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Computers and Games

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Zdeno Sims
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- "Johnny" von Neumann was a central figure in the development of digital computers. He and Oskar Morgenstern wrote the book on game theory. And, since the days of D&D on minicomputers and Pong on Ataris (and even before), there have been computer games. Below, frequent guest-blogger Zdeno meditates on a popular computer game and and politics. * * * * * I haven’t played SimCity since it’s “2000” incarnation, but some faint memories returned to me once after I’d spent several years steeping myself in Libertarian. My thought at the time was: “That game was implicitly socialist in the kind of behaviour it encouraged from the player!” In case you haven’t played it or something similar, success requires massive investments in public education, fire safety, police, parks, strict zoning regulations, and subsidies for various business sectors. The fiery teenage Libertarian Zdeno was briefly enraged. Upon reflection though, I realized that this did not so much reflect the pinko, fellow-traveller sympathies of the EA Games development staff, but rather the inherent dullness of a video game planner that minimizes the role of a central planner, in which the player is a central planner. EA tinkered with the parameters of the Sims’ behaviour until they got what they wanted. And they made a fun game. Now, what if we developed a SimCity for the purpose, not of entertaining the bored and megalomaniac, but of educating ourselves on the art and science of effective government? I don’t propose an attempt to perfectly model human beings in a simulated environment – if we did, we’d have created the world’s first true AI, and populating SimCity 2009 would be well down our list of things to do. But if some model of human action were constructed, we could use SimCity-like simulators to determine what kind of assumptions are necessary to make given sets of public policies workable. For a rough example, SimCity2000 takes a Conservative approach to the question of law enforcement – more and better-funded police stations result in less crime. A Sim-AI designed with Progressive assumptions about human behaviour would react to an increased police presence by feeling more oppressed, and acting out his perceived marginalization by robbing a liquor store. Or something. Either way, this exercise forces ideologues to quantify exactly what it is their policy proposals require of human nature. Once we have those assumptions written down, we can test them in real life. Obviously this is a pipe dream, and I doubt it will ever come to pass. I’d much rather see actual policy experimentation in the real world (for example: impose mandatory minimum sentences for various crimes in 25 randomly selected US states). But in an imperfect world where the latter is, for now, politically infeasible, an open-source SimPolitics may have legs, even if it has to wait for a doubling or two of computing power. So, Blowhards of a technical, game-savvy bent: Is such a thing technically feasible? Anyone know anything about... posted by Donald at December 3, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Friday, August 14, 2009

Techie Opinions Wanted: Apply Within
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Yes friends, it's good ol' bleg time here at 2Blowhards. ("Bleg" is an occasionally-used term for begging on a blog -- get it?) I have questions and would appreciate answers, so here goes: * * * * * I use the Firefox web browser on my Windows computer and the built-in Safari browser on my Mac laptop. Firefox seems to do a better job, so I'm wondering if I should download it to the Mac. Does Firefox for the Macintosh have pretty much the same features as its Windows version? Do you prefer the Mac version to Apple's Safari? * * * * * My digital camera performs well in most circumstances, but has defects I find annoying. Its telephoto zooming is jerky when trying to frame a subject, and resulting pictures are often blurred due to user-induced wiggle (even when I think I'm holding the camera steady). When taking non-flash photos indoors and outdoors (in the evening or at night) with the flash switched off, I often get blurred results. What I would like is a sub-$400 camera that has decent (mechanical, not digital) stabilization along with smooth zoom operation. Charley Parker over at the Lines and Colors blog shopped for something similar a while back and describes his results here. Was Parker's choice a good one? Is there something better on the market (technology changes rapidly)? Anyway, let me know your thoughts and personal experiences. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 14, 2009 | perma-link | (18) comments

Friday, July 17, 2009

$$$martphones ...
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- MacWorld takes a look at how much money smartphone users are really spending. Fun fact: "For a lot of folks, the monthly smartphone bill can be as big as, say, a car payment." As someone who feels obligated to have a cellphone but who uses it maybe twice a week, I pair a dumbphone with a Verizon pay-as-you-go plan. Cellphone-wise, I get by on around 10 bucks a month. What's your monthly cellphone bill? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 17, 2009 | perma-link | (13) comments

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Listening by Yourself
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * As the Sony Walkman turns 30, A.N. Wilson is wondering if the little gadget destroyed civilization. (Link thanks to ALD) * How the iPod changed the world. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 23, 2009 | perma-link | (1) comments

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Digital Interfaces and Analog Eyeballs
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- "It's exactly twelve forty-eight" a teen-aged guy announced after glancing at his digital wrist watch in 1985. This might have been followed by a trace of smug smile directed toward those of us wearing those old fashioned analog watches with hour and minute hands. Of course the time he announced wasn't really exact, especially if the display only provided hours and minutes perhaps along with a pulsating seconds indicator. Even assuming that the watch was set exactly, it couldn't show how far into the displayed minute actual time had moved. What I described above is from a half-remembered incident. But the prestige of digital displays was plenty real during the 1980s when personal computers moved from rarity to commonplace. Another digital affectation was the digital speedometer display for automobiles. If I remember correctly, the first American car sporting one was the Oldsmobile (correct me if I'm mistaken). There it would sit, centered at the top of the instrument panel. The miles per hour numbers were large -- perhaps as much as an inch tall. As one drove, the number would keep changing as speed varied. I once drove a rental car with this feature in the Bay Area and found myself annoyed, not impressed. Apparently potential buyers weren't attracted to the space age gizmos either, because they never caught on. Though in the late 1990s when I was in France, I happened to rent a Citroën Picasso (something like a crossover SUV) that had a digital speedometer. Instead of being in front of the driver, the Picasso's was mounted at the center of the car at the top of the dash. This made it more difficult to monitor and the distraction level was heightened because my eyes had to stray even farther from the road than in the case of the Olds. For me, the problem with digital speedometers is that they are distracting; every time the number changes (which is pretty often, even when cruising), I'm temped to take my eyes off the road to see what it says. Analog speedometers, the kind found in most cars, are positional. Small, seemingly random changes tend to be tuned out by the viewer. There is far less chance of unwanted distraction. (Another vague memory is of having read that some airplane control panels were designed so that the normal instrument position of the analog pointer would be up, at the 12 o'clock position. This allowed deviations to be spotted immediately on a quick scan of the panel. This ergonomic feature would be impossible if an instrument panel relied totally on digital readouts. And yes, in actuality warning lights would be added today, much like on instrument panels of modern cars.) As for wrist watches, most people don't need to know the precise time, so analog timepieces are handier to use than digital watches. A glance is good enough to spot the approximate time and a little positional reckoning indicates relationships to other times ("Hmm, about... posted by Donald at May 12, 2009 | perma-link | (10) comments

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Travel Screens
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The number of screens one is exposed to these days, eh? They're everywhere. My least favorite place to be overwhelmed by them is in gyms: Please, can I just exercise? As abundant as they are in day-to-day life, they show up in downright blizzard numbers when one travels. They're in your face as you cab to the airport: They're by your side as you move through the airport: Hordes of them await you at the gate: And on board the plane itself, they often outnumber the passengers. Like cars and minimalls, TV/computer screens have become part of the natural environment. Any day now, real life will be morphing into an online adventure game. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 28, 2009 | perma-link | (25) comments

Friday, February 27, 2009

Greybeards Take Over Facebook
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Oldies have discovered social networking bigtime. More. I love Facebook myself. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 27, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments

Monday, January 19, 2009

Podcast Recs 1
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Since I've spent some of the last month filling my iPod with podcasts and taking it with me on daily walks, I thought I'd pass along the highlights of my recent adventures in listening. First up: * Dan Ariely on behavioral economics. (To download the podcast, go here and do a Search on Ariely.) One of the hardest things to get used to where economics is concerned is the preference so many in the field have for constructing mathematical models. Shouldn't they be out in the world (or at least in the lab) investigating what people are like and how they tend to behave instead? Behavioral economics has brought a little realism back into the field. What built-in quirks do people tend to have? In what ways are they not "utility maximizers"? In this podcast, the behavioral economist Dan Ariely offers a lot of examples of ways in which people differ from pure-rationality automatons. The fun of the talk comes partly from the little shocks of recognition that Ariely's research delivers. Hey, life is what seems to be being discussed and described, not some geek's theory. But it also comes from Ariely's presentation style. In his scholarly way, Ariely is a real performer, with a hyperbolic-yet-droll, innocent-yet-canny tone that put me in mind of the Russian writer Sergei Dovlatov, an underknown literary writer of the 1980s. Buy a copy of Ariely's book here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 19, 2009 | perma-link | (0) comments

Monday, December 15, 2008

Online Writing Tools
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Paul Glazowski recommends 35 online tools for writers. Me, I'm using Google Docs as my main word processor these days. It's a nothing-special writing tool in many ways, but it's responsive, its filing system is swell, and I do love being able to get at my writing from whatever computer I happen to be at. I've also tried and liked Zoho Writer and Adobe Buzzword -- but, since there's such a thing as juggling too many logins and passwords, I've settled on Google Docs instead. As for the rest of Glazowski's tips, I can endorse Facebook (which I love), and Squarespace, which strikes me as really brilliant. If you want easy fun on the web -- commenting, linking, posting, etc -- Facebook is hard to beat. A visit to Facebook can be like a stop at the neighborhood bar, full of chance and casual interactions. And, recently, it hasn't just been the young 'uns who have been showing up on Facebook. The chances of a grownup finding old classmates, friends, and colleagues have in fact gotten pretty good. (Wired thinks that people who are thinking of becoming bloggers ought to forget it and take to Twitter or Facebook instead. I'm with Wired on this. I think that Facebook offers 99% of what most people are hoping to get from blogging while demanding about a tenth the work and effort.) If a complete website of your own is a goal, Squarespace is genius. Using drag-and-drop modules, you can create (and then revise to your heart's content) as elaborate a website as you could possibly want. It took me about an hour to become competent at using Squarespace, and within a couple of days I had myself a fun personal website that I continue to amuse myself with. Compare that to the effort involved in getting up to speed with HTML and/or Dreamweaver. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 15, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Digital Photography Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Digital Photography Review takes a look at some inexpensive-ish small digicams: here, here, here. So does David Pogue. * Is Kodak about to break up? * Mac owners may want to empty the iPhoto trash can. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 13, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, October 31, 2008

Software for NaNoWriMo
MIchael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- National Novel Writing Month begins tomorrow. If you're nuts enough (or exuberant enough, or whatever) to want to take part -- or if you're just someone who sometimes puts together long pieces of writing -- let me suggest buying and using some software that can make your writing projects a lot more pleasant: Scrivener and StoryMill. They're first-class examples of a new kind of writing tool that I wrote at some length about back here. FWIW, I consider these new programs the first big advance in computer writing tools since the word processor. There's no reason to bother with them if you never write anything longer than a few thousand words. But once your projects grow bigger than that, these programs can be godsends. Imagine keeping all your research, your drafts, your notes, your revisions -- everything -- not in scattered folders but in one file. Lordy, if only the Wife and I had had one of these packages back when we co-wrote our trash novel we'd have spared ourselves numerous headaches. Scrivener is probably the more versatile of the two applications. It's good for any kind of writing, where StoryMill has been optimized for fiction writers. But they're both great, and are very reasonably priced. Scrivener is a bargain at $39.95, and StoryMill is on sale until Monday for just $29.95. Now, as for whether or not it makes any sense whatsoever to write a novel these days ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 31, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Monday, October 20, 2008

Gadget Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Is the computer mouse facing extinction? * Which gadgets does tech reviewer David Pogue use in his real life? * Gadget lover Ramesh unpacks his backpack for all to see. Me, I take my cheapo Kodak digicam almost everywhere, but otherwise I'm usually gadget-free. Oh, OK, a cellphone may be along for the ride too, but I'm such a deep-dyed cellphone hater that I might as well leave it at home. To anyone who asks, I deny that I have one; I've given my number out to fewer than a half-dozen people; and I can go for days without turning the cursed thing on. With a Verizon pay-as-you-go plan, I keep my monthly cellphone costs to around ten bucks. How many electronic doodads do you carry with you when you head out for the day? Can anyone match Ramesh? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 20, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- As though "cloud computing" weren't a fresh-enough (and hard-enough-to-get-used-to) concept, now we have a "cloud-computing backlash" to contend with ... Previously: I gabbed a bit about my own cloud-computing experiences. Visitors volunteered far more interesting and informed reflections. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 2, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards Remarkable numbers of people are actively blogging these days, of course. But even more have tried blogging and given it up. The total number of abandoned blogs now exceeds 200 million. Source. The Wife shares a hunch: that most of the people abandoning blogging are women. "I think men's brains are wired for op-ed pieces," she says. "I think blogging has probably saved a lot of marriages by giving men an outlet for all those op-ed pieces. It has certainly helped our marriage." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 16, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Cloud Computing
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- How much of a cloud-computing person are you? For those with better things to do than keep up with stupid tech jargon ... "Cloud computing" means "computing on the web" -- using online applications rather than ones located on your own hard drive, and storing your documents on webservers rather than on your own machine. Although the term "cloud computing" is of fairly recent vintage, you may already do a fair amount of it. If you use webmail, for instance -- Gmail, say, or Yahoo! Mail -- then you're already cloud computing. The email program that you're using, after all, is Google's or Yahoo!'s -- and your actual email isn't stored on your computer, it's on Google's or Yahoo!'s hard drives. If you show off photos on Flickr, Picasa, or Smugmug -- or if you use Picnick or FotoFlexer to tweak your images -- hey, that's cloud computing too. In any case, cloud computing seems to be today's next great thing. If tech-industry visionaries are to be believed, paradigm-shift time is upon us yet again. Soon we'll all be doing much of our computing directly on the web, using server space and processing power from Google and others. Google's brand-new Chrome web browser is said to represent a big step in the direction of using the web browser as a kind of operating system, with the web itself as the computer. The two main worries some express about cloud computing: Away time and downtime. If you rely on "the cloud," how can you do any computing at all when you aren't connected to the web? And what happens if the outfits that supply your tools and storage misbehave? These fears aren't unreasonable, it turns out. Both Google and Apple's new MobileMe have demonstrated major vulnerabilities in recent months. Trust. Can you feel certain that the company hosting your documents won't peep at them? Let alone that they won't make legal claims on them? Smart people are scrutinizing those absurd Legal Agreements we all checkbox-off when we sign up for new web services, and they aren't liking what they're finding. No idea what to make of the above worries myself. Most of the computers I sit down at these days have nice internet connections. And if downtime does occur, I don't much mind taking a break from whatever project I happen to tinkering with. Hey, I'm a retired guy. As for entrusting my content to a company like Google ... Well, maybe I'm a sucker, but 1) they've got my email already, and 2) I'm such an impractical goof that I can't imagine of what interest my material could possibly be to them. In fact, as someone who spends significant time on the road, and who flits back and forth between different computers even when at home, I love -- as in l-u-v -- the idea of cloud computing. The less dependent I am on a single computer the better. And if I'm able to... posted by Michael at September 4, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Friday, August 29, 2008

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The country most afflicted by spam is Switzerland, where 84.2 percent of all email is spam. (The percentage in the U.S. is 79.8.) Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 29, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Friday, August 22, 2008

Music by Colleen
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- That adorable, spunky, and thoroughly dirty-minded born performer Colleen finally makes an appearance on YouTube, singing a very 21st century kinda blues: "The Dirty Keywords Search Song." NSFW, as though you were in any doubt. Go here for a wee bit more, or visit Colleen at her usual webhome. Colleen writes about doing the gig here. Hey, The Wife and I have done In the Flesh too. Spanking fan, cupcake aficionado, and In the Flesh impresario Rachel Kramer Bussel is a culture-world mover and a shaker in more ways than one. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 22, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

iPhone 3G in NYC
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The iPhone 3G may have been released last Friday but excitement about it continues, at least in New York City's SoHo. Here's a snap I took of SoHo's Apple Store early Monday evening. Donald marveled about iPhone-mania back here. Me, I'm a generally happy Apple user -- but I dislike cellphones intensely, no matter how chic they may be. And I wish they'd all just go away. People care about their cellphones? Why? TUAW reports that Apple has already sold a million iPhone 3G's. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 15, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Wii Tennis
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- When I bought a Wii a month ago, I did so with some apprehension. I'd bought video-game systems before, and as purchases they'd never worked out well. I'm curious about culture and digital media, so I'm eager to explore and experience this new world of interactive "gaming." What's the addiction? What's the excitement? What are the terms? But since I never did get hooked on playing with the systems, I felt I'd wasted money. Would the Wii purchase leave me feeling silly too? After all, as far as I could tell I simply disliked playing computer games. Quick answer: Although we haven't explored any games beyond the sports games that the Wii comes with, I love the Wii. Even The Wife loves the Wii. We especially love the brilliantly designed and programmed Wii Tennis. Spin, strategy, lobs, drop shots ... Opponents with secrets, favorites, weaknesses, and strategies ... The computer players have personality too. During one whiz-bang game -- I, ahem, play Wii Tennis at a pretty darned high level -- my Wii opponents (Wii Tennis is doubles tennis) made an uncharacteristic, silly goof. I started in surprise, then muttered, "Well, they're only human." "No they aren't," The Wife reminded me. The Wife and I sometimes start the day with 30 minutes of Wii tennis. The Wife will play for a while with me watching (and, as husbands will, offering a lot of coaching). Then I'll play for a while with The Wife watching. We're so Wii Tennis-crazy that we have to monitor the amount of time we devote to the game. Play Wii Tennis -- which in effect is a lot more like ping-pong than it is like tennis -- for too long and your shoulder, arm and wrist will ache for days. My time with Wii Tennis has left me thinking: Hey, perhaps I don't dislike computer-game systems per se. Perhaps what I dislike is sitting in front of a screen with a controller in my hand, twiddling knobs with my thumbs. Because the fact is that much of what I love about Wii Tennis is the chance it gives me to get physical, if in a modest way. No thumb-twiddling; lots of arm-waving and wrist-flicking. Bring on the computer games. Feh on the thumb-twiddling. A funny twist in my Wii Tennis adventures is how it has affected my love of watching real tennis on TV. Though I don't generally watch sports on TV, I'm pretty darned happy watching pro tennis on TV for hours. The French Open is currently on, for instance, and I couldn't be much happier than I am when I'm sacked out in front of the TV watching the pros battle it out on clay. But but but ... This year I have this new option. Instead of watching pros play tennis, I can play Wii Tennis myself. Or -- something that's often even more fun -- I can watch The Wife play Wii Tennis and bug her... posted by Michael at June 3, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Friday, May 30, 2008

Your Life Online
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Kids: Where putting it all out there on Bebo and Facebook goes, maybe it would be wise to use a little caution. But when have teens ever understood the meaning of the word "caution"? Hey, a Larger Thought: The new digital tools certainly make a lot possible and open up many fresh avenues. But maybe they also promote -- or encourage, or facilitate -- the irresponsible expression of immature impulsiveness. Why think before you act when blurting-it-out has become so easy and so fun? Is the remaking of the world via digital media that's going on being done entirely for the benefit of teens? And how will people who have become addicted to the convenience and thrills of instant-expressive-gratification ever mature? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 30, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Digital Divides
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- There's been a lot of earnest, worried public agonizing about the "digital divide" -- rich people are wired, poor people aren't. It seems to me not worth worrying about overmuch, at least so far as the U.S. goes. Anyone who can afford a decent TV and cable subscription can also afford an iMac and a cable-Internet hookup. Those people for whom such a package is out of reach have much more important things to worry about than Web 2.0. The digital divide in the U.S. that fascinates me more is another one completely. It's the one between people -- mostly young -- who expect to be surrounded by snapping cameras and switched-on videocams, and those (mostly older) for whom having a digicam or a videocam pointed at them is an event. Kids go to parties expecting that tons of photos of the event will be available for viewing online the following day. If cameras aren't whirring and files aren't being uploaded, then the event itself simply hasn't occurred. (Remember that line in the 1991 Madonna documentary "Truth or Dare" when Warren Beatty marvels at the way Madonna has no life except when she's being photographed? By the way, what ever became of Alex Keshishian, the film's wunderkind director? He was celebrated by many in the business and the press as a new Orson Welles. But IMDB indicates that he has made only two films in the last 15 years.) Of course, these kids have had vidcams trained on them their whole lives. Dad was probably zooming in on the blessed and bloody birth-event itself. Most older folks by contrast seem to resent the presence of cameras, and to dread the possibility that pix and vids of them will wind up in public. I recently whipped out a digicam at a party I attended with friends around my own age. In terms of the response I got and the behavior my digicamming elicited, it was like returning to the 1950s. People posed; they put on their camera faces. And then they let it go -- they wanted the camming moment to be over. When they learned that I was taking video too they were perplexed. Since there's no obvious beginning or end to video shooting, how to "put on" good camera behavior? And -- although we were all lookin' pretty good, if I say so m'self -- each and every one of my buds asked for reassurance that the pix and clips I'd taken wouldn't wind up online. Kids: Of course you're gonna put it all out there. That's not just fun, it's mandatory. Old-timers: The proper ultimate destination for a snapshot is a shoebox. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 29, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Quarter Century of Computing
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Hey Gang! It's geezer time again! Yipee!! Yes folks, here's another past-blast from a graying Blowhard. You have my permission to skip to the next post, of course, but first consider this: For the history-minded, accounts by people who were there can have value. One more warning: there's lots of geeky stuff below. Today's post owes itself to the fact that this week marks 25 years that I've owned a personal computer. Not the very same one, thank heaven. Mine was a pretty early IBM PC, perhaps one of the first half million or so built following its 11 August 1981 debut. When I bought my machine, IBM had just introduced the XT version which had an internal hard-drive with a whopping 10 megabytes of storage capacity. I didn't buy one of those because it was out of my price range. I was a poor consultant at the time, and in desperate need of some computing capability. I had just landed a project with a major insurance company to develop a demographic projection system and could justify purchasing an adequate, but not top-of-the line model. In theory, I might have bought something like an Apple II a few years earlier, but it and other machines using 8-bit CPUs could not address enough on-board memory to suit my needs, whereas the 16-bit Intel 8088/8086 CPU family with 4.77 MHz speed used on the IBM PC and similar machines did. As best I recall, I spent somewhere between $3,000 and $3,500 for the computer and a dot-matrix printer. A box of ten 360Kb floppy disks cost just under $50 at that time. And these are 1983 dollars. I splurged for dual 360 floppy disk drives rather than getting one-sided drives with half that capacity; that proved to be a wise decision. I forget how much RAM memory I had at first, but it likely was 256 Kb. Over the next two or three years I upgraded a few times until it was "stuffed" to its 640Kb maximum. The monitor was monochrome -- a black screen with green characters. I later bought a Hercules graphics board that let the computer draw monochrome graphs on the screen. For mass-storage I eventually got a Bernoulli Box -- a very high density floppy disk system that was popular in the late 1980s. For financial reasons I kept that computer for about seven years, upgrading this part or that. CPU chip development was slow in those days so, aside from speed considerations, I had no strong reason to buy another computer. IBM came out with the XT 286 model in 1986, but this Intel 80286-based machine was still limited to 640 Kb addressable memory, no better than what my computer could do. I didn't buy a new computer until after 80386 CPU machine had been on the market for a year or two; this chip had drastically improved speed and addressing capability. My 386 computer was an Everex, a machine that... posted by Donald at May 28, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- More video material has been uploaded to YouTube in the past six months than has ever been aired on all major networks combined. My source for this is Michael Wesch, a Kansas State University cultural anthropologist. A project that Wesch runs called Digital Ethnography can be explored here. Who says we aren't living through an astounding period in cultural and media history? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 22, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Icon World
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Before the first Macintosh went on sale in 1984, I don't think I'd ever heard the word "icon" used to describe a stick-figure "graphical" visual before. Come to think of it, I don't think I'd ever heard the word "graphical" before either. But all of a sudden it seemed that everyone had an opinion about "graphical interfaces." Here's a shot of the original Mac 128k screen: It seemed a like foreign (if appealing) universe. Outlines? Impersonal lines? Hyper-simplification? Pictographs? It seemed more like ancient Egypt than modern America. In America circa 1980 you might occasionally run across schematic drawings by engineers and architects: Those male and female outline-drawings that pointed you to men's and women's toilets were a staple of international airports. But -- strange though it can seem today -- the arrival of pictographs seemed pretty damned exotic. The world simply hadn't been heavily decorated and punctuated with hyper-simplified symbolic line images. These days, by contrast, it can seem as though icons (like tags) aren't just everywhere, they're a defining characteristic of modernity. What's a button, or a screen, or even a thought, without its own icon? I'm OK with this in a general sense, not that my opinion should matter. Eye-candy? -- I often like it, especially when the eye-candy serves a usability purpose as well as a delight purpose. I'm reminded that, back in the early '80s, I knew a writer who was struggling unsuccessfully with adapting to computers. Publications were demanding that writing be delivered in computer form, and -- as brilliant as he genuinely was -- the poor guy simply didn't have a computer-compatible brain. The screens presented by early-'80s PCs (green letters on black) put him off. File systems baffled him, and having to memorize basic computer commands ... It all made him just about weep with frustration. I don't mock this, by the way. People who don't happen to have brains that synch up well with computers are at a serious disadvantage these days. Come to think of it, one of the biggest changes I've witnessed in my lifetime is the development of a general expectation that everyone should be able to manage computers. It's a strange expectation, when you think of it. I work in an arty-media field, for example, yet it's all now based on computers. How bizarre that English majors -- English majors!! -- are expected to be competent with computers. Hey, IT people: There are perfectly decent and intelligent people out here whose brains just don't do the computer thing very well. Yet here we are today, nearly all of us spending our professional days serving the great computer god. There are moments when it all seems like nothing more than a naked power-grab by the geek class, doesn't it? Anyway, as of 1983 my writer-friend was in despair. His brain just didn't -- and really couldn't -- work the command-line way. Then, in 1984, he bought a Mac, and his problem was... posted by Michael at April 29, 2008 | perma-link | (15) comments

StoryMill On Sale
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back here I did a lot of enthusing about a new and terrific class of writing tools for the Mac. Short version: They aren't word processors or page-layout programs. They're more like project organizers. Gather all your research, all your drafts, and all your files in one place, and move among these resources quickly and intuitively -- no more contending with files-scattered-everywhere. Then, when you've finished writing, make your project look pretty in a word processing or page-layout program. Novelists and other book-writers are likely to find these products godsends, but they're also helpful for any writing project longer than about 5000 words. Really-truly: Using these products will likely reduce your writing-organization headaches by 90%. One of them -- originally called Avenir and recently renamed StoryMill -- has just gone on sale. I've settled on Scrivener myself, and love it. I have nothing but good things to say about Scrivener; it strikes me as one of the most brilliant pieces of software I've ever used. But StoryMill -- which, unlike the more customizable Scrivener, has been optimized for fiction-writing -- is an excellent product in its own right. Current price: $29.95. That's a serious bargain. Another Mariner Software program that I like a lot is MacJournal, a small miracle of versatility. You can use MacJournal to keep a journal, or even many different journals. But you can also use it as a general bin for all your writing. Why go searching every which-where to find something you've written when you can dump all your writing in one place instead? As with StoryMill and Scrivener, if you use MacJournal you'll want to export (or copy-and-paste) your masterpiece into a word processor for prettying-up before showing it off. But that's a small price to pay for a great big heap of convenience and ease. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 29, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, February 22, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Or iSpaceOut, at least. Which ain't nothing. Presenting the world's first iPhone band: Is that a Nintendo DS on rhythm? Fact for the day: "Google has found that iPhone users make 50 times more web searches compared with any other mobile." Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 22, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A 27-Year Computer Diet
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The first significant portable computer debuted 27 years ago. It was Adam Osborne's Osborne I which weighed 24.5 pounds. It appeared not long after the launch of the famous IBM PC, when IBM compatibility wasn't an important sales factor. For the record, it had a Zilog Z80 processor and the CP/M operating system, both commonly found in early PCs. In the fall of 1982, Compaq unveiled its first personal computer, a portable weighing 28 pounds that had the virtue of being completely IBM-compatible. (To be fully-compatible, a computer had to have either an Intel 8088 or 8086 processor, run Microsoft's operating system and -- most crucially -- have a BIOS that worked exactly like the one IBM used. The BIOS is a hard-coded, chip-based operating system that mediates between the hardware and the main operating system.) By 1983, compatibility was becoming a Big Deal. Normally, it didn't matter much. But if a user hit an incompatibility when something really important had to be done, he was shafted. And today? Apple's new MacBook Air weighs all of three pounds! And it can run Microsoft Windows if one makes the effort and pays some extra money. Adam Osborne and Osborne computer Steve Jobs and MacBook Air computer IBM seems to be out of the personal computer business and Compaq was merged into Hewlett-Packard. And Osborne? It crashed in the fall of 1983, the first well-known personal computer company to do so. Adam Osborne, the man behind the Osborne was born in Thailand in 1939 to British parents. Following graduation from university in England in 1961, he emigrated to the USA, eventually becoming known as a writer and publisher of computer books. After the demise of his computer company he launched a software firm, Paperback Software. This venture failed when he lost a lawsuit by Lotus Development. It was alleged that Osborne's spreadsheet's user interface mimicked too closely that of Lotus 1-2-3, at the time a top spreadsheet program. His health starting to crack, Osborne left the Berkeley Hills for India in 1992, where he died in 2003. I crossed Osborne's path twice. Once was at a personal computer show in San Francisco where he was manning the Paperback Software stand hawking his products. We chatted for a couple of minutes but I didn't need any of his programs and continued on my way. In 1991 Osborne and I were on the same panel at the APL programming language convention. Before we went on stage he mostly grumbled about lawyers, this being a little more than a year after having lost the Lotus case. Osborne was born the same year as me. He flew far higher and probably fell a bit lower. Such is life. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 20, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Gizmodo Reports From CES
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Those lovable gadget freaks are spattering out report after report from the big electronics show. Short version: You can't be too thin, or too big. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 8, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Couple of Blogging Tools
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * If you're thinking of taking up blogging, I'd urge you to give a try. It's a service much like Google's Blogger. The main difference between them is that is far more solid and deep; it makes Blogger seem like a toy for kids. can take whatever -- well, a lot of what -- you want to throw at it and offer it up to the public attractively. If I were starting 2Blowhards today, I'd avoid Blogger, and I wouldn't go to the expense and trouble of having a blog custom-made either. I'd do it on A quick explanation for those feeling confused about the "WordPress" thing. There's a difference between WordPress and WordPress (without the ".com") is an open source blogging platform that requires major geek skills to manage. It's apparently powerful and wonderful. Geeks rave about it anyway. But for the mortals among us, it's a bear. You have to download a copy of WordPress, you have to install it on a server, you have to configure it. The term "CSS" has to make some sense to you. And you can't do any of this without first having lined up hosting, purchased and "pointed" a URL, and without knowing how to FTP. To this pathetic English major at least, the whole thing looks like an endless series of annoyances, frustrations, and headaches. By contrast, -- note the ".com" -- is a self-contained, hosted blogging service that is based on the WordPress platform. In other words: no worries about downloading / uploading / configuring/whatever. With, no geek heroics are required. All you have to do is go to and sign up. Once you've done that, you get many of the benefits of WordPress -- everyone's current favorite blogging platform -- with none of the headaches. You're blogging within minutes. Between you and me: A small but fun thing that becomes clear as you mess with is that it doesn't limit you to blogging. You can in fact use to create surprisingly elaborate multipage websites. It may take a little fiddling and a bit of trial and error -- but if I can do it (and I can), you can too. Did I mention that the service is free up to a point, and very cheap even after that point? Are you reading, Spike Gomes? * Though I've mentioned the microblogging service Tumblr before, I'll mention it again as an EZ alternative to Does conventional blogging tempt but seem like an awful lot of work? (And it can be a lot of work.) Do you want to take part in the give-and-take of online life but rarely find the time or energy to formulate actual, like, sentences and paragraphs? (And turning your thoughts, feelings, and observations into sentences and paragraphs does indeed take some effort.) Then running a blog might demand a little more of you than you have to give.... posted by Michael at December 10, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

Friday, November 2, 2007

Computer Dis-Improvements
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Enough with the ooh-ing and aah-ing about how quickly computer technology advances. Really: Do massive hard drives, processor speeds, and memories represent anything but technological stunts unless they serve our purposes? So how well have computer makers done in terms of serving human needs? Hal Licino had the wit to go to the trouble of comparing a current Windows machine with a 1986 Mac Plus. A fair fight? Hardly. After all, the Windows machine is -- in technical terms, anyway -- 1000 times faster than the creaky ol' Mac. It was also equipped with 1Gig of RAM vs. the Mac's 4 MB. Yet, yet ... So far as the non-websurfing tasks that one most often uses a computer for (Word and Excel, basically) go, the prehistoric Mac beat the Windows powerhouse more than half the time. The test that really clinched it in the Mac's favor, as far as I'm concerned, is the time it took the computers to boot up. The Mac delivered a usable desktop nearly a minute faster than the Windows machine did. Can anyone say "too many bells and whistles"? How about "flash for the sake of flash"? Or maybe "marketing-department overreach"? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 2, 2007 | perma-link | (13) comments

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Missed Opportunities
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- For an arty guy with no technical gifts or interests, I smacked into the computer world at a relatively early stage. I don't mean "the computer world" in the absolute sense, by the way. When I was in high school back in 1970, for instance, computers were certainly around. But at that point they weren't of much interest (let alone of much use) to anyone other than extreme geeks. In 1970, the idea of computers seemed futuristic in appealing ways. But the reality of computers was much less attractive. In the case of the high school I attended, for instance: Computing meant one small, airless room with a keyboard and punchcards, and a connection to what was mysteriously referred to as "the Dartmouth computer." I poked my head into that computer room one time and one time only. Not pleasant: bad lighting, and full of geek b.o. and giggly social ineptitude. And why on earth would anyone think it was a big deal to be playing playing tic-tac-toe "with Dartmouth"? Since what I wanted from life was girls, movies, art, physical activity, and sunshine, computers in 1970 seemed like the opposite of everything I valued. They seemed like the antithesis of what I then thought of as "aesthetics." No, for the sake of this posting anyway, what I mean by "computers" is computers in a somewhat later sense: computers at the time videogames and personal computers were starting to make a more-than-a-novelty kind of impact -- the early-to-mid '80s, roughly. By then, computers and aesthetic matters didn't seem to occupy quite such opposite poles. Pong had long since given way to more complex games. Hard drives were beginning to seem like a plausible part of everyday reality. And when the original Macs came along -- in early 1984 -- the machines started to speak directly to the arty set. Right about then was when I woke up to the cultural implications of computing. I found myself on BBS's, for instance, caught up in debates about the impact of word processing. For those who haven't encountered the philosophy-of- word-processing field: The advent of word processing hit a handful of culture-types very hard. Nearly all writers were delighted by the way the new tools enabled them to get their writing down so easily, of course. But a small band of culture-fiends also found themselves looking at the phenomenon from a longer point of view, and musing, "Hmm, you know, this word-processing thing might really change the whole 'writing' game at a very deep level ..." It was a tiny world, this musing-over-the-aesthetic / cultural-implications-of-computers world. But for some reason I really zero'd in on it. For instance, I didn't just read Jay David Bolter and Michael Heim -- the philosophers of what word processing might mean in the big sense. I met and chatted with them. In 1987, Apple's HyperCard gave non-techies a chance to mess with databases and programming. By the late 1980s, software created... posted by Michael at October 18, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Which Way to Go?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- If you think the breeders vs. non-breeders debate brings out passions, how about the really fundamental divisive issue of our time: Macs vs. PCs? * iPods plus Vista equals the Perfect Storm: More Princeton students choose Macs these days than PCs -- 60% in fact, up from just 10% in 2003. * Steve Ballmer, hiphop star. Best, Michael UPDATE: Agnostic asks, Are Macs girly?... posted by Michael at October 6, 2007 | perma-link | (30) comments

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Website-Making Tools for Non-Geeks
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It becomes easier every year to put yourself up on the web, doesn't it? Where not so long ago the non-gearhead who hoped to join the online party had to hire a pro or rely on bad tools that resulted in trashy-looking websites, today's webcreature-wannabe has a number of appealing options to choose among. It seems fair to me to say that today's website-making-tools-for-the-masses are so good that someone who really wants to have a website no longer has a valid reason not to. A few years ago I recommended the outfit Squarespace, a service that enables you to create a complete and attractive website for yourself entirely online. But, since I'm the type who likes doing research, trying out software, and playing with organizational tools, I've continued poking around the field, and I've run into some other cool and valuable tools. Why not pass them along too? A preliminary note: It seems useful to divide website-making tools into those that operate entirely online and those that are individual-computer-based. In the first group, both the website you make and the website-builder you use to make it are online. All that's needed to accomplish what you'll want to accomplish is a browser and a fast internet connection. Advantages: no programs to buy and manage; you can tinker with your website from any web-connected computer; there's no need to endure the headaches involved in acquiring a domain name and lining up a webhost. Disadvantage: Online tools tend to be less quick and responsive than do ones that live on your hard drive. Tools that belong to the second group are ones that you buy and then install on your own computer. Once you've done that, you use the program to assemble and / or tweak your pages (photo galleries, blogs, freeform pages, whatever). Then you upload your creation to a webhost, where it's made public. Advantage: Some of these programs are terrific, as well as easy and and even fun to use. Disadvantages: You have to attend to all that offputting webspace-making crap (domain names, webhosts, etc). Why can't anyone make those procedures less annoying than they are? Plus you can only mess with your website from the one computer that has the program (and your files) installed on it. Life is indeed all about weighing trade-offs ... To the first group might belong such familiar products as WordPress, Typepad, and Blogger. All three services have their advantages and their partisans. But they also limit you to creating a blog, or at most a blog-with-trimmings. (Some people have recently been using WordPress to create websites that aren't strictly blogs, but no matter what direction you bend it in, WordPress is a tool that wants to make you a blog.) Some tools that I can recommend (or in one case semi-recommend): The online tool that I mainly want to focus on is once again Squarespace, which is even better today than it was when I recommended it... posted by Michael at September 20, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Sunday, July 1, 2007

I Meet the iPhone
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Geeks lay hands on an iPhone and immediately pull it apart. * Michael Blowhard pays a visit to the Apple Store with cheapo Kodak digicam in hand. Quick verdict: A 10 on the gadget-Nirvana scale. The iPhone is as chic as Audrey Hepburn and as eager to entertain as James Cagney. And it has more charisma than George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Bill Clinton, and Oprah Winfrey combined. The thing that struck me as funniest during my visit was that, not only was I not alone in snapping photos and taking videos of the iPhone, most of the people doing so were using the cameras in their non-iPhone cellphones. Best, Michael UPDATE: Bringing together a lot of current themes -- YouTube, civil liberties, the ethics and legalities of photographing in public, and the ever-growing nanny state -- Reid Farmer forwards along a link to a NYTimes article reporting that the NYC Mayor's office is considering new rules restricting photography in the city's public spaces. Meddlers!... posted by Michael at July 1, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Rock-Star Gadget
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I dropped by the neighborhood Apple Store today to enjoy some corporate-strength air conditioning, to garner some new iMovie tips, and to indulge in some gadget-handling entertainment. Amazing how an Apple Store can become a real community center, isn't it? When I'm in the mood to get out of the apartment and kill some time, I'm as likely to visit the Apple Store as I am to see a movie or tour a museum. Judging from the happy crowds nearly always semi-packing the place out, I'm not the only person whose habits have been altered in this way. Today was of course iPhone Day Minus One, and the Apple employees looked like they were girding for a combination of a party and a battle. And, yes, outside on the SoHo sidewalk, around 30 people were already camping out in line. Does Apple pay people to act this way? Or is excitement about the iPhone genuinely at this kind of pitch? I'm sorry to report that I didn't have the presence of mind to talk to any of the iPhone groupies, and that when I reached for my digicam, its batteries were dead. Me heap big bad blogger. Is there any way the iPhone can live up to the hype? Perhaps so, if it really does work as well as it does in this Apple video. That's one miraculous-seeming device, and one superslick video. Apple does have a genius for portraying its machines as simple and beautiful headache-relievers and delight-enablers, devices that don't enslave people to the circuitry but that instead meet, serve, and tickle real people on real-people terms. Watching the video, I felt a few blinded-by-bliss shivers myself -- and I'm someone who hates cellphones and does my best to avoid them. These days, it seems to me, Apple does more to affirm and convey the importance (and the fun) of the aesthetic dimension than the arts community does. The SoHo place was crackling with anticipation, in any case. Which got me wondering: Are there cultural events that can match Apple's best for bravura, glitz, and thrills? Is the iPhone the new version of a rock star? Is technology and gadgetry the new showbiz? (Do the releases of new computer games and game devices attract crowds batty with similar levels of enthusiasm? I'm not a games person myself, and know nothing about the scene.) Engadget, though, reports that excitement outside San Francisco's Apple Store is minimal. Follow the great iPhone event minute by minute at iPhone Matters, a blog devoted to the iPhone. Here's a Wikipedia article about the history of Apple's ad campaigns. Best, Michael UPDATE: Newsweek's Steven Levy says that the iPhone is almost everything you'd want it to be. Nice passage: The iPhone is the rare convergence device where things actually converge ... As it did with MP3 players, Apple has made even its most stylish competitors look like Soviet-issue contraptions ... Even those who never buy one will benefit... posted by Michael at June 28, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments

Friday, May 25, 2007

Digital Organizers
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've raved before about Yojimbo, a junk-drawer / database for the Mac that helps me keep my desk and mind a little clearer than they'd otherwise be. If such a program sounds good but you don't have $39 to spare, why not download and try xPad instead? It's similar (if, for me anyway, a little less intuitive to use), and it's free. Related: I recommended some new (or newish) writing-suite programs here. Best, Michael UPDATE: Alan Little reports that he has been getting a lot out of using Mori.... posted by Michael at May 25, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Monday, May 21, 2007

Why Read?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- There I was not so long ago, flying Business class on American. (Thank you, Frequent Flyer miles.) Cruising altitude had been attained. I was leaning back, about to settle into the book I'd brought along, when a steward-person held out one of these to me: It took me a few seconds to make sense of what was was being proposed. My steward-person was wheeling a cart laden with a number of these devices, each one zipped into its own little gizmo-bag. The machines had hard drives loaded with movies, TV shows, and music. In other words: We ritzy biz-class types were being offered the chance to use a snazzy media device for the duration of our flight. Looking around warily -- surely there was a catch -- I accepted the gizmo and plugged it in. The device proved friendly enough; dimwitted me was able to find my bearings quickly. Wariness now allayed, I set my book aside and started surfing programs, music, and movies. I found watching a movie on the device to be a surprisingly satisfying experience. I'm film snob enough that I never, ever watch a movie on an airplane. I find the watery, dim, poorly-aimed video image that front-of-the-cabin airplane screens offer an affront. On this little gizmo, though ... Well, its six-ish inch screen was bright and clear, and the sound was luscious. There was no hope of being ravished by the kind of dreamy hugeness and engulfing hyperreality that actual movies offer, of course. Still, the film's moods came across, the framing was razor-sharp, and the performances were more-than-adequately conveyed. And the suit-yourself intimacy of the device was its own major plus. I loved being able to surf, start, stop, pause, and rewind as I saw fit. No passengers walked between me and the gizmo's screen. The gizmo was as convenient to use and as eager to please as the book that I'd stowed away and forgotten about. One final factor made the device seem plausible: It felt semi-important to me that the gizmo wasn't a mere DVD player, but that it instead contained a library of various media offerings. There was no need to exit the device's thought-space in order to fumble around with something physical, like a disc. Being able to select from among a bunch of already-in-there media options made me want to get to know the device a lot better. As you might be able to tell from my lousy photos, the device is about the same size as a modest hardcover book. Even so, handling it isn't quite the unself-conscious thing that handling a book is. The device is considerably heavier than a book, for one thing. For another, despite its ironclad chunkiness it still feels breakable. Maybe that's partly a function of having a screen; maybe it's also partly a function of me knowing that there's a spinning hard drive inside. (You can feel the battery heat up and the hard drive whirr... posted by Michael at May 21, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Nate Likes Avenir
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Nate Davis gives Avenir -- one of the Mac writing tools that I recommended recently -- a spin, and likes what he encounters. He also does a better job than I did of describing what Avenir is: It's a database-driven interface with containers for notes on characters, scenes, chapters, etc. It even has a very optimistically designed section for keeping track of your submissions! ... I like that this program is fairly minimalist -- it stays out of the way and lets me just free-form ramble to get things started. But it's there to step in with containers for this and that when things get complicated. Nate reports that using Avenir has even helped him become unstuck where one of his writing projects is concerned. I've been making a lot of use of Scrivener myself, and the experience has left me more convinced than ever that the Avenir / Scrivener class of software marks as much of an advance over the word processor as the word processor represented over the typewriter, at least so far as longer pieces of writing go. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 1, 2007 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, April 20, 2007

A New Class of Writing Tools for the Mac
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- There isn't much that'll prod me into acting all unpleasant and snobby, but a few minutes with Microsoft Word will do the trick. All due respect to those who like it as well as to those who have no choice but to use it, of course. Still: what an unhelpful beast I find it to be. The picky writer in me is beyond-offended. I rise up and say, huffily: "Why, that's not a tool for real writers. It's a program for the creation of" -- patooie -- "business documents." To be fair, my dislike of Word has a lot to do with the word processor category generally. I wrote back here about how much I dislike conventional word processors. (I notice that I cracked a few decent jokes and ventured a couple of potentially-amusing thoughts about writing too.) Short version: I find word processors to be unsatisfying compromises. Half text-slinging tools, half page-layout programs, they aren't particularly good at either task. And Microsoft Word compounds the basic conceptual problem with the usual Microsoft featuritis. God ... Word really does make me turn up my nose. In my previous posting, I extolled a couple of non-word-processor writing tools that I was then finding helpful in a sympathetic-to-real-writing kind of way. That was a few years ago, though, and those tools have since been superseded by yet better writer's tools -- by a whole new class of software, in fact. Since many people may not be aware of these new and newish programs, why not yak about 'em a bit and pass along a few links? My taste in writer's tools has first to do with something very basic and rooted in temperament. For some people, pulling together a piece of to-be-published material is a matter of integrating imagery, graphics, words, and editorial concepts. That's where they start, juggling all those different media elements. Dave Eggers and Chip Kidd, for example, are famous for composing their books -- right from the outset -- in page-layout programs. This approach makes sense for Eggers and Kidd because layout and design are so integral to how they think and work, as well as to what they want to produce. The Wife is someone else who likes seeing her writing in a page-layout sense as she's composing. She says it helps her bring her writing to life. I'm not like that. I'm a words-first kinda guy. Incidentally, this isn't to put people who aren't words-firsty down. I often I wish I shared their kind of talent-set and temperament-set. I love artist's notebooks and sketchbooks, for instance -- they're some of my favorite books. The combo of jotting, sketching, notes-to-self, captions, diary entries, watercolors, etc., can make my head spin in pleasure. I feel like I'm experiencing someone else's perceptual apparatus, and in a nice way. Unfortunately, working in such a way doesn't seem to be in the cards for me. No, when I want to pull together a piece of... posted by Michael at April 20, 2007 | perma-link | (13) comments

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Computer-Writing Bliss
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's a great deal on some first-class writing tools: For the rest of today, Mariner Software is selling Avenir and MacJournal together for just $49.95. That's a fabulous price for two programs that I can recommend enthusiastically. MacJournal is a convenient way to maintain diaries and logs: I keep track of exercise in one journal, and of day-to-day activities, such as they are, in another. ("Monday: Blogged some. Tuesday: Blogged some more ...") But MacJournal will support many, many different journals. If you picture it as enabling you to create a bookshelf full of notebooks, you're in the ballpark. Avenir (brilliantly designed and constructed by Todd Ransom) is far more ambitious -- a suite of writing tools sleekly bundled together into one consistent and easy-to-understand environment. It's for determined writers undertaking larger-scaled writing projects: stories, articles, screenplays, books. Stash your research in it, develop your characters in it, fiddle with your outlines, keep heaps of notes, and do the actual writing in it too. (At the end of the process, you'll probably want to export the results to a word processor or page-layout program for final visual styling.) Given the rich array of functions it offers, Avenir is amazingly usable -- I was up and running in about 20 minutes. It's quite a treat to be able to manage an entire writing project in one program, and in one file. Compare that to the way writers usually get by: jumping between multiple programs, clicking between files-within-folders-within-folders ... In any case, writers with sizable projects may find, as I have, that Avenir represents as big a step forward over word processors as word processors did over typewriters. I'll be returning to the topic of writing suites in a bit; there are a number of other good ones out there in addition to Avenir. But I didn't want to let this opportunity at a bargain slip by without letting other people know about it. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 19, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- That musta hurt. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 10, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

iPhone Skeptic
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The backlash has begun. And what's become of iLife '07 anyway? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 17, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

For Apple Buffs ...
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Apple fans can keep tabs on Steve Jobs' MacWorld keynote address here. Miracles announced so far: Apple TV and iPhone. Best, Michael UPDATE: Lots of photos of the iPhone here. A video showing the ultra-slick interface in action can be watched here.... posted by Michael at January 9, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Where's My iPod Shuffle?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Did I leave it at the gym? In the office? Are there jacket pockets I haven't been through yet? And why on earth didn't I put it on the ledge where I usually keep it? ... Miniaturization is such a great thing, isn't it? At least until you misplace the teeny-tiny object. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 7, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Tyler Cowen lists five economic policies he'd like to see put into effect. * Lex (and visitors) celebrate J-Pop. * So this is the way these things work ... * James Panero is flabbergasted by a dimwitted review of Jacob Collins' brilliant new show. * How do any teen boys make it through to adulthood? And then, when they do ... * Coming soon: Laser-lit TVs. * Al Minns and Leon James demonstrate how the Charleston was danced. * Social networks are shrinking and men may be suffering most. DadTalk offers some ways guys can increase the number of their male buds. My favorite: "Grill burgers or steaks ... and just wait. Men will smell the smoke and find their way to you." Testosterone says, Smoke is good! * Kirsten Mortensen muses beguilingly about why so many people want to write. * Bill Kauffman celebrates the Western novelist Elmer Kelton. * Bookgasm's Allan Mott shows a fun and appropriate way to write about movie books. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 21, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Net Non-Neutrality
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Net neutrality, feh. Here's the most convincing case for Net non-neutrality that I've seen yet. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 4, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Friday, September 29, 2006

Screencasts Online
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Mac devotees in search of tips and guidance will want to check out Screencasts Online, Don McAllister's very helpful and generous site. Don offers numerous free videos (in formats suitable for the desktop and for iPods) on Mac topics: iWeb, RapidWeaver, the Dock, etc. Sign up for a membership and enjoy further benefits. I've watched a number of Don's movies and I'm a more proficient Mac user for having done so. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 29, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Monday, September 18, 2006

Every Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- If you had to choose one, would you cast your vote ... for deadpan Ahree Lee, who photographed herself every day for three years? for moody Josh, who snapped a pic of himself every day for six years? Or for impish Finn Margrie, who spoofed both the above? Any volunteers out there willing to write the definitive (and needed) essay about digital technology, adolescent values, and narcissism? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 18, 2006 | perma-link | (15) comments

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Real? Fake? Or Real-Fake?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Many of the products in TV ads look so unreal and shiney because ... well, they're unreal. Bottles of dishwashing liquid, cans and jars of many kinds, even the cars in some car ads -- they're fakes, or rather they're virtual thingees that have been constructed with computers. Here's a real-or-fake? quiz page. * How soon before the people onscreen will be fake -- or hyperreal -- too? Here's a short semi-documentary about how Marlon Brando was revived and made to deliver some new lines for "Superman Returns." Am I the only person left who doesn't want to inhabit a superbright, poppin', hyperreal, computer-generated universe? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 17, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

Friday, August 11, 2006

My Zen Desktop
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- While life in front of the iMac is all quiet and spaciousness ... ... life behind it is something else entirely: I don't think wireless samadhi has been achived quite yet. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 11, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

Friday, July 28, 2006

You Tube-ishness
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Lex turns up a Ronettes video that's somehow funky and darling at the same time. He annotates it touchingly too. * God is in the house -- Art Tatum himself, making his grand piano look like Linus' (Correction: Schroeder's) toy keyboard: * What business model? Ilkka's predicting that YouTube will last for another year, tops. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 28, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- This BusinessWeek piece by Ben Elgin about the spyware business isn't the comprehensive overview I was hoping for. Instead, it's an in-depth look at one particular spyware company. But it's fascinating anyway. Some names it seems safe to hate: Jesse Stein, Joshua Abram, Daniel Kaufman, Alan Murray, and Rodney Hook, the brains and drive behind an ultra-sketchy outfit called Direct Revenue. Why isn't the government withholding a few billions from its zany mideast adventures and using it instead to nail the people who trash our computers and destroy our time? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 19, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Help!! I Just Bought a Macintosh!
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- After 23 years of owning Microsoft/Intel based computers I finally bit the bullet, er, make that the Apple. Time was I regarded Apples as hippy-dippy, non-serious machines. Which they largely were if your computing needs called for serious number-crunching and the ability to deliver data to corporate clients. But times and circumstances change. I dropped my data business after the Germans took over my then-biggest client, Chrysler (my contacts disappeared). Now I'm about to retire and don't see much reason to pursue demographics further. That means I don't need a big, honkin' number-smashing machine that knows how to speak APL and J. For its part, Apple Computer came to its senses and ditched their old CPU and went to Intel. That move means Macintoshes can run software with Intel-style byte-structure without having to emulate; the practical result is a big speed-up for such tasks. Moreover, Macs are getting the capability of running Windows as a separate, partitioned operating system. Furthermore, I now see the need for having a portable computer. Well, okay, I've seen the need for some time. But I couldn't justify the cost of getting one, especially if I needed a semblance of the power I required for my desktop machine. Powerful laptop computers have always been comparatively pricey. This consideration has been erased by my change in focus from demography; now I need a computer for blogging, other Internet use, and light writing and spreadsheet work. Finally, I had dissatisfaction with Dell and, by extension other Windows/Intel computers. Thus far this year I've spent $140 on virus-removal, half of it related to a short non-protected period when I had to rebuild my operating system and software following replacement of a defunct hard drive. And when I bought a flat-panel monitor (that proved to be slightly defective) I spent hours on the phone with Dell trying to straighten things out. (Now that Dell is a huge company, it is highly bureaucratized. Worse, its phone-tree system makes it difficult to get help with non-standard problems. In past years, I had been happy with Dell: no longer.) The Mac I bought was the bottom-of-the line MacBook. It won't replace the Dell, not at first anyway. The fancier Intel-based Mac portables seemed too expensive, and the MacBook, in theory, ought to be able to serve my modest needs. (I'm not into computationally-intensive activities such as video or gaming.) Besides the basic computer, I got an HP scanner/printer that should make it more convenient to get certain illustrations into this blog (till now, I had to plead with my sister to scan some stuff). I also bought a two-button mouse, thinking that I might need it if I get the Windows-partitioning software. Also, I think a mouse would be handier when a desktop was available, when not in literal lap-top mode. And I bought the Microsoft Office software package for compatibility with the Dell. I can download the J language to the Mac too, I think.... posted by Donald at July 11, 2006 | perma-link | (19) comments

Friday, June 30, 2006

Technical Time Out
Thanks to everyone who wrote in earlier to let me know that the blog seemed to have been hijacked. Scary! In fact, a domain name renewal wasn't executed as smoothly as it should have been. A few back-and-forths with our registrar, a couple of hours out of my life, and all was back to normal. Not that I'm bitter about those lost hours or anything ... Now, back to our usual programming.... posted by Michael at June 30, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Friday, June 16, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Anne Thompson tips us off to "Young American Bodies" -- a new (and popular, and NSFW) example of the latest audiovisual-through-time storytelling form: the ongoing webshort video series. I didn't love "YAB" myself, but it did leave me convinced that the webshort-series is a super-promising new format. Looking into the official Blowhards crystal ball, I see much ferment and excitement in the field, and I predict that great things will come of it. I was much happier watching Neal Medlyn's zany and sweet "Land of Make Believe," a free-associating, eerily-comic performance-art jamboree. Medlyn's imagination is something to behold; his show (also an ongoing webshort series) is like "PeeWee Herman's Playhouse," but on a billionth the budget and with the perversity worn on its sleeve -- and proudly so. Kinky! Bizarre! Fun! Speaking of web-video ... I continue to spend far too much time digging up old music-performance clips from YouTube. One of my favorite recent finds: the tough (look at that plaid shirt), hard-rockin' Big Mama Thornton doing her formidably funky/swampy version of "Hound Dog." You don't mess with Big Mama! -- who, by the way, recorded the song three years before Elvis Presley did. I notice that surfing for and watching video on the web is already beginning to seem natural to me, while the ritual of sitting down before the TV has begun to feel staid and archaic. I wonder if the suits at the networks are terrified of what YouTube represents. Here's Wikipedia's entry on Big Mama Thornton. Best, Michael UPDATE: Agnostic has been prowling YouTube too. You can enjoy what he's turned up here, here, and here. Don't miss this one, which pretty much embodies all of today's visual / conceptual language. It has everything: lip-synching, thong-flashing, mugging for the camera, cute Japanimation eyes, MTV cutting, with all the ingredients Cuisinarted together on iMovie ... It's a bedroom-webcam aesthetic. It's also a whole new world, one that doesn't belong to anyone over the age of 25. To be fair, the clip is also amusing, cute, and well-done. Small discovery for today: As far as I've been able to tell, the song that has been lip-synched more often than any other is "Hey, Mickey." I wrote a little item about Toni Basil here.... posted by Michael at June 16, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Quitting AOL
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I just closed down a stray and useless AOL account. A small chore, you'd think -- but it took me an hour to accomplish: roughly 30 minutes figuring out how to do it (AOL's webpages and Help section are of no use at all), and then 30 minutes on the horn. What a dumb waste of time. Googling around, I've found that it's hyper-common for people to experience exasperation -- AOL rage? -- trying to leave AOL. AOL makes quitting AOL very difficult. Screw 'em for that. So in a frame of mind that's both vindictive and yet public-spirited, let me pass along the key phone number: 1-800-827-6364. That's 1-800-827-6364. 1-800-827-6364. Prepare to spend a lot of time wrangling with automated demands, wait time, and even (once you've finally landed yourself a live human being) many pushy offers and near-threats intended to keep you on board. But I'm pleased to report that, so long as you're persistent and have some time to kill, quitting AOL can indeed be done. Here's a funny account by Dave Taylor about his own efforts to leave AOL. That phone number once again is: 1-800-827-6364. Set yourself free! Best, Michael PS: I hear good things about this Firefox extension, which blocks Flash-powered content. All those zippy, wiggly, strobing ads that can make a computer screen so hard on the eye and the brain? They can now be things of the past.... posted by Michael at June 7, 2006 | perma-link | (15) comments

Friday, May 26, 2006

Web Archives
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Which online web-archiving service to commit to: Furl, or Google's new Notebook? Furl stores actual copies of the webpages that interest you, while Google only stores URLs. But Google allows you to store your own scribbles and notes too. But Furl is more fun in a Flickr "sharing" way. But Google seems more likely to be around for the long term. Or do I let go of the "online" fixation and use nothing but Yojimbo? But it's great to be able to access everything from any computer that's online ... Oh, dear: I'm starting to feel disorganized again. Why oh why isn't Yojimbo a web-based application? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 26, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Self-Organizing System
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I spend far more time researching and trying out get-yourself-organized software than I do actually organizing myself. Nonetheless, I think I've finally found the Mac organize-yourself software package that's perfect for me. Yojimbo is an iTunes-like way of sorting out your thoughts, links, and scribbles. I've been using it for a month, and I'm happy to report that my desktops -- my real and my virtual desktops -- are both cleaner than they've been in a long, long time. Another good sign: I haven't wasted any time researching organize-yourself software in weeks ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 24, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Thursday, April 13, 2006

End of Civilization? Episode 2
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- My sneaky and never-quite-frankly-admited-to Larger Question in a recent posting about upscale book-jackets was this: Are we undergoing a cultural collapse into a value-set that is self-absorbed, masturbatory, and adolescent? Are the technological shifts that we're experiencing helping to promote this development? A few more pieces of evidence. First up, a home-made rock video by a 22-year-old woman. Just to get a few things out of the way: Cute! Talented! Better than I could ever do! Nice job! Still: Interesting, isn't it, what EZ new technologies can lead to? Give a girl the tools to make what she wants to make and the freedom (and wherewithal) to make it as she sees fit, and it turns out that she'll make ... a rock video starring herself. Why? Presumably because she can. Next up, a long (and very NSFW) sample clip from the website Beautiful Agony. Just to get a few things out of the way: Clever idea! Riveting performance! Beautiful imagery, if of a hyper-decadent sort! Still: Interesting, isn't it, what some people will do when you give them the means to, er, express themselves? They'll broadcast their self-enraptured narcissism to the entire world. (BTW, I'm not condemning this. It's hot, it's fun, it's probably harmless, and why not? I'm just raising my eyebrows at some general cultural trends.) My small-t theory is that there's something about the put-it-together-for-yourself convenience of digital media that caters to the desire many people seem to have to be adolescents forever. Not to put too fine a point on it: I'm getting the strong impression that digital tools lend themselves more to spiritual/ psychological/ aesthetic masturbation than they do to going out and interacting with the world. Is this a bad or a good thing? I'm not entirely sure, and I'm probably not competent to say. Kids raised on the digi-media will undoubtedly be able to amuse themselves and to express themselves like no kids ever before. And, as long as you're burning up with life, why not broadcast the fact? Are these bad things? I do find myself worrying about one question, though: What happens when the adolescent, self-pleasing, burn-it-all-up energy runs out? While interacting with the traditional media is often frustrating and infuriating, it can also deepen a person, develop his resources, and lead him out, away from the self and into the world. It can leave him able to set aside ego, and to dig down deep when the crunch comes. But, when the crunch does come, what are the digi-kids going to have to fall back on, or to draw from? I guess we'll see in due course. And perhaps I'm rationalizing anyway. Perhaps all those pre-digital trials 'n' tribulations were pointless, and had no soul-developing effects at all. Has there ever been a culture as infatuated with adolescence as we are? Adolescence is short, and it's boring, even if it can be good for a few sexy memories. But the tendency so many... posted by Michael at April 13, 2006 | perma-link | (28) comments

Attack of the Soul-Destroying Video Screens
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ah, the wonders of technology ... of progress ... of innovative financing ... Still, is this something that many people really want? Let alone that anybody needs? In case my snapshot is too murky: That's an image of a TV broadcasting the news in a public elevator. Gasp sputter fume rage ... Are there people who are so unable to stand quietly during an elevator ride that they simply must be supplied with electronic distraction? People whose boredom and restlessness is so important an issue that the rest of us should be given no choice but to endure the presence of electronic twitchiness and noise where there once was no such thing? (And yes, that elevator-TV's sound was on.) Cellphone-yakking has destroyed what used to be quiet periods in waiting rooms, and on trains and buses. Now video screens are chewing up some of life's restful moments too. In airports, it has become hard to find a place to sit and kill time without being surrounded by flickering, yammering TVs. In NY City, some poster-style public ad spots have been replaced by large video screens -- so very much better at snagging your attention and yanking you away from your own thoughts. I've even taken rides in cabs that had video screens doing their distracting thing in the passenger compartment. I suppose these developments might be seen and experienced by some as welcome; not by me. I suppose someone could even go back to first principles and argue that my dislike of these invasions constitutes an attack on his "right" to have and enjoy them. On the other hand, doesn't it sometimes seem that the main effect of certain innovations is to blow holes in what were once very pleasant and humane (if informal, underappreciated and underrecognized) social arrangements? This Andy Rooney moment has been brought to you by Michael Blowhard... posted by Michael at April 13, 2006 | perma-link | (16) comments

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is your domain name secure? Dr. Weevil woke up one day to discover that his domain name had been hijacked by sleazeballs. Read the infuriating tale here, curse the name of Earthlink, and pay a visit to the good Dr. at his new web address. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 29, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Gossip and Guys
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- When did red-blooded American males become gossip queens? Was it six months ago? Two weeks? Between heroic wrestles with the Renaissance, early modernism, and Rome, FvBlowhard refreshes himself with visits to The Superficial. Another varmint -- the most brawny and swaggering bud I have -- regularly sends friends emails with links to postings that made him giggle at DListed. Me? Well, ever the classicist, I'm couldn't be more thrilled that Page Six can be found online. Where macho het dudes are concerned, is the Web empowering or is it emasculating? Does digital technology free us to do what we've always wanted to do, and to be who we've always wanted to be? Or is the Web like a sci-fi virus, something sinister that's transforming even the beefiest of guy-guys into metrosexuals? And what's your own favorite online gossip site anyway? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 1, 2006 | perma-link | (11) comments

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Surroundsound Blues
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Wife and I have been working our way through the Joss Whedon sci-fi/Western "Firefly" (buyable, Netflixable). The show, which aired on Fox for only one season in 2002, has a passionate cult of admirers. It has collected over 2000 five-star reviews on Amazon, and it inspired Whedon (and a movie studio, of course) to make "Serenity," a movie version of the same material. The Wife and I are 2/3 of the way through the series now. Not our cup of tea, but we're watching in order to observe and learn, not to judge. We're ever-curious about the state of long-form storytelling, and we enjoy trying to figure out what people get out of the TV-fiction that they love. There's much about the series to be admired. Whedon's ability to pace and vary a season's worth of shows is certainly impressive. He has a likable talent for creating a party-food cosmos consisting of of crunchy pop-cult refs and chewable pop-cult characters -- in this case, Harrison Ford meets "Starship Troopers" meets Tantric sex meets the new butt-kicking gals, etc. Whedon is Mr. Flair when it comes to cross-breeding genres. And he seems eager to feed Americans' insatiable appetite for workplaces presented as extended families. Does anyone have a theory about why Americans are so fond of the fantasy that the workplace should function as a kind of idealized family? My own theory: we expect too much of work, and we spend too much time at the office. But I could be wrong. We are family. No: make that co-workers ... Like I say: nothing that speaks to us, but intriguing nonetheless. Watching the show, though, the main thing that's hitting me is this reflection: Wow, are my sonic-environment tastes different than those of many Americans. "Firefly"'s soundtrack is the TV equivalent of what's so often marketed to us at the multiplex these days: an ever-throbbing electronic gumbo of growls, roars, rumbles, and shazaams, all providing a heightened audio backdrop to the "you're inside the instruments" score, and to the muffled and underplayed (and so, I guess, "real"-seeming) dialogue. And all those karate-chop sounds ... Watching kung-fu movies back in the '70s, would you have guessed that, as cool and funny as they were, the Bruce Lee sound effects -- the swishes, ka-thunks, and yee-hahs -- would still be such presences in popular culture come 2005? The only sins in these kinds of pop-Wagnerian soundtracks would seem to be simplicity, clarity, and silence. It's a kind of pinging/rumbling jumble that I suppose a lot of people like, or at least have come to expect. Perhaps this kind of sonic texture feels familiar to them. Perhaps it's comforting. Maybe it gives them a lift too. Maybe it signals "entertainment!" As we watch "Firefly," all these pinging-growling sounds are coming at The Wife and me impressively reproduced by our surroundsound home-theater system. I blogged here about how I'd had to equip our new TV with a sound... posted by Michael at January 31, 2006 | perma-link | (15) comments

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Hard Drivin' Blues
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I guess nobody noticed. Nothing about it in the Style section of the Post (Washington), ditto in Page 6 of the Post (New York). Even Instapundit didn't give it a single "Heh." And if you didn't notice it either, it so happens that I haven't been blogging for more than a week save for a couple comment posts. You see [sniff] my hard drive went south. Bought the farm. Went to Blighty. Croaked. But here I am, back in business with a (mostly) working computer and a newly slimmed-down wallet (lighter by $200). I suppose that most of you have lost hard drives now and then, so my experience is no big deal given any true disasters you might have experienced computer-wise. But humor me. Let me vent. For the past 23 years of personal computing I've had pretty good luck on drives. (Though my previous computer, age 6, probably died because of a hard drive failure.) I did lose at least one hard drive at work, but because my agency is at the top of the state government administrative heap, we have good tech support and a new computer arrived the same day. This time, however, I was on my own. Initially I thought I simply had software problems due to conflicts in all those software patches the Internet allows one to receive. But the tech at the repair shop thought it was the drive. Several days later, once the machine worked its way to the top of the work queue, word came back that indeed the drive was failing. So in went a new, empty drive. To save big bucks I opted to install the operating system and other software myself. It turned out that Dell's driver set is hard to install (thanks to an unclear user interface). But it seems I have a year left on my warrantee and I could get a Dell tech to walk me through installation. In the midst of that we found that my internal Zip drive hadn't been re-linked at the repair shop so I had to open up the machine and fool with various cables: haven't done that in ages. Once the basic stuff was in place I had to re-install internet service and Norton Internet Security. Before I got to Norton, a virus slipped into the machine. While pondering what to do about that I spent nearly nine hours (I'm on dial-up at home) downloading and installing all the Windows XP patches and service packs that were issued over the last two years. This morning I got on the phone with a Norton tech (probably in India -- he had the accent) and, $70 later, the virus was gone. I still haven't quite gotten my e-mail working and I have more applications to install. But I'm almost okay. Essential files were backed up on Zip cartridges, so nothing serious was lost. The most annoying loss concerns e-mail. All my in-box and out-box content... posted by Donald at January 15, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Steve Jobs Show
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- You can watch a video of Steve Jobs' MacWorld presentation here. In Quicktime format, needless to say. Best, Michael UPDATE: Thanks to Dave Lull, who alerted me to this good text summary of the announcements and goings-on at Macworld.... posted by Michael at January 10, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Sunday, January 8, 2006

Steve Jobs Presents
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- With mere hours until MacWorld opens in San Francisco, Mac fans are burning to learn what new delights the Apple geniuses have cooked up. (I wouldn't mind an iPhoto that doesn't crash quite so often.) Steve Jobs' address is, of course, the slick, mock-turtle/rock-star highlight of these events. But what the advent of MacWorld has this media and showbizzy kinda guy really wondering about is: What goes into these high-tech dog-and-pony shows anyway? So I was tickled to run across this Mike Evangelist account of just that. Involved in the development of iDVD and Final Cut Pro, Evangelist once helped prepare the video segment of a Jobs MacWorld presentation. Excerpt: I had worked on my five-minute Final Cut Pro demo for weeks, selecting just the right sample material and honing (I thought) my delivery to a fine edge. My boss and his boss were there for moral support. Steve, as was his custom, sat in the audience. I was very nervous, and having Steve's laser-like attention concentrated on me didn't help. About a minute into the demo, Steve stopped me, saying impatiently, "you gotta get this together or we're going to have to pull this demo from the keynote." Is Steve Jobs the closest equivalent we have these days to an old-time movie-studio boss? Wikipedia explains where the expression "dog and pony show" comes from. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 8, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Thursday, January 5, 2006

New E-Book Readers
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- David Sucher brings news of a promising new Dutch e-book reader. And Sony introduces their own impressive e-reading machine. I ventured a few thoughts about e-books here. Short version: the "book" in "e-book" is something we shouldn't get too hung up about. (We get 'way too hung up about the "book" thing generally, IMHO.) What's more important is the development of e-reading and e-writing -- and we're already a long ways down that road. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 5, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Saturday, December 17, 2005

To iTunes, or Not to iTunes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Wayne Bremser wonders if the iTuning of all recordings will have a good or a bad effect on the fortunes of jazz. (Link thanks to Design Observer's Michael Bierut.) Alan Little is exasperated with the way iTunes handles -- or doesn't handle -- classical music. I complained recently about what using an iPod Shuffle does to my experience of listening to music. Alan points out a fascinating article about the joys of high-end audio. Great passage: The difference between typical high-end audio imaging and the musical presence of a single-ended amp is the difference between listening to somebody type a manuscript and listening to them read what they've written. Still: iTunes and iPods are damned convenient, no? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 17, 2005 | perma-link | (9) comments

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

More Cameraphone Hijinks
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of UPenn kids have sex in a dorm up against a window. A passing student takes a digi-photo of the action and posts it on his website. Punchline: The girl who was in the photo feels upset and runs to the Dean to complain. Here's a news report, complete with one of the NSFW photos. Happily, FIRE stepped in and the kid who took the photo -- an engineering junior, we learn -- didn't get whacked. Still: the funny quandaries the new media make possible, eh? 30% of me thinks: Sheesh, imagine having sex all exposed to the public like that, then being so upset that someone took your photo and put it on the web that you go to the Dean to weep and wail. And 10% of me thinks, Well, maybe she wanted her fun to be visible only to passersby and not to the entire world. But most of me thinks: Pretty hot, and pretty funny! Where do your sympathies in this case lie? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 14, 2005 | perma-link | (18) comments

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

It's Fuddy-Duddy Time
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Blowhards -- at least a few of us -- are part of a very exclusive club: "Only 0.3 percent of the Internet's estimated 53.4 million bloggers are age 50 or older." (Source: AARP Bulletin -- where else? -- citing a Perseus survey.) Adding slightly to those unimpressive numbers, The Spectator now has a blog. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 7, 2005 | perma-link | (13) comments

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- While on vacation I decided to run a small experiment. Of my various emailboxes, one has no filters on it whatsoever. I was curious: How bad has the spam situation really become? So I left the emailbox wide open and didn't check it for two weeks. Just now I cautiously lifted the lid. Result: during 14 days of being left to itself, the emailbox accumulated over 28,000 messages. It's a turbulent and vicious cyberworld out there! Mean streets indeed. A question for those who know math and computers? Can we justifiably conclude from my amateur experiment that these days, a typical emailbox, if left entirely wide-open, would be stuffed on average with 2000 spams a day? Counting work, I seem to have become the proprietor of five emailboxes. No, make that six. Er, seven. How'd that happen anyway? How many emailboxes have you got piled up? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 26, 2005 | perma-link | (9) comments

Friday, November 11, 2005

iPods and Viagra
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's an iPod universe; we just happen to live in it. The iPod Nano is selling out, and the video iPod has been a showstopper. Interesting fact: of the 30 million iPods that have been sold since the original iPod was introduced in October 2001, 22 million of them were bought in 2005. I finally joined the iPoddin' hordes a couple of months ago. Until then, I'd resisted for a quirky look-and-feel reason: I dislike the idea of carrying around a small device that's based on a hard drive. Those whirring disks Those little magnetic arms ... A small electronic gizmo that is full of the kinds of delicate moving parts that have failed me three times already? No, I don't think so. Then the iPod Shuffle was introduced. The Shuffle doesn't have a hard drive; it's based on flash memory (which means no moving parts). It's also tiny -- the size of a pack of gum -- and it's relatively cheap. Drop a Shuffle and it'll survive. Lose it and you aren't out very much dough. I find it fascinating that the Nano -- which, like the Shuffle, is flash-memory based -- is such a hit. I wonder if lots of people have the same wary feelings about hard drives that I do. So I bought a Shuffle and became an iPodder. I'm not sure what my final verdict is on the Shuffle. It's tiny, it's easy to use, and it's no source of anxiety -- these are all good things. What I love most about the device is listening to audiobooks on it. Thanks to Felix Salmon for suggesting that I record CD-based audiobooks into iTunes and then listen to them on the Shuffle. (CD-based audiobooks have tracks, just like music CDs do.) The routine involves some tedium -- 30 minutes or so of feeding CDs into the computer, and then moving data onto the Shuffle. But the results are molto groovy. There's something pleasingly miraculous about carrying, say, an entire Teaching Company lecture series around in your shirt pocket. As a device for listening to music, though, the Shuffle has broken my heart. This isn't because the Shuffle has no screen and holds no more than a few hundred songs; neither of these facts bother me. It's more simple and basic than that. It's because I find the experience of listening to music on the Shuffle depressing. As far as I can tell, this has little to do with sound quality per se. The Shuffle's sound is nothing if not clear and rockin'. It seems to have to do instead with the way that the iPod compresses and presents music -- and especially with how the resulting soundwaves hit my brain and my soul. Someone at iTunes' technical HQ seems convinced that the way to overcome the deficits of severe audio compression is to crank the "effects" dial 'way up. The result is that music listened to on the Shuffle... posted by Michael at November 11, 2005 | perma-link | (21) comments

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Web 2.0, I Think
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- So far as adapting to new computer concepts goes, I like to think that I do OK -- at least for someone my age. After all, how many 50-somethings get anything whatsoever about the impact of digital technology on culture? I have arty Boomer friends whose entire response to recent tech developments has been to feel old and depressed. Meanwhile, on and on I blab about the transition the world is making from traditional to digital culture. Plus I do my blabbing online! I post images to my blog! I know the HTML commands for "boldface," "italics," and "indent this passage"! Do I rock or what? Still, I have my limits. For the life of me, I can't wrap my mind around what an "RSS feed" is, for instance. Apologies to anyone who wants a 2Blowhards RSS feed, by the way. I have no idea what such a thing might be, let alone how to provide one. But there's an even more mind-warping development than RSS feeds happenin' around us these days: "Web 2.0." I suspect that zillions of people understood this idea the moment they heard their first description of it. Me, I'm not only baffled by the concept, I'm dismayed by its existence. I'm starting to feel old and depressed myself. (Note to younger visitors: One earth-shaking paradigm shift per lifetime seems to be about what the human organism can contend with. When a second comes along, its effect isn't to make you feel excited and optimistic. It's to make you want to move to a quiet coastal community and spend your days deciding which Early Bird special to try out for dinner.) As far as I can tell, "Web 2.0" refers to the way the Web is evolving into a vast sea of data-chunks, to be mixed and remixed at every websurfer's will. Web 2.0 isn't a giant, free, combo library/magazine-store; nope, it's a happenin', ever-morphing, beeping-and-booping arcade to be interacted with. From the online creator/consumer's point of view -- and I guess it's now a given that we're all creator/consumers -- where Web 1.0 was about providing sites for surfers to visit, Web 2.0 is about serving the surfer's experience. I've taken a couple of timid steps out into Web 2.0 waters. The "social bookmarking" service is certainly amusing, and the photo-sharing service Flickr is plenty cool. Many people seem to enjoy 'em, and to know exactly how they want to make use of 'em. But for my own purposes? ... I dunno. Once I'd poked around and Flickr, made a little sense of what they were about, and experienced the inevitable "the very fabric of life is changing" cyber-rush, I haven't revisited them often. Call me 20th century, but my appetite for messing-with-the-web seems to be limited to browsing, writing, emailing, shopping, data-storage, and commenting. Well, mostly. Recently I've bumped into a couple of Web 2.0 services that I suspect I will be making regular use of.... posted by Michael at October 5, 2005 | perma-link | (18) comments

Friday, March 18, 2005

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Visitors may have noticed a new strip of links running across the top of the main-text column here at the blog. Most are still under construction, but one of them is now in service. Since our general hope is to make some of the blog's features more easily accessible than they've been, I'm pleased that we've now got our Best-Ofs in place. Each of us Blowhards has chosen a grabbag of postings we're particularly proud of. We're hoping that visitors who'd like to sample this blog's past contents -- without having to sift through the rather massive complete Archives (which can be gotten-to via the left-hand column) -- will find these Best-Of links handy. Run your cursor over the "Best-Of" button, choose an author, then click on any link that appeals. Coming soon: direct links to the interviews we've done here. Many thanks once again to our wonderful blog-guy, Daniel of Westgate Necromantic, who I can't recommend highly enough. If you've got web-things that need doing, Daniel is fast, solid, a pleasure to deal with, and very reasonable. If you're into Goth fun and games, you certainly won't want to miss checking out Daniel's site. Here's hoping a few visitors choose to have some fun with our Best-Ofs. There's some good readin' and some fun information to be found there. Cheers, Michael... posted by Michael at March 18, 2005 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Personal Reflections
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Friedrich's musings on being a boss got me thinking about blogs. Great vehicles though they are for blowing off steam about the morning headlines, they're just as fabulous for reflections about personal experience. I'm generally annoyed by book-length memoirs, on the grounds of "If I know you, sure, maybe I'll be interested. But otherwise your life better make for a mighty good story, otherwise why exactly should you expect me to care?" These days, though, I often find myself fascinated by bloggers who pause to think out loud about some of what they've lived through. Honesty, the personal touch, modesty -- what's not to enjoy? (And what's not to respect?) The one-of-a-kind OuterLife may be the premier personal-reflections-blogger out there; he's got his own distinctive -- quirky and eccentric -- voice and vision, and he uses blogging like no one else around. So these days, I find myself thinking that maybe my aversion to book-length memoirs has more to do with their book-length than it does with their being memoirs. Hey, an art-and-culture discovery, at least for me. I've run across some powerful and very personal blog postings recently that I imagine other blogsurfers would enjoy. Alexandra Ceely writes about what it was like to lose her mom. John Emerson thinks out loud about what it's like to be one of life's marginal people. And Lynn Sislo yaks -- in her sweet and frank way -- about that dicey topic, race. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 9, 2005 | perma-link | (18) comments

Friday, February 4, 2005

Age and the Web
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- For no good reason, I found myself wondering: up to what age do people take to computers? Up to what age do they embrace the web? Is there a cutoff? One man I know who's in his mid-70s manages the computer well. He emails; he stores information; he shoots and manipulates digital photos; he prints out cards and images. In many ways he manages better than I do. I'm not entirely sure, though, that -- despite his prowess -- he grasps the basic principles of the digital universe, the hyperlinked/tree-structure/database thing that networked computers work on. The idea of managing folders and files puts him seriously off, and he seems to feel no urge to hang out on the web. But he's an enthusiastic user of his computer anyway. By contrast, one very intelligent woman I know who's in her 80s barely turns her computer on at all. You'd think she'd love the capabilities that the machine offers; she's a creative and resourceful person. But all she uses it for is once-a-week email sessions and occasional games of solitaire. Otherwise she shuns the beast. Moving into and inhabiting the digital mind-space can be a hurdle even for someone who's middle-aged: me, for instance. Thinking in computer terms -- slicing-and-dicing, hyperlinking, chunking, seeing some of the ramifications of all this -- takes an effort. It's fascinating, and it's cool. But finding my way around is also like learning to speak a foreign language. And my brain is a long way from being as pliant and energized as it once was. I feel good about how well I do contend, given my age and my useless English-lit background. And I feel downright smug when I look at many of my friends. They gripe and they whine; they've chosen to hang out in the Old Media world and bitch about the direction life is going. But even I -- even I! -- sometimes find myself ruefully reflecting that I'm adapting to computers with a mind that was hammered into shape back in the Dewey Decimal years. Nonlinearity is bliss -- but wrestling a linear mind into taking advantage of nonlinear bliss does present some challenges. Here's a small example. One New Reality I often encounter is the way that writing as it was once understood is ... well, what? Receding in importance? Merging with visuals and sound, and becoming part of a more general media soup? Something like that, anyway. And I do have my moments when I think -- melodramatically -- "Sheesh, I went to a lot of trouble over the years to become OK at expressing myself verbally, using words alone. What a cruel joke it is that I'm reaching whatever prime I'm capable of just at the exact moment when this skill is becoming irrelevant." Mature Me knows that the new developments and opportunities are good things: you're no longer just a writer! Instead, you're a writer/editor/filmmaker/designer/publisher! You aren't limited to lining words up... posted by Michael at February 4, 2005 | perma-link | (35) comments

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Bryan on Digital Originals
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In a recent posting and commentsfest about photography, a bunch of us started wondering about photography and the question of the "original" work of art. What's the original of a photograph? The picture's negative? A specific print of the negative? And how does digital-photography -- based as it is on endlessly-reproducible electronic files -- change any of these notions? Visitor Bryan Castaneda noticed this discussion and wrote me an interesting email. I asked Bryan if I could reprint his note on the blog, and was glad when he agreed. Here's Bryan: I recently got into a debate on just this issue. Friends of ours are getting married and the bride was shopping for a wedding photographer. She figured that in this digital era she could find a photographer who would supply not only prints of the wedding, but a CD-ROM of the photos, too. Apparently among professionals this is definitely NOT standard practice. Just as in the era of film cameras a photographer NEVER gave out his negatives, now digital photographers NEVER give out the digitals files. When my friend protested, one of the photographers she was gonna hired gave her the "I'm an artist" line and that was that. Professional photographers, being artists, do not under any circumstances turn over their negatives. I brought this issue up with my photographer girlfriend. "But aren't digital photos significantly different than photos from film?" "No, the digital file is like the negative. You don't give up your negative." "But it's NOT like a negative. A film negative is unique, a digital file is different enough that they're not analagous. Why shouldn't someone who spends hundreds of dollars to hire a photographer get digital copies of the photos they paid for?" In the old days a significant revenue stream for photograhers was making additional copies of the prints. I mean, inevitably someone wants more copies of a handful of photos and since the photographer had the only negative, you HAD to go back to him. With a digital file and color ink jet, that's no longer the case. I understand that photographers have to protect their business, but it seems to me that they should just charge MORE for digital copies of their photos. Another issue that bothered me was the whole "I'm an artist" defense. I hire a photographer which means that I'm hiring them for their artistic eye, yes. But aren't they being suitably compensated? How is it they're allowed to keep the negatives that someone paid for? When Rockefeller hired Rivera to paint a mural, that mural became the property of Rockefeller. "What if they want to use that photo for their advertising or for their portfolio," my girlfriend asked. Now, I guess if only one negative existed that might be a problem, but that's no longer the case with digital. Perhaps I'm wrong, but this seems to be a case of an old business failing to adapt to a new technology. The digital... posted by Michael at January 19, 2005 | perma-link | (11) comments

Monday, October 25, 2004

Have any other bloggers upgraded to Movable Type 3? Is it worth the effort? Does it offer worthwhile new features? Input, opinions, guidance, and observations all appreciated.... posted by Michael at October 25, 2004 | perma-link | (3) comments

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Digital Culture
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Another week, another perfectly-fine NYTimes Circuits section. David Pogue, who writes about the new Imac, is as helpful, informative, and amusing as ever. Good as it is, though, I always feel depressed when I leaf through the Circuits section -- because there's never any discussion of the impact of digital technology on culture. The latest in robots or cordless phones, sure. But culture more generally? Nada. What a missed opportunity. How are movies changing? What values are books now selling? In what ways is narrative being affected? What's it like to give a performance in front of a blue screen? Not a word about any of it. Now that I type this, it occurs to me that I should admit something flatout, and then ask something. The flatout thing first: I take it for granted that the move from analog to digital is the most significant change in the basis of culture since the invention of the printing press. I mean, this is big. In ten or twenty years, it's likely that 95% of the culture we encounter will be digitally-based and digitally-mediated. Even much "live" culture -- art galleries, music concerts -- will be affected, because many instruments, materials, sound systems, and audience expectations will have gone digital. As a consequence, I can't help believing that -- for the last couple of decades, and for the next who knows how many years -- the most important (and fascinating) story in the arts has been, is, and will be the impact of digital technology on culture. Which is, ahem, why I raise the topic so often around this blog. God knows it can be amusing to compare notes about the latest movie or album -- er, DVD or CD. But aren't such matters just a little dwarfed by such questions as: Where are we going? Where have we been? And how is our experience of culture changing? But I may be assuming agreement where there is none, so I gotta ask: what's your hunch about the importance of the move from analog to digital where culture's concerned? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 16, 2004 | perma-link | (14) comments

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Image Management
Dear Vanessa -- Digi-photo news: I've been playing with Google's Picasa software for image management, here. It's iPhoto for Windows, basically, with one major advantage over iPhoto; it respects your own filing system. Unfortunately, it has a couple of badly-judged failings; no ability to zoom in on the pix; and no ability to burn CDs. But it's free and attractive, it's a snap to download and install, and it's eager to serve. I've also been having fun with Flickr, an online photo-management whatsis. You can upload photos, designate who can see which images, and arrange and display the photos in albums. I've had a good time doing so. But what I've enjoyed most about Flickr has been surfing other people's photos, which Flickr enables you to do via numerous paths. It's amazing how many striking images people are making with their cameras; and it's giddy-making to be allowed glimpses into other people's lives. You can give Flickr a looksee here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 26, 2004 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Making Music
Morton Subotnick's CD-ROMs Making Music (here) and Making More Music (here) are brilliant music-composition programs for kids that many adults may enjoy too. They're nursery environments for music-making; Subotnick has managed come up with music-making tools that are as simple, basic, and fun to manipulate as building blocks and finger paints. Subotnick himself is a longtime and terrific composer of electronic music whose best-known piece is probably "Silver Apples of the Moon." (It's buyable here.) You can read an interview with him here. Here's his own site. Here's a site he's organized where kids can play with music. It doesn't work very well on my computer, while the CD-ROMs work flawlessly. Fair warning: the view of music that Subotnick presents is a Modernist one. You don't learn or experience historical forms; instead, you explore music very abstractly, as sound arranged in time. As it turns out (and IMHO, of course), this is ideal for experimenting, and for taking your first music-composition babysteps. Subotnick describes "Making Music" as a "composing space," and that seems about right.... posted by Michael at May 26, 2004 | perma-link | (2) comments

Saturday, March 13, 2004

My New Kodak
Dear Friedrich -- I treated myself to a cheapo new digital camera the other day -- this Kodak number here. So far I'm lovin' it. For one thing, it's one-third the size and one-third the price of the fancy digi-camera I bought a few years ago -- yet it performs the same number of tricks, or almost. For another, it couldn't be easier to use. As far as I can tell from playing with samples at stores, Kodak seems to be the current ease-of-use digicam champ. My previous fancy-for-its-era Nikon was an impressive but (to me, anyway) often frustrating thing. Having spent a little time fussing with film and cameras, I'm familiar with the basics and even enjoy telling a camera what I want it to do. What I hate doing is spraining my brain figuring out how to communicate with the gizmo. The Nikon and I were often at odds. The camera's designers for some reason buried nearly all its commands in software and made them accessible only via onscreen menus. If you wanted to turn off the flash, you had to click through menus. (Peer, squint, click, click, click.) If you wanted to shoot in macro mode, you had to click through menus. (Peer, squint, click, click, click.) I was spending far, far too much time squinting at a tiny screen, deciphering icons, and pointing-and-clicking my way through options, and far too little time actually squeezing off photos. Often by the time I was able to pull my eyes and brain out of menu-ville and return to the real world, I'd have lost the shot. Ah, but I'd had the satisfaction of adjusting the camera's settings correctly! Are there people who enjoy interacting with gizmos in this way? Me, I couldn't be happier to sacrifice some sophistication for the sake of directness, tactility and ease. I'm going to play Donald Norman for a sec and think out loud about what makes my new camera such an agreeable beastie. Hmm. I think most of my pleasure results from three choices the Kodak designers have made. Assigning the most-used functions to buttons. Real, physical, right-out-there, well-labeled buttons. What a pleasure, however retro: I can switch off the flash, review the stored shots, and do a few other things too almost without thinking. Does anyone find the state of mind they experience when they enter electronic menu-land to be enjoyable? I certainly don't; interacting with menus requires figuring-out energy. Although I'm semi-capable of summoning some up from time to time, I never find the process enjoyable, while stabbing well-labeled physical buttons gives me a lot of satisfaction. Simplifying the menus. OK, some functions inevitably will have to be lodged in menus. Why make the process of getting at them more laborious than it needs to be? Kodak minimizes the puzzle factor first by assigning certain functions to physical buttons -- which reduces the quantity of what needs to get stuffed into the menus -- and second by slightly restricting the camera's... posted by Michael at March 13, 2004 | perma-link | (8) comments

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Visual Google
Michael: When its been a long, tough daysay, one on which Ive had to make more than my quota of three impossible-to-rationally-analyze decisions on which large (to me, anyway) sums of money restIve taken to calming down by playing with Google image searches. I pick out some phrase, type it in and see what images pop up. For example, the other day I googled clouds, mountains, shadows (Im a big fan of all three) and found the following images. BTW, each is from a rather interesting website. San_Bernardino From a website you can visit here. crater6.01.1 From a website you can visit here. 2000-WY-GT-Tetons2 From a website you can visit here. Not all my searches are so naturally visual. For example, I also tried googling one for the money. Not only did I turn up quite a few images of, well, money, but I discovered that Janet Evanovichs detective story (One for the Money) must be really popularI found at least four different cover designs. It may be an exaggeration to describe a Google search as found art but I generally like the results at least as well as a John Cage musical composition. Cheers, Friedrich P.S. When does the movie version of "One for the Money" come out?... posted by Friedrich at February 10, 2004 | perma-link | (3) comments

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Death By Spam
Michael, Have you noticed that despite the recent Federal anti-spam legislation you're getting more of this stuff than ever? I certainly am. Since apparently Ill be deleting it forever, Ive actually started looking at the so-called sender names on spam and wondering about the people who make them up. I suspect spammers enjoy coming up with these namesit must give them a brief respite from the daily grind of filling penis-enhancer orders and getting more copies of the Paris Hilton video in the mail. From the pseudonyms they use, I can only assume that spammers are all frustrated writers of British country house murder mysteries. Looking down the ever-growing list of names in my email in-box, I begin to have fantasies of one guest after another arriving at a little impromptu get-together at the manor house: We observe the tall, dark and handsome Tanner Lopez (in the low-cost mortgage game) sidling up to the lovely Alfreda Shearer (seller of cut-price meds). Meanwhile, the spooky Delmer Timmons (who offers covert opportunities to watch Jessica and Nick have sex) is quite taken with the rather vulgar Edna Jazmin (cheap software). In a corner three back-slapping businessmen trade stories of the old penis game: Jerrod Santos (Viagra), Young Hankings (enlargement) and Tony Maloney (Super-Viagra.) The rather stuffy but fabulously rich host, Augustin Witherspoon (low-cost mortgages) is pursued by both blonde Vonda Roy (cable filters to let you see everything free) and brunette Augusta Roe (prescription-free tranquilizers). Who will lure him into her bed first? And why are the foreign twins, Dominique & Edgardo Curry (both in generic Viagra) keeping so much to themselves? Suddenly, a scream echoes through the great hall! Augustin Witherspoon lies dead, his throat cut by a CD containing 125 million email addresses. Who is the murderer? Okay, so I have an over-active imagination. Sue me. Don't pretend you never dream up little dramas like this. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at January 10, 2004 | perma-link | (13) comments

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Follow Up: Mapping the Cultureverse
Michael: Now that weve been blogging for over a year, a lot of headlines I read bring to mind previous postings weve cranked out. I thought Id highlight a one of these from the October 16 New York Times. Headlined Digging for Nuggets of Wisdom it discusses the increasing use of text-mining to search through enormous piles of documents looking for connections that no human can (efficiently) find. According to the story by Lisa Guernsey, which you can read here: In most cases, text-mining software is built upon the foundations of data minining, which uses statistical analysis to pull information out of structured databasesBut text miningworks on unstructured dataTo make sense of what it is reading, the software uses algorithms to examine the context behind words. If someone is doing research on computer modeling, for example, it not only knows to discard documents about fashion models but can also extract important phrases, terms, names and locations. In a May 31 post I wrote on Family Trees (which you can read here) I proposed using another piece of pattern-matching software deriving from biology to create maps showing the relatedness of various strings of data, and suggested that we could turn such software loose to create pedigrees for many ideas floating around in the cultural portions of the Web: And although it would be more difficult to track the pedigree of works of fiction, I wondered if it would be possible to reduce stories, or at least their plots, to a standard alphabet of relationships between the characters. For example, Hamlet might be reduced to father, son, step-father, mother, murder, revenge, madness, mistaken identity. It would be interesting to see the family tree of Hamlets antecedents and its descendants. In fact, it would be interesting to equip Google with such a relatedness testing device and use it to create family trees for memes propogating themselves through cyberspace. Well, it looks like with the advent of software like text-mining, even more powerful tools are becoming available to extract and document such cultural patterns from the Internet or other large digital storehouses of data. I also wrote a post on Culture and Scale Free Networks (which you can read here) suggesting that the cultural community is organized as a sort of scale-free network of influential individuals, giving the cultural universe a combination of relative stability but a tendency to be vulnerable to sudden, massive shifts of taste as key nodes (people) drop out of the network. According to the New York Times article, text-mining software often comes with the ability to visually map the relationships spelled out within its universe of texts; it would seem that such a system might well be able to diagram the exact confines--names, job titles, organizations--of the cultural networks sustaining the prestige of say, given movements in art or literature. Text Mining Relational Chart from New York Times Article (It would be pretty wild to discover that, say, the true cultural linchpin in the Renaissance was actually, say, the... posted by Friedrich at October 16, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Genetic Algorithms and Their Uses
Michael: Do you ever feel like an analogue-era Moses, stuck on this side of the River Jordan, able to glimpse but unable to enter the promised digital land? I often do looking at interesting new developments in computing. I particularly felt that way looking at an article headlined Darwin in a Box by Steven Johnson from the August issue of Discover Magazine (okay, so Im a little behind in my readingblame it on blogging.) Since I'm unequal to the task of executing a notion that came to me while reading the story, I'll share it with you and our readers--maybe somebody can bring it off. The article discusses genetic algorithms, originally invented by John Holland in the 1960s at the University of Michigan. (Which of course makes me feel even worse, as that was pretty much the equivalent of my own back yard at the time.) According to the article: [The technique] creates a random population of potential solutions, then tests each one for success, selecting the best of the batch to pass on their genes to the next generation, including slight mutations to introduce variations. To give the clueless (like me) an example of how the process works, the author shows how Torsten Reil, an Oxford researcher turned animation entrepreneur, used these algorithms to solve the problem of making a digitized character walk. He started with a simple stick figure, added muscles and a neural network to control them. The control network was the actual focus of the evolution. Reil and his team created a genetic algorithm to explore the potential ways that the figures control system could be refined. The ingredients of a genetic algortithm are actually relatively simple: a population of organisms, each with a distinct set of genes; rules for the mutation and recombination of those genes; and a fitness function to evaluate which organisms are the most promising in each generation. In this case, the fitness function was distance traveled from the origin without falling over. The algorithm generated 100 animated characters, each with a [random variation in its neural network.] Then the algorithm let them all try walking. Predictably enough, the first generation was almost completely inept. But a few figures were slightly better than the restthey took one hesitant step before crumbling to the ground. By the standards of the fitness function, they became the winners of round one. The software made 20 copies of their neural networks, introduced subtle mutations in each of them, added 80 new participants with [randomly varied control] networks, and started the next generation walking. Eventually, the computer program created a successful striding figure, which Mr. Reil incorporated into an animation software package called Endorphin. I dont know about you, but genetic algorithmswhich are getting a fair amount of real-world use in the engineering realm to do things like optimize refrigerator design for cost and efficiencywould seem to offer a lot of possibilities for the cultural realm. To take one example out of many, imagine applying this idea... posted by Friedrich at September 28, 2003 | perma-link | (21) comments

Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Video Game Blues
Michael: I want to announce a very minor milestone of contemporary cultural history. This is the first movie-style billboard ad Ive ever seen for a video game: I must say I didnt find the ad particularly alluring, especially since it appears at a suburban intersection within a few miles of my home. It also visibly recycles cliches about the gangster life which I'd rather not see reinforced, as there are quite active street gangs (responsible for a growing number of murders) operating within about a mile of this particular billboard. Granted, Ive never played the game, but the descriptions on Rockstars website (which you can visit here) didn't exactly reassure me: Having just made it back onto the streets of Liberty City after a long stretch in maximum security, Tommy Vercetti is sent to Vice City by his old boss, Sonny Forelli. They were understandably nervous about his re-appearance in Liberty City, so a trip down south seemed like a good idea. But all does not go smoothly upon his arrival in the glamorous, hedonistic metropolis of Vice City. He's set up and is left with no money and no merchandise. Sonny wants his money back, but the biker gangs, Cuban gangsters, and corrupt politicians stand in his way. Most of Vice City seems to want Tommy dead. His only answer is to fight back and take over the city himself. From the decade of big hair, excess and pastel suits comes a story of one man's rise to the top of the criminal pile as Grand Theft Auto returns to the PlayStation2 computer entertainment system this October. Vice City is a huge urban sprawl ranging from the beach to the swamps and the glitz to the ghetto, and is the most varied, complete and alive digital city ever created. Combining non-linear gameplay with a character driven narrative, you arrive in a town brimming with delights and degradation and are given the opportunity to take it over as you chooseFor the action man, or outdoors type, there's tons of fun things to do and adventures to be had guaranteed. For the secretive or creepy type, Vice City is full of surprises, a place where you'll constantly be surprised by the vivacious, fun-loving types who live there and the things you can discover. I acknowledge, the game may well be fun. But as an innocent bystander who came close to getting shot in a recent drive-by murder (the slug passed through my office where I normally sit; fortunately I took an early lunch that day) I find the game and the marketing campaign more than a bit cheap, cynical and irresponsible. I was intrigued to hear in the last year or so that video game sales passed U.S. movie boxoffice. Somehow I was hoping that this financial statistic would translate into a cultural development as well. In short, I had vague fantasies that this new medium would make a more interesting contribution to American culture than the movie industry, which in... posted by Friedrich at July 9, 2003 | perma-link | (12) comments

Friday, June 13, 2003

Free Reads -- William Berlind on Itunes
Friedrich -- We aren't the only people gnawing over the question of how the digitizing of almost everything may be affecting the arts, and our experience of the arts. William Berlind noticed that his daughter and her friends are listening to pop music via Apple's new Itunes service -- but they aren't downloading the songs. They're just listening to the free 30-second promotional snippets. He takes off from there to make many terrific observations. Sample passage: Technological advancement has changed the priorities of composition. The emphasis, which was once on development and theme, on modulations that took place over the course of a song or a musical piece, has shifted to sound design and texturevariables that can be piled up and reduced in a manner of seconds. Its the difference between developing a musical idea (recasting it, changing keys and repeating it) and putting a sound through different filters, or playing a beat four bars with a bassline, four bars without. If our musical attention span could be diagnosed, we would all get treated for musical Attention Deficit Disorder. Berlind's piece can be read in the New York Observer, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 13, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

Free Reads -- William Berlind on Itunes
Friedrich -- We aren't the only people gnawing over the question of how the digitizing of almost everything may be affecting the arts, and our experience of the arts. William Berlind noticed that his daughter and her friends are listening to pop music via Apple's new Itunes service -- but they aren't downloading the songs. They're just listening to the free 30-second promotional snippets. He takes off from there to make many terrific observations. Sample passage: Technological advancement has changed the priorities of composition. The emphasis, which was once on development and theme, on modulations that took place over the course of a song or a musical piece, has shifted to sound design and texturevariables that can be piled up and reduced in a manner of seconds. Its the difference between developing a musical idea (recasting it, changing keys and repeating it) and putting a sound through different filters, or playing a beat four bars with a bassline, four bars without. If our musical attention span could be diagnosed, we would all get treated for musical Attention Deficit Disorder. Berlind's piece can be read in the New York Observer, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 13, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Videogames and Learning
Friedrich -- How are computers and videogames affecting brains, thought processes and tastes? Hard to imagine a more interesting culture question these days. Sharon Begley in the Wall Street Journal (not online) reports on the results of a University of Rochester study. The U. of R. group, led by Daphne Bavelier, a prof of cognitive studies, investigated the visual skills of a group of young people (18-23) who played videogames regularly -- and not just any old videogames, but action videogames -- and compared the results to the skills of a group of nonplayers. And the winner is ... ? Videogamers showed a pronounced improvement in their ability to pay attention to complex visual environments. They also "could keep better track of more objects simultaneously and process fast-changing visual information more efficiently." Good news! But hold on. Other studies, Begley notes, have suggested that playing videogames hurts the ability to "concentrate for prolonged periods on reading, writing or solving math problems. And a growing body of research suggests that the virtual behavior that violent games reward can encourage real violence and aggression ... Little provocations are more likely to be interpreted as hostile." Hmm. What to make of this? And how is it likely to affect the making and experiencing of culture? Infallible clairvoyant that I am, I predict more Whack, Thwam and Kerbloom. What's your guess? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 29, 2003 | perma-link | (9) comments

Friday, May 23, 2003

Odd Couples
Michael: After blogging for the better part of a year my hard drive is now chock-a-block with pictures I've pulled off the web, received as e-mail attachments and scanned from books. I happened to look through a portion of this incredibly random hoard the other day and noticed that occasionally pictures that were next to each other in my directory had an odd sense of connection to each other. Let me give a few examples: HEADLIGHTS AbuLordofVegetation.jpg; Ad.jpg CHEEKBONES AND ATTITUDE DelacroixESelfPortraitDetail.jpg; DietrichMarleneSmoking2.jpg EXCITING SCIENTIFIC HORRORS TheNationCover2.jpg; TheThingCover.jpg VISUAL SUBSTRUCTURE UccelloChalice.jpg; UglowTheWave1991-7.jpg I bet you can pull a few of these odd couples off your hard drive, too. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at May 23, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Visitors may be running into problems with our "comments" function -- we certainly are. Re-opening-the-blog kinks that are being ironed out, basically. Our webhost tells us they're on top of it, that they're tweaking something incomprehensible having to do with something else incomprehensible called mySQL (???!!!), and that -- all we really care about -- everything should be working smoothly by this afternoon. Apologies for the inconvenience.... posted by Michael at May 15, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Slimmer, prettier, faster
Hi everyone, Our redone site is back up and functional. Blogging resumes tomorrow. A grateful and happy tip of our hats to Leilah and Daniel of Westgate Necromantic, who did all the hard work of moving the blog, slimming it down and making it behave, as well as giving the look-and-feel an inspired goose. Dig the colors -- lively and rich, but not competitive with the general "thoughtful" (or so we hope) tone of the site. And that fab-to-the-max logo (a Leilah specialty) -- mock-pompous in just the right Blowhardish way. The site, thanks to Daniel, should be behaving a lot more snappily than it did, too. Links to blogs are still in the sidebar here on the main page, but links to other websites are now on their own page. Up near the top of the sidebar are a few new ways of rummaging through what's already been stored and published here. We're (shyly) hoping a few people will see fit to take the plunge into the archives, which can now be explored by subject matter as well as by date. Leilah and Daniel are a joy to work with. They're talented and fast, their prices are reasonable -- and they couldn't be more responsive or better-humored. (Very important to naggy and pest-y computer idiots like us.) We recommend them super-enthusiastically. You want a blog or a fullblown website, but can't face putting it together for yourself? Working with Leilah and Daniel, you'll be surprised how quickly (and how inexpensively) your site will be online, looking good, and functioning well. Leilah and Daniel were recommended to us by Polly Frost, who's also a big fan. Hey, check out the gorgeous and extensive site -- complete with blog, forum, pix and prose -- that Leilah and Daniel made for Polly here. Leilah and Daniel can be contacted at Here's hoping y'all enjoyed wrestling with our recent Nikos Salingaros extravaganza. And many thanks for returning to see if the Blowhards are still up to no good. Best, Friedrich and Michael... posted by Michael at May 13, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, May 7, 2003

Packing and moving
A note from Friedrich von Blowhard and Michael Blowhard: 2Blowhards is going to be doing some redesigning, renovating, packing and moving over the next few days. So, though we expect that the site will remain visible, it'll be inactive for a little bit. Please enjoy what's here. We'll be back in the fray with fresh material starting next Monday. Thanks again for stopping by.... posted by Michael at May 7, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Computer Games and Me Redux
Michael: Given your interest inand frustration withvideo games, perhaps a new direct-to-disc film, Scourge of Worlds will intrigue you. Its an animated sword-and-sorcery flick, apparently drawing heavily on Dungeons and Dragons. Okay, I grant you, that doesnt sound too promising, but the interesting part is that its at least partly interactive. According to an April 19 story in the L.A. Times (which you can read here): The movie has multiple breaks in the storys narrative in which the player must make a decision. Fight or flee? Explore or stand firm? Each decision is registered with the press of a button on a DVD remote controller, which forces the story onto different paths that could include fights with aliens and debates over loyalty and friendship. The movie contains 900 possible story combinations and four different endings. I admit, that got me thinking about whether such a multiple path/multiple ending structure could be utilized in the context of a somewhat more ambitious production. Granted, to date, literary fiction and film has generally preferred the straight and narrow linear story path (even if occasionally presented out of order), but that may have been the result of technological limitations. After all, it seems like most highly stylized comedies could work out nicely with alternative story lines. Im confident that Lawrence Sterne would have written Tristam Shandy in a parallel architecture if it had been workable in his day. And I daresay Thomas Hardy would have been enthusiastic about such a structure, because then he could have demonstrated that, no matter what choices his characters (or readers) made, they would all still come to bad ends. Far From Dungeons, Dragons and The Madding Crowd In any event, in what is news to me, the L.A. Times story maintains that interactive formats have been experimented with before, particularly in the porno industry. (I guess Im just behind the times once again.) Ive never seen anything in this format, dramatic, erotic or otherwise, but apparently Scourge of the Worlds has obtained a distribution deal from Warner Brothers, and will presumably be available at a retail outlet near you. (According to, it will be available for a mere $24.95 on June 10.) Have you ever checked anything like this out? Be interested to hear what you think. (Especially before I chunk out $24.95). Cheers, Friedrich P.S. Another interesting fact from the L.A. Times storydid you know that 87% of the 5600 video and DVD titles released never appeared in a movie theater? The notion of DVDs being a sort of afterthought to a theatrical release is obviously rapidly becoming antique; DVDs seem on the verge of becoming their own medium. I know you're a fan of DVDs--how do you see them evolving?... posted by Friedrich at April 22, 2003 | perma-link | (6) comments

Friedrich -- Will Duquette writes about how a math/econ/techie guy like himself also keeps up a major interest in reading and writing, here. And be sure to check out the latest issue of Will's book-review publication Ex Libris here. I've thought for years that the desktop metaphor is one of great cultural achievements of the last decades. It's fun, it's attractive, it's instantly-graspable (or almost) and it has made computers useful to millions who'd otherwise avoid them. (Name me one other recent cultural innovation that has accomplished so much. Well, maybe the web itself.) So I've always been puzzled when I've stumbled onto a Big-Think article where some visionary geek was arguing that the desktop metaphor has played itself out, and that it's time to devise a new way to use computers. Sez who? Yahmdallah (here) makes much good sense on the topic. Felix Salmon takes on an earlier posting of mine (here) and argues (here), if I understand him right, that 1) "Literary fiction" exists as a specific kind of writing (no argument from me here), and that 2) It's a better and more significant kind of fiction writing than any other. Hmmm. But it's a provocative posting, and kudos to Felix for making use of book-sales information in his reasoning. There's much yet-to-be-made-use-of wisdom to be dug out of book-sales information. Brian Micklethwait, well-known for his contributions to Samizdata (here) and Brian's Education Blog (here), has finally decided that enough's enough, it's time to get serious about cultureblogging too. So he's begun posting every day here -- which means a fiesta of fresh thinking and entertaining writing for culture-blogsurfers to enjoy. Three blogs! Brian gets my nomination for the hardest working man in the blog business. I'm not the only blogger musing about movies and digital video. Polly Frost (here) has watched Rebecca Miller's "Personal Velocity," and wonders about where digi-video may be taking the movies. In another posting, here, she asks why the new computerized movie spectacles feel so different than the old "everyone in that crowd scene really was there" spectacles. James Russell (of Hot Buttered Death, here) kicks in some brainy musings of his own in a comment on Polly's posting. I'm amused to see that there are still a few people in the world who are familiar with the work and thinking of the film critic and theorist Andre Bazin. Now there's a name that brings back memories. I'm a big admirer of Judith Martin, the etiquette-advice columnist known as Miss Manners. I take and enjoy her as a philosopher in the practical-and-useful American tradition of Eric Hoffer. (She's very interesting on the role etiquette and manners play in a society.) I also think she's a wonderful writer and public character, and I'm betting that her work will find a place in some future Library of America. (Felix Salmon is betting that it won't.) Of course, I'm also betting that in the future we're likely to have many different Library-of-America-style canons, and not just... posted by Michael at April 22, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Computer Games and Me
Friedrich -- Despite age, fatigue, and ever-increasing self-absorption, I still make the occasional effort to get in touch with the directions pop culture seems to be going. Computer games, for instance. Every few years, I go to a videogame parlor and drop a 20 trying games out. (I always wind up at the old-fashioned games, the ones with steering wheels or revolvers. Joysticks confuse me.) After we got our Imac, I watched over the Wife's shoulder as she got very good at Bugdom, the cute game that came with the machine. Remember the hullabaloo some years back about "Myst"? Finally, art and a computer game together, etc etc? I bought it and gave it a try, even if I did quit within 30 minutes. (The game insisted that I solve puzzles before moving on. Fat chance of that.) The Wife and I even watched (if mostly on fast-forward) "Resident Alien," the videogame-based movie that I'm told true videogamers approve of. Let's see ... The up arrow moves me forward, is that right? Idea and artwise, I do get what's interesting about the computer-game experience, or so I like to think. On a more basic level, though, I'm worse than hopeless. Last week, for instance, I became convinced for who knows what reason that what I most needed in life was to give myself the experience of getting really, deeply involved, with a computer game. How would I know what that's like otherwise? So I went out and bought Hexen II, which is said to be pretty good and to work well on pokey ol' Imacs too. I'm willing to put hours into exploring this game, I really am. I load it on the computer, I click into it ... Where's my gun? Er, my sword? Er, my rocket launcher... Ooops, too late. And I'm completely stumped. Back in our day, games came equipped with rules, and these rules were easily accessible, and you learned them before playing the game. With computer games, figuring out the game seems to be the game. Right. So I stare at the screen, jab at some of the keys on my keyboard, and try to puzzle this thing out. There are corridors. There are doors. There's some blah-blah under the embarrassing, movie-wannabe opening credits about something called "levels," and there seems to be some kind of backstory involving bad-fantasy-novel characters whose names I can't remember. I manage to deduce that using the arrow keys will move me through the corridors. But, despite my best efforts, I have yet to be able to fire off a bullet -- or a missile, or fireball, or whatever it is I'm meant to wield. I have yet to be able to defend myself, in other words, let alone actually get anywhere. Only a minute or two after I set out, Darth Vaderesque bad guys blast me into a zillion polygons. Once again, I feel like I'm trapped and helpless in someone else's nightmare database. So I went Googling for... posted by Michael at April 22, 2003 | perma-link | (18) comments

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

The Internet and Social Memory
Michael: Thanks for sending me the link to the page on Rebecca Alzofon's website dedicated to Pierre-Paul Prudhon and his life-drawing technique (which you can visit here.). Ms. Alzofon has carefully analyzed not only the technique of this master draftsman, but has identified modern art papers and chalks that can be used by contemporary artists to derive similar effects. In her quest for authenticity she has even developed a recipe for making black chalk, as commercially available chalksaccording to herdo not allow for the same technique as used by Prudhon. P. Prudhon, Female Academies In looking at this, I was struck by Ms. Alzofons generosity in posting this stuff on the Web, since she had evidently spent hundreds of hours researching and experimenting to develop her expertise on Prudhons materials and methods. Make Your Own Black Chalk: It's Easy! It also reminded me of a comment that Degas apparently repeated throughout his lifethat since the collapse of the apprenticeship method of art training, countless studio secrets, formerly handed down from one generation to another, had been lost. When I first read these comments in college, I thought they were just the result of a certain middle-aged crankiness of a fanatical art technician, but as Ive gotten older it keeps dawning on me how much practical information has to be laboriously rediscovered, generation after generation. Naturally, this type of craft information is not confined to the world of art. But Ms. Alzofons website suddenly suggested to me that the Internet may eventually serve as a giant, yet accessible social memory for all sorts of information or technique that would otherwise fall through the cracks. So carry on posting stuff to the Web--especially stuff that you've laboriously figured out for yourself. Somehow the "we-all-live-in-one-big-media-village" trend downgrades small-scale, hardwon, localized, personal knowledge. So by memorializing the particular, the unusual, the specifc youre performing a vital social function! (Be sure to tell your boss and/or your significant other how important this stuff is.) Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at April 15, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Saturday, March 1, 2003

Web Folk Art
Friedrich -- Internet folk art, gotta love it. At least I do. * Here you'll find a musical-animal charmer. Be sure to click on the horses. A Blowhardy Award to anyone who manages to refrain from saying "Awww" or "Too cute!" * Brace yourself for some gangsta Hobbits here. * Completely independent of any political preferences I might have, I'm often delighted by the inventiveness of home Photoshoppers. Here are a couple of recent creations (no idea by whom) that made me laugh. Both are pop-ups, so be sure to click on them and enjoy a more fullblown experience. The artistic power of the people, unleashed at last! What do you suppose the Marxists will make of this? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 1, 2003 | perma-link | (8) comments

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Free Views -- Virtual Fireworks
Friedrich -- An instant mood elevator: Virtual fireworks! I find the colored haze and smoke they leave behind especially beautiful, mere pixels though they may be. Viewable here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 16, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Thursday, February 6, 2003

Free Reads -- Amy Harmon on computer chess
Friedrich -- It's become one of our themes, I guess: the wonderfulness of digital technology, but the new quandaries and conundra that seem to come along with it. How to resist the convenience and fun of digital photography? Yet the images are so ... so ... Well, they're kind of twinkly, metallic and overdetailed in some inhuman way. How great that DV videocams and computers can put a mini movie studio on just about anybody's desktop. Yet the imagery tends to lack poetry, and what gets made often bears little resemblance to traditional movies. Now: chess. Amy Harmon reports in the New York Times that similar discussions are taking place in the chess world (about which I know less than zilch). Chess players are using computers for study, for competition, and in online matches as silent partners and crutches. "We don't work at it anymore... We have lost depth," she quotes one top player as saying. Computers make it possible to study lots of games and moves, but some players have noticed that studying with computers "detracts from an ability to concentrate intensely on devleoping a personal style or strategy." More people are getting better at the game, it's being noticed -- but they're burning out faster too. Aha: sounds familiar. Computers make so much available -- yet they can also tend to pancake matters, including (sometimes) style, personality, and imagination. Maybe we're all onto something. Or maybe style, personality and imagination are simply going to be taking new forms and working their way through different channels. Or maybe all of the above, and more. In any case, the piece is readable here. Sample passage: "Because of computers, humans are playing more broadly, and there are astonishing numbers of new ideas," said John Watson, the author of several books on modern chess strategy. "Computers are opening the game up much more than they are closing it." But others say chess is becoming more like checkers, with so much known or memorized that games now more often end in draws. They complain that players have become slaves to their software, so fascinated with the myriad possibilities it presents that they do not bother to work out their own new strategies. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 6, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Monday, February 3, 2003

Free Views -- Overheads
Friedrich -- Sometimes when I "discover" something on the Web, I feel like I must in fact be the last person in the world to run across it. So perhaps you've seen this site here already. If not, you might enjoy a visit. Type in an address, and in a few seconds you'll be given an overhead photograph of that neighborhood. Zoom in, and you'll be able see the actual building you're looking for. I tried the apartment monstrosity I live in now, the suburban house I grew up in, and the in-law's beach bungalow, and they all showed up promptly. Cool! A bit freaky, too. If computers and lenses get much more powerful, we're going to be able to sit at the computer and dial up images of ourselves sitting at the computer dialing up images of ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 3, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

Friday, January 24, 2003

Ghost Pen
Friedrich -- Another impossible-to-describe Web-art doohickey. It's a pen. It kinda floats. You control it with your mouse. You can actually draw with it. It's too bizarre, and too cool. Play with it here. Link thanks to Andrea Harris, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 24, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, December 6, 2002

Writing Software
Friedrich -- Do you dislike Word as much as I do? I suppose it's an OK piece of software, and using it to write certainly beats longhand or a typewriter. But I'm offended by it. It's really a tool for making documents, optimized more for memos and reports than for helping you get your thoughts down. As a tool for writing, it's a lumbering beast determined to inflict on me its rather sinister desire to do favors. (Why do so many Microsoft products want to do me favors? I feel the way a restaurauteur does when the Mob offers to do him a favor.) My copy has to be actively stopped -- apparently at the end of a gun barrel -- from turning asterisks into bullets, for instance, and from underlining grammar and spelling it doesn't approve of. I don't care if there are ways of stopping this behavior, I don't want it starting in the first place. Feeling offended isn't a good mental state to be writing in. And, besides, writing and document-making are two different activities, darn it. I'd prefer to have a separate program for each. But the problem, as I see it, also boils down to something that isn't specific to Word. It's the nature of the word-processor itself. A word processor sure beats a typewriter -- but by all that much? Maybe it's just me, but once I got past the "I never have to retype again" exhilaration, I started wondering: Gee, aren't there better things computers can do to help with writing? The main job/task/challenge/fun of writing, it seems to me, is to take a vague and cloudy (ie., nonlinear) notion -- something that exists only in your mental space -- and translate it into linearly-arranged strings of concrete words on a real page. No one has ever asked me for this, but here's the way Michael Blowhard breaks down the act of writing, plus bonus tips. Four steps, as I see it: 1) Collecting data -- whether research, notes, thoughts, or ideas. It's best at this stage to keep things nonlinear. Avoid turning your hunches and notions into anything polished or grammatical. Just note it all down telegraphically. It's important to keep the writing project, however tiny, open-ended even as you begin to give it some definition. 2) Organizing the material sequentially. Imagine how you'd present your material to to a bright friend who's interested in what you have to say. Line your research, ideas and information up in the way your friend would find most helpful and entertaining. 3) Writing your way all the way through. Even now it's best to avoid being too linear. Write a passage at the end of the piece first. Write something from the middle. Do a little work on the second paragraph. Move around inside the piece, and when you get stuck, drop the problem and go to work elsewhere in the piece. The problem will probably solve itself. Painters often work this way -- a... posted by Michael at December 6, 2002 | perma-link | (11) comments

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Games and Puzzles
Friedrich -- A few remarks by Glenn Mac Frazier in the comments section of the modernist/modernism posting below got me thinking about puzzles and games. I dislike puzzles and enjoy games. Puzzles, which seem to be about figuring things out, give me a headache -- I seem to spend a lot of time fighting frustration and fury, and cant seem to find whatever pleasure might be there to be had. Games on the other hand I often enjoy. Sports, cards ... One of my probably-never-to-be-realized ambitions is to become good at the game of go, which (the few times Ive played it) has made my brain feel refreshed and tingly. A game is a very different experience for me than a puzzle. Its a more or less simple set of rules, understood before the action begins, and then the playing-out of ones energies and inspirations -- all of which I find intensely pleasurable, not that Ive ever been terribly good at any games. Video and computer games, which Ive never enjoyed, strike me as some new hybrid -- half puzzle, half game. Theres often action to be taken part in. Yet the rules never seem fully spelled-out beforehand; you discover them as you go. So the playing-out of the game is really the figuring-out of the puzzle. Once youve figured the game out, its over, youre done. Figuring the game out is the game -- which, as far as Im concerned, makes these things not traditional games at all, but more related to puzzles and programming. And like puzzles, they give me headaches. The Wife tells me she thinks that puzzles appeal to obsessive personalities like her own, and that my personality is a more open-ended one. Her hunch is that, as a well-behaved, bland-o Protestant person who appreciates decent manners, I like inhabiting spaces that are defined by rules yet allow for mental and physical romping. A good theory, I think, even if I suspect shes really telling me in a sweet way that I drive her nuts because Im an inane and shallow person. Ah, subtext. But Im a tyro at thinking about these puzzles-and-games questions. Any insights? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 26, 2002 | perma-link | (5) comments

Thursday, November 21, 2002

Google Searches
Friedrich -- I can't explain why, but the Google searches that have led websurfers to our blog haven't been as outrageous as they once were. Are we falling down on the job? Although there have been a few gems, among them: +Batman +porn +little +girl +slave +hunting +erotica +pregnant +women +smoking +pot And I sometimes think my web-surfing interests are kinky! The two topics we've raised that have brought in the most traffic (and that, amazingly enough, continue to bring it in) have been Jenna Jameson and science-fiction. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Note to all bloggers: you want to drive up your traffic? Write a posting about Jenna Jameson and science fiction. I won't be held responsible for what visitors make of your site once they arrive, though. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 21, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Saturday, October 12, 2002

Google Searches
Friedrich -- Fun to keep track of Google searches that have led surfers to this blog. For every one earnest and arty search string (+bertolucci +besieged +moral +analysis), there are at least ten that are grotty (+young +boys +private +parts +gay +fuck +video). Are we aiming too low? Not yet low enough? Here are some others. +sexy +nose +art +for +world +war +2 +planes +my +wife +thong +public +libertarian +woman +pose +nude +for +calendar +PowerPoint +nude +miss +italy +digital +video +of +me +and +my +wife +having +sex +white +wife +fucks +only +blacks +images +of +underage +girls +having +sex +bikini +women +with +hotrods +hot +girls +in +bikinis +posing +with +surfboards +feeling +lousy +making +love Hey, it's an X-rated country-western song! I swear, some smart reporter is going to notice this trend of guys making porno PowerPoint presentations and score a journalistic coup.... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 12, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Friday, October 11, 2002

New Cultureblog
Friedrich -- A delightful discovery, "Out of Lascaux," an art-history cultureblog run by Alexandra, whose last name I don't know, here. Sample passage: As a kid, I used to think medieval art was ugly because it wasn't "realistic". I think most of us think that way when we're young. Then, we grow up and learn why things are the way they are and we look at life differently. Well, most of us. But now I love medieval art, especially Gothic art. Alexandra's list of permalinks includes some promising-looking blogs -- more to explore! One of these days the 2blowhards, computer mediocrities both, will figure out how to add new blogsites to our own list of permalinks. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 11, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, October 9, 2002

Free Reads -- Philosophy and Literature
Friedrich -- I'm a few days behind on this, but I thought I'd let you know that the wonderful, indispensable, best-of-the-web, [enter superlative here] Arts & Letters Daily is no more, apparently done in by legal/financial/who-can-figure challenges. But I'm thrilled to report that the brains behind ALD, Denis Dutton and Tran Huu Dung, have kicked off a brand-new site that promises to be at least as good as Arts & Letters Daily. It's called Philosophy and Literature, and you can find it here. It's already looking like the [enter superlative here] thing on the Web. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 9, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, October 2, 2002

Best of the Blogs?
Michael I wonder if one could put together a magazine (ezine?) based on the "Best of the Blogosphere." It would certainly be more interesting than Harper's or the Atlantic Monthly. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at October 2, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, September 27, 2002

If I Were an Editor 6 redux
I made a major breakthrough today in my technological evolution which made me think of your posting, "The E-book Revolution." I actually ordered a book online from Amazon, and took delivery about an hour later. Well, actually, it was potentially ready for delivery an hour later; I had to download Microsoft "Reader" and then install and activate it. (Activating the software, by the way, involves telling lots and lots of information about yourself to Microsoft.) Anyway, after fooling around for about half an hour (and getting help from my staff computer professional) we got the Reader issue resolved, and then it only took a few minutes for the actual download. The book when it appeared came up on my screen formatted with really little pages. I guess that makes reading it on screen easier, but the result was that there were a daunting 756 pages to this rather short screed. Trying to skim the book, I got quite tired of hitting the "forward" button which takes a few seconds to operate each flip of the page. About page 168 I thought there must be a better way to read this, but I couldn't find any way to print the book out. I grant you, that's probably just my clutziness. And anyway, not being able to print the book out was for the best because I didn't really want to go through one-and-a-half reams of paper and three toner cartridges. It was a little frustrating when I actually found one useful sentence and I tried to block and copy it; the "copy" button appeared to be disabled. They could have just had a little sign pop-up at that point: Napster this, asshole! Ha ha ha ha ha. On top of that the book itself--"The Culture of Opera Buffa In Mozart's Vienna: A Poetics of Entertainment"--turns out to have virtually no historical information on Viennese musical culture or even on Mozart. I mean, not even one funny anecdote about an opera singer. (How hard is it to dig up funny stories about opera singers--I ask you? The whole profession is an invitation to levity.) Let me sum up the book this way: I cannot imagine Mozart, despite a very healthy ego, managing to read this book all the way through, and it discusses more than one of his operas! I know, I know, I got what I deserve for disobeying Book Buying Rule #248--Never purchase any book with the word "poetics" in the title. Still, I'm feeling pretty "hip" and "groovey" about my technological prowess. That is, except for the fact that once I closed the Reader dialogue box the book disappeared and I can't find it on my hard drive anyplace. But hey, it was only $14.95--and it didn't cost me anything for shipping and handling! The Revolution Lives, My Techno-Brothers! Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 27, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Friedrich -- Do you marvel, as I do, at the paucity of cultureblogs? Political blogs are everywhere you look, me-blogs everywhere else. But cultureblogs? Not even enough to fill a screening room. Here are the pure culturebloggers Im aware of: * The one-of-a-kind personality-kid and opera buff, Sasha Castel, here. (She does let fly on politics from time to time, but -- blush -- who doesn't?) * Kelly Jane Torrance, a newcomer to blogging and already the leader in the race for the years most classy award, here. Thats it, though there are other web enthusiasts who do something related. Pro writers, for instance, often include a blog as part of their personal site. An example: * The wittily resourceful and entertaining sci-fi novelist Neil Gaiman, here. And then there are the hybrids, bloggers who occasionally comment about the arts: * The fearless and ever-thoughtful A.C. Douglas, here, seems to split his blogging time about equally between politics and the arts. * Dave Trowbridge brings together his interests in sci-fi, German Shepherd dogs, religion, and poetry, here, showing a mind that's both mystical and down-to-earth, opinionated yet open-spirited. * The Canadian journalist Colby Cosh can give Andrew Sullivan some serious competition in terms of sheer volume of brainy-words-on-politics published daily. He pauses occasionally, though not often enough, to make an observation or a crack about rock and movies, here. * That impossible-to-categorize, multipurpose giant Steve Sailer (evo-bio specialist, immigration skeptic, movie reviewer), does what only he can do here. And there are the sites that might well be considered metacultureblogs. * Mobylives, delivering some of the best-informed inside-publishing chat available anywhere, here. * Arts & Letters Daily, here, for whom the best of the web Oscar has already been retired. Lord knows Ive spent too much time surfing the blogosphere looking for fellow culturebloggers. But its still possible Ive missed many, many sites. Do you know of any others? Do any readers out there know of any others? Culture fans: Dont be such wimps! For gods sake, stand up for your oddball set of interests! If you dont, who will? Set down roots in the blogosphere while theres still room! Dont let the general culture pass you by yet again! Assert the importance of the aesthetic! Go! Go! Go! Culture fans, sheesh. Gotta love em. Gotta kick em in the butt occasionally, too. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 27, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

You Want Us
Friedrich -- I'm collecting the Google searches that have led surfers to this site. Here are some favorites so far: +naxos +gay +video +gymnastic +teenage +boys +PowerPoint +presentation +girls +sexy Are there people out there making porn versions of PowerPoint presentations? Hey, journalists: there's a story to be done here! My very favorite is one that'll be hard to top: +movie +girl +fucking +horse How do you suppose these surfers reacted to what they found on 2blowhards? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 18, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Search Engines
Michael Since our blog seems to be developing into a tribute site to Euan Uglow,I went web-surfing and found some Uglow nudes, one of which is pictured below. Uglow's "Zagi" of 1981-2 Still, it leaves me with an uneasy feeling. How could somebody I like as much as Uglow never have popped up on my radar? I've spent a good part of the last twenty years when I should have been busy earning a living looking into the visual arts. Despite that, I have a nagging feeling that most (much? a largish chunk?) of the art world may well be lurking out of my sight, like the underwater part of the iceberg. Have you ever looked on a newsstand and spotted the magazines devoted to "Western" art (you know, cowboys, Indians, horses, landscapes)? There are a ton of these Western artists out there who seem to make a living at this stuff. They even have their own museums(!) It was quite a shock to me about ten years ago when I discovered that the art-world is divided into formats, like radio stations: oldies, alternative, Country & Western, etc. Why? Because it dawned on me that this sort of distinction made it even more unlikely that I would ever see the ULTIMATE PAINTING that would explain the world and my life to me! I'm not really ranting about class distinctions in art, as silly and pervasive as those are. It goes beyond that. There are great draftsmen of the nude who for one reason or another won't get big museum shows in my lifetime--does that mean I don't get to see their drawings, except by lucky accident? (I mean, check out Henry Ossawa Tanner's life drawings some time. Smokin'! )It was one thing when I went to our Lousy Ivy University and they spent four years talking around the really important stuff, but that was when I was just a young punk. I'm getting too old to be feeling like I'm gonna wind up a day late and a dollar short on good art. I want better art-world visibility, and I want it NOW. My suggestion is that we need a much better art world search engine. I want to be able to type in "Euan Uglow and his ilk" and find other artists who share his salient characteristics. This brilliant idea came to me while I was searching on "Google" for Uglow JPEGs. I looked at one art reproduction site and found an alphabetical list of artists whose art you could buy as a poster, and happened to notice that Uglow directly followed Uccello. That got me to pondering the similarity in feel of the two artists, which are considerable. Uccello's Chalice And this got me to thinking about the role of obsessive discipline in the visual arts--Michelangelo with his endless anatomical studies, Uccello with his perspective, Uglow with his structured drawing techniques. That's the kind of thing a good art search engine...or art history class...or art publisher...should be suggesting... posted by Friedrich at September 17, 2002 | perma-link | (2) comments

Saturday, September 14, 2002

Free Reads -- New Webzine
Friedrich -- "The Mixture," a slick new online magazine with much to offer multimedia-wise, here. Don't miss the video footage of surfer Laird Hamilton -- an hour and 30 minutes shorter than "Blue Crush," ten dollars cheaper, and far more enjoyable. Sample wisdom from Laird: If you see waves like what you saw here and you don't believe there's something greater than we are, you got some serious analyzing to do and you should go sit under a big tree for a long period of time. Athletes know what the Zone is. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 14, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Free Reads -- Terry Teachout
Friedrich -- Terry Teachout meditates for Commentary magazine on the future of recorded music, here. Sample passage: In the not-so-long run, the introduction of online delivery systems and the spread of file-sharing will certainly undermine and very likely destroy the fundamental economic basis for the recording industry, at least as we know it today. Nor can there be much doubt that within a few years, the record album will lose its once-privileged place at the heart of Western musical culture. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 11, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, September 6, 2002

Amazon Humorist Redux
Michael Your posting "Amazon Humorist" reminds me of a Mark Twain story. On a speaking tour, Mark Twain was introduced by a local politician. This politician, as he walked around, waiting to make his introduction, never took his hands out of his pockets. Finally, he introduced the writer as "Mark Twain, a comedian who is really funny." Mark Twain stood up and replied: "Ladies and gentlemen, we have a far rarer creature in our midst than a comedian who is really funny. We have a politician who keeps his hands in his own pockets!" Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 6, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Amazon Humorist
Friedrich -- A reviewer on Amazon who uses the "Amazon Reader's Comment" form as a comedy vehicle, here. Plus, he's genuinely funny. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 6, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Free Reads -- Cynic's Sanctuary
Friedrich -- This site, Rick Bayan's "The Cynic's Sanctuary," is a well-done charmer, here. A Cynic's Hall of Fame, a Cynic's Dictionary, and much else. Here's his witty definition of a Cynic: An idealist whose rose-colored glasses have been removed, snapped in two and stomped into the ground, immediately improving his vision. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 28, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, August 23, 2002

Tivo Redux
Michael We like our Tivo. My wife is the TV watcher in the family, and she loves it. It has gotten me completely out of the habit of watching commercials--when I watch ordinary commercial TV I am always subconsciously looking for the Tivo remote to speed by them. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 23, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Saturday, August 17, 2002

Theory of Amazon 1
Friedrich -- Do you use much? I do as a shopper, and also as surfer -- I can get lost there, and happily so, for hours. As an arts fan, I find its existence and (I hope) success heartening. I'd also make the case that it's an artistically revolutionary force, if I didn't dislike the word "revolutionary." If I were a betting man, I'd bet that in a hundred years art/lit historians will look back and decide that the advent of Amazon was much more important an art event than, say, any Jonathan Franzen or Toni Morrison novel. Why don't editors/writers/critics/artists/profs discuss this? Could it be that they're -- gasp! -- not listening to me? I'll bore you with my fullblown Theory of Amazon later -- or, more likely, I'll do it in dribs and drabs, as time and mental energy become available. For today's installment, I focus on one fact: that Amazon has given a number of good writers and critics a venue. For example, here's an Aussie who's terrific on Popper-ish subjects. Here's a dazzling Irish film critic, of the annoyingly-radical-grad-student ilk. Here's an English conservative who's smart and provocative about the Mideast. Here's another Englishman, this one an elegant and helpful guide to early movies on DVD. All of them strike me as considerably more interesting and entertaining than 9/10s of the writers commercial (and otherwise conventional) magazines are publishing these days. All hail the Web. And power to the people --at least those I approve of. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 17, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Pixelvision redux
Michael -- I don't know if you saw the announcement by a new company, Foveon, that claims that they have developed an imaging chip that (1) has much better color than previous electronic "photography" systems and (2) collects more data per square inch than film. Of course, Foveon's technologymay or may not deal with issues such as video's relative inability to create whites as white or blacks as black as film. But in any case, you can create quite beautiful images with video if you allow for its quirks. I mean, look at early silent films, shot on film stock that probably has nowhere near the technical capabilities of today's best products. Anyway, the real reason to back video rather than film is that film is dependent on a deeply entrenched distribution channel that holds more or less total power over what gets seen by the masses. Who cares if your movie isbeautifully photographedif nobody will distribute it? I say, we need Napster for videos. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at July 31, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, July 12, 2002

Moviegoing: "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones"
Friedrich -- Did I mention that I dragged the wife to the latest "Star Wars"? Showing at the Ziegfeld, digitally projected. What a turkey, as bad as the last one even if more richly produced. As David Ansen put it in Newsweek, by this point you either buy into the "Star Wars" world almost religiously, or you shake your head and say, basically, go figure. But it was bad, bad, I can't tell you how bad -- as bad as any Ed Wood movie, and considerably less fun. (To paraphrase one reviewer on Amazon, I defy anyone to tell me what the movie's story was.) At least the Ziegfeld's air conditioning was first-class. All that said, I was there to see what the movie looked like, digitally projected. (The world of moviegoing has come to a sorry pass when perfectly good and willing movie buffs go to a movie just to see what the computers have been up to.) And the answer is.... not bad. After about a month of use, the image was eerily perfect. Not a scratch to be seen, not a dust fleck, not a shimmer or a shiver. And the colors were perfectly consistent all through the movie. But the image was also dilute and flat -- I muttered to the wife at one point, "If a good celluloid movie image is like snappy fresh-squeezed orange juice, this is like watered-down Tang." It's a decent facsimile of a movie image, but it's sterile, and missing that je ne sais quoi. I think of it, for some reason, as chi -- that Chinese word for something like (so I gather) the life force. Maybe I should just say zing. For one thing, the digital image just isn't dense enough yet. We moved up to the front-ish part of the theater at one point, and there you really register that the image simply needs more pixels. Darks are especially bad -- things get lost in a kind of dim, apricot-jam murk. But judging digital projection from a Lucas movie is an odd challenge, because Lucas doesn't ever aim for poetry or even glamor or sex. He wants his imagery to be clean and functional, no matter how spectacular. ("Gladiator," which I didn't enjoy, did have a very juicy look, at least by comparison to the new "Star Wars.") And the digitally-projected image is certainly at this point a perfectly clean and functional image. But that's its problem, too. Watching it is like watching a PowerPoint presentation that happens to move. I wonder if these problems will be solved as the computers and projectors get better. In other words, are more pixels all that's needed to solve the missing-chi problem? But I can't help worrying that when art gets sliced and diced into discrete digital bits, something falls away -- the connective tissue, the flow, maybe the poetry. But maybe I'm being sentimental. Your thoughts? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 12, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments