Archive for category: Professional Auteurism

Don’t Get Mad, Get Even

23 Jul 2005
July 23, 2005

Stealing Bandwidth: when someone links directly to internet files from another Web site without the owner’s permission. ISPs (Internet Service Providers) often limit the amount of monthly “traffic” to or from your Web site. So, often victims of bandwidth stealing are charged whenever other people use their files in this manner.

Every morning I do a quick check of my referral log to see who is linking to what on my Web site.

Last week I noticed that one blog had linked to an image I had posted here on Life Outtacontext a couple years ago on the occasion of my tenth wedding anniversary. I went to check it out and found this guy had used a photo of our wedding chuppa (a ceremonial canopy over the bride and groom) as an illustration for a story about his friend’s wedding:

John Does original Web page.

A detail from his original blog post showing my photograph.

Going a bit deeper, I looked at his code and lo and behold, he hadn’t lifted the image he was linking directly to it on my server! The image was coming directly from my server and I was paying every time a viewer looked at his page. Stealing bandwidth.

To add insult to injury he referred to our chuppa as “typical.” The nerve. There was nothing typical about our wedding canopy. In fact, it was handpainted by a friend of ours who was a set designer for the Seattle Opera.

What does one do when confronted with such a double effrontery? I looked for an email address on his site but found none. When faced with such a travesty I remembered Ivana Trump’s response to Donald’s divorce papers: “Don’t get mad, get even.” And so I set about informing this man in the only way I could.

Since he was linking directly to my image I had control over that image. And with a little bit of Photoshop magic I simply changed my image file from a photograph of our wedding to a little missive for Mr. John Doe (I’ve changed his name because I don’t want to crucify but merely instruct):

My alteration of John Does Web page.

A detail of my alteration of his “original” page. It was the only way to communicate with him but I chose a color scheme for the font that fit his site design.

Mr. Doe received my message. A few hours later he was linking to someone else’s “typical” chuppa. Some people just will not learn.

Ivana, you would be proud of me.

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Trouble Right Here in Sin City

02 Apr 2005
April 2, 2005

Trouble, oh we got trouble,
Right here in River City!
With a capital “T”
That rhymes with “P”
And that stands for Pool,
That stands for pool.
We’ve surely got trouble!
Right here in River City,
Right here!
Gotta figger out a way
To keep the young ones moral after school!
Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble…

Ya Got Trouble
from The Music Man

Condeleeza Rice and Rosario Dawson: Separated at Birth?

Condeleeza Rice as “Secretary of State” and Rosario Dawson as “Gail” in Sin City: Separated at Birth?

Very rarely to do I see a movie on opening day. In fact, now that I think about it this is my first in decades. Fatherhood prevents me from seeing most films above a G rating until they’re on DVD. So going to see Sin City yesterday was a very special event. It was design research of course.

The stark cinematic adaptation of three stories from Frank Miller’s graphic novels form the intertwining storyline. Reviews are in abundance so I will keep mainly to my design-oriented impressions.

Interviewed on NPR yesterday morning Robert Rodriguez, the film’s co-director (along with Miller) said his greatest challenge was to convey the look and feel of these novels on the screen:

“If you look at any black and white movie, they’re really gray and white –cause of all the colors we’re wearing now they would just go gray. And Frank didn’t use gray. He just used black and white. And, if we use all the tricks to make basically a pen and ink drawing on the screen, people will flip.”

As a designer this piqued my interest. Could Rodriguez replicate the look and feel of Miller’s books? Yes, he does. It’s not identical but he uses film to enhance Miller’s characters. The lighting is high key with very few shades of gray. You can see just enough detail in the shadow areas to give his characters a three-dimensional quality –especially their faces. Close-ups are critical to the characters’ and Miller’s story development.

The colors are primary and primal: bright reds, yellows, blues (along with the blacks and whites). However, pay close attention to Rodriguez’s and Miller’s treatment of their characters’ eyes. Very subtle color makes them riveting.

This is Mickey Rourke’s best performance to date. He’s never looked better. Tight facial shots give us the chance to really observe him (and his makeup). I remember thinking “I can see the pores on his washed up fighter’s nose.” Despite his comic book looks he is very real. After the film it suddenly struck me that Condeleeza Rice, in her updated and powerful fashionista Secretary of State guise, reminded me of Rosario Dawson’s character, Gail. I’ve been living in Washington, DC too long.

Did I say the film was violent? Majorly so. Cinematic decapitation and impalement trumps its graphic novel counterpart. Is Sin City misogynistic? Rodriguez doesn’t think so. But all the women are whores. Powerful whores, but prostitutes none-the-less. Femme-fatales –fatal women– Rodriguez says is a bedrock of the genre. Since they are playing with stylistic form, it would have been smart to play more with these stereotypical and iconic roles. Mix them up and toss them around, like we are as spectators of their work. The art direction is decidedly 21st century but the storyline is as old as history.

It’s film noir at its traditional best except that in traditional noir violence is usually implied. If you’re squeamish, the basic color palette cuts the reality closer to comic book size. But not totally. Rodriguez and Miller make up for this in shear violent volume.

I can foresee the design fallout from this film: red, blue, yellow, black, and white will begin to predominate Web design and magazine layouts –no matter the content. But when researching your next design project don’t start at like I did. That will give you too much reality in very graphic form. The correct Web site is

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Having a Major Minor Success

02 May 2004
May 2, 2004

In today’s Washington Post it was revealed that Micah Ian Wright, who last summer published the wickedly creative book of repurposed war posters called You Back the Attack! We’ll Bomb Who We Want! lied about his own war record.

Former Army Ranger turned antiwar comic book artist Wright had what he calls a moment of clarity after participating in the U.S.’s 1989 invasion of Panama.

Publisher’s Weekly

Wright lied about his war record. He never served in the Rangers or the military and is now apologetic that his minor lie became a major mistake. That, by itself, is hard enough to swallow. It’s difficult to see someone who speaks with such clarity be caught in such deceit. So unnecessary. Yet, what really caught my eye in the Post article was this gem:

Wright’s book of satirically “remixed” World War II propaganda posters was a minor success, selling more than 20,000 copies [emphasis mine].

A minor success. That’s an interesting oxymoron.

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We Were GELin’

04 May 2003
May 4, 2003

I never expect to learn anything new at conferences. Not that I know everything. But going in, I’ve learned to keep my expectations near rock bottom. It seems the problems I’m trying to solve are the problems everyone is grappling with. And no one seems to have The Answer. If nothing else, whenever I attend gatherings of this order I leave feeling like I’m not alone.

So it was with this expectation that I signed up for the GEL conference this past Friday in NYC. Organized by Mark Hurst from Creative Good, GEL (Good Experience Live) was billed as a way to “explore what it means to create a good, meaningful, or authentic experience.” For the most part this means good user experiences. I’ll comment on that in a moment.

I was attracted to this conference for a couple of reasons. One: the speakers and attendees were coming from eclectic backgrounds: authors on social conditions, user interface designers, a minister, bloggers, and creative interactive designers, to name just a few. I learn the most from people outside my sometimes-myopic field of view. I like meeting new people. More importantly, I like meeting people who are passionate about what they do and what they believe in. I met many here. It gives me ideas, things I can fold into my own work and worldview.

Two: it was a one day conference held in a beautiful and culturally rich place, the New York Historical Society. I have a difficult time at three or four-day conferences held in sterile, dark, and cold hotel ballrooms. It makes it hard to concentrate. This was a focused gathering and everything was prepared for us, from meals to “in-the-middle-of-the-day performance by the Trachtenberg Slideshow Players, a family who scours estate and garage sales for personal slide collections, then connects the dots of these people’s lives by putting it all to music. Eclectics and iconoclasts rule! The power of possibilities becomes energizing.

Darkened auditoriums are Petri dishes for my head. Interesting thoughts start to grow as I listen to the speakers in front of me. The last time I found myself in this situation I came up with this.

For the most part this conference focused on good user experiences. Next year, I’d like to suggest the conference also include dialogue on good maker experiences. If we are to learn how to create better user experiences, then our development processes need to be fine tuned and efficient. More and more we are collaborating with others who bring specific expertise to our projects. Learning to work well together is a key to creating better and more adventurous user experiences. Since branding was discussed a few times on Friday, I’ll dub these important maker experiences as ME. An appropriate acronym, don’t you think?

At the end of the day I left feeling I had met some new and dynamic free thinkers. Most of us work inside the box but try to keep our minds outside as often as we can. Kindred spirits who are always trying to enlarge, enliven, and twist the worlds we inhabit. I’ll work hard to keep in contact with many I met on Friday. And I hope they will allow me to visit their worlds often. This was a very good experience indeed.

New Age Etiquette: It’s Easy as A-B-C

25 Jan 2003
January 25, 2003

I saw Michael Jackson on the subway yesterday. Not the present version but the one from the 70s: medium, well-shaped Afro and that angelic, before the shit-hit-the-fan face. It’s been oh so cold here in DC (coldest it’s been in seven years) and this MJ was wrapped in what looked like a duct tape goose down tubular jacket: something he might have worn in his Scream video. Past and present in one neat package.

Coincidentally, just as I was observing Michael someone’s cell phone called out. Obviously, the user had been downloading too many tones as the Jackson Five’s A-B-C beckoned me to answer. Ring tones are becoming the Musac for the new millennium. The public commons is undergoing a facelift. And I don’t like what I’m hearing.

Last week someone sat right behind me on the Metro and started talking REAL LOUD on his cell. So loud, in fact, my daughter and I actually jumped off our seats. I wonder where he thought he was.

Cell phones that double as walkie-talkies are also becoming a popular public technology. Instead of listening quietly to the other person via the earphone speaker, your conversation is broadcast for all to hear throughout the bus or subway car.

Recently I’ve written about pervasive technologies: gizmos and applications that allow you to be connected to a network of people no matter where you’re sitting (not just in front of your desk-anchored PC). I’m most interested in the social ramifications these new connections are bringing to our relationships and daily lives. But it seems we need some updated etiquette books to help manage our new working spaces (which would be just about any- and everywhere).

Of course, no amount of etiquette will help those who use new technologies for more traditional twisted behaviors. Take the man in Kenosha, Wisconsin who was recently arrested for placing a GPS (global tracking) device under the hood of his ex-girlfriend’s car. He tracked her every movement and showed up wherever she went: to get gas, on dates, and to the grocery store. Or the problems parents and schools are now encountering with bullies who use cell phone text messaging to intimidate their classmates. Evolution at its finest.

While someone somewhere is, at this very moment, penning the last chapter in such an etiquette book, IDEO has come up with another solution to the problem: Social Mobiles, five concept phones designed to “modify” users’ behavior in situations just like this. I like their SoMo1, the electric shock mobile that sends a variable shock to someone who is speaking louder than is morally acceptable. This might be an appropriate technology for stalkers and harassers too.

I’ve written IDEO with my own idea for a social cell phone: one that intercepts music ringers and substitutes voice ads for personal hygiene products. Maybe I should write my own etiquette book.

Another Wireless Network?

23 Jan 2003
January 23, 2003

The Washington Post is reporting today that yet another wireless technology is being tested in this country. EvDO (Evolution Data Only) is ten times faster than regular modems and faster than WiFi (the wireless networks available in many Starbucks and hotel lobbies).

In addition, EvDO can use existing cell networks. This has got the telecoms salivating. R&D is hard pressed in the downturned economy so not having to commit to a totally new infrastructure is appealing. This does not mean, however, that implementation will be cheap. New areas of the broadcast spectrum would have to be bought to accommodate increased traffic. And every cell tower would have to be updated. All of this to the tune of billions of dollars.

The system has already been implemented in Korea and some small cities here in the US. But it is still not a given it will see widespread deployment in this country. Verizon decided to spend $750 million on more airwaves for 50 of its markets in anticipation of this service. Yet for about $200 you can buy a WiFi basestation and set up your own wireless network. Many individuals across the country have done this allowing anyone to access them for internet connections. Starbucks, on the other hand is served by T-Mobile’s Hotspots, starting at $2.99 a pop.

The question remains, however, not just whether this new system will become a standard but how the traditional telecoms will approach its implementation and marketing. If, as in the past, they will see this as just another proprietary service, where one company’s customers have a problem connecting with those outside its own system, the idea of an untethered and unfettered network of people will remain elusive. However, if telecoms encourage open interactivity and third party product development (as the Japanese telecom that pioneered text messaging, DoCoMo, did), then the endusers will be the better for it.

Establishing peer-to-peer networks just about anywhere is the initial goal. Working to make sure the Net doesn’t digress into simply another broadcast medium (like television), where we’re being fed someone else’s (read only big business’) content is something to think about.

Related Story: Wireless Blogging With a Real-Time Twist (NY Times)

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