This is a slow month for dance jams, but my teachers at Urban
Artistry put together some videos as introductions to the different
types of urban dance, and I think they're really well-done. Check out
breaking with Emily and Russ:
And popping with Ryan:
As a journalist, I'm generally pro-Wikileaks (although not
necessarily pro-Assange--the distinction is important). More interesting
than the releases, I think, are the reactions to them, and the questions
that they raise: are activists endangered by a mostly profit-driven
Should we consider denial-of-service attacks a kind of civil
Were the actions of Anonymous legitimate protest, then? (Good
question.) When it comes to the organizations I lump under "New
Protest," Wikileaks and Anonymous rank prominently due to their
effectiveness, not to mention their eccentric, decentralized, and
anarchist tendencies. Having them acting in concert (such as it is) is
It turns out that if you examine Ray Kurzweil's claims, he's
usually wrong--or at least, right in a way so vague as to be
meaningless. Perhaps he should enter the business of political
Wheat linked the other day to
on using Mobius and Ableton together for live looping, by bassist Russ
Sargeant. I had almost forgotten how awesome the combination--it is no
small endorsement that a free plugin is better than Ableton itself for
this kind of live instrumental performance.
It may be hard for non-musicians--or even non-loopers--to understand how
big a deal Mobius can be. You have to understand that, much more than
other effects (and I've tried my share), looping is like learning a
whole new instrument, and each looper brings its own set of constraints
to the table that you have to learn to work around. For years, the gold
standard was the Gibson EDP, but it was A) expensive, and B)
discontinued. Then along comes some guy with a complete software emulation
that anyone with a decent soundcard can use for free. Oh, and
it's scriptable, so you can rewire the ins and outs to your heart's
content (I made mine control
like my beloved Line 6 DL-4). That's no small matter. Every now and
then, I almost talk myself into picking up a netbook just to run Mobius
and a few pedal VSTs again, it's that good.
Jay Rosen argues that Wikileaks
is a "stateless" news organization, by which he means "decentralized."
It's an interesting parallel to my own thinking on information-age
activism. Of any group in existence today, Wikileaks probably best
embodies what it would mean to do decentralized advocacy, for better or
I love scripting languages, and I especially love this
the original GameBoy. It's kind of an amazing learning tool, if you
think about it. Someone should do this for X86.
While it's true that b-boys
and b-girls love correcting people who call it breakdancing, I
actually think it's more depressing that most people think the dance is
entirely about acrobatics--flares, windmills, and backspins--to the
exclusion of toprock and footwork. That's not their fault, of course:
that's how the dance has been sold in mainstream culture since the
eighties. But check out this video by Zeshen of Havokoro, and consider
how much people are missing. He starts out with some pretty standard
stuff, and then about a minute in starts going off on impressive
combinations of strength, flexibility, and creative movement. It's one
of the coolest footwork displays I've seen.
part of an infinite series titled "Innovative, Magical, and Stupid."
Long story short: an iPhone developer wants to make a service for doing
enhanced copy-paste functionality, but you're not allowed to do that on
the iPhone. So instead, they have to play music (or an .mp3 of silence)
the entire time that they're backgrounded in order to pass muster. They
refer to this "a very elegant solution," but let's call it what it
really is: an awkward hack required by a patronizing, artificial
Finally, this Washington
Monthly story is a fascinating read on how Google Maps has touched
off a new generation of border disputes--especially interesting for the
crisis-mapping crowd. People in developed countries, and particularly
urban areas in developed countries, tend to forget how political and
contentious seemingly-neutral documents like maps can be. But of course,
this is only the start. In a world where our surroundings are tagged
with metadata by a combination of community processes and automated
spiders, we're going to see these kinds of scuffles a lot more often.
I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize to the users of NPR's
Android application, whose playlists crashed after last week's update.
That was my fault--I wrote a 2 where there should have been a 3, or
maybe a < where there should have been a <=. Either way, I'm sorry
I broke your application, and a fix is on the way.
I'd also like to apologize to baby
freezes. Lately I have been leaving them out of my breaking runs,
and if they had feelings, I bet they'd be hurt. But I can explain! See,
if you mess up a shoulder freeze (the only other footwork freeze I
know), it's an big, dramatic mistake. It looks difficult--you're
balancing upside-down on your shoulder! In theory, you're not supposed
to get credit for tough moves you don't land, but I find that people
(particularly non-dancers) can respect them. Whereas, if you mess up a
baby freeze, it just looks like you curled up in a ball and fell over.
From a risk management perspective, it's a no brainer. Sorry, baby
While I'm at it, I'd like to apologize to Stieg Larsson, whose book
"The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest" I was unable to finish because
there's only so much Swedish hospital intrigue a man can take. Also,
there are about 700 billion characters, and they all have ridiculous
Swedish names like Torsten Edklinth and Gunnar Bjork (only with an
umlaut, a punctuation mark that I find personally offensive and for
which I will not bother to look up the HTML entity, no matter what the
New Yorker says). Unfortunately, Mr. Larsson is deceased, and cannot
accept my apologies, but that's never stopped me before.
Finally, I'd like to apologize to the general public for the
Twilight series, both the books and the movies. I'm not
responsible for them in any way, of course. But someone needs to
apologize, and nobody actually involved with the production of these
glitter-drenched grotesques seems likely to do so. It might as well be
Look, I'm not saying George Clooney's character from Up in the
Air is right about wanting to unload all personal relationships. I
don't have that many to spare, after all. But getting my worldly
possessions down to a backpack (and
then ditching the backpack)? Reducing my carbon footprint, my level
of mindless consumerism, and my reliance on cheap, over-designed crap
created by underpaid factory labor? Great. Let's do it.
..in theory, at least. In practice, it is tough to get rid of
stuff. Learning to live frugally is a multi-step process.
Belle started with a simple rule for our apartment: if you bring
something in, something else of equivalent size has to go out. This is a
great rule, if for no other reason than that the apartment is very, very
small and we can't stuff anything else into it without learning to stack
the pets like Tetris blocks. And it incentivizes sustainability by
making it easier to use trading/swap services than to buy new
The second step has been learning to embrace digital media. I still buy
a few CDs and paper books, but not nearly as many as I used to, and
usually only if they're something I'll want to loan out, or if they're
not available online. And we almost never buy DVDs--Netflix has that
covered. While it has taken some time to get used to not 'owning' my
music or movies, maybe that's the point--'ownership' shouldn't be the
defining characteristic of cultural engagement.
Next up is learning to be happy with last year's model. This is not
easy to do, especially given the constant deluge of electronic follow-up
that companies can leverage these days. Most recently, for example, TiVo
sent out messages offering new versions of their DVR box to subscribers
at a discount. That's tempting: we've still got the old Series 2 box,
the one that came out in 2006, and it doesn't do HD, or Netflix
streaming, or... well, lots of neat features. But do we need that? I
mean, we don't have HD cable anyway, and it doesn't really bother us.
We've got the XBox for streaming, and we'd have plenty of space on the
current TiVo if we'd stop using it to store whole seasons of Damages.
There's nothing wrong with it to justify a replacement, so we'll
stick with what we've got.
At some point, I want to start simplifying--giving away, selling, or (as
a last resort) trashing the objects that I only keep out of habit. You
know what I mean: old purchases that you don't use anymore, but you keep
just in case it comes in handy somewhere down the road.
Ruthlessness is the key--you're never going to turn that old Super NES
on again, and you know it--but I probably lack the outright willpower.
So instead I think I'll get a roll of those little green dot stickers,
the ones they use to mark prices at flea markets, and put them on
anything I haven't touched in a while. If it actually gets used, I'll
take the sticker off. Anything with a sticker still on it at the end of
the year has got to go.
Which brings us to the toughest part: our book collection. Already,
heavy boxes of books books are the moving experience we dread most. But
paper texts have another type of inertia, a weight derived more from
their intellectual and emotional impact than their actual mass.
Especially if you love books--and we do--it's hard to discard them. It's
like throwing away knowledge! And yet we'll never read many of them
again, and some of them we bought and may never read in the first place.
Everyone would be better off if they were donated to the library or
recycled. Of all the steps for reducing our material footprint, cutting
the number of books sitting around on our shelves will no doubt be the
most painful, but it may have the biggest impact.
Belle and I will probably never get our lives down to the point that
they can fit in a backpack, or even an overhead luggage compartment. In
reality, we probably don't actually want to get there--we're not monks
or masochists, after all. Yet just as the best essay can benefit from
judicious editing, I think it's appropriate to take a critical scalpel
to our lifestyles from time to time. There's a lot of pressure out there
to accumulate, to the point that "consumer" has too often become
synonymous with "citizen" or "person." That pressure has consequences,
in the labor system, in the environment, and in our financial stability.
It may be true, as Slate's Farhad Manjoo insists, that we
can't actually opt out from American materialism, but maybe we owe it to
ourselves to try.
I actually don't like programming--I like solving problems. It just
happens that every good application usually has at least one
brain-teasing problem inside. Here's a cool one: BK
trees are a method for organizing words to find close dictionary
matches, as in a spellcheck or a keyboard auto-correct. I was wondering
the other day how to do this, and now I know.
Flotilla is my
latest indie game acquisition, and it fits in well with the release of
Sins of a Solar Empire: Diplomacy. While fleet combat in
Sins relies on upgrade trees and swarm composition,
Flotilla actually models small-scale, 3D space tactics--it's all
about positioning, orientation, and group coordination. It gives me
flashbacks to the great Kirk vs. Khan space battle in Star Trek
II. Also includes a surreal, darkly-funny campaign mode played out
around a randomly-generated galaxy.
Strife.tv put up footage of the battles at Unbreakable 3 a couple
of weeks ago. It took place at my old alma mater, George Mason
University, and I had a great time there. I especially love the exhibition
between Iron Man and Meen187, who are both really musical dancers:
When the camera dips down behind someone's head and you can't see
anything for a moment, that's basically what it was like to actually be
there. As I told someone later, I'm glad I went, but I'm also glad we
I committed a new version of Underground to its Google Code
repository the other day, adding support for Home app replacements
like OpenHome, as well as Android 2.1 devices with new launchers like
the Nexus One. I'll push a new version out to market as soon as I've
tested it a bit. This is long overdue--hardcoding the launcher Intent was
always a hack, but it was relatively low-priority until the Nexus broke
Speaking of Android, remember how it's supposed to be fragmenting
all over the place? Turns out that even for game developers, who are
relatively "down to the metal," that's
not true at all. I look forward to retractions.
Some Foursquare badges I'd like to see. Personally, instead of joining Foursquare, I'm just going to constantly post snarky commentary about my location on Twitter. Pretty much the same thing I do now, in other words.
The Berkman Center hosted a lunch to discuss piracy research from the perspective of developing nations. They'll probably have a video and audio soon, but David Weinberger has a good liveblog summary. The most interesting note was that piracy is bad for open software advocates: it lets closed, for-pay software propagate as long as the software developers turn a blind eye. To what degree are grey markets (here and elsewhere) becoming a legitimate business strategy?
Microsoft is making their own 2D data tag, in competition with QR codes and datagrid codes. You may have seen these already without knowing it: they use these on some XBox games, largely for cross-promotional and inventory purposes. I believe them when they say that these are better than QR codes, but they'll never take off for the same reason that Ogg Vorbis hasn't beat out MP3: a good-enough de-facto standard can practically live forever, and the other 2D barcode formats have all the momentum.
A little story to go with that last item: last time I ordered business cards for myself, a couple of years ago, I integrated a QR code into the graphic design of the front, and stuck one containing my v-card on the back. I thought of it as a demonstration for potential employers: who's got two thumbs (the card symbolically asks) and can navigate between the world of print and online journalism in innovative ways? This guy. But I never really thought that it'd be usable, since this was before I had a smartphone, much less anyone else I knew. I made it with a chunk of badly-translated Taiwanese freeware, and tested it with a webcam at work.
The other day after a breaking class, someone asked for my contact information, and I noticed that they had an Android phone. So I showed them how it worked, told them to grab Barcode Scanner from the market ("But I've got a different phone." "Doesn't matter, it's all Android."), and passed them a spare card. Pretty much instantly, they were able to import my card to their contact list. It was pretty cool for me, but it was even better to see the enormous grin on their face when my friend realized they had basically just pulled information out of thin air, like magic. Sometimes, technology's okay.
Celebrated five years together with Belle, an achievement for which
few words would be sufficient. Thanks, babe!
Mostly followed my
gaming resolutions from last year. Definitely played more indie
titles, skipped tedious grinding, and avoided console shooters when
possible. Did not get around to trying an MMO, which was probably for
a quarter of a game engine, then quit when I got to the parts that
aren't instantly gratifying (preloading, faux-threading, AI). Still
managed to learn way more than anyone should know about high-performance
Survived a congressional session, a corporate purchase, and a
Survived a mild case of extensor tendonitis, and resolved to take
better care of my hands.
Rewrote my personal subset of Blosxom in PHP, increasing the speed
of this blog by an order of magnitude. Resisted the urge to convert to a
real publishing platform like Wordpress. Purged
a number of old entries, while I was at it.
Began taking breakdancing classes, which (after six months)
qualifies me as something of a b-boy-in-training, I guess. Lost about 20
pounds in the process, but failed (so far) to conquer a general
deficiency of flavor.
Reviewer's notes: The special effects may be showing their age, and
portions seemed rushed or in need of additional polish. But overall,
2009 delivered a solid annual experience, not to mention a definite
improvement over previous franchise installments. Possible
candidate for Year of the Year. Score: 9/10
In anticipation of future FCC policies, I'd like to state up front that
I was not paid or bribed in any way for these links, which seems like an
awful shame, as well as a real opportunity for anyone with some extra
bribe money lying around.
There's video from local b-boy battle-slash-arts-fair Crafty
(check the related section for more). I caught the first round of this
last week, and if I can find a partner, I'm entering next year.
MobileActive has an overview of different setups for SMS
activism. Lots of good links there, including an SMS server/analysis
tool that runs on Android.
This is your planet on climate change: Theatre of Inconveniences
drought in photos as part of a series on the impact of global
warming on wildlife.
Ethan Zuckerman got eye surgery and somehow still managed to blog a
ton of incredibly insightful stuff. One of my favorite entries is The
Cloud and Useful Illusions, which discusses the ways that the
"cloud" metaphor invites us to ignore the underlying infrastructure and
politics, in both good ways and bad.
RECAP is a Firefox extension that sends public documents behind a
for-pay firewall to the Internet Archive as users browse the original
Morozov has more. Effectively, they're crowdsourcing the process of
creating a site mirror. It may have implications for getting around
censorship, but it's more interesting to me in the way that it creates
something valuable by piggybacking on the user's actions, much the same
way that ReCAPTCHA leverages site verification to improve OCR for
At Arthur Magazine, Douglas
Rushkoff argues that "movements" are dead, because they now play a
role that's more social than actively political. I disagree, personally:
I would say that he's picked some stunningly poor movements, then. The
goal of the New Dissent, just as with traditional social and protest
movements, is to put feet on the ground, albeit in a new way. A movement
that doesn't put feet on the ground is a failure, no matter whether it's
Rushkoff's strawman of "a top-down, passionately executed, and highly
branded movement" or a decentralized, flash mob of demonstrators.
Ironically, the very health protest astroturf that's made Rushkoff so
dejected is a prime example of this kind of action. It's not necessarily
seeing results--but that's because it's badly run. People show up, and
then act like either loons or idiots, which convinces no-one. But that
doesn't mean the organizing principles are unsound.
Google video, Nils Gilman of the Global Business Network discusses
"the global illicit economy"--basically the globalized black market in
guns, drugs, sex, and malware. Some interesting observations inside: for
example, says Gilman, attempting to control drug trade via border
control is counterproductive because it raises the profit margins for
As someone who's done his share of public speaking and video
editing, even to a teetotaler this
Johnnie Walker ad is unbelievable. It's a single, six-minute
steadicam shot of Robert Carlyle walking through Scotland, telling the
brand's history as he walks by carefully-placed props or visual aids.
Apparently it took 40 takes. I find it fascinating for two reasons:
first, because the craftsmanship of it is striking. But second, because
it breaks the commonly-accepted rule of thumb for video
journalism--"keep it short," because people won't watch long-form web
video. As I've said before, I think that's a fallacy. People will
certainly watch long-form productions, if it's interesting. What they
won't watch is a lengthy imitation of "local news"-style coverage.
Hall and Oates, Carlos Santana, U2: what do these artists have in
common, besides a soporific effect rivalling prescription drugs? Satan.
Praise of [Some] DDoSs? asks whether a denial-of-service attack is
morally equivalent to blackmail--or to a sit-in. It's a fascinating
question: do lawmakers write anti-cybercrime laws with mythical
uberhackers in mind, without recognizing that they may fall under the
same range of intent as meatspace offenses? And what does that mean for
While cruising through Saurik's Android
Market webclient the other day, I found CRIME
MAP, a mobile mashup between Google Maps and live crime data (sadly,
only for Osaka, Japan at this time). So it's like EveryBlock, but map-oriented. And
I started to think about the potential for this kind of thing--match it
up with a Locale plugin,
for example, to warn you if you're about to walk into a high-crime area.
Or if it were adapted to non-crime tasks, and people were allowed to
submit activities/tagging to it (instant flash protest?). A big deal has
been made out of the camera-aware augmented reality applications
beginning to trickle out, but I wonder if this limited-but-ubiquitous
form would be more effective--a sixth sense, instead of a direct visual
details on Mozilla's Week of Service, which matches IT volunteers
with needy nonprofits. If you need the help, there's a link to the
Idealist page for registration. I was disappointed that the volunteers
are not necessarily just Mozilla staff, because I thought it would be
hilarious if JQuery creator John Resig showed up to rebuild Belle's
nonprofit web page. But it's still a good idea.
I've had no time, at all, for playing games this week. When I have,
it's been adventure-centric: Monkey Island 2 on the smartphone,
and Zombie Cow's smart indie
comedies, Ben There, Dan That! and Time, Gentlemen,
Please! I highly recommend both of the latter, especially if you
love the old Lucasarts titles. The first is free, but there's an option
to donate extra when buying the second one. Go ahead, push the total up
to $10. You won't regret it.
Tonight is my first breakdancing class. No, you can't see video.