22 January 2009

Japan in nearly 8 minutes.

This one will be short and sweet. A few days ago, my friend Ed passed along this video to me:

Someone recently went to Japan with his girlfriend; he then threw all of his pictures into a machine-gun style slide show set to an LCD Soundsystem song. You don't get to see the details of each picture before it flashes to the next one, and the result is a really cool gestalt of the trip. The speed made me a bit emotional because it felt like I relived my 2 week visit last April in just a few minutes. This is just lovely, take a look.

21 January 2009

Be nice.

I swear, guys, I must use the phrase "Everything Communicates" three times a week. Well, that is the theme of this post. Almost at my quota.

Let's pretend you are a software engineer. You have started two web sites that are very, very awesome – many of you reading this probably use at least one of them. Now let's pretend a very nice man named Franz wants to start using one of them – it will make his life easier and more organized. But: he is using Internet Explorer on a PC and can't figure out how to install the bookmarklet in his tool bar. He writes you an email asking about this ("Any suggestions?"). He gets the following response:

Yup: Firefox.

Seriously, I hate to be so abrupt. But getting the bookmarklet installed in IE is such an incredible pain that it's just impossible for me to help guide anyone through. There's just not enough time in the day, and I haven't used IE in years, so I really don't know enough about it to debug the problems that arise. Sorry.

Now... true, Firefox is pretty damn awesome. I am so into it that I forget that lotttttts of people out there still use IE. But seriously: this sentiment could be taken so differently if it went something like, "Oh, try Firefox, it's really the best for my app. The browser was created from something that was open source, so they understand guys like us. It also crashes less frequently, it's faster, etc." Instead, the email is read as, "I actually don't hate to be so abrupt; my app is only for the cool kids; everyone else is a waste of my time."

Getting someone excited about an option is so much more effective than trashing its alternative. Kind of reminds me of something I learned at Adcenter: Instead of calling something a challenge, think of it as an opportunity. Same thing, different way of looking at it.

20 January 2009

Strength in (digital) numbers

People have been banding together around causes they passionately believe in for a long time, right?

Massive change has never been affected at the scale and speed at which it can be today, though. The availability and democratization of web applications has made it easier to rally around a conviction, efficiently prove a point and prompt a kind of domino word-of-mouth effect than before. One example that has been bouncing all over the place has been the heartwarming story of David Armano trying to help a family in need. I first found out about it through Faris:

David wanted to try raising $5,000. Well, in under 24 hours, donations were up to over $12,000. Wow. See what I mean? He blogged about this sweeping gesture of generosity here.

Here's another:

This one's personally relevant. For those who may not know, JPG is a photography magazine. It has a tightly knit online network of almost 200,000 people who submit and share their photos on JPGMag.com. The people on there favor a democratic view of photography over a pretentious one – there's peer commenting, voting and sharing of constructive criticism. This community extends into the magazine in a cool crowd source-y way, too: members’ photographs are chosen and published in its six annual issues.

Anyway, now the bad news happens. I got an email on January 2nd from JPG with the sad news that they'd be shutting their doors – ceasing production of the paper magazine and taking down the web site. As with many arts-based things today, they had been facing some money troubles for a while. JPG thought that they had tried everything, like seeking out potential investors and buyers. What they didn’t realize at the time was that their biggest strength lay in what sourced their content in the first place: the people.

[photo from striatic]

Almost immediately upon hearing the news, those who saw a family in JPG rallied together to fight its death. Among countless blog, Twitter and Flickr posts, SaveJPG.com was born, soliciting personal stories about people’s relationship with the magazine.

And now the good news! In a few days, a single post got over 700 comments (one of my favorites had the line "JPG is my big school of photography"), including how much people would be willing to pay annually just to keep the community alive. This outpouring of support was noticed almost as quickly as it started: JPG sent a follow up email a few days later with this line in it:
Because of you, we have multiple credible buyers interested in giving JPG a home.
So, while those hundreds (thousands?) of JPG members & fans didn’t directly bring back the magazine, their (very) fast and powerful collective influence probably perked the ears of potential investors who might otherwise have overlooked a tiny arts publication before it was too late. Warm fuzzies.

Polaroid scavenger hunt 4 - Johanna

One final thing: last night I read the most glorious words: Smile! Polaroid is saved. I don't know if the THOUUUUUSANDS of people all over the world posting online, making web sites and signing petitions did anything to influence the Austrian photographer (who decided to pay for production of film for Polaroid cameras), but I sure am thrilled he decided to do it. I don't know if this is quite related to what I've been talking about, because this change didn't happen overnight, like the David Armano and JPG miracles (hell, this took nearly a year). But the scale – the fighting on our part – was the same. So, half related (and fully happy).

15 January 2009

Demure Optimism

Over the summer, Heron posted a really interesting thing on his blog called subtle is the new STAND OUT!, and it's been on the periphery of my mind ever since. In it, he talks about "subtle bling" and abandoning the "flashy exclusive sneakers" in favor of more subdued, casual shoes and clothes.

Today I read this Lagerfeld quote in a NYTimes piece about fashion in today's economy:
“This whole crisis is like a big spring housecleaning — both moral and physical,” Karl Lagerfeld, the designer for Chanel, said in an interview. “There is no creative evolution if you don’t have dramatic moments like this. Bling is over. Red carpety covered with rhinestones is out. I call it ‘the new modesty.’ ”
This is an interesting juxtaposition to see alongside the "bright" trends and predictions for 2009. A month or two ago, I read about Pantone selecting Mimosa for their color of 2009. The economy was also the inspiration for that – "In a time of economic uncertainty and political change, optimism is paramount and no other color expresses hope and reassurance more than yellow."

Pantone 2009

Fast forward to this week, when my friend Jess predicted lots of neon for 2009 fashion, Flavorpill predicted "bright bold colors" for home design and Michael pointed towards some recently-seen brightflash on his blog. And let's not forget the (very loud) Louis Vuitton x Stephen Sprouse collaboration, which is hard to avoid if you work on the same block as the SoHo store.

EFIT - 16.26

Which is it, then? Upon first reading these two "opposing" points of view, one might think in a "subdued vs. bright" direction, wondering which one would end up prevailing. But since I've been thinking about extremes working together recently (my February column is about this), I am thinking that they'll do just that: work together. I don't think fashion only has to be a counter to the shit economy in the form of technicolor, kaleidescopic strobe lights, but I also don't think it only has to remain dour, defeatist and beige.


Two examples (both related to links I've already tossed around in this entry) could be seen in things like GAP's new popup Pantone Mimosa store (they have solid mimosa-colored tees) and the sort-of-recent I ♥ NY shirts in different solid colors.

So, maybe the Louis Vuitton x Stephen Sprouse thing will be an anomaly in terms of bright and chaotic for the coming year. Bright spins on classic styles seem to make more sense, each element balanced and keeping the other in check.

F, I didn't even realize until just now that I was describing American Apparel. Well, aybe aside from clever merchandising, that's unconsciously been another reason why they're one of the only retailers profiting in this climate.

14 January 2009

Transcending the podium

In the last few months of 2008, I was lucky enough to go to a couple of conferences (The Feast and IDEA). I noticed something cool that happened in both, and wrote some of it down. For those who haven't seen my January column yet – even for those who have – here it is...

Jan09 column submission, 1

Jan09 column submission, 2

Too tiny? Here's the text:
For a few years now, we have been realizing the importance of engaging consumers beyond one-way communication. One of the most exciting things we've noticed lately, though, has been the application of this idea within the industry itself, most recently with conferences. No longer content as a "lean back" culture, the ideas that stick the most with us are ones in which we lean forward and participate. As time goes on and we get better at practicing what we preach, we will be able to shift conferences from the confines of a stage in a packed eight-hour day, and into a continuous conversation.

TOMS Shoes
Blake Mycoskie is the founder of TOMS shoes, which gives a pair of shoes to a child in need every time a pair is sold here. He gave a presentation on the brand’s story at the last AdAge IDEA Conference in October. At the close of his talk, he promised a free pair of TOMS to every single one of its 250 attendees; all they had to do was text their email address to a specialized number. The following day, everybody got an email requesting shipping, sizing and style information. Subsequently, a free pair was also sent to a child in Argentina. More than just admiring the brand’s philosophy and being inspired at the conference, the IDEA attendees will now be reminded of TOMS every time they wear their free pair. http://www.tomsshoes.com

Pop!Tech Accelerator
Pop!Tech is an annual fall conference that brings together the greatest and most inspired minds to share ideas about the future of science, technology and culture. And rather than just talking about the ideas of tomorrow, Pop!Tech facilitates those ideas to come to life. Enter Accelerator, a digital network that helps bring socially innovative ideas to action by linking the relevant people necessary to get projects done. Accelerator leverages the collective intellectual power present at the Pop!Tech conferences and turns it into an ongoing active partnership to affect positive social change. http://www.poptech.org/accelerator

Fame Game
A web site run by Fame Theory LLC, Fame Game creates publicly facing profiles for people in the New York media community and uses an algorithm to calculate their social capital. Those on the site can “claim” their own profiles and actively influence their social connections and media attention; eventually, they can leverage their fame to better get their ideas and projects into culture and the public consciousness. Fame Theory talked about their project at the FEAST Social Innovation Conference, closing with the news that everybody in attendance had been registered on the site, their social capital being calculated at that very moment. Their next project is to unveil a new model for commissioning artwork by funding 10 original works of art and showcasing them at the next TED conference. The art’s “fame” will then be monitored for a year after the event. http://www.famegame.com
This may be a catch-22, though. If everyone starts to do this, will the entire experience eventually become diluted, each individual speaker or brand being remembered less and less? Probably not, since "engaging people beyond the podium" is pretty open-ended, and even in these 3 examples have been vastly different from one another. I'm excited.

12 January 2009

Twelve Records

The fact that I am stubborn is why I get through weird experimental projects that end up being torturous. So to break things up a little, I will now tell you about a project in which I failed. I don't think I mind too much, though, because it was fun while it lasted (read: not torturous).

Last January, I did something I had been wanting to do for a long time: I bought a record player. One of those suitcase types that comes with a USB cable for digital conversion. I only allowed myself to buy it on one condition: to temper the danger that I would end up spending all of my money on records, I would only be allowed one record a month.

November vinyl

What this ended up doing was that I put a lot of thought into which one I would buy each time, combing through every single one at my local record store (sometimes many times in that month) to find the perfect one. It became a carefully thought-out ritual rather than an impulsive one. I took everything into account, too – not only the music, but also the cover art (more to inspect and notice on such a big sleeve), the mood I was in at the time, the weather outside, what I had just eaten, what I was thinking about that day.

– Aside: There is a one second shot in The Crow where the girl (Sarah) sifts through her records in a crate, several rings on her fingers. I think about that every time I look through records; it almost looks like she is playing piano. –

June vinyl

I started noticing a habit: each time, I would put the record on my bed and take a picture of it. So I started throwing them into a set and thinking that they might look good as a 2009 calendar. Eventually I kind of abandoned that idea because I wasn't bouncing-off-the-walls-excited about it; I actually never decided what I would do with the pictures, or even if the pictures were my intended end product of this whole thing.

August vinyl

Anyway, here is where I failed: I didn't buy twelve records... I missed September and October. This is for two reasons: 1] I got three albums on vinyl for my birthday in September, which took up a lot of beautiful listening time for a while; 2] I wasn't inspired enough during the 4 or 5 times I went into the record store in those two months. I was really beating myself up about this failure until I thought back to last January; I remembered that I initially had the "one a month" idea so I could save money. So why spend money on a record just to fill a quota, when I may not even adore it?

May vinyl

Even still, I would have really liked to follow through on this project and have a complete 12 records that would be reflective of my year of careful vinyl consideration. It's okay, though, I love the ones I ended up with, and I'm also delighted to see that these pictures represent a kind of gestalt-y snapshot of what my life was like at various points of 2008.

07 January 2009

Analogue Twitter project

I took December off from Twitter.

It was a combination of being creatively bored, in the mood for a project, and feeling too digitally transparent at the time. So until the first day of 2009, I wrote down my short thoughts instead, in the notebook I carry around with me.

3 December 2008, 9.12am

Now, obviously the two can't be compared. First of all, the obvious: analogue takes longer. You need to find two things in your bag (notebook and pen), and writing takes exponentially longer for me than typing. Secondly (also obvious), you don't have the instantaneous sharing with hundreds of people that you do with Twitter. Even though I knew I would eventually scan some of these and put them here, it definitely wasn't as satisfying, somehow.

11 December 2008, 10.21am

16 December 2008, 1.09pm

Here is the most interesting thing I discovered: the mode that my brain goes into when writing thoughts in a small book (as opposed typing) is a more private one (again, even though I knew I would be showing this to people). I have been documenting my life and thoughts since I was six, and when I was a wee Toky, that meant having diaries. With locks on them. Pen and paper used to be reserved for thoughts I didn't want anybody else to read. The moment I started typing those thoughts into Angelfire when I was 16, I typed knowing that there were people on the other end.

I never realized that my subconscious had those two behaviors divided so much. I noticed it when I told Faris about my experiment a few days into it, and then panicked a little when he took the notebook to read. I think the panic was a visceral reaction, though (associated with the construct in which I place the "writing down thoughts" behavior), because there was nothing too private in there. Nothing too private: the content would have all remained the same had I not taken this digital hiatus, though sometimes phrased in a way that I wouldn't exactly want to broadcast to the world. So I guess the mindset I'm in when documenting thoughts in each medium also influences how they come out.

5 December 2008, 3.53pm

One of the other reasons I did this was to see if I could live without that periodic sharing throughout the day. And I was able to do it, but only because I'm stubborn. It was really hard. A lot of the thoughts I had didn't get written down at all because they were things I wanted to say right that second. My compulsive nature will never go away, and losing that immediacy gratification just sucks. So, am I glad I did it? Yes. Would I do it again? Nah. I know now that there is a time and place for everything (or, every thought).

[You can read a few more of the scanned "tweets" here]

06 January 2009

Talk about rent controlled.

When I was visiting my parents over the holidays, my father clipped a WSJ article out for me.

There is a housing settlement in Southern Germany called Fuggerei. It was built as a charitable trust in the early 1500s by a very, very rich man named Jakob Fugger (Jakob "The Rich"). I am kind of embarrassed to not have heard of Fugger before, because check out what a big shot he was:
He minted coins for the Vatican, bankrolled the Holy Roman Empire and helped steer Europe's spice trade in the early 16th century to become one of the wealthiest and most powerful financiers in history. He left more than seven tons of gold to his successors.

By the early 16th century, he had become the chief financial backer of the Habsburg family, whose members sat on thrones across Europe. He bankrolled the election of Spain's King Charles V as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1519.
The settlement (the oldest housing project in the world!) is Roman Catholic, and one of the stipulations of being allowed to live there – other than being poor – is that residents say 3 prayers for Fugger (and his descendants) a day.

[image from Wikipedia]

[image from WSJ.com]

Okay, here is the best part. The rent? 1 Rhein guilder, annually. In 2009 words? €0.88. That – as of now – is $1.18 USD.

A dollar eighteen a year, for rent.

Pretty soon, a monthly Metrocard will cost more than an entire lifetime of rent in Fuggerei – and that's only assuming that someone pays rent every single year that they're alive, which is pretty silly. Also, from what I understand, Fuggerei's mostly for widowers and the retired. So that's, what, nearly $15 of rent, total (or, the price of a hamburger at Five Leaves). Amazing. Okay, I'll stop doing ridiculous math now, because this stuff is a little silly to compare as if everything is equal. But still, fun to think about.

Other things I found interesting:

– Mozart's great grandfather lived there

– The doorbells are all ornately shaped, so that residents could find their homes in the dark

– The settlement was almost destroyed by bombs in WWII, but was rebuilt in its original style

– One of the first floor apartments is uninhabited, and serves as a museum for visitors (anyone wanna go?)

– The take turns guarding the main gate of the settlement at night (which is locked after 10pm). If people wander home too late, they have to pay to be let back in

Watch this video from WSJ too! The embed code was glitchy and wouldn't let me publish the entry, unfortunately.
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