Thursday, January 31, 2008

Graphic Recycling

While watching a documentary about the typeface Helvetica (I know, what a geek), I was introduced -- but not formally -- to a company called Freitag that creates messenger bags, tote bags (and certain other items) with recycled tarpaulins used to cover open-sided trucks (far more common in Europe than here). The tarps are washed in industrial machines, then the pieces of the bag are cut, with an eye toward using the color and graphic elements on the tarp to create a good-looking bag -- with a one of a kind design.

Go check them out. The web site needs some work, but there's an interesting design your own bag feature that allows you to place the pattern templates over images of the different truck tarpaulins they currently have in stock.

My Hillary Problem

It's simple. She seems manufactured, not genuine. I felt it at least twice in tonight's debate. Both times, she delivered a line that was sharp and pointed and hit a good note (example -- "It did take a Clinton to clean up after the first Bush, and I think it might take another one to clean up after the second Bush"). But then she sits back smugly with a smile on her face that says -- to me -- "nailed that line. Even better than in rehearsal."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Next Secretary of State (and it's not Joe Biden)

Here's a thought. It's a bit West Wing-y, but here goes: say Barack Hussein Obama wins the Democratic nomination, is subsequently elected President, and immediately nominates for Secretary of State...John McCain.

The election of Obama says, "We're sorry - we treated you with diffidence and disrespect and killed many, many more of you than was, in hindsight, actually necessary. We can't ever truly make up for what the colonial powers did in taking and/or carving up your land, but we are sorry for the mistakes we've made and wanted you to know it's not because your skin is darker than ours."

The appointment of McCain says to the world, "But just in case you might be interpreting this recognition of error as weakness of any sort, I bring with me...our finest soldier. He is my trusted friend and will be my envoy to you in many of our future dealings."

Two men who were once fierce rivals presenting themselves as staunch allies will show the world what it is that makes America great -- and still the strongest nation on Earth. Let Obama and McCain walk into Ahmadinejad's office -- or Pervaiz Musharraf's office or Kim Jong-il's -- side by side and see what they can make happen.

It Couldn't Come Fast Enough

Andrew Sullivan reminds us of this bit of important good news: "...a McCain nomination means one thing for sure. The era of legal, authorized torture in America is coming to a close. This is a critical moment. And it is more than fitting that a man who endured torture at the hands of America's enemies should now be picked to restore American honor after the disgrace of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld."

Freaky, Part Three

From video artist (and Speigel catalog heir) Spike Jonze.

UPDATE: The video was pulled from YouTube, but you can still see it here.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Speaking of Bowie

More mash-up art from the web. Check out more like this at

My Quandry

The absentee ballot sits on what I call "the wolf table," a small, multi-colored, folk-arty cabinet that sits at the top of my stairs and collects keys and cell phones and loose change and assorted bits of memorabilia. It's called the wolf table because on the cabinet door is a painted metal animal that is more likely a coyote. Why it ended up being called the wolf table is lost to memory.

But fauna is not the point here. The ballot is the point. How to fill it out is the point. Specifically, which Democratic presidential candidate will get my check mark. Since Joe Biden has left the race, the person I felt was most qualified to lead the country is no longer an option. John Edwards can't win, it seems (and I never really trusted him), which leaves me choosing between Barack and Hillary.

I loved Bill Clinton. Loved having a very smart man at the helm. Loved having a savvy politician guiding his way through the murk of Washington. Even though Bill isn't the candidate, I -- like so many others -- think a vote for Hillary is also a vote for Bill. What better counselor could a first-time president have than a successful two-term president. Not only that, one you can consult even when you're in the shower or flossing your teeth.

But I don't like Hillary. I don't like the campaign she is running. And I don't like the way she and Bill dumped gay people overboard after we rowed like crazy to help bring them into port. They brought us "don't ask, don't tell," and he happily signed the odious "Defense of Marriage" Act.

That leaves me with Barack. He inspires me. He talks about the same sort of unifying politics I spoke of when I began this blog. Every time he's been given an opportunity to dip into partisanship, he seems to have taken the high road. I like what he has to say about a president's duty to inspire the country, to lift us all up and motivate us to come together to make our nation greater.

My worry is whether he has the experience to actually make his vision real. More important, my worry is whether he is too liberal from an economic point of view.

As my mom says, "I just don't like any of them."

That said, I think that ballot on the wolf table is probably going to get a mark next to Barack Obama's name. I'd rather have someone who inspires me that someone who frightens me. And I love the message we send to the world if we elect a man named Barack Hussein Obama to our highest office. That, I think, will do more to heal the wounds Bush has created over the past 7+ years than anything else I can think of. (Except maybe sending W himself to reconstruct Iraq with his own hands -- and all the money he and his cronies have stolen from the American people.

Why the Internet was Invented, Part 3

Campaigning, David Bowie style.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Virtual Sommelier

Take a look at this. It's a story about new display technology being used by a high-end restaurant in New York as a way of more engagingly presenting a wine list.

Have a seat at the wine bar at Adour, and the list of available wines is projected onto the bar from above and can be searched and manipulated through intuitive gestures. You can see wines by variety, country, price, size of bottle -- and the system even delivers detailed tasting notes. The technology is from a small company called Potion Design, founded by two MIT Media Lab grads.

Look for a fuller report after my trip in April.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Battle is Engaged

Recently, YouTube agreed to remove a Scientology video featuring Tom Cruise. Scientology claimed copyright within a few hours, but some blogs have gotten hold of it and reposted it. Here is one. (When Cruise refers to "KSW," that apparently means "Keep Scientology Working," which is a doctrine of strict adherence to the infallibility of L. Ron Hubbard. His reference to "SP" is to "Suppressed Persons," Scientology's term for the worst in humanity -- a specific personality type filled with negative energy which is used to suppress people in his/her vicinity. Hitler was an SP, the church claims. More here if you are interested.)

In protest of this move, a group of hackers that call themselves Anonymous posted the video below, in which they declare war on Scientology in rather creepy -- but disarmingly earnest -- language, read by Stephen Hawking. (Not really, but you'll hear what I mean.)

It's like something from a movie. Except Anonymous did manage to bring down Scientology's web site for a time. According to CNET, "In recent days, local chapter sites for the Church of Scientology have been defaced, and in some cases denial of service attacks have also prevented access to the same sites. Real-world attacks have included fax-spamming those same offices."

So it's war.

It's cute, but...

I realize this has a certain ironic quality -- it's a porcelain coffee cup with a silicone lid, designed to mimic the disposable cardboard cups commonly used for takeaway coffee. I'm just not certain why you'd want a very pedestrian form factor in a material that requires care that is unsuited for the planned use. I guess if you want to be snarky about your au lait -- "Look - it LOOKS like I'm being environmentally irresponsible, but actually my choice of drinking vessel is superior to yours" -- it works. But not so much for me.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Long Glide Down

When I was in college, my roommate John -- who was a sweet, talented guy, but more than a little bit neurotic -- used to make the most amazing paper airplanes. He had one design that, when launched from one railing inside the atrium of the fine arts building, could actually gain altitude -- if it happened to be a summer day and someone happened to open the door, letting in a zephyr of warm air. We took another of his planes (which we had outfitted with bottle rockets for jet assist) to the new 10-story tower being constructed on campus -- which led to a crazy adventure I know some of you have heard about, but the rest of you will have to wait for another day. Maybe.

But John and I never envisioned anything like this.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

D-Day (on a budget)

This video chronicles how a small crew, minimal budget, little time, simple video tools and only three actors did a pretty good job of recreating the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

What once was a trickle... now a relative torrent.

This is Miller Creek, just a few hundred yards from the house, after three days of rain.

Friday, January 04, 2008

I Wish I Wrote Better Headlines

...because I really think deserves better. It's absolutely amazing. It's an online marketplace where people can buy and sell handmade crafts. Knitting, photography, woodwork, leatherwork, pottery, jewelry...if it's a craft, they have it.

There is a fair amount of dreck, but there is also a fair amount of imaginative, well-crafted, artistic stuff. Anyone can sell their stuff, but they seem to have some way of selling featured spaces and using browser feedback so better stuff seems to rise to the top.

There are lots of ways to search. You can search by color -- but not how you might think. On the color search page, as you drag your cursor over a field of dots, they expand and reveal their color. Click when you see a color you like and items in that exact color will appear.

But what's most amazing is imagining all these people making stuff instead of machines, and finding a way to show it to the world. Very heartening.

Must get back to exploring.

In the meantime, here are a few of the things I found that I liked best:


UPDATE: I'm back. Found another great feature: treasuries. User-curated lists of 12 things on Etsy. Only a few hundred allowed at a time and anyone can make one, so they are hard to get. But it's a great way to be exposed to different things.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Top Ten Theatrical Experiences of 2007

It was a big year. In 2007, I estimate I took in some 60-70 live theatrical events: musicals, plays, concerts, cabaret acts. Some was brilliant, some was beastly. Here, in alphabetical order, were the 10 best:

• AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (Imperial Theater, New York)
Funny, tragic, multivalent -- and rich with incredible lines. A new classic for the American theatre.

• BLACKBIRD (Manhattan Theater Club, New York)
Wonderful performances from Jeff Daniels and Alison Pill, on another amazing set from MTC, plus a compelling, complex story by David Harrower.

• THE COAST OF UTOPIA (Lincoln Center, New York)
Stretching this a bit, since I saw the first two installments of Stoppard's troika in December of 2006, but since I finished the series in 2007, I'm counting it anyway. Although I can see how some might be disappointed in this last installment (it's a bit clunkier than the first two), taken as a whole, the production of "The Coast of Utopia" trilogy is one of the most stunning works of theater I've ever seen.

• FROST/NIXON (Bernard Jacobs Theater, New York)
If it weren't for the fact that the names are so familiar as politicians, the title of Peter Morgan's play could have been mistaken for a boxing match-up: Frazier/Ali. Mayweather/De La Hoya. It wouldn't be far off target, either, for the conflict at the heart of "Frost/Nixon" felt very much like a face-off between two heavyweights. And it was an enthralling battle.

• GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD (New Conservatory Theatre Center, San Francisco)
There are theatrical experiences one has where the time you invest is repaid with interest: they persist in memory, and you recall them with pleasure, reliving the wonder or the laughter or the insight the performers gave you while you sat in the dark.

Connie Champagne’s 2007 effort, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” in which she appeared as Judy Garland, was just such an experience, transporting you into a world where Judy Garland is alive, well and still completely in love with music and performing. This is Garland as if aging had been suspended, but time continued to roll on, and she discovered new songs she could make her own. One might not think of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” or Aerosmith’s “Dream On” fitting within the Garland oeuvre, they sound exactly like the sort of thing she ought to have done had she lived.

This may have been the most brilliant bit of theater I’d seen since “I Am My Own Wife.” For the entire evening, I felt as if Garland herself, still hungry for the stage, had managed to project her essence into Connie Champagne in order to get just another hour or two in the spotlight.

Of course in one sense, the truth of Garland lies in artifice: she gave the public all she had, but ultimately her stage persona was still a work of art, and it is this tension between genuineness and artifice that made “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” so compelling to me. Champagne gave us a rare treat – a visit from a Judy Garland who would look at modern life and music in the way she might have had she been able to catch some real magic and stay 44 for ever.

• TIM HOCKENBERRY (The Plush Room, San Francisco)
His voice a cross between Joe Cocker and Randy Newman with a soup├žon of Tom Waits, Tim Hockenberry has real presence. It is a voice that has gravitas -- without seeming to be overpowering. He doesn't load his performances up with aural fireworks, but he always seems to be singing the truth. And that, I think, is very tough to come by.

• JACK GOES BOATING (The Public Theatre, New York)
The dramatic version of a piece of Sourpatch Kids candy -- on your first bite you say "wow, what is this?," but as you chew you discover the sweetness at the core. The big draw was Philip Seymour Hoffman, but I was surprised by the excellence of the entire cast.

• LOS ANGELES (Flea Theater, New York)
Katherine Waterston (Sam's daughter) was a revelation in the role of Audrey, a young woman lost in the shark tank of LA. As portrayed by Ms. Waterston, Audrey was gentle, fierce, intelligent, foolish, needy, bossy, impetuous and passionate -- all delivered with tremendous skill and feeling.

• PETER AND JERRY (Second Stage Theatre, New York)
For two reasons: Dallas Roberts's staggeringly brilliant performance, and Edward Albee's intricate re-imagining of his first produced play, "The Zoo Story," by revealing new levels of detail via another one-act play, "Homelife." Closed much too soon.

• SWEENEY TODD (American Conservatory Theatre, San Francisco)
The production that finally turned me into a Stephen Sondheim fan. In John Doyle's brilliant pared-down staging (in which the nine-member cast is also the orchestra), I was transported into the grand guignol world of the penny-dreadful story of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Looking forward to a great 2008!

Just Take It

This story highlights an interesting study that's just been published, showing that nearly half of doctors have at some time given patients a placebo as treatment. And often it helped.

Seems to me this ought to happen a bit more often. My sense is doctors often write a prescription just to shut up a patient who is complaining, even though they don't need medication. Perhaps more of this will reduce the amount of unnecessary use of antibiotics for conditions that don't respond to them.