 Lincoln Road

The building is cleverly integrated into the bank structure next door, with a row of retail on one side, and crafty connections on several levels.

11111 Lincoln Road

It’s difficult to convey how much the structure dominates the road. It certainly looms over the pretty movie theater, but in a way that I found pretty complimentary.

11111 Lincoln Road

Here’s the view from the Publix parking garage, about a third of a mile away.

11111 Lincoln Road

One more look inside at those angular staircases. Here on the second level there’s also a sculpture of angular metal, suggesting that all the supporting rebar in the building is like this.

11111 Lincoln Road

I don’t know how the residents feel, but the people walking around and inside the garage seemed pretty engaged and impressed. People admired the pedestrian details, and there was some walking around and photographing inside the structure.

Posted: Wednesday March 3, 2010 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [9]


Who am I? I’ve been asked to submit a 100-word bio of myself for a panel at MoCA on March 17th. So… you people know me, right? I never ask you for anything, right? Submit a sentence for my bio! One line! I promise to use some of them! But quick — I promised to get them a thing by the end of the day Wednesday.



Weekendly clickables XXI

Posted: Monday March 1, 2010 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink ·