This might be old, but I just saw it on a car this morning. Sort of says it all when it comes to manufactured patriotism. And ribbons.
Archive for October, 2007
Last April, inspired by a scan on Modern Mechanix, I wrote this post about William Ross Aiken, who designed a workable flat-panel TV in 1958. Yesterday, I got an email from Aiken’s daughter, informing me that the inventor passed away in February, and she was putting his personal collection of electronic gear up for sale on eBay. According to Madaline Beeman, “I wish I had a reason to keep these things, but I have limited space, and lots of other memorabilia of him.” Beeman hopes that the gear will go to “someone who appreciates these things.” First up: a Jackson Tube tester with a starting bid of $40. I haven’t bid on it, but I’ll be keeping an eye on the rest of the Aiken collection, and may just pick something up, if only to honor the memory of an unheralded broadcast industry pioneer.
When I saw the cover of the latest issue of Wired, with the tagline “Manga Conquers America,” my first thought was, great, yet another tired retelling of the growth of manga in America. Fortunately, the actual article, by veteran journalist Daniel Pink, tells a very different story, about the growing market for underground fanfic manga mashups, and how Japanese publishers are willing to turn a blind eye to the amateur editions as long as they help mainstream titles—and don’t get too successful on their own.
The accompanying manga-style comic, however, does tell the full history of the business, from its humble origins in the 1940s through today’s global industry. And it reminded me of something—something familiar. Sure enough, a trip down to the basement confirmed that I wasn’t afflicted with a false memory. I managed to dig up a copy of the February 1991 issue of Business Tokyo, a magazine that included a story I wrote on the growth of the manga business, which was accompanied by, you guessed it, a manga-style comic telling the history of the business. No, I don’t think Wired got the idea from me. For one thing, Business Tokyo wasn’t exactly a mainstream publication. For another, Wired’s comic is much better. Still, it was fun to reread my old article, and I’ve gone ahead and scanned it for anyone else who might like to take a look. As I recall, I had to convince my editors that a story on manga was worth doing; at the time, it wasn’t considered a serious business subject. Of course, times have changed, and I somehow suspect that Pink had no such trouble with his editors at Wired.
(And, yes, the title of the article, “Middle Aged Psychic Samurai Beancakes” is a homage to “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” And, yes, I know TMNT wasn’t directly inspired by manga. But it clearly owed a debt to Japanese pop culture—or at least to that culture as filtered through American versions like Frank Miller’s “Ronin.” So, I felt the title was fitting at the time—and still do today.)
Click on thumbnail at the left to view full-size scans on Flickr.
I’ve been shopping at Amazon.com for years, and have occasionally found the service’s product recommendations useful. But over time, as the store has become larger and its inventory more diverse, it’s become harder for those stressed algorithms to come up with truly useful recommendations. For me, this reached its apotheosis with the recommendation above, suggesting that I get some accessories for a recently purchased HDMI cable. The proposed accessories? More HDMI cables! I guess they could keep each other company. Or perhaps it’s part of a scheme by an alien species, a la “Or All The Seas With Oysters.” Not sure what the offspring of two HDMI cables would be; maybe a DRM-enabled, 1080p-capable coat hanger. Or bicycle.
The idea of ringxiety—those phantom cellphone rings and vibrations that you sometimes think you hear or feel, even when you’ve left your phone at home—has been around for a couple of years, with various theories floated about the phenomenon’s root cause. ?I think the phantom ring can all be tied into your love life or lack thereof,? one sufferer opined a couple of years ago. The latest explanation, however, is downright creepy. In an NPR segment earlier this week, one expert mentioned the oft-repeated idea that users think of cellphones as phantom limbs as an actual cause for the condition, suggesting that the brain can actually become convinced that a cellphone—especially one carried regularly in the same location— is a physical limb. The solution: move the phone to another spot before your brain gets confused. And change your ringtone regularly to avoid having it hard-wired into your consciousness as a comforting sound. Personally, I’d prefer to just leave the phone at home, but since I can’t do that, maybe I’ll try to find the most annoying ringtone I can, and stash the phone in a bag. Then again, if I’ve already reached the phantom limb stage, that won’t help much. And, besides—oops, gotta run. My leg is vibrating.
I’ve been using gadgets, widgets and gizmos on my computers for as long as I can remember. Even before tools like Apple’s Dashboard and Konfabulator/Yahoo Widgets, there were programs that let you put the weather, calendar and annoying eyeballs in your taskbar. And, of course, before that, there were TSRs, those memory-resident programs that, in the pre-multitasking, MS-DOS era, allowed you to bring up an ASCII chart or notepad with a mere flick of a keystroke. Over time, as widgets have become more common, they’ve also, I believe, become less useful, in relative terms. Today’s widgets have enormous potential to serve as a control panel for your life, but they’re hampered by business models and a lack of easy portability. So, if you want to use Google Desktop Sidebar and include your buddy list in the panel, you’d better be using Google Talk. True, browser-based platforms like Netvibes work better, but that sort of defeats the whole idea of widgets as standalone, always-active tools.
That’s why I’m excited about the potential of Chumby, the dedicated widget device that’s finally on sale after over a year of hype. Chumby is essentially a hardware version of Windows Vista’s SideShow feature—without Vista or any proprietary software, or even the need for a computer. You can put a Chumby on your nightstand and use it as an Internet-enabled clock radio (at this point, I’m only assuming the radio part; if this doesn’t support Internet radio and UPnP all bets are off). Or put it on your desktop as an email station. The options are limited only by what developers come up with, and it won’t take too many applications to make Chumby indispensable (at least for the geek class). I don’t expect Chumby to ever become mainstream. But it does herald a future of non-PC, always-connected, software-defined devices. I could easily see putting one of these in every room in my home, but at $175 each that’s a bit prohibitive, so I’ll settle for one in the kitchen or bedroom, and await the revolution for the bathroom model.
One spring day during my junior year of high school, a friend came up to me and said, “Did you hear? Ian Curtis killed himself.” Dumbfounded, I replied, “Who?” At the time, my musical tastes were evolving, and this friend, who was always a step ahead of me, briefed me about Joy Division’s history, and lamented that he wouldn’t get to see them at Hurrah as he had planned (if memory serves correctly, he kept his tickets to the canceled show as a memento mori, rather than turning them in for a refund). Over the next few months, I would come to fully embrace Joy Division’s small, powerful ouevre, along with that of New Order, which rose almost too rapidly from the band’s ashes.
I’ve been thinking about those days a lot lately, as the Joy Division revival launches into high gear. In the past three days alone, The New York Times has had three articles about the group, culminating in today’s glowing review of the biopic “Control,” which is, of course, the driving force behind the newfound interest in Joy Division. And, not to let an opportunity pass it by, Apple has released its “iTunes Originals” New Order album, which includes mostly interview clips, along with versions of “Transmission” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”
The most striking thing about the New Order versions of these songs is how ordinary they sound. When Ian Curtis sang, “Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio,” each “dance” was a sharply punctuated, like a hammer hitting a nail. Curtis wasn’t singing about dancing; he was singing about using music as a blunt instrument to blot out painful memories. When Bernard Sumner sings the same lyrics, he’s, well, singing about dancing. That’s not exactly surprising. New Order, has, after all, always been a dance band, focused more on finding the perfect beat than a meaningful turn of phrase. Even the group’s best song, the Curtis tribute “The Perfect Kiss,” features such inane, wince-worth lyrics as “I have always thought about/staying here or going out.” That doesn’t mean I don’t like New Order. The group’s early singles sound as fresh to me today as they did over 25 years ago, and I certainly listen to “Temptation” more often than, say, “Komakino.” But when I want more substance, I’ll return to Joy Division, as I suspect many fans, old and new, will do in the coming weeks.
Back in the day, I used to occasionally play with a Mac program called Tappy Type, which made your computer sound like a typewriter (what can I say; I’m easily amused). The program, a relic of the pre-OS X days, was never updated for modern Macs or ported to Windows, and its developer has apparently moved on to bigger and better things. Fortunately, the Tappy Type concept was recently merged with another of my favorite software concepts—full-screen console-style text editors—resulting in Q10. The free program works the same way as DarkRoom, WriteRoom and its other brethren, with the added excitement of typewriter sound effects (it even has customizable sound themes, in case you prefer, say, the classic Remington effect to the mid-century modern tones of the Selectric). Of course, the sounds can be disabled, but for total nostalgia, there’s nothing like launching Q10, setting the background to white, the font to Courier and cranking up the volume. Now, will someone please tell me how to get that WiteOut off of my screen?
When I was a kid, the space race was as big a deal as the cold war and the arms race—in fact, it was inexorably tied to those parallel contests. And the event that started that competition, the launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union, happened 50 years ago today. For those who don’t remember that period, it’s difficult to describe the passion this nation felt for space travel in the 60s and early 70s. I remember, even as a kid, being swept up in the excitement of the new “space age.” My early heroes were test pilots and astronauts, not rock stars or sports figures. There was a sort of boundless optimism about space in those days; even as the U.S. struggled with the Kennedy and King assassinations, the Vietnam war and Nixon, the final frontier offered a new hope that we could pursue our dreams to infinity and beyond (yes, this sentence was crafted for both film geeks and SEO hacks). A movie like “2001” didn’t seem so far-fetched back then; space stations, giant computer-controlled starships, and contact with alien life forms in about 30 years? Why not? After all, we went from Sputnik to Apollo 11 in just 12 years. What couldn’t we accomplish in another 30? Of course, we all know what really happened. And, when I woke up this morning, instead of being able to visit a lunar colony or vacation on Mars, I ended up visiting Woot, where a one-day commemorative Sputnik shirt was already sold out. Yes, I lived through the space race. And I didn’t even get a stupid t-shirt.
I have to admit I’m pretty impressed with Popular Photography’s ongoing coverage of “the war on photographers.” After all, it’s a magazine better known for reviews of lenses and curmudgeonly columns about glorious old pre-war cameras. So, the magazine’s (and its website) continued focus on the issue of photographers’ rights is something of a fundamental rethinking of its historic mission. And, as far as I’m concerned, it works. At a time when you can find photography tips just about anywhere, it’s important for established players like PopPhoto to be able to show how they’re different and better. Higher-quality reviews can help, of course. But taking up the cause of embattled photographers is even better. You can bet I’m going to review my subscription. And keep PopPhoto’s blog in my OPML.