I’ve just finished a small project for friends at Bloody Sound Fucktory label. It’s 40 minutes, 10Hz, sound-reactive flashing visualisation to be watched with eyes closed while listening to psych-noise tour the force of Atto Terzo, by one-man drone psych noise act Lucifer Big Band.
It’s actually the third time I collaborate with them, always working on a design and packaging for a Lucifer Big Band release (this goes back to the time when I was making and releasing homemade noise CR-R with my tiny personal music http://orgonomy-records.tumblr.com/). This time I wanted to do something more, that would be somehow more related with technology.
My initial proposal was to have the packaging turning into some kind of VR-like cardboard headset (like the one by McDonald’s or by Coca Cola) to be used with a specific website. Just that the website was not featuring a VR experience, but a sound reactive version of Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville’s Dream Machine device. There’s some nice and short story of the Dream Machine here, but basically Ian Sommerville (an early computer programmer and William Burroughs’s “systems adviser”) built this light flickering device in order to replicate some kind of psychedelic experience Gysin had while staring eyes closed at the sun shining though an avenue of trees he was riding along in a bus. So the idea was to repurpose a device of (low-resolution) simulation like the cardboard VR headset into one of (high-resolution?!?) hallucination.
At the end we discarded the idea of the packaging insert - we found it really hard to try make it without looking too much like a gimmicky (see the above references), but everybody was still excited by the web app, so here it is: attoterzo.bloodysoundfucktory.com
I’ve stumbled on some great technologies lately, I thought they were worth to mention here, for posterity.
Lightform will release this summer a consumer product for interactive projection mapping https://www.fastcodesign.com/90107499/a-2-4-million-bet-to-turn-your-home-into-a-giant-screen
Ikea’s announced a smart home kit they developed with frog, featuring a slick gyroscope based wireless knob https://www.fastcodesign.com/90107451/ikeas-next-big-frontier
Adobe and Cornell University researcher published paper “Deep Photo Style Transfer” showing deep-learning based technology to automatically apply photo-realistic style to images https://github.com/luanfujun/deep-photo-styletransfer
Simon Sadler’s Archigram book defined the british group’s vision a “sublime world of pure servicing”. Amazon’s the company that is making the radical idea of buildingless architecture a concrete reality. Though its One click shopping, physical lockers where to pick up deliveries, next day and free shipping with Prime, grocery with Amazon Fresh and possibly even drones’ delivery with Prime Air, Amazon is slowly superseding not just mom and pop stores, but any kind of physical shop. I’ve been nurturing this idea of a connection between an avant-garde architecture group and one of the biggest technological company since the Utopia Dweller proposal with AM-FL. So seeking to what extent David Green’s poem “I have the desire for the built-environment to allow me to do my own thing” paired with Amazon’s outspoken obsession to satisfy their customers, I’ve just finished reading Brad Stone’s “The Everything Store”.
Here’s some stuff I found of interest from the book, highly unrelated to any of the above.
- Bezos was at Montessori school.
- Amazon’s first name was Cadabra - it was changed since it sounded too much like Cadaver.
- Shel Kaphan, the first amazon engineer, was one Steward Brand friend and Bezos is partnering with Brand with the project of Clock of the Long Now.
- Jeff Bezos requires his senior executives to read “Black Swan” by Nassim Taleb and actually mentions to the Author his concerns over the book, in particular regarding what Taleb calls Narrative Fallacy.
- Brad Stone might in fact have fallen into that narrative fallacy trap, according to what Jeff’s wife Mackenzie Bezos writes on her review of the book here.
Beyond criticism about the man’s temper, long-term employer Rick Dalzell’s description about Jeff Bezos are possibly my favorite throughout the whole book:
“Jeff does a couple of things better than anyone I’ve ever worked for. He embraces the truth. A lot of people talk about the truth, but they don’t engage their decision-making around the best truth at the time. The second is that he is not tethered by conventional thinking. What is amazing to me is that he is only bound by the laws of physics. He can’t change those. Everything else he views as open for discussion.”
Quite untimely on this, but Saturday February 11th has concluded the 68th edition of the Sanremo Festival. An old and still hugely popular Italian song contest that, even in the internet age, was followed on TV by over 11 millions people in the country.
But this somewhat old-fashioned competition marked an unprecedented event in social network advertising in Italy. Tim, the exclusive sponsor of Sanremo, obtained to get its logo automatically added at the end of the hashtag of the event. So that any time somebody was writing #Sanremo2017 in a tweet, that would automatically become . Like in the the image below.
Although a minimum disturbance which didn’t prevent Twitter users commenting about the show, such operation seems to me quite beyond what social media should be allowed to do with their users. For one thing is to put targeted ads on my private wall/timeline (which I concede you in exchange of using your platform, that I do for free), but another thing is to intervene on my own words, making changes to my own content. And it’s even less acceptable that this happen for the benefit of an external entity (Tim, in this case) which is not directly involved in what I’m writing about (the song contest Sanremo).
Here’s a related (fictional) scenario from David Foster Wallace’s Infitine Jest. Branded years.
- Year of the Whopper
- Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad
- Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar
- Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken
- Year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster
- Year of the Yushityu 2007 Mimetic-Resolution-Cartridge-View-Motherboard-Easy-To-Install-Upgrade For Infernatron/InterLace TP Systems For Home, Office Or Mobile (sic)
- Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland
- Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment
- Year of Glad
EDIT Feb 22, 2017
I’ve corrected the text as I initially wrongly stated that branded hashtags were implemented for the first time for the Sanremo event. This is actually feature called branded emoji that Twitter offers to select marketers (see here).
In the month Oxford Dictionaries declared post-truth as the word of the year, my news feeds were storming with readings related to social media, fake news and the American elections. These were my favorites:
1) A New Yorker article featuring interviews with Barack Obama.
Before the elections Obama was showing concerns about how information moves and spread in social media, especially in relation with the (at the time still) future American Elections.
A particular matter that the article’s author David Remnick report Obama “talked almost obsessively” was about a group of people in Macedonia publishing a number of pro-Trump websites, often reporting fake news, yet with hundreds of thousands followers on social media (Facebook). And he doesn’t hide his concern about it.
The new media ecosystem “means everything is true and nothing is true,” Obama told me later. “An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll.
And somehow it all came together after the election, when he finally taps into a key matter. Social media relies on engagement, and this is a currency measured in emotions, not factual rigor…
“What I’m suggesting is that the lens through which people understand politics and politicians is extraordinarily powerful. And Trump understands the new ecosystem, in which facts and truth don’t matter. You attract attention, rouse emotions, and then move on.””
2) Benjamin Bratton’s note on Facebook and (what he calls) algorithmic populism (on Facebook)…
One point of his long (and complex) text, was about the fact that software design choices can acquire political significance. And Facebook’s algorithms which caused (or at least didn’t prevent) the spread of fake news about the American elections, is not the only solution for controlling what posts appear in people’s news walls.
Google’s PageRank (and other Search and Display algorithms) were designed to surface the most credible source on topics, based originally on peer-review citation mechanisms, and in theory FB can explore and implement something similar. Doubtless FB has and is re-debating that turn now.
And shedding light on this matter reveals a problematic ambiguity which lies at the core of Facebook (and social platforms with business obligations in general).
Zuckerberg is now in the awkward position of having to convince people that FB does influence purchasing decisions but does not influence voting decisions. How so?
3) …and Mark Zuckerberg’s thoughts on Facebook and the election (on Facebook)
Whose bottom line is
we take misinformation seriously
problems here are complex, both technically and philosophically.
Alison and Peter Smithsons’ “Today We Collect Ads” became famous as the first article that first used the term Pop Art. But the reason I like it so much is that it gives a great overview of how what impact among art and designers the advent of a form of image whose final purpose was to sell products had on them.
to understand the advertisements which appear in the New Yorker or Gentry one must have taken a course in Dublin literature, read a Time popularising article on cybernetics, and have majored in Higher Chinese Philosophy and Cosmetics. Such ads are packed with information - data of a way of life and a standard of living which they are simultaneously inventing and documenting. Ads which do not try to sell you the product except as a natural accessory of a way of life. They are good “images” and their technical virtuosity is almost magical. Many have involved as much effort for one page as goes into the building of a coffee bar. And this transient thing is making a bigger contribution to our visual climate than any of the traditionally fine arts.
Despite being a proof of resilience of a certain economical model, able to repurpose even the most revolutionary, antagonist instance into a a new way to sell goods (The Great Rock and Roll Swindle), the role of advertisement in inventing and documenting culture and lifestyles is certainly a powerful engine, that does an important work in spreading and amplifying underground movements - turning them (albeit disarmed and formalized) into forms of art and culture available to everybody.
But if we look at online advertisement (a multi-billion worth business making around 90% of the revenues of both Facebook and Google - just to name two…) what we see is a profoundly different model. Data driven advertisement, its best feature being the ability to programmatically “target” the very specific audience for a very specific product, has none any of the propulsive force that the advertisement praised by the Smithsons had. When working at its best it manages to find our exactly what we already want.
Of different nature, but with similar taste, is viral marketing. Recently I’ve attended a lecture by somebody from a famous ad agency focussed in web marketing. They were proudly championing themselves to be able to turn any content into a viral one (and in minutes), leveraging their knowledge of social media and the use of “influencers”: bloggers, YouTubers, Facebook personalities… that they hire to help “viralize” the content. Without questioning the merits of the agency, I cannot help to think that this way of advertising a product or service, measured in number of persons reached, can be appreciated more for its merit of social hacking than ones of craft and creativity, personally not something I’d have a collection of.
The great Maciej Cegłowski wrote an essay on why ad technology is not an healthy industry. It’s short, informative and even entertaining.
I’ve recently finished reading Player Piano, the first novel Kurt Vonnegut wrote in 1952 - a story of a world in which most jobs are automatized and society is divided in few engineers and managers and a lot of under-employed citizens that struggle to find a purpose of their days and lives.
There are two minor characters I found particularly interesting in the book. Rudy Hertz - an old worker of a welding factory, whose movements were recorded on tape to be endlessly repeated by the machines. Bud Callahan, a passionate inventor (or as we call it with 21th century lingo, a maker), who loses his job when also his machine making job get automated, therefore superfluous.
Lulu/Gianmaria Volonté in Elio Petri's "The working class goes to Heaven" - that's how I imagine Rudy the worker. And I couldn't miss the chance to make a gif and recommend that great film
In very different ways both share a common point, automatization - joy of making machines or the wonder of their super-human perfection - first seduced and than betrayed them. Their story reminded me of a recent one, of a developer who wrote code that automated all the tasks he needed to do
I got a job as a software developer working mostly on testing software, so mostly QA work. However I actually had to write some code as well. After around 8 months I had basically automated my own job by writing some programs to do it all for me. After that I would mostly just browse forums and do absolutely jack shit at work. My boss never really checked in on me and as long as the needed tests were taken care of he didn’t give a fuck.
Until they realized and he got sacked and got desperate because he thinks he’d be unable to find a new programming job. I actually don’t know how authentic is the story, but the post and comments are surely a great read. Here’s the link to the whole reddit post on the Wayback Machine (both the original post and the user had been deleted from reddit).
A special thought goes to you, that automatized yourself out of work and are still in the wild.
I’ve been lately reading about the Whole Earth Catalogue and British avant-garde group Archigram. One term that came up a lot is “gadget”, and for the first time I realized how different connotations that word has in English and in Italian. I did a little internet research about it.
Gadget, from Oxford Dictionaries (link)
A small mechanical or electronic device or tool, especially an ingenious or novel one
Gadget, from Treccani (link)
Termine usato talvolta in tono iron. o spreg. per indicare dispositivi meccanici, elettrici o elettronici (accessorî per la casa o per l’automobile, oggetti di uso personale, ecc.), il cui acquisto non soddisfa un reale bisogno e la cui utilizzazione risulta quindi sporadica o comunque sproporzionata rispetto al prezzo; anche, accessorio offerto in omaggio come richiamo pubblicitario.
(Term sometimes used ironically to indicate mechanical, electric or electronic devices, the acquisition of which does not meet a real need and whose use is therefore sporadic or at least disproportionate to the price; Also, accessory offered free as for advertising)
This is at least hilarious if you consider I’m a creative technologists developing connected products, raised in Italy and working in the UK.
To complicate things further, “The Gadget” was how was dramatically nicknamed the first atomic bomb (link)
And finally, the origin of the word seems to go back to a term used by sailors in late 19th century, probably from French gâchette ‘lock mechanism’ or from the French dialect word gagée ‘tool’ (Oxford). Just two months ago I was in Scotland for a design sprint with a great group of designers, coders, professionals working around internet connected devices (OpenIOT). In there together with Peter Bihr and Holly Robbins we drafted a series of notes about what 19th century ship-makers and sailors of Antstruther, the small, old fisherman village where we were staying, could teach us about designing robust connected systems (you can check the document we wrote, together with some notes at Peter’s blogpost). Apparently ours was not the first time old fishermen and digital technologies met each other.
Many times I felt I could have used a place where to put scattered thoughts or notes about half-backed experiments not worth of making a whole project or a whole article (you can find longer and probably much less typo prone texts at medium). Also I love markdown, and so here it is - a stripped down tiny Jekyll micro-blog.
I imagine sometimes posts will get a bit longer, but most of the times they will be over by about now.