Carl Tashian

archives: art & design

14 Mar 02009

The seven stages of a mythic adventure

I think Danny Hillis came up with this.

  1. You start with an image of the goal—you have some idea of what you’re looking for.
  2. You go through a transition from being yourself in your ordinary life into being a pilgrim on a magical quest
  3. At some point your encounter the labyrinth. You get lost, disoriented, scared. But you must go through it in order to reach reintegration
  4. The draw—at your lowest point of despair, you hear a faint beacon…
  5. The payoff—you finally reach your goal. And there is a secret, unexpected payoff as well.
  6. The return, where you assimilate what you’ve learned
  7. And the memento—something you keep afterward

7 Mar 02009

Knit an iPhone cozy

knit iPhone sleeve

I started knitting in December, because it makes me feel like a Norwegian sailor. The other day I decided to knit an iPhone cover because I don’t like the rubberized covers that snap or slip onto the phone itself, but I needed something to put it in.

my iPhone in the knit iPhone cozy

This is the first knitting pattern I’ve designed, and my first item that uses a magic cast-on so it can be knit from the bottom up, in the round. All you will need is No. 7 DPNs and worsted weight yarn. I used a 50/50 nylon/acrylic because it is very durable. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Cast on 24 stitches using this technique (here’s a video demo). It won’t look like much after the cast-on, but just start knitting in the round, in earnest, and you will see that a pocket starts to form.
  2. Knit 25 rounds.
  3. Rounds 26-33: k2p2 around
  4. Cast off!

If you want, you can knit an icord and attach that to the top, but I opted to keep my iPhone cover sleek and minimal.

10 Nov 02008

The Oval Office

It just occurred to me what a cool space the oval office is.
different seats for different moods
it really lends itself to all kinds of communication:
the chat with a casual veneer
(don’t be fooled—it’s always loaded)
the multi-party negotiation
the policy charrette
pronouncements from the desk
the check-in with a confidant
kids playing on the sofa
the stern confrontation
quiet reading alone.
It works for everything you wouldn’t use a meeting room for.
each piece of furniture is key
and there is bilateral symmetry:
the office equivalent of an oval table

oval office

28 Oct 02008

How does wine variety correspond to flavor?

close-up of Pinot Noir

I’ve been assisting the professor of a class at ITP @ NYU called Visualizing the Five Senses, and for it I’ve created a visualization of different wine varieties and flavors, based on over 5,000 wine tasting notes from a major Australian wine magazine. If you’ve ever wondered, as I have, how wine varieties correspond to flavor components, you may be interested in this visualization…

As always, I’d love to hear your feedback on it.

20 Apr 02007

Repeat After Me at the Boston ICA

Karl will be performing his work tonight and tomorrow night at the Boston Institute for Contemporary Art! The piece explores connections between human creativity and scientific research about human creativity. See this Boston Herald piece for an interview with Karl.

26 Mar 02007

77 Million Paintings by Brian Eno

the DVD package

I recently purchased Brian Eno’s 77 Million Paintings (not to be confused with Sala’s One Thousand Paintings), which generates paintings on your screen by layering a set of images and slowly fading between them. The software is designed to emulate a 1970s slideshow installation that Eno built; many of the images are from the original slides. Most of them are abstract scratches, geometric patterns, color blocks and swirls, but some paintings have very clear imagery: rocket drawings, schematics, halftoned faces etc. Each time you run the program, it starts in a different place, so you’re always at the dawn of a new day of paintings. But patterns do repeat: the number of slides is limited, so there is definitely a style among the imagery—this is not pure randomness.

But I have to say that since I bought this program a month or so ago, I’ve only run it a handful of times. I ran it for friends once. Karl and I stared at it for a few minutes once. When you get it going, it really is captivating and beautiful, but because it’s a self-contained program, you really have to want to see it. The activation energy is high, especially because there’s nothing you can do in 77 Million Paintings but sit and stare (and listen—the soundtrack is also generated). The only thing you can manipulate is the speed of the transitions before the show starts. So it’s unlike a video game or a word processor or any other application on my computer. It has no real functionality; it’s all form. And that’s frustrating for me, because I never go looking for pure, self-contained form in my Applications folder. Every other program I have is about me somehow manipulating content of my choosing, and here comes Eno with this rogue Application to which nothing can be Applied. It’s a misfit.

A screen saver seems like the ideal venue for pure, self-contained form, doesn’t it? I’m really surprised that Eno didn’t take it in that direction, or at least provide the option. He must have considered it, but I couldn’t find an explanation in the packaging as to why it wasn’t a screen saver. In his diary, Eno went on and on about screen savers—he loved them!—so I’m baffled.

I can only guess why it it’s not a screen saver. When active, screen savers are not usually the center of attention. They’re a background element, something one might see across the room, or something one might not see at all because one is down the block having a sandwich. Eno may feel that his work should really have people’s undivided attention when it’s running, and that it would be an insult for it to exist only as background. That is, maybe he wanted the software to be as true as possible to its original museum context. Unfortunately, people do not use computers as they use museums, so I think the intent falls flat.

8 Feb 02007


the great escape
she's cold

17 Nov 02006

repeat after me

Here’s a short video of Karl dancing in an empty white big box store that was converted into a temporary art space last week.

16 Nov 02006



7 Oct 02006


In a fit of vanity, I ordered an 8”x10” book of my own photography the other day:

Here’s a photo I took of a photo of me taking a photo of me and Karl in the mirror. And on the left, musical gatherings.

shades of Wolfgang Tillmans?

The book has 28 pages and came from Apple’s iPhoto book service. It was way too expensive and the printing isn’t great. The paper is thin and slick like a magazine. So while I probably won’t order another, something about the glamor of it preventing me from returning this one.

Apple needs to improve the quality and lower the price of this service. But they also need to make iMixes for photos, so I can point you to a version of this book on sale at the iPhoto Store, and in a few days you can have my art on your coffee table. If you’re my mom, that is.

13 Sep 02006

tagines & tygs

I’ve been wanting a tagine for a while. Just the idea of pulling one out of the oven, in mid-winter, and lifting the lid to reveal a beautiful lamb and apricot dish, makes me salivate. I recently took a clay class, and I thought it the perfect time to make a tagine for myself. In middle eastern cooking, there are cooking tagines and decorated serving tagines, but I thought, “This is 2006, why can’t we have both in one?” Indeed, modern glaze can handle a 350 degree oven. So here’s the design I drew up for the tagine lid, which would look like a birthday hat:

OK, it is a bit of a twist on the tradition, but we need a little color in our winter meals here in New England.

Unfortunately, a tagine of any useful size is way beyond my potter’s wheel skills. Everything I make emerges slightly (or severely) out of round, and that’s not a good thing when you’re trying a dish and lid that fit together snugly. It would also be wider than the wheel surfaces at the pottery studio.

So, my tagine dream is deferred for now, until I find time for another clay class. Meanwhile, I made something else I’ve always wanted—a tyg:

Some people call this a mug with “love handles,” which makes me picture two lovers next to each other at the breakfast table, drinking out of it at the same time.

I also think of someone with really terrible motor skills who needs both hands to pick it up. But the best reason for two handles is to pass the hot mug between two people. And it works very well. Maybe sometimes design isn’t all about simplification? Maybe sometimes the simplest things can be made a little more complicated?

Granted, I think the tyg was more popular back when the world had more space in its cupboards for mugs with two handles, but now that everyone has a McMansion, can we bring these relics back into style? I want to see the tyg incorporated into the next marketing campaign for Starbucks: our coffee is so damn strong, you need two handles.

Look for it in Spring of 02007.

1 Aug 02006

Christo & Jean-Claude

Christo & Jeanne-Claude
The fab duo.

I’ve just finished watching 5 Films About Christo & Jeanne-Claude (please excuse the amazon link). These documentaries are about an hour each and span from 1974-1995.

These films expertly exhibit Christo & Jeanne-Claudes’ art: very large scale temporary transformations of the landscape. The films are the closest relationship we can have with these pieces, which were in place for no more than 3 weeks, like the peak of spring. Each piece has unique sounds, undulations, and interactions with the landscape, just as each piece has its own ad-hoc community of workers and locals, landowners, politicians, and art patrons that helped make it happen.

While Andy Goldsworthy makes beautiful sculptures out of nature itself, Christo & Jeanne-Claude bring the artificial into nature, which for me is not quite as compelling artistically. But their work has an added element of public interaction and debate that Goldsworthy, working in solitude, fails to bring to such a fever pitch. About half of each film is dedicated to the process, sometimes 10-15 years long, of obtaining permission for the project. Permission must be granted from dozens of legislative bodies, regulatory committees, other government entities, and private individuals. For the Japanese Umbrellas project, permission had to be obtained from 750 individual farmers.

All this red tape results in a fantastic public dialog where the artists take center stage, often going door to door to gain public support for their project. They engage farmers, politicians, families, many of whom rarely discuss art or go to art museums. So the project quickly becomes the talk of the town, and the biggest question is, “Is It Art?” This is precisely the point: outsiders coming into a community and confronting people with a project, asking that they accept that it is art or, if nothing else, it is beautiful and worthwhile. Christo & Jeanne-Claude may not be the best sales people, but they are incredibly tenacious, very well organized, they’ve learned to play the political game, and they are ultimately successful at eliciting joy from doubters and supporters alike when the project is finally unveiled.

Christo & Jeanne-Claude demand complete control over their projects, so they do not accept contributions and they craft contracts that allow them complete freedom over the execution and timing. They make all of their money selling prints, design drawings, books, movies, and other memorabilia around these works. So, this is in opposition to the typical selling of art pieces. Christo & Jeanne-Claude do not sell their art at all, they sell only the frame. This was most clearly demonstrated with the wrapping of the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris, which has for centuries been the subject of countless paintings and sketches. But they turned the bridge itself into art, and the idea of painting the bridge on its head.

Jeanne-Claude makes a point of frequently telling people “We spend the same amount on each project, which is everything we have raised plus everything we have saved.” The couple goes broke every time they do a project, but because they’ve managed to gain so much public support over the years, each project is more and more ambitious. According to Wikipedia, the Valley Curtain project of 1970 had a budget of $400,000, and the Umbrellas project of 1995 cost over $26 million.

I highly recommend these films, especially the Pont Neuf and Umbrellas documentaries. Here’s some of their work:

Umbrellas, California Umbrellas — California

Umbrellas, Japan Umbrellas — Japan

Pont Neuf Wrapped Pont Neuf Wrapped

3 Feb 02006

paper "tapestry"

We’ve had this over our bed for a while:

size: 3’x9’
laser toner on paper
absolutely not archival,
but should last long enough.
no frame.

The view from another room:

What would you expect to pay for this sort of thing? Mounting gear for standard plaster walls would be included.

2 Dec 02005


50 1/2

1 Dec 02005

less-is-less traffic engineering

I just found this article from Dec 2004 Wired, about a less-is-less traffic engineer who “hates traffic signs”:


“A study of center-line removal in Wiltshire, conducted by the Transport Research Laboratory, a UK transportation consultancy, found that drivers with no center line to guide them drove more safely and had a 35 percent decrease in the number of accidents.”

Of course, I think immediately of minicabs in London barreling down one-lane, two-way streets with cars parked on both sides.

“In West Palm Beach, Florida, planners have redesigned several major streets, removing traffic signals and turn lanes, narrowing the roadbed, and bringing people and cars into much closer contact. The result: slower traffic, fewer accidents, shorter trip times.”

His test of a safe intersection? Walk backwards through the middle of it at rush hour.

From the article:

How to Build a Better Intersection: Chaos = Cooperation

  1. Remove signs: The architecture of the road - not signs and signals - dictates traffic flow.
  2. Install art: The height of the fountain indicates how congested the intersection is.
  3. Share the spotlight: Lights illuminate not only the roadbed, but also the pedestrian areas.
  4. Do it in the road: Cafés extend to the edge of the street, further emphasizing the idea of shared space.
  5. See eye to eye: Right-of-way is negotiated by human interaction, rather than commonly ignored signs.
  6. Eliminate curbs: Instead of a raised curb, sidewalks are denoted by texture and color.

11 Nov 02005

at the birdfeeder

6 Jun 02005

Storm King Art Center


24 Apr 02005


20 Jan 02005


Turning onto 53rd from 6 Avenue, the first thing I saw was the word “MoMA” and its reflection written vertically in white on black in the distance. It’s written on a part of the building that’s stepped out from the rest, just wide enough for the logo. The letters reflect starkly against the smooth, dark glass of the building itself, so you can tilt your head to either side and still read it clearly. Upon seeing it, I knew that I was primed, that I was in my art critical mindset, because I immediately started thinking about how the logo’s representation—and the building itself—is an art piece, and how its reflection symbolizes art’s reflection of its surroundings. The logo echoes the hall of mirrors in the dialog of art. The stark white-on-black contrast represents the starkness the museum art experience: art in isolation, placed only beside itself. Furthermore, it is art wed to architecture. And so on. But mostly it’s just nice to look at.

Perhaps as a testament to the pace of New York, the MoMA was surprisingly quiet last Saturday morning, given that it reopened just a month ago after a two-year expansion and renovation project. It only took us about ten minutes to get our tickets, check our coats, and slide along the marble floor to a museum map. The lobby resembles the old lobby, though they’ve moved things around, so it wasn’t until we went into the museum, not until we went all the way up to the top and looked around, that I realized how much bigger this new museum is. I remembered the old MoMA as a small but highly concentrated, thoughtful collection of extraordinary works. After my recent visit, I knew I’d remember the new MoMA as an immense and highly concentrated, thoughtful collection of extraordinary works. We went straight to the top of the building. Looking over the 6th floor walkway, I could see down to the second floor, where ants walked around a 25’ high Barnett Newman steel obelisk that rises up from the center of the gallery. The 6th floor railings, all glass with a thin strip of metal at the top, look like they’d hold very little weight, so I had a heightened sense of vertigo when leaning over. A Water Lilies triptych along the 2nd floor gallery wall seemed to come even more into focus from this distance. Below the 2nd floor, I could see the bits of the lobby peeking through between the walkways. I saw the massive new outdoor sculpture garden below, which is visible from almost every area that lies outside of the galleries. At this high perch, looking down, I saw the building as an art piece again, this time viewed from the inside.

We learned a lesson in the 20th century about flat modern buildings: they have to come out feeling personal and, at least in places, intimate. The MoMA feels very good in that respect. There’s room enough for the work (and visitors) to breathe, but at no point does the museum feel like an empty cave. The galleries are intimate and the walkways are open and warm and full of natural light.

We spent a lot of time on the 5th floor galleries (“Painting & Sculpture I”). My favorite piece to see in person, kitschy as it may have become, was Van Gogh’s Starry Night. The texture is incredible, of course, and one detail you’ll never see in a reproduction is the framing: they framed it so you can see a bit of the canvas behind the painting, especially on the top and left sides. Once you see the canvas, you can see that he actually didn’t cover the whole thing with paint: the canvas peaks through in various spots. But when he does lay it on, he lays it on thick.

I’m currently reading “Life With Picasso” by Francoise Gilot (a review will be forthcoming), so I was happy to see Picassos in full force at the MoMA. On the 5th floor alone, they had two or three roomfuls of Picassos from the 1900-1920s, and it gave me a good reminder of his earlier Cubist style and how it evolved as that period ended. I was surprised by the stylistic diversity in his work, though. To my eyes, the MoMA was not just showing off the variety of their Picassos; rather, they wanted you to see how he managed to produce such consistently strong paintings while never staying with one palette, mood, or medium for very long. As soon as you think you know Picasso, he switches gears.

Unfortunately, we didn’t spend as much time on the other floors. We saw the gallery of video art—a big, dark room with its walls lit by a dozen or so video art pieces—and one brilliant piece in particular, called 89 Seconds at Alcázar by Eve Sussman. In it, we see actors in period costumes gather together and situated themselves in a scene that looks exactly like Velasquez’s Las Meninas. The sets and the costumes were perfect, and the lighting and filming style made the whole thing look like a moving painting.

Starving and tired, we ran through the photography galleries at the end and managed to get a glimpse of some very nice pieces: some large-format Andreas Gursky photographs, a big Cindy Sherman wall of B&Ws, and a gallery full of “decisive moment” photographs—Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald, etc.

I was in a bit of a daze on Saturday, partly in shock from seeing so much at once (both in New York and the museum), partly loopy from a too-short rest the night before. But the MoMA still struck a strong inspirational chord with me. I highly recommend it.

20 Nov 02004

the real Artist's Statement

for Brickbottom Open Studios, Nov 20-21

This is a selection of photographs from my recent travels. Most of the color photographs were taken near coastal New England towns, and the black & white photographs are snapshots from a summer I spent in Europe.

Up until the last week—indeed until the very last moment—this show has been about cropping. Photography in general is about cropping, in two ways: first, take the whole world and crop it down, zoom in, and press the button when some sort of essence emerges in the frame. Then, when it comes time for exhibition (or the family slideshow), crop your thousands of photos down to the final handful that makes sense of it all. I’ve been doing the first kind of cropping since I started photographing in college. But the second kind of cropping is somewhat new to me. It’s given me a chance to look back at what I’ve been shooting and see that my photographs vary wildly in subject matter, style, and feel. And while I could have chosen my favorites and put them up on the wall—confusing everyone but myself—what I really wanted was a theme; I wanted to find a set of photos that fit well together, were consistent, and maybe even had the same subject matter. And while I can’t say that I’ve “made sense of it all” exactly, what you see here is my best effort so far.

(on the left are paintings by Karl Cronin, on the right are my photos)

11 Nov 02004

Get your art on at Brickbottom.

If you’re in the Boston area, come see my photography live and in person, along with the work of 100 or so other Somerville artists at the Brickbottom Open Studios event on Nov 20-21. Brickbottom is an artists loft building filled with live-in studios that’s been around since the 1980s when a bunch of Boston artists couldn’t afford Boston anymore and became Somerville artists. It’s a great chance to see some wild artists in their natural habitat.

Brickbottom Open Studios
One Fitchburg St
Somerville, MA
(near Union Square at McGrath/O’Brein Hwy.)

Sat and Sun, Nov 20-21, open from NOON to SIX pm.

I’ll be showing (and selling) photos alongside Karl’s paintings in the Cannery, in apartment #C525 on the 5th floor. I hope you can make it!

19 Oct 02004

Artist's Statement

Flowers sell. And this is what I’m realizing. Having just paid $135 to the Brickbottom Artists Association to hawk a pile of amatuer photographs at the 2004 Brickbottom Open Studios in November, I’m suddenly very sensitive to what sells and what doesn’t.

If I’m to break even in this show, I need to sell out. I need to sell the fuck out in the most unimaginative ways possible. I’m talking sunflowers, pumpkins, snow-capped mountains, and the cutest fucking New England foliage photos you’ve ever seen. Whatever it takes. Huge oak trees, old stone walls, picket fences, a quaint rusty sign by the highway. Wicker baskets. I’m putting out all the stops, muthafuckahs.

Let me tell you about the colors. They are going to be bright and vivid as all hell. These colors don’t exist in the real world, because the real world is dark and grim and full of shit. That’s why my photographs will sell: they’ll tap the deepest ideals and hopes you had before time and sun and war dulled them down. They’ll hit you over the head like a 95 load box of Tide. The 500 other artists’ work may look pale and interesting, but pale and interesting won’t sell shit. My photos will jump off the fucking walls like a cheetah. Maybe I’ll even have some cheetahs in them. I’ll definitely have monkeys. I’ll be your goddamn monkey if I can get out of it with my hundred-and-thirty-five bucks back.

And I’ll tell you a secret, too. Just so you know. There’s no room for subtlety in this art show. No room for nuance—I don’t have time for that and neither do you. You’re too busy shopping, maundering around looking for a little hope in this dark age. After this, if you don’t buy anything here, you’re off to Wal-Mart next where they probably have better photographs in better frames for a lot cheaper than what I’m selling.

4 Sep 02004

cheap frame fun

Half of the art is in the frame, right? That’s what a frame store will tell you, anyway. So will Brian Eno and most ad agencies. But I’m unwilling to spend $50 for a nice wooden frame with glass and a custom-cut, museum quality archival matt board to house an 8x10” photograph I paid two bucks for. It doesn’t seem to fit the medium and it’s way too expensive. But I’m equally unwiling to buy one of these and add doubt to my already dubious credibility as a photographer. So I went out looking for alternatives—something cheap that looks good. If I could sell a framed 8x10” print for less than the outrageous $150+ that local photographers demand and probably never collect, I’d have some “art for the masses,” right?

So here’s my approach. For an 8x10 photo, I went down to the frame store and bought a 12x14” piece of Plexiglas, a can of white spraypaint that bonds to plastic, and a can of spray adhesive. Plexiglas comes with a backing stuck to both sides. I peeled the backing from one side, masking taped around the edges and spraypainted the showing side. Then I removed the tape and backing from the flip side, revealing a plate that has the sheen and color of the outside of an iBook. Then I centered and mounted the photograph there with the spray adhesive.

That’s the short story. It took a bit of work to get the tape on and off, to line the photo up, to adhere it straight onto the plastic without a dry mount press and without glue getting everywhere. I also had to sand down the sides of the Plexiglas to even out the rough edges left by the glass cutter. But I did manage, and I think with a little work (and a real dry mount press, a bigger cutting board, and some studio space to house it all) I could start making these frames pretty quickly.

They’re cheap and they look great. My total cost for the 8x10” is a little over $15 for everything. I think people would be happy to pay $40+ for these prints (not Steve Keene cheap, but still cheap), and I get to cover at least the printing and framing expenses right away (the cam0era would take years to pay off at this rate, though).

Here’s a photo of the photos I’ve framed so far: a 16x20” on the left and an 8x10” on the right. I have placed a pen in the upper right so you can get a sense of the scale.

I’m still experimenting with different aspect ratios. I kind of like the “HDTV look” on the left, but maybe with a bit more margin on top and bottom. Meanwhile, the biggest challenge is the hanger on the back: I still haven’t figured out how to hang these things. Hot glue doesn’t stick, epoxy doesn’t stick, and I can’t see how I could drill a hole in the Plexiglas without screwing up the photo. I’ll let you know how it goes…

6 Jul 02004


19 Jun 02004

data visualization...

I found this visualization of google news today. It’s great that you can go back in time, apply dynamic filters (by country, by topic), see many dimensions in the data (aging, relative coverage, actual headlines, news category), and it’s in real-time.

This reminds me of Map Of The Market, which is a real-time (well, 15-minute delated, of course) visualization of US stock market activity. Rectangle size shows market cap. and colors show % changes in stock price:

Market Map Color Key

(See also: Mappa.Mundi Magazine’s good article on The Map of the Market)

Both the News Map and Map of the Market are examples of Treemaps, a recently-concieved (as in 1990) data visualization techinque, originally designed for a map of files and directories on a hard disk (the question: what files are taking up the most space? or: how fragmented is my hard disk? both questions are becoming moot). I think Treemaps will become much nicer as computer display resolutions increase, but they’ve already proven useful in stories about data.

There’s also the less dense (but cooler looking) circular treemap, with an iconized proof-of-concept showing directory usages in a file browser…

Of course, I see no reason to avoid Treemaps of more “subjective” data:


Does this not tell a story just as well? Of course, there are fewer dimensions to the data: the photograph shows an event, the size shows how much I like the photograph (which guides the story), the location gives a chronology to the story, and a rollover text box on each photo (which I didn’t do) might show the location, date, time. Clicking on the photo could reveal a larger version.

It’s an interesting editorial device that takes the democracy of size out of the typical web photo gallery. A future enhancement to any digital photo management software would make low-rated photos smaller and high-rated photos larger (the trouble, of course, is how do this while keeping them packed tightly enough on the screen). Meanwhile, I’m going to make all of my future photo galleries like this collage, with clickable images of course. I like the idea of selecting AND emphasizing what I present. I think it’s an important editorial device that can only strengthen the story. That is, it’s another way I can screw with your mind and how it thinks my vacation was.


Did I say Treemaps were invented in 1990? Maybe they were really invented in the data visualization of 19th-century French Salon paintings, which were arranged on the wall at the famous annual exhibition just as my photos are arranged above. Maybe it all goes back to Art in the end, after all..?

16 Jun 02004

today's business idea

Buy a dying dive bar in a yuppified nightlife area (an area with more than a couple clubs or loud bars nearby) and convert it into an art gallery. An art gallery that stays open until 2 a.m., serves wine and mixed drinks, and whose exhibitions change -weekly-. Good music is played (“at a reasonable volume from 9 to 11”), a friendly (mostly social) environment is fostered. The art is edgy and modern created by starving artists who aren’t necessarily local, it’s priced reasonably (though the artist should have an opportunity to make a fair bit from a show— by keeping costs low and selling more than one of each piece, for example). Purchased art can be held for you to pick up the next afternoon.

This art gallery would invite people who seek a bit of repose during an evening of wild partying and debauchery. The weekly change would keep people coming back each weekend to see what’s new.

Isn’t this idea so 2002?

15 Jun 02004


Today I looked around for someone who can cut a transparent colored acrylic sheet to my specifications, for a photography project, and I quickly realized that this is not in the realm of your typical art store. Phone calls to four local art stores resulted in quick “no”s. Looking around on the Internet, I finally found a place that didn’t act like I was crazy. They’ll do all the work. They’ll even cut rounded corners or zigzags if I want them. Their prices are good.

“What part of town are you in?” asked the guy in the manufacturing department. “Boston,” I replied. “Oh.” .. turns out they’re in San Diego. Maybe a local place would be better.

More yellow pages hunting revealed a few local plastic fabricators. It’s strange calling up a fabricator because your call is always an interruption. Usually it sounds like someone turned off an industrial scroll saw to answer the phone. They’re not interested in chatting it up about plastics. So far a couple of them have said no. The search continues…

6 Apr 02004

flowers - almost dead

1 Apr 02004

Mass Merchandise

When you’re getting tired of the local mall, nothing will revive the spirit of capitalism like the stores along Route 1 on the North Shore.

22 Mar 02004

trashcan economics

Collect your data: go to ATM machines around town and dig through the trash for ATM receipts. Randomly gather 100 or so for each ATM, going out of your way to get a good geographical and bank distribution.

Now enter the balances, withdrawal amounts, and dates into a spreadsheet with the ATM’s location. Map the average account balances at each ATM’s location to get a picture of who’s got the money. Map the withdrawn amount to see who’s spending it. Map cash volume at different times of the day to see where people are spending at 8pm, at 4am, at noon.

Take daily samples from the same ATMs. Is there an ATM in the financial district that noticably follows the stock market? How about the one in the ‘hood that follows the MegaBucks lotto jackpot?

Take monthly samples from the same ATMs and adjust for inflation. Map who’s spending more or less (the rich or the poor) from month to month and year to year. Who spent the most last December, and who was holding back? Which part of town got hit the hardest by the last recession?

8 Mar 02004

castle island

27 Feb 02004

10D photos

Here’s a couple photos from my new digicam. I finally took it out last night and this morning, wandered around and took a few pics. The pics are not nearly as valuable as, nor do they hint at, the joy of taking photographs with this camera. Shoot from the hip (this is surprisingly easy with such a mammoth camera) and don’t worry about film… just let the world happen around the camera. It’s a nice idea with no fruitful results yet.


5 Feb 02004

design links

Some interesting design links from today:

Pentagram is a (seriously) multimedia design shop. Architecture, identity, web sites, interiors, print, you name it. I’m blown away by any firm capable of doing all that. And they seem to do it well— check out the portfolio.

Cinema Redux: “This explores the idea of distilling a whole film down to one single image. Using eight of my favourite films from eight of my most admired directors including Sidney Lumet, Francis Ford Coppola and John Boorman, each film is processed through a Java program written with the processing environment. This small piece of software samples a movie every second and generates an 8 x 6 pixel image of the frame at that moment in time. It does this for the entire film, with each row representing one minute of film time.”

The design and construction of a new Edward Tufte sculpture. Described by the artist on his excellent message board, Ask E.T. See also Dia:Beacon, which I can’t wait to finally visit…

TouchGraph GoogleBrowser: Type in any URL, and get a nice graph of related sites and media (from Amazon) via the Google API. See also, anacubis’s Google/Amazon Demo, if you can. Not only does it require Windows/IE, it also recommends 1280x1024. So I haven’t seen it yet.

Ambient Devices— right here in our fair city. They got some major BBC coverage today, and were on Slashdot I think. I’d really like to get an Ambient Orb and try out their custom API on it. Sounds like a nice, elegant display device. I bet they took the John Hancock Building’s coded weather beacon as a major inspiration.

Engineers Without Borders. Most of the interesting engineering problems are in developing countries, where they have the opportunity to build infrastructures from scratch. Engineers must come up with economical solutions. Organizations must create a direct support infrastructure (so money goes where it’s needed). And of course, as Whitney said last night, it’s too easy to stop listening and try to tell people what they want—the “I’m going to go fix Africa” approach.

Raven Maps look beautiful. Also along those lines, Understanding USA is an interesting book. Unfortunately, the graphics on the web site are shrunk just enough to be totally useless… an unintended statement on the unbearably low resolution of computer monitors? Todd got the book—I’m looking for a spare moment to peruse.

2 Feb 02004


Read today a lot of camera reviews. Here’s my take on what’s interesting in the smallish-format world:

  • The Leica MP. This is just a beautiful, elegant manual SLR. $4000 gets you in, with a 35mm f/2 lens. This is the camera you give to grandchildren. I want to buy this camera and sell everything else. It’s so romantic. Fuck digital.
  • The Sony F828. 8 megapixels. Zeiss lens. Very responsive. $1000. What more do you want?
  • The whole Canon EOS digital lineup. Full support for EOS lenses (I already own an EOS camera so this is great). Firewire. And all the nice features you’d expect on an SLR camera. The cheap one is $900 and does 6 megapixels. The expensive one is $8000 and does 11 megapixels. That’s without a lens. But still. I’m excited about where this is going.
  • For output: The Epson 2200. 13” x 44” prints. Archival inks. And as I hear, everything that comes out of this printer looks fantastic. $700 bucks to get in, plus a buck or so per print for ink and paper.

The Leica is the only thing that won’t be half the price within 18 months. But it’s impractical. But even if it’s a good investment, the opportunity cost is high. A year’s worth of 35mm film and processing will buy you a good digital camera.

The cheaper Canon digital SLRs are the most practical thing right now. EOS lenses are great, and they won’t lose value over time (I sold an EOS 50mm f/1.4 lens on eBay for more than the new price I’d paid 4 years prior). You can get an EOS lens for any occasion. Dish out the money for the body, knowing you’ll lose half of it, then just start investing in lenses. When enough CCD improvements have been made, ditch the body and get a new one.

I’m most excited by the prices of the digicams. CCD prices are always dropping. CCDs are getting more dense and larger. There are still problems common to all digital cameras (the kind of noise created by CCDs, the overexposed bits of a picture that bleed out, etc.)… but I’d be pretty happy not to worry about storing thousands of slides and negatives in folders.

But where’s the digital equivalent of the super Yashica T4 Super point-and-shoot 35mm camera? No clear winner yet, I think.

30 Jan 02004


I’m trying to get myself back into the visual side of things, in preparation for imminent (as in later today) Boston Secrets photo work.

Finally pulled out the old SLR. I love this thing. The feel of the focus ring and the sound of the shutter… it is so gourmet. And it has huge glass… compared to my pocket digital camera.

Noah extended an offer for me to borrow a Rolleiflex TLR of his. I think I will take him up on it, and go out to shoot some medium format photos for once.

17 Jan 02004

maps and media 2

Yesterday I left things off wondering if there were ways, other than geography, that you’d want to organize the photos/text/etc.

I had dinner with Patrick tonight and we talked about the project. From this discussion came the idea that this site, the geographic organization of media, might be integrated with a social network like Friendster. You could see the world that your friends portray, or you could expand your search outward and see what others have submitted. When combined with a blog, we end up with a “people’s history” of the world, with both chronological and geographic indices. Think of this over 50 years, 100 years, and so on. Why not, right? The information could be stored at a central server or even on a network like FreeNet. Yes, it would be many terabytes in no time, but I think storage technology is moving as quickly as we can fill it up, if not faster, so that’s OK.

There are some money-making possibilities here, too. The code could be licensed. The photos could be sent off the ofoto for prints. Etc…

15 Jan 02004

maps and media

I’ve just been reading Katherine Harmon’s new book called You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination. She compiled a set of maps which you’ll just have to see for yourself, such as:

  • Boylan Heights pumpkin map (outlines of pumpkin designs in the neighborhood on Halloween)
  • Main Route of Expedition through the Alimentary Canal, the human body as a geographical map (“Hartsdale”, “Clavicle Ridge”, “West Kidney”)
  • What’s up? South!, a standard geopolitical map of the world—except for one thing.
  • A New Yorker’s Idea of the United States of America, stretching East and West, compressing the middle. Reminds me of Saul Steinburg’s world maps that were used as New Yorker covers.
  • World of Experience, a design-your-own “experience map.” Sounds like something my mom would do.

At least check it out in the bookstore/library. What I like is that there is emotion and function in these maps, to varying degrees, and there’s not always a trade-off between the two.

Thinking about maps and web sites and photography… I was remembering an old idea of a global photographic library that uses geography as the main axis of organization. has their library, but the focus is on the metadata: critiquing technical aspects of the photos, or musing, “Hey, do you think this is good art?”

The site I’m thinking of really depends on the audience. Either it’s a multimedia blog/art project (an extension of LiveJournal?), or it’s a “you are a reporter” kind of site (the ultimate way to get beyond “media bias”?), an underground media outlet—a look at what’s going on under the surface in this world.

But the point is that it’s centered on places and people and their stories—their photography is simply one way of telling a story. It’s more spontaneous, but anyone can be involved. I hate to equate it to the Lomo brand, but that may be a close relative. Digital cameras can be a lot of fun—and now that everyone has a camera (phone) in their pocket all the time, with the means to send images, I think a geographical representation would make things very interesting.

The stories told by these cameras don’t have to be newspaper articles on politics, or This American Life-style feel-good pieces, or local news shock-value stories. They can be all of these, or none. Someone takes photographs of what they think is important. Who am I to interfere?

As a visitor, I can click on my area and see what my neighbors are doing. It’s got this sick vouyeristic thing to it that I love. Or I can bring up London W10 and see what’s going on there. How exciting to browse by geography, then look at photographs over time.

The trick, of course, is filtering. Isn’t that always the trick? Do you use a set of editors to filter what’s coming in manually? Do you let it be a free for all? How about Slashdot-style voting; do you let people vote on which photos/notes/sounds are most interesting?

Are there other ways you’d want to organize the information?

6 Jan 02004

emotional design

Here are the three levels of cognitive/emotional design, as defined by Donald A. Norman:

visceral design:
appearance. “this blog looks nice.”

behavioral design:
the pleasure and effectiveness of use. “this blog is fun to read. I feel good.”

reflective design:
self-image, personal satisfaction, memories.
“this blog reminds me of when I worked at the Dairy Dip”
or, later, “that blog just keeps coming back to me”

… from Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things.

7 Dec 02003

letters from the outpost


The best and worst of Bostonians comes out right after a snowstorm. Walking out for a cup of joe this morning, everybody said “hello”, “good morning”, etc. I probably waved and smiled at more random people this morning than the average celebrity. That was around 9am. As the day wore on and people realized what they were up against (2 hours to dig their car out, then the plow comes and buries it again, repeat), they started to get angry. Cars were honking at pedestrians in the street who had no sidewalk to walk on. People put lawn furniture in public parking spots, trying to hold a space. It doesn’t help that each person in Cambridge has their own personal car (5 or so cars for a 3-family house), so there’s already not enough room for everyone…

The snow finally stopped this afternoon, and I went out with fellow Zipcar folks to remove snow from our cars. We looked at upcoming reservations in the neighborhood and visited as many cars as we could. Among the four groups that went out, we got about 50 cars done, of 170 or so above-ground cars the Boston fleet. It felt great to get out and bust my ass with some real manual labor for once.

Tonight, outside Trader Joe’s on Mem Drive, I saw the single largest pile of snow I’ve ever encountered. No camera, so no photo, but it was probably 10 times the size of this one in the local supermarket parking lot.

It feels like an Alaskan outpost here, now more than ever.

7 Nov 02003

Michael Joo

I saw a Michael Joo exhibition at the MIT Media Lab today.

I can’t say I was exactly blown away by the experience. While I like an artist who incorporates science into their work (for example, a rope and noose, with a dense, two-year-old synthetic crystal structure growing on the knot of the noose), few of the pieces meant anything to me (or were even visually interesting), even after reading the descriptions. He was in the Venice Bianale recently, so I want to believe he does good work, but I really wasn’t feeling this exhibition.

Only five minutes prior to entering the exhibition, I was speaking with Robin about how some art, if you see it as a story, will leave a few key pieces missing for you to fill in. The art then makes a connection with the viewer through those missing piece. Take David Blaine for example. As far as I know, he never gave a real reason for doing his 44 days without food. I think he said he wanted to challenge himself, but that’s all I heard.

To me, his stunts fall clearly into the perforance art category, rather than protest or magic. He starved himself for whatever reason you wanted him to! You fill in the blank. Maybe it’s for peace. Maybe it’s against world hunger. Maybe he just wanted to protest against bad English food. He didn’t say, but since people can’t believe that he’d just do it for no reason, they have to assign some value to his stunt. It’s too fantastic not to! So the whole thing became political in the end. People got angry about the stunt. To me, it’s very effective art.

Wasn’t this about Michael Joo, though?

Oh well. I think I just wasn’t in the mood to fill his blanks in. Maybe I didn’t see where the blanks were. Maybe there were too many blanks. Or no blanks.

19 Oct 02003

pixels and strokes

Cowboy Icon

When I was at The Art Institute of Chicago a couple weeks ago, I saw something new in impressionist paintings. When you get up close to a Monet or Seurat, it’s all a blur (or a bunch of dots), with no discernable form or pattern. These paintings, even the small ones, are best viewed at 6 or 8 or more feet away. And this is the madness and genius of them: How did Monet go about painting something he couldn’t see without backing up a few feet? What the hell is going on here? I picture the artist with a six foot long paintbrush, or with an assistant who does the actual painting while he smokes a cigarette and gives instructions from across the room. Or maybe he had a mirror next to the canvas and another at 3 feet in front of it, so he could quickly see the developing form at a distance.

But of course none of this is true, at least as far as I know. There were no mirrors, there was no smoke. Just Monet at the canvas. I laugh because the Impressionist painters have played a joke on me, the viewer. I can’t dispute how beautiful these paintings are when you do step back and look at them, but I am equally boggled by the technique.

Icon Art also boggles. Take a look at the work of Hide Itoh. Under very severe size and color restrictions, he has created many tiny icons that are beautiful to look at and instantly recognizable as what they represent. You cannot simply take a photograph of a bulldozer and resize it down to the scale of an icon. It would become a blob in the process, and not the kind of blob that looks like anything when viewed from far away (or really small). Instead, the icon artist must decide what is absolutely essential and build, pixel by pixel, the essential reprensentation of the object.

They look great at their intended (tiny) size, but if you enlarge them you’ll see how ridiculous they look on the large scale. There’s something beautiful about the effects of scaling something that scales poorly. Suddenly your attention is on the colors, and the actual object is less important. if you step across the room, though, the cowboy reappears. It takes a special mind to come up with the right combination of pixels in a 20x20 grid such that, when scaled down by 1200%, it’s perfectly recognizable as a cowboy.

Since I’m not an icon artist, I have to find my own way of drawing the effects of scaling out of an innocent object. Here’s an appraoch that Daniel and I came up with over the phone one evening: Photocopy a small (3x6”), simple drawing or some text out of a book (or your own work) and enlarge it to 3’x6’ black and white, then color it in with acrylic paint (or don’t). There is no added detail at the large scale, of course, but all the tiny imperfections of printing and photocopying start to come out. These artifacts of scaling add something, stylistically, that was never intended, and you end up with a new perspective.

Now here’s my challenge to you: Create an 20x20 pixel icon of a Monet painting.

11 Aug 02003

shower knobs

shower.jpgThis might be your shower handle. It’s a lot of people’s shower handle, at least in the USA. Do you remember the first time you encountered one of these? I do. I had no idea what I was doing. It turned on full blast. I was intimidated. I think I had to ask for help. What’s wrong with this thing?

The problem is that there are two controls for water volume, and only one makes sense. When you turn the big handle on, you get to vary the volume of scalding hot water. When you adjust the lever at the bottom, you choose bath or shower and the volume of either. I’ll wager that most people don’t know about the volume function (even though it says “LO” and “HI”) because they’re used to the standard bath/shower as a binary switch (pull up for shower, leave down for bath).

My solution would be to make “OFF” the middle position between bath and shower, and to make the temp knob control only temperature. An added bonus: The temp knob now has memory between uses.

Why didn’t they design it this way? My best guess is that it was somehow more difficult, mechanically; more expensive to produce. But perhaps they mangled this thing on purpose. What might they have been thinking?