Monthly Archives: August 2011

J.C. Penney is too smart to ignore complaints about this T shirt

J.C. Penney was selling this T shirt online this morning to girls:

This made alot of people none too happy. They responded negatively and fast. J.C. Penney was also very responsive and pulled the shirt and apologized. All this happened in one day. My understanding is that J.C. Penney monitors response on the Internet and responds to it quickly. Very smart to do that, and very smart to pull this shirt, I think. The message on the T shirt is a bad one, but how everyone responded afterwards is good.

For more on it, see: this story in the New York News

How to turn a city into a musical device (some thoughts after a conversation I had with @jaimewoo)

This is a rough collection of ideas I put together after a chat with Jaime Woo (@jaimewoo) on Twitter. It’s also based on the work David Byrne did with playing a building, though of course it is not as sophisticated as that.

Essentially I was considering the challenge ofhow to turn a city into a musical instrument. To do this, you’d need inputs (your keys, so to speak) and outputs (the sound). The trick is how to get inputs from the city such that your output is something most people would think is worthwhile to listen to, somethingmusical and not just noise or random sounds.

To do this, I am going to model my first idea on the Mozart Magic Cube toy and we can go from there. (This is the Magic Cube here: cube can play 8 different Mozart pieces, and there is a switch to make it go from one piece to another. (It’s a kid toy: I think if you bang it against something, it changes the composition that it’s playing). There are also five buttons (inputs) associated with a musical instrument: pressing one turns the instrument on or off. It’s great for kids, of course, but it could also be the start of a way to turn the city into a music device.

Let’s imagine putting five kiosks in the city. One kiosk represents the drum, another the flute, etc. All kiosks are ON by default. Each kiosk has a computer with speakers, a browser, and a mouse. Each kiosk computer is hooked up to central web server that is running on Google’s app engine or a low cost shared site. The server sends down the song for the kiosk to play vis the browser, and the kiosk plays it. If someone on the drum kiosk clicks the mouse to turn the drum OFF, then this is sent to the central kiosk, and the other servers tells all the kiosks to turn the drum sound off.

Essentially what we have done here is deconstruct the Mozart Magic cube and spread it’s buttons all over the city, and people in different parts of the city are playing the cube together. You have five groups of people around these kiosks, playing simple music with the click of a mouse.

So far, we have something simple, but not too interesting. Five buttons, five instruments. We can make it more interesting by changing the interface and having more things to switch on and off.. For example, you could have it so that you have many many instruments to turn on and off. Instead of a mouse click, you could have people vote up or down the intensity of each sound. For example, if more people send a twitter message to turn the kettle drums off and the tubas on (using a special hash tag), then the drums will go off and the tubas will go on. In essence, the population is conducting the city. You could even have a real orchestra or band playing while watching a dashboard to change the way they play.

It doesn’t have to be classical music, either. It could be jazz or rock or anything with enough instruments in it to make it interesting to interact with. However you do it, you have a social interaction set to music.

It also doesn’t have to be a twitter feed or a mouse click. You could use QR codes so that people could use their mobile phones to take photos of QR codes, that would take them to the central server and allow their vote to be registered that way. Anything suitable for a crowd of people and kiosks would work.

The more time you have, the more interactive and dynamic you can make it. For example, you could break the music down even further so that various inputs could be chords or notes from different instruments, and the input that different parts of the city provide can come up with an original composition. Mind you, it could be a terrible composition as well! For that, you would need someone with enough musical knowledge to put together a range of sounds that would sound well together regardless of how they were played. But if you see tools like Audiotool and other such sites, you see how people can turn things on and off and have the music change in a way that it is still interesting. And you can even add music visualization to that!

There are lots of ways to gather input from people across the city and map it to sounds that will output music. You need to make sure the input is “good”, and by good it has to result in interesting output. That means it has to vary sufficiently, for one thing. But you also need to guard against malicious input. Boring input or malicious input will make bad music. You need some form of moderation that makes it into something interesting.

Anyway, this is some rough ideas on how to turn the city into a musical device using social media as input.

Greatness. Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, as captured by Herman Leonard

If you are lucky in life, you will get to be at a club or venue and be in the presence of greatness.  It doesn’t happen often, and it is captured in photography even less. Fortunately here’s one such moment, captured by Herman Leonard, of Ella singing while Duke
Ellington and Benny Goodman are in the audience, soaking it up with delight.

Such a great moment, captured by a great photographer.

I found this on the blog  Iconic Photos, where you can find more on Leonard, as well as a link to alot of his great images. Enjoy!

Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow – a film by Sophie Fiennes of Anselm Kiefer

This looks awesome:

Kiefer is one of the world’s greatest living artists, and now there is a film of him and his work. It is coming out  Oct 15th, apparently, but it is also showing before then at film festivals like the Toronto International Film Festival, this September.

I can’t wait to see it. I am a big fan of his work.

What not to say if pulled over by the police

If you are travelling this long weekend, you might feel the need for speed at some point, and if you do (or have other problems with your vehicle), you may rightly be pulled over by the police. What’s the best way to deal with this? Yahoo! provides some good advice.

Beautiful wood stoves from Morso, featured on Mrs. Easton

I am a big fan of the blog Mrs. Easton. It’s a feast of things you don’t find elsewhere. The blog’s latest find is these Little Wood Stoves that come from the company Morso.

I think they’re fantastic. This one seems quiet traditional, but they have a wide range of designs, including some very streamlined and contemporary. Check out Mrs. Easton’s blog first, then head over to Morso for more information.

Just seeing them makes me look forward to roaring fires in the midwinter!

Perfection: Tom Waits/Cookie Monster mashup of God’s Away On Business

This is perfect, and a perfect matchup. One of my all time favorite mashup, featuring two of my favorite “people”: Tom Waits and the Cookie Monster.

See for yourself:

Tom Waits/Cookie Monster mashup – God’s Away On Business – YouTube

In the 21st century, a new ocean has been born

Really. This is the start of it, here, in Ethiopia:

As this BBC News – Africa ‘witnessing birth of a new ocean’ article states, it will continue to open and fill in with water, resulting in a very different Africa and an entirely new ocean. Now, it will take 10 million years to occur, but it starts now, in this century.

How to print a full sized house using WikiHouse

While there has been alot of talk about 3D printers, this takes it to the next level. As this article (Design, Download And Print Your House With WikiHouse — The Pop-Up City) shows, WikiHouse

t enables anybody, including non-design professionals, to design houses with Google’s free 3D design software SketchUp and instantly print and build them. Design your own dream house with the help of the crowd and a plywood printer.

I think this is fascinating. It could make building construction evolve at speeds closer to software. In the 21st century, everything will accelerate the way IT accelerated in the 20th century.

Jack Layton’s last letter to Canadians

Jack Layton died today. He wrote this just before he died.While you can find the entire letter here ( News – Jack Layton’s last letter to Canadians) I thought this passage in particular was great, and one I strongly endorse:

Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

Rest in peace, Jack.

How your employees (and contractors) visit sites that you block

Is likely found in this article: Five tricks workers use to visit blocked Web sites. Anyone thinking of blocking web sites and spending alot of resources to do so would be advised to read this article before proceeding.

Great gift ideas at the Spoon Sisters

I love this site: The Spoon Sisters. They have lots of brilliant and low cost gifts you can get. For example, this:

It turns a tap into a drinking fountain! Simple, nicely designed, and at $9.95, well priced. Kids would love using this, although I like it too!

(Found via SwissMiss)

Harrison Ford is the anti-movie star, movie star

There’s a really good interview of Harrison Ford here, ‘I’ve had my time’ – The Irish Times – Fri, Aug 19, 2011, that covers alot of ground, from his current role in Cowboys & Aliens to all the way back when he first started. Anyone interested in Ford can get his biography in this interview, as well as other places. While the article is good just for the bio, what I also liked and what also comes across in it is how matter of fact and modest he is. Given all his success, it would be easy to imagine him being pompous or vain or holding any of the other faults of many big name Hollywood stars. He seems to be the opposite of all that. Well worth a read.

The image and the article is from The Irish Times web site, which is a good publication and well worth a read as well.

Why Benjamin Moore’s Cloud White is THE go to white paint for designers (and me too :))

I have Cloud White everywhere in my home. I even know the old code (967) and the new code (OC-130) for it! I came across it from interior design experts I knew who swore by it. If you wondering, what’s all the fuss about white paint, you should read this in depth article When other whites just won’t wash | that explains why. Here’s a snippet in which designer Jan Brown sums up the strengths of the paint:

Jan Brown of Aurora, Ont.-based C3D Design has been a fan since the early ’80s and understands its acclaim. “It’s a bright white but doesn’t scream like a builder’s white,” explains the designer. “It has a soft edge to it but it works almost literally with every other colour.” While every paint firm’s fan deck has a similar white, Cloud White’s strength is its ability to stay white and not take on blue, pink or yellow tones when placed beside another colour. And that neutrality and predictability is why designers keep using it. Says Brown, “It means not having to tell the client: ‘I think we’re going to have to repaint all this.’ ” When customers express doubts about Cloud White, Brown makes up a variety of white painted sample boards and has the clients live with the shades for a few days. They usually end up believers.

After you read the article, you can see why it become the go to white paint for designers.

P.S. Thanks for reading this. If you have found it useful and you’d like to say thanks by buying me a coffee, you can do so here. Thanks! That’s awesome!

Cassandra C. Jones: the master of found art

Jones does a brilliant job of composing works of art from photographs found elsewhere. For example, this animation of a horse galloping is amazing:

And like she says, inspired by Eadward Muybridge. Other pieces of her remind me of David Hockney’s photo compositions, like this one:

Well worth visiting her site, cassandrac, for more views of her work.

(Found via

Want to buy your teenager their first cook book? Get them Food Matters by Mark Bittman

Food Matters by Mark Bittman  is a great book. Mark Bittman wants us to eat better and cook better, not just for our own sake but for the sake of the entire planet. If we eat the way Mark advises, not only will we eat healthier and become fit (and also save money), but we will do alot of good for the environment too. It sounds far fetched, but in the first half of the book, he reasonably and persuasively makes the case. In the second half of the book he supports the effort in the first part of the book with some typically great recipes that are straightforward and tasty. I highly recommend the book for any adult, from those who can’t cook to those who cook all of the time.

So why should you get this cookbook for your teenager? A few reasons:

  • The recipes are low cost, nutritious, simple, flexible and delicious. The perfect meal for teenagers and younger people
  • The recipes are very flexible, so whether you kid wants to be a vegan, vegetarian, omnivore, they will find something they can make in here.
  • It supports alot of things young people are passionate about, like saving the environment, not eating animals (or eating less of them), eating healthy (well, ok, sometimes). 
  • With some exceptions, kids are not going to have alot of cookbooks. Give them one that makes it easy for them to cook with and that is low cost and healthy and tasty and they will cook from it for life. What could be a better thing to give your kid than that.
  • If they start cooking from it now, not only will they eat better, but you can get them to cook family meals and you will eat better as a result.
  • If they start cooking from it now, it will be the way they cook when they are finally moving out on their own. When they do, they will need meals like this, not high caloric and expensive meals that take alot of time. They can learn how to cook that eventually, and there are tons of books and magazine promoting that kind of cooking.

Some thoughts on the size of Africa (and how this info-graphic somehow confuses the matter)

If you go here, you will see a really good infographic on the size of Africa. In many ways it gives you a good sense of just how big Africa is. It is big, of course. This is not surprising to me, since it is a major continent, but it may be for alot of people.

What I do find odd is the comparisons. Most of them compare Africa (a continent) to other countries. Africa is a big continent, especially when compared to Europe. However, it would make more sense to compare it to North America (rather than just the United States) or Asia (and not just Japan, China or India). I think North America is comparable in size to Africa and Asia. (If anything, I believe Asia would be bigger). I suspect the author wanted to emphasize how big Africa is. Fair enough. But if they want to tackle the so-called problem of immappancy, they should try a different approach.

The state of mobile banking in North America, 2011

Can be seen in this great infographic, here:

A bigger version of it with more details, here: The Official Lookout Blog | Take The Money And Run: Mobile Banking On The Go.

(Hat tip to A Smarter Planet tumblr)

The brilliant long exposure photos of Yurikamome by AppuruPai

VibrantRainy seasonHigh key waveB&WMetro-polisWormhole
SwiftOn a cloudy dayWoosh!Up leftDive inCity side
bluuuuuuesmooth curveStraight aheadWarp driveNight speedHigh speed
In the tunnel

Yurikamome, a set by AppuruPai on Flickr.

The photographer, AppuruPai, has a series of great photographs, including these “Long exposure shots from the New Transit Yurikamome an automated guideway train that connects Odaiba to the mainland, passing through the Rainbow Bridge.” Stunningly good. Go see

“The Smurfs” is Gay, and other things I thought watching it today

I took my son and his friend to see The Smurfs today, full dreading it. And despite some good things about it – there are some good things! – it is terrible in alot of ways.  Here’s some random thoughts:
* I thought it was positive that Neil Patrick Harris plays a straight father-to-be in the film. I’d like to think the days are gone whereby gay actors can’t come out of the closet for fear of losing straight parts is over, but I don’t think that is yet the case. (I am no expert here.) Perhaps with more performances by actors like him, audiences can forget about the sexuality of the actors and focus on the character they are playing. That would be a good thing. NPH is one of the good things about the film.
* I like Tim Gunn alot, but I didn’t like him in this. I can’t say why: he’s not a good actor, and he is not playing himself exactly. It just felt off, as if he was trying to channel Stanley Tucci from The Devil Wears Prada and doing a poor job of it. Then again, I don’t watch much of him, so I could be totally off base here.
* One person who is channeling another character is Hank Azaria. He seems to be trying to be a male version of the Wicked Witch of the West. Indeed, the movie seems to lift the storyline from the Wizard of Oz, with The Portal acting as the Hurricane and New York City acting as The Emerald City. There’s references to flying eagles instead of flying monkeys, and…well, there is probably more, but I was not exactly watching it all that closely.
* Thinking about that on the way home, I realized: there seems to have been a number of gay references in this film. However, I am hardly the best person to make that call, so I did a search on the way home and found this: – Smurfs are so Gay which references this: The Smurfs – Gay Movies For Gay People – And they just touch on some of the lines and references in the film. The makers of the film are being coy about it, but I think it’s too obvious not to be anything other than intentional. If anything, knowing that going in can make the film enjoyable for the adults, in that you can watch it from a different perspective.
* Surprisingly the actors in the film are good. It’s what makes it watchable. Hank Azaria is too much for me, but if you are five, I am sure he was perfect. NPH is charming as usual, and he takes his role seriously (no small things, that). The voice actors, in particular Katy Perry and Jonathan Winters, do their thing well and breath some life into their little blue CG bodies.
* I wish I could say I was pleasantly suprised by the film and that I liked it, but alot of the dialogue in the film is so hackneyed that it just grated on me. There’s too many bad sitcom cliches that stand out like a blue thumb. I thought the overuse of the word “smurf” word get to me, but it was lines like “we’re having a moment here” or “no Smurf left behind” or…well, there are tons of them. The thing was written by four screenwriters, and that is never a good sign. Yet there is good stuff, too. I guess of the four writers, some were good and some were hacks. Sadly the stuff by the hacks overcame the good dialogue and made it hard for me to watch.
* As usual, the 3D part is a rip off. There are some scenes at the beginning that use it well, but for the most part, it was irrelevant. I can see why Roger Ebert despises it. I do too.
* Is there lots of product placement? Ha, you’re kidding, right?
* The Smurfs is not the worst kids film I have ever seen: that honour still goes to the first Chipmunks movie. It represents all that is bad about Hollywood now, however, and if you can distract your kids from it long enough, it may be out of theatres before they know it.
* I’d like it to be a success just so NPH could get some better offers and we could see him in other films. Overall, though, if you can avoid seeing it, do so.

How Liberals support of the 14th Amendment would result in the impeaching of President Obama

I think what Joe Klein writes here, Krugman Quibble | Swampland, is exactly right:

If he had cited the 14th Amendment and simply ordered Treasury to pay the bills, he would have been impeached by the radical Republicans. This would have guaranteed that the next 16 months would have been overwhelmed by an even worse version of the silliness visited upon our nation by the poisonous Limbaugh-Tea Party nihilists.

If anyone thinks differently, I would like to hear the argument. You already have people like Issa who could have kicked this off in a heartbeat. And based on the arguments I saw for supporting the use of the 14th Amendment, I concluded that no one had a clue how it would actually work out.

Whatever Liberals think of the deal, that option would have been far worse.