Life is a Mystery

16 September 2009 . Comments Off on Screenagers

Screenagers

Maybe just because they are Austrian and oh-so Viennese, maybe because they break all the rules for web design, maybe because the whole damn thing is in Flash, which usually I hate, maybe because the video is just hilarious… I don’t know what it is, but I love the Screenagers web site. Go ahead, take a look!

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(hat tip to NotCot)

15 September 2009 . Comments Off on Constrained music

Constrained music

Those who have heard me get on a soapbox know that one I return to again and again is the theme that creativity is born of constraints. Many people think that rich resources make you creative or innovative. Sometimes. But I think more often it is scarcity and boundaries that provide the tension necessary to focus and create, to rise above the mediocre. This applies to everything from web design to airlines, newspapers, entrepreneurship, even politics.

This evening I stumbled upon another example, the Record Club create by Beck. Beck gives the Record Club, himself and a few friends, 24 hours in the studio to recreate an album. They pick the album when they start, they don’t try to do anything profound, just cover each of the songs, seeing what emerges along the way. The constrains are severe, the results are wonderful.

Kevin Purdy at Lifehacker observes:

Writer of things creative and productive Merlin Mann provides examples for, and neatly sums up, how creative constraints can paradoxically free you. In the case of so many Big Serious Projects (or BSPs, for this post’s sake), setting up a personal constraint scheme — 12 songs in one day, 140 characters or less, 20 minutes of no-distraction coding before lunch every day — is simply a way to trick a big part of your brain into thinking that your BSP isn’t actually that big, or serious.

Take a deep breath. Now, dig in!

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23 August 2009 . Comments Off on Harry Christ

Harry Christ

Well, not quite, but not far off. In the Boston Globe this week, The Book of Harry.

Eisenstadt sees Dumbledore and Harry, in different ways, as Christ figures – perhaps Harry representing the human Jesus, and Dumbledore the divine. And she posits that the New Testament depiction of elements of the Jewish community is represented by the goblins (unappealing bankers) and the Ministry of Magic (legalistic and small-minded).

But I am much more attracted to a quote near the end of the article.

“Rather than decrying as wicked certain elements of the series – as far too many Christians have done – we ought to be inviting our communities into deeper appreciation of both the similarities and the contrasts between the stories and our Christian faith,” Mary Hess, of Luther Seminary in Minnesota, writes in the journal Word & World.

Mary in the mainstream! And in an article linked to one of her favorite blogs no less. Yeah, Mary!

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28 July 2009 . Comments Off on Scanning Documents with iPhone at Ponoko

Scanning Documents with iPhone at Ponoko

I ran across a story about a cool iPhone apparatus that makes scanning documents with the iPhone simple. This is a neat idea, the iPhone can make a serviceable scanner in a library or at home, a great alternative to copying costs.

But even better was the service the creator of this apparatus had used to build and sell it. Called Ponoko, it is a website that lets you build almost anything you can imagine. You design it, you price it. Ponoko makes it, ships it, your customer assembles it.

I love sites like Jakprints where I can print almost anything and CafePress where I can design and sell t-shirts and other swag. Now I can come up with a crazy idea for a physical object and have that instantiated in the world. Cool.

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12 July 2009 . Comments Off on Green Day in Minneapolis

Green Day in Minneapolis

Nathaniel really loves Green Day and he and Mary cooked up a plan for me to take him to the show here even though Mary is out of town. I’ve been to folk concerts galore, but I don’t think I’ve ever been to a rock concert, much less an arena rock concert before. I went armed with earplugs!

I actually really like Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown. I was already a fan of American Idiot, but the integrated lyric and sound of this new album works even better for me. I’m a fan of The Wall, and the new Green Day has enough of a hint of that kind of story telling to work for me. So I my biggest disappointment of the night was that Green Day does not seem as enamored of that story telling as I am. The concert hopped across the 21st Century Breakdown hits, but didn’t take the time to play out the whole cycle. Still, technically the show was fantastic and there were a few elements that I really loved.

Sonically I’m happier listening to music in the car or with headphones, where I can control the volume and hear the subtleties. This experience (earplugs firmly in place) was a bit like listening to the music underwater. But to experience the music blasting right through my body, the lights in tight sync with the sound, the excitement of the crowd, the joy of singing along full throated… that was all something I don’t get in the car or beneath my headphones. It was a blast.

The band was tight, the staging (especially the lighting) nicely integrated, the backdrop screens really well executed. The whole thing added up to a full sensory experience that made time slip away. There were pyrotechnics throughout that more or less worked, though those sometimes felt superfluous to me, more gimmick than gritty. But when Billie Joe jumps and the stage explodes as his feet hit the ground, you can’t help but be impressed. There was never only one thing happening, the sound or lights or screens or pyro were always working together. I could only sense one or two missed cues during the whole show, it was an impressive piece of theater.

My favorite parts of the show were when Billie Joe invited fans out of the pit to join him on stage. A twelve year old played a parishioner to Billie Joe’s missionary during East Jesus Nowhere. Three fans came up on stage to take on the lead Longview lyrics. But the real highlight of the night for me was when Billie Joe invited a fan up to play Jesus of Suburbia. He quizzed the crowd, “who can really f***ing play this? What key is it in?” When he picked a girl onto stage he didn’t lighten the load: “You better be able to f***ing play this!” He handed her his guitar, sat her on a stage monitor, and set off on the song. Every once in a while he’d crouch near her and check her fingering or share the mic with her for a lyric, but wow! She really nailed the song! She hit those chords with power and the band backed her up. I couldn’t help but imagine with awe the thoughts going through her mind as she sat at the center of this arena playing this song she must have practiced a thousand times in front of a thousand fans and (more importantly) with the band. I’m amazed she didn’t melt into a puddle in front of us, instead she blossomed, stronger and stronger, only handing the guitar back for the final chords as Billie Joe wrapped up the song. “You were f***ing amazing!” he said as he hugged her and sent her off in a stage dive.

The politics also worked for me. Billie Joe would point out that songs were “not anti-American, but anti-war!” He introduced East Jesus Nowhere with a cry of “gimme your tired, your hungry, your poor, and we’ll see how godless a nation we’ve become!” Know Your Enemy was introduced with a local angle: “We recorded this song on the first day of the Republican Convention, that was here, right? … We got those m*****f*****s out of office!”. The crowd, an amazingly diverse group of people from 7 to 57 right around our corner of the balcony, ate it up. We were among friends. Nathaniel today remembered the feeling by saying, “you know, the vibe at the concert was so great… you could just feel the happiness.” Indeed.

So even though it was not what I was looking for from Green Day, it was an absolutely wonderful way to spend an evening with my son. I’m glad he and Mary conspired to get me to go, and I thank Green Day and all the fans, including our neighbors with whom we carpooled to the concert, for a bringing the energy to the evening. It was great! All that’s left is buying some swag from Cinderblock because I was too cheap to get it at the concert.

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26 May 2009 . Comments Off on Making music

Making music

So you don’t think you are a musician? Give this a try. You may change your mind, or at least spend a fun hour trying! (Hat tip, who else: Andrew.)

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11 May 2009 . Comments Off on Holy processing, Batman

Holy processing, Batman

I love this example of Twitter users passing along data despite themselves. It pulls together so many threads: Processing for visualization, data mining for gathering facts from Twitter, geolocation via MetaCarta, even a bit of Wolfram to round it all out. Though there are all sorts of legitimate critiques about the role of Twitter data for tracking disease vectors, the interesting fact, for me, is that one person was able to leverage free form Twitter entries into a visualization of non-trivial data in just a few days time. This is a new world.

There are rumors that Apple is interested in buying Twitter. Alex thinks this may be an attempt by Apple to shore up its aging and less-than-reliable iChat infrastructure. I think it may be about data. Whoever makes Twitter less of a fail-whale service will be sitting on an unprecedented hoard of realtime data, the commercial possibilities of which are as yet unimagined. We are just giving our lives over to this massive dataset. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, but I do wonder what it will create.

8 May 2009 . Comments Off on How would it be

How would it be

I was just bowled over tonight. This evening we went to the Performers for Peace concert Mary mentioned a few weeks back. Katie Korpi did this as a senior project at her school, but this was so much more than a project. It was an evening of peace, prayer, and performance that lifted my spirits and gave me a raft of new performers to listen to. If you have not heard of Ellis, Chastity Brown, Chances R Good, or Colleen Buckman, now is your chance. Give them a try. But for me, the song that turned me upside down was Ellis’ “How Would It Be” (also at iTunes). Enjoy.

7 May 2009 . Comments Off on Real time bloodletting

Real time bloodletting

Whitney Sorrow brings you Dracula in real time. Ars Technica credits the public domain with stirring the creative pot. Libraries and archives should be all about growing the public domain, let us be the fertilizer of the world’s creative flowers!

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2 April 2009 . Comments Off on FFR: Adobe spells color kuler

FFR: Adobe spells color kuler

Next time I need to build a color palette: kuler.

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Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 / efc@clst.org