Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Fellow of Strings

With a name like 'Stringfellow Barr', how can your dialogues not be interesting?

If you have the time, listen to these recordings (we'd call them 'podcasts' now') from the mid-to-late 1960s from St. John's College.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

caught by the camera

A Ukrainian car advertisement. I'm not sure if the two men were aware that they were going to be in the ad.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Pages 101 to 104

A student of mine recently introduced me to the musical stylings of Calvin Harris. Given my penchant for ridiculous retro-futurism, I was particularly taken with the song and video for "Acceptable in the 80s" This lead me to thinking of the myriad of interactive technologies that did not use personal computers or the nascent internet.

Sitting in my office, on top of the filing cabinet is a semi-functional 2XL - a cleverly designed 8-track tape player. Using the ability to jump between tracks, a clever writer-producer-voice actor designed multiple interactive narratives and quiz segments. Really pushing a simple technology to do sophisticated (if campy) things.

Although I only had a passing acquaintance with it, the vast majority of my friends (then and now) were hard-core gamers. On the few occasions I'd joined a gamer-pod during a several-hour-long game of original D&D, I was struck first by the illustrations. But only later did I realize how complex the systems for this analog equivalent of an MMORPG really was. (in time it's become even more complex, but eclipsed by its online counterparts)

A few months ago, I was walking by the loading dock at the university where I work, when I noticed several beautiful wooden card catalog bureaus being thrown out. I managed to salvage the four nicest of them. I can't help but think that there's a bit of hubris in ditching the analog catalog simply because there is a more effective digital one. In this respect, I admire my RPG otaku friends who keep playing paper-based games.

Then somewhere in the back of my brain I remembered another example of an analog interactive technology, the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series. These were the young adult fiction that I remembered from the 80s. Most of them were cliché even to a budding 12 year old. But buried within these mass-market paperbacks was occasional brilliance.

In fact, I think the one above taught me an important lesson at least about novels, if not about life in general. ...and how boredom might have been my first introduction to "postmodernism"

The contrivance to all of these books was simple: a 2nd-person narrative that prompted the reader to turn to a page to continue along the storyline that was based upon your choice. In theory, a great novelty for YA fiction. A reader with a short attention span is engaged in a physical task, and rewarded for decision making. Each reading of the book could be different, also longer or shorter depending on the intent of the reader.

But that's not the post-modern experience I had with these books.

On some long trip or another, probably either on a flight back from visiting my grandparents or a drive back from visiting my cousins -- both interminable by the standards of a 6th or 7th grader. I decided to simply read the books cover-to-cover. The result was far more interesting that the simple storylines the authors had intended. It was an experience of multiple overlapping realities. In the book pictured above this reached a brilliant meta-conclusion.

The story is of an adolescent ("you") abducted by aliens for inclusion in their zoo. During various predictable plot twists, the characters begin searching for a Utopia with its expected peace and happiness. However, following the instructions of the book, a reader would never come across that narrative thread.

These are "pages 101 through 104" - and I'd stumbled across them when, being bored, I'd read the book straight through violating its premise. The intervening years had clouded that memory (too much partying in the late '90s). But it's an important lesson to recall. Breaking across the multiple narratives may be the best way to find those hidden utopias - that are un-seeable from the expected narratives that society gives to us.

What are some other means of jumping across narratives? Back the the aforementioned late 90s, I'd heard of a film-studies student who had used the school's video editing suites to re-cut "Pulp Fiction" into its chronological order. What utopias did he find? (or was he himself a film-school urban legend? ...a narrative utopia?)

At least we can continue to challenge and hack the stories we tell ourselves. Exegesis may be only the beginning....but I'm beginning to see why esoteric frequently means hidden.

Like pages 101 through 104.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


I was reading about how much of the city of Bristol was saved by erecting a 2/3rds scale decoy farther down the river.  A bit more research on Military Decoys brought me to this brilliant site.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Roads that Cross the Beltway

I had begun to list the roads that I knew that crossed the Washington, DC Beltway without an interchange.  I thought there were maybe ten to twelve.  There are 39.  I spent the fifteen minutes that the computer was rendering a video, looking at Google Maps and counting them.

These are great ways to avoid rush-hour traffic and get out of town without fighting to get past the Beltway.  So, for the edification of the public, here they are from the "12 O'Clock position"(coincidentally the Montgomery/PG county line) running clockwise:

1) Riggs Rd.
2) Cherry Hill Rd.
3) Rhode Island Ave.
4) Cherrywood Ln.
5) Greenbelt Rd.
6) Good Luck Rd.
7) MLK Hghwy.
8) Ardwick Ardmore Rd.
9) Glenarden Pkwy.
10) Arena Dr.
11) Darcy Rd.
12) Suitland Pkwy.
13) Suitland Rd/Forestville Rd. (partial exit)
14) Auth Rd.
15) Temple Hills Rd.
16) Livingston Rd.
17) Oxon Hill Farm Rd. (Dead End)

18) GW Pkwy. (partial exit)
19) Fleet Dr./McGuin Rd.
20) Backlick Rd.
21) Heming Ave.
22) Lee Hghwy.
23) Idlywood Rd.
24) Oak St.
25) Lewinsville Rd.
26) Old Dominion Dr.
27) Live Oak Dr. (Dead End)

28) MacArthur Blvd.
29) Persimmon Tree Rd.
30) Bradly Blvd.
31) Greentree Rd. (Dead End)
32) Frenwood Rd.
33) Cedar Ln.
34) Kensington Pkwy.
35) Jones Mill Rd/Beach Dr.
36) Linden Ln.
37) Seminary Rd.
38) Sligo Creek Pkwy.
39) Burnett Ave. 

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Full text of "The Absorbent Mind" is available on Google Books.

It's all relative.

A helpful calculator for DC in the summer.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Absorbent Mind in it's early teens

I had a long discussion with a friend of mine on a dark, humid night here in DC. He was worried, like many of us are, that he's not as inspired and creative now as he was 15 years ago when we first met. He's got a good job; a journalist for a major national magazine. He's got a pretty decent social life; he'd been flirted with by no less than three young professionals that evening. He's over-worked; but like most of us, he's happiest when busy.
Neither he nor I have made the films, documentaries or art-projects we'd planned all of those years ago. The details of life took priority. So looking back at the creative people we'd been years ago, it's easy to feel that we let something slip.

My suggestion was three part:
1) find a topic to obsess on - something that you can be crazy enough to bleed for; something where your enthusiasm will infect other people.
2) go back and watch the films and TV that "creeped you out" in your early teens. As adults we've lost the 'magical realism' that we saw the world through as kids. But in our early teens we're at this specific time when pop culture connects with us, where we can blend the emotional sensitivity of childhood with the rational articulation of early adulthood. (This idea is lifted from Maria Montessori's 'Absorbent Mind' -- the idea that certain times in our development, we're receptive to new ideas and styles of learning, and perhaps sadly, there are times when we resist them)

Following this logic, your mid-30s are not a time when your brain is hard-wired for new modes of knowing and learning (I knew some colleagues in grad school who tried to counter this with 'entheogenics') But my early to mid teens teemed with new ideas and ways of looking at things. While visiting another friend in his tiny, cramped, rent-controlled apartment, he'd assumed that because I teach TV/Film, I would know virtually every television program ever made. He was still fascinated by a show he'd seen in his early teens on Nickelodeon. He was at exactly the right age to connect with this show. It took some digging, but I found it. It was a rebroadcast of several non-US tween Sci-Fi from New Zealand, Wales, Britian and Canada, repackages for US cable called 'The Third Eye'. Thaks to the magic of the internet, we were able to watch some episodes. I had not seen the show during my 'absorbent mind' phase, and as such it struck me as contrived, campy, clever, and mundane. For my friend it was a type of functional nostaglia: he spent the rest of the evening writing (as opposed to surfing the Internet)

Back to my discussion and three points.

Find the books, TV, music and otherwise disposeable pop culture that unsetteled you in your early teens and re-watch them at least three times, taking notes and critically disecting your emotional responses. Because if you can caputre those responses and articulate them as an adult, you'll have an 'audivisual emotional literacy' that you can then use to write and produce powerful media.

My number three is a little less well-formed. In a nutshell, make a PowerPoint presentation. Make a slide-show mock-up: start to assemble to pictures, audio and video while writing a short script on the idea you're obsessing on. No doubt you will find parallels between your functional nostalgia show/album and your chosen topic -- but avoid directly combining the two.

Will my friend make is documentary? I have no idea. But at least he's going to spend some time researching and creating something tangible. These little presentations could wind up the equivalent of Facebook postings - short bursts of creativity shared for the love of the topic.

Friday, January 9, 2009

E-Solutions 4 E-verybody

Not Quite Live-Blogging:

Here are the random and unedited notes that I made during the Google/New America Foundations "Wiki Whitehouse e-Government" conference and seminar:


I busted out the tiny Asus Ee PC and semi-live blogged the event. In fact, since I hung out in the back of the room with the cool kids, I didn't have that good of a view. So I streamed the live feed to my computer (sound off) for a better POV. So now, without further preface, my random musings:

Thinking again about the nature of democracy - what is the nature of self-determination within collective action when technology allows for very fluid connections between individuals and groups.

Transparency vs. Communication

What will be the push back from corporate entities and entrenched political parties? Use of PR and adversing?

What is the difference between resident and citizen?

What can be "crowd-sourced"? What is the relationship between democracy and "the crowd"? What is the value of mass connectedness?

What are the nature of open-source and tech standards?
Craig is shopping for a Label. It makes him good at oxymorons. (note - we are not paradoxical, we are optimistic!) "My fellow nerds..."

Are we at the rise of "Geek Cultural Revolution". Free the nerds! A new kind of civic engagement: become 'smart' about one topic and get involved online.
Don't feed the trolls.-- building discussion boards for vote ups/downs -- will run back into the persistant problems of democracy. For example those people looking to either scam a system.

- Net Neutrality is close to agreement, but professional PR trolls get billable hours to slow down genuine discussions.
- Digital Divide is being diminished through cheap mobile phones, but the education and thought needed for participation needs to be expanded.

What will the opennes to comments on YouTube and WaPo articles do to discourse? Will we start running sources and using social netowrking -- will we demand the same of government info dumps (like budgets and spending bills) Is corporate and government deleting of comments a restriction of 1st amendment rights? Especially in a world where there is no shortage of space (unlike ink & paper)

Technocratic Meritocracy! Public Diplomacy.

What is the role of comment posts as the new 4th estate for the post-literate age? How literate will the post-literate information era be? (education for new masses?) Or bury dissent in a sea of unorganized information?

Is the next decade and a half the rough equivalent of the time period 1776 to 1789? (what is the new form or government that is going to evolve?) What is the relevance of the nation state - controlling resources? What new resources can challenge these old structure?

Look again at "Yes Prime Minister". What is "open government"? How do you know when you have it?

Innovation: a small video-mixer software where a operator can switch between wi-fi cameras in a room.

Are we at the height of a "Praxic Age"? What does it turn into? What are the social ideas which endure?
What do we need to do to change the culture? (Bitchun Society?) Education better than Attrition to change from a broadcast to a p2p mentality & culture.

and somewhere I still have my notes from the House of Sweden event I went to over Spring Break. But that's another posting...