a life's work in toothpicks and ping pong balls // 16 Nov 2011

Via things, Scott Weaver's 35 year project to build this kinetic sculpture of San Francisco out of toothpicks and pingpong balls.

Weaver-4-600x399

Weaver writes on his site:

I have used different brands of toothpicks depending on what I am building. I also have many friends and family members that collect toothpicks in their travels for me. For example, some of the trees in Golden Gate Park are made from toothpicks from Kenya, Morocco, Spain, West Germany and Italy. The heart inside the Palace of Fine Arts is made out of toothpicks people threw at our wedding.

If you just skimmed his quote, go read it again. Especially that last bit.

facsimile dust jackets and ebook artifacts // 15 Nov 2011

This morning Very Short List pointed to Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC, a project from Mark Terry. Since 1999 he's been archiving images of book dust jackets, and offers prints of them for sale on his site. Here's one from William Faulkner, one from Agatha Christie and one from Don DeLillo.

I've been kind of obsessed with these today; not because I'm interested in ordering replacement dust jackets, but just with the idea of replacing the "book on the shelf" as the signifier of ownership (and maybe even actual enjoyment) of books. Facsimile dust jackets are one angle, of course -- and repro's of vintage titles are the library nerd equivalent of the old Italian movie poster. But are any book publishers taking the approach that TopSpin championed with musicians?

  • Give me the digital sample chapter in exchange for my email address
  • Sell me the ebook for $9.99
  • Sell me the ebook plus a frameable repro of the book cover for $19.99
  • Sell me all that plus a hardcopy for $29.99
  • Sell me all that plus an archivally printed copy of background material, editor's notes, rough drafts, etc., for $99.99
  • Etc., etc.

Following in the footsteps of the music business, if the book itself is no longer an artifact, can publishers create new ones that fans are willing to pay for?

match the delillo to the cover // 21 Oct 2011

Pan Macmillan is republishing Don DeLillo's back catalog, with new covers commissioned from New Studio London with illustrations by Noma Bar. They're not only beautiful, but highly evocative of the books themes and major plot points.

If you're a DeLillo fan, you'll want to take my "match the title to the cover" quiz. I whipped it up this morning, cropping the title from each of the books.

DeLillo Cover Quiz

If you're really good, you won't need the answer key. But if you need to cheat, check out the grid of covers at New Studio London's site.

pores and all // 17 Oct 2011

Possibly the best piece of translated marketing copy you'll read all day: "If you think to leave a memorial portrait of yourself or your loved one, a world-class reality 'The REALFACE' would be the best fit."

Halloween costume idea: a REALFACE mask that you carry around and wear over your real face. When people ask you what you are, you reply "my Facebook profile."

I would have clapped, but she would have seen the camera // 11 Oct 2011

There's something wonderful about watching someone do something they're good at, when they're not performing, or even deliberately practicing. Just doing it, because it's what they love to do.

Especially when they have no idea they're being recorded.

two minutes with steve // 06 Oct 2011

In 2008, my colleague Ray Marshall and I had the privilege of being able to demo TypePad's iPhone app onstage during the keynote of Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference. It was a career highlight for me, not only for the opportunity to step up on what's arguably the biggest stage in tech, but for the glimpse it gave me into the culture of excellence that Steve Jobs created at Apple.

That year about a dozen third party app developers were given two minutes each to present their apps and demonstrate what was possible with the iPhone SDK. While from the seats or the web stream those two minutes may seem quick, each of those segments were the result of 40-50 hours of preparation and coaching from the team at Apple.

It started a week before the keynote, when we arrived at 1 Infinite Loop with our app and two minute demo script. We thought we were ready. We weren’t. They worked with us non-stop that week to refine our app, shape our story and polish our script. We rehearsed hundreds and hundreds of times ("Better. Now do it again," was a constant refrain), and presented to dozens of different people inside Apple.

Including Steve.

On the Wednesday afternoon before the Monday keynote we were to present in the theater on Apple’s campus to Steve, Scott Forstall and Phil Schiller; they’d have the final word on whether we’d make it to the big stage at Moscone. The wait outside the theater was torture, the walk down the aisle was nerve wracking, and the two minute demo we gave went by in a blur. I’m pretty sure I rushed it.

But Steve smiled. He said he liked it, that we had done a great job. And then gave us advice. Move a line up, emphasize this particular point, fix that button on the app. Coming from him it was all obvious stuff -- we felt foolish for not seeing those flaws earlier. And then he cocked his head and asked if those were stock photos that we were using. Which, of course, they were. "Don’t worry," he said. "We can get you photos. We have great photos. Thanks guys." And with that we were done. By the weekend’s rehearsals, the demo iPhones were loaded with a few of Apple’s beautiful in-house photos. And on that Monday the whole thing went off without a hitch.

When Jobs resigned in August, John Gruber wrote "Jobs’s greatest creation isn’t any Apple product. It is Apple itself." I couldn’t agree more. While I'm lucky to have been able to have received both product and demo advice from the man, I'm privileged to have had even the briefest experience with the culture of Apple that he helped create. Excellence, quality, passion, attention to detail -- those aren’t just attributes of Apple products, they’re attributes of how people at Apple work.

Over the next few days and weeks, we’ll hear a lot about what Jobs did at Apple over the last ten years. While he may be impossible to replace, I have to believe that the senior team at Apple knows that their most important job, and the best way to honor his memory, is to continue the culture he created at Apple. Based on what I saw three years ago -- and the products they’ve introduced since -- I’m bullish.

Rest in peace, Steve.

vote for my panel // 30 Aug 2011

I'm leading a panel discussion at an event in a few weeks, and I was asked if I would need anything above and beyond the usual (projector, mics, etc.). And since I'm regularly asked to lead panel discussions, I thought I'd share my rider in the spirit of making your panels better...and easier to organize in the future!

Here's the list of what I ask for every time I appear at an industry conference.

  • An old school overhead projector with seven clear transparencies and four colored markers (green, red, black and blue)
  • A supersized post-it note flipboard, with six colored markers, preferably the ones that have nice smells (strawberry, lime, blueberry, licorice and cherry)
  • A bullhorn, with a spare set of batteries
  • Three stick-on clown noses
  • One pair of groucho marx glasses with attached nose and moustache
  • Juggling pins
  • Three quarts of flourescent paint. Seven 2" and five 1" paintbrushes.
  • Black lights to fill the room
  • Eight cases of bottled water
  • One hunting knife, preferably serrated
  • 2 x 50ft lengths of braided polypropylene general purpose rope
  • 11 flourescent green glow sticks, at least 6" in length
  • Six rolls of 1.87" wide silver duct tape
  • 24 10x10 clear plastic sheets / drop cloths
  • 2 body bags
  • Three sheets of CIA-grade blotter acid

Oh, and SxSW is going to be awesome this year. You should definitely vote for the panel Ted Rheingold and I are organizing: On the Internet, Everyone Knows You're a Dog.

where the fish are // 22 Aug 2011

Miramax launched their movie rental service on Facebook, because, according to CEO Mike Lang, it's where the fish are.

Initially, Lang also considered a separate storefront for Miramax.com. He quickly shifted gears, explaining in an interview: "We wanted to fish where the fish are. We could have created the most robust Miramax.com in the world and other than my family members, who would be there?"

I'm usually the first one to argue that the fish are actually on the web and Facebook is just a part of the web, but in this case maybe Miramax is doing the smart thing by going with Facebook on this one. First, I have to believe it's a small number of consumers that actually make decisions about what movie to see based on the studio it comes from, so investing in a full blown Miramax.com destination site probably wouldn't have been the brightest move. Meanwhile, if there are fans of the studio they'll find those flicks on Facebook and broadcast rental decisions to their friends.) Second, launching a destination with 20 titles would have been pretty pathetic; but a Facebook app with 20 titles? It's an experiment. Third, they'll get some nice PR out of this by being tied to Facebook...and I bet they probably got some development and co-marketing support from Facebook as well.

The ship has sailed on the studios competing with iTunes / Netflix for owning the customer relationship in any significant way. But look for more apps like this, where Facebook and the studios take advantage of the app platform, social distribution & payment infrastructure of Facebook to put chinks in the armor of Apple & Netflix. Bonus points to the studio that takes advantage of the real-time social aspects of Facebook to juice back catalog titles: Would you spend your two dollars to watch Better Off Dead with your friends?

cultural invention, play and excitement // 22 Aug 2011

Great profile of Berg in the New York Times. I loved this bit from Jack Schulze...

"Historically, design has associated itself with utility and problem-solving, but we prefer the landscape of cultural invention, play and excitement," Mr. Schulze said. "When technology is infinitely complex, and our attention increasingly finite, producing something you can act on and observe at a human and cultural level is hard."

Via kottke.

cosmopolis fan art // 20 Aug 2011

As previously blogged, David Cronenberg is directing the film adaptation of Don DeLillo's novel Cosmopolis. It stars Robert Pattinson, which means there is already plenty of enthusiastic online coverage of the movie. Like, say, cosmopolisfilm.com, which features fan art that combines heart throb shots of Pattinson with text from DeLillo.

Cosmo21

Mind blown.

charlotte's web and fear of dying // 19 Aug 2011

Hillel Italie, AP's book writer, has a great piece on how novelists have been trying to make sense of September 11, with bits on Jess Walter, Joseph O'Neill, Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, John Updike, Amy Waldman, Jonathan Safran Foer, Don DeLillo and even performance artist Karen Finley.

I loved the closing argument from writer Moshin Hamid, who recommends that we re-read Charlotte's Web...

If I had to prescribe a book about Sept. 11, certainly 'Charlotte's Web' would be high on the list. Because in secular societies in the West, the discourse about death has been marginalized as something for religion to deal with. I think we should plop 'Charlotte's Web' in the middle of that and say, 'Look, we have to accept we are going to die, and that a certain amount of courage is required.'

proposed chrome extension // 17 Aug 2011

Dear Lazyweb (you're still out there, right?)... Please make a Google Chrome extension that automatically detects the appearance of a doodle on Google.com, and redirects any clicks on that to this patent. Thanks!

doing it for others // 17 Aug 2011

Via Put this On comes this waaaay-inside baseball men's fashion blogging discussion at Park & Bond about whether men are dressing for themselves or dressing for women or dressing for other fashion bloggers. (Yeah, I don't care either.)

BUT. Buried in the piece was this nice little bit from A Fistful of Style's Alex Yakovleff.

Many -- if not most -- people posting on the Internet are trying to show off to the Internet (myself included). You’re posting pictures to the Internet. Are you really going to argue "I’m just doing it for me, man!"? Because that’s kind of unbelievable. Of course you’re doing for others, at least to some degree.

a new unit of measure: the classical // 15 Aug 2011

If we're measuring tech startup funding in units of "Color" (as in, what fraction of a Color round did you raise?), we should now be measuring new content ventures in units of "Classicals." The Classical is a non-existent pre-launch sports blog daily web publication about sports that's using Kickstarter to raise $50,000.

Entrepreneditor: We have a vision to dominate the space with a mix of first-person content, long-form essays, quick Tumblr-style blog posts, service journalism, slideshows, how-to videos, innovative community features and a viral social strategy.

Investor: How much are you looking to raise?

Entrepreneditor: Only two Classicals.

the giraffe is about to get his account suspended // 12 Aug 2011

Google-plus-real-names

i hope they call it the girlfriend experience // 12 Aug 2011

Matthew Sweet is not only selling ceramics on Etsy, he has a new record coming out called Modern Art, and he's going on tour this fall. From Matthew Perpetua's story at Rolling Stone:

It may be a while before fans will get to see Sweet and his band perform his ambitious new material. "I think it would be difficult to play live, just to have everybody learn it," says Sweet. "It's especially challenging because we're gonna tour to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Girlfriend this fall and we're going to be playing the whole Girlfriend album."

Emphasis mine. Twenty years!??!! I saw him play once and my GOD was it loud. In a good way. (You can stream a track off the new record at the RS post linked above. It's catchy!)

a life lived entirely without nostalgia // 10 Aug 2011

I have a thing for nostalgia -- trying to understand the interplay between aging, romanticizing the past and the inevitable March of Progress. No grand theories yet, just a bunch of blog posts that share a category. But I've been reading with interest a bunch of posts lately from Things Magazine which are grappling with the same thing. Today, commenting on a post from James Bridle at BookTwo.org, they have this great bit. (Emphasis mine.)

The author continues: ‘I am so bored of nostalgia. Of letterpress and braces and elaborate facial hair. I appreciate these things, but I think there’s something wrong with a culture that fetishises them to the extent that we currently do.’ Very probably. But such fetishists represent a very small part of wider culture, and their obsessions are – it would seem – almost entirely without impact or consequence. Is there a term for a life lived entirely without nostalgia, without any capacity for romantic and emotive engagement with the past? Futurist doesn’t seem to cut it.

Couldn't agree more that the hipster obsession with things like letterpress and facial hair has very, very little impact on the wider culture. But a term for a life lived entirely without nostalgia? Would have to be something very, very close to amnesia.

start reading it in under a minute // 09 Aug 2011

Nicholson Baker's new novel House of Holes, a Book of Smut is out today. The Times Magazine had a nice profile of Baker this weekend, but I also like The Millions' review, which (more succinctly) connects the dots between Nicholson's non-smut work like The Mezzanine and Room Temperature to Vox, The Fermata and now House of Holes.

Nicholson Baker has been thinking about rigid stonkers and prime Angus cockbriskets spewing hot loads of silly string into various slutslots and lettuce patches. That, plus cold iced tea, and the little bubbles that you see when you shake up a bottle of salad dressing. Baker’s many fans are sure to lap it up. The rest of us will be slightly amused but ultimately bored.

I'm a fan, and I'll lap it up. But I have to wonder just how many people will be reading it undetected on their Kindles on the subway or the bus, enjoying their own little Fermata-like moment, undetected. I'm sure Baker's curious, too; remember his ambivalent piece on the Kindle in The New Yorker from two years ago?

I had some success one morning when I Kindled my way deep into “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Erotic Romance,” by Alison Kent. There are, I learned, four distinct levels of intensity in the erotic-romance industry: sweet, steamy, sizzling, and scorching.

My God, the guy can even make the word "Kindle" sound dirty.

off and on // 08 Aug 2011

This weekend I managed to make it 7% of my way through James Gleick's The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. I consider that a major accomplishment, especially since my primary reading device is essentially a beautiful distraction machine.

I did manage to highlight this little bit in the introduction, where Gleick recalls a letter that Claude Shannon wrote to Vannevar Bush...

"Off and on," Shannon wrote to Vannevar Bush at MIT in 1939, "I have been working on an analysis of some of the fundamental properties of general systems for the transmission of intelligence."

Gleick, ever the master of restraint, doesn't bother to call out the brilliance of that first clause. He leaves that to the reader.

interactive paper books // 08 Aug 2011

And two makes a trend! Last month Berg London (yep, them again) published SVK, a comic from Warren Ellis and Matt Brooker. A critical piece of the story line is printed with invisible ink that you can only read with the "SVK object," a UV light source that's packaged with the book. I had a chance to see it in person when I was in London and it's very, very cool. The technique is integrated into the plot in a way that rewards the reader for investing the effort in reading in a new way.

SVK Closeup 01 - UV

On Friday, via Brainpickings comes news of a fall children's title from McSweeney's that features heat-sensitive invisible ink. The preview video is fun, and gives you a sense of what it's like to rub the pages to reveal what's underneath...

More like this please. And there's a lesson in here for designers that are crafting screen-based interactivity on top of classically narrative content: make sure the distraction and the effort that's required for readers to push, click, highlight, scrub, type, shake, tilt, etc. is worth it. If you're going to entice the reader out of their state of reading "flow," then make sure what you want them to do adds to their experience of your content.