Sips from the Firehose
A blog that seeks to filter the internet into a refreshing, easily-gulped beverage
Posted: under Uncategorized.
Tags: Art, art, Chihuly Glass and Garden, glassblowing, museum, Seattle, underwater
I’ve always said that if I had any talent whatsoever in sculpting, the medium I would choose to work with would be glass. I just love how really talented artists play with its transparent/translucent properties, and how it can be melted & made to flow organically.
I felt like I should have been wearing a scuba tank, flippers and a BC vest. Which, come to think of it, would not be out of place during the regular Seattle Rain Festival Jan.-Dec. every year. Boom!
Posted: under Uncategorized.
Tags: Art, Bahir Dar, Books, Ethiopia, illuminated manuscript, quirky, Travel, travel
I found a draft version of this post on my computer, and can’t believe that I forgot to finally update it. Sheesh.
Anyway folks, here are some more of the photos from my recent stint in Ethiopia. Hope you enjoy. Coming up next: a detailed description of the Ethiopian coffee ceremony.
First, here is a shot I took while out in the countryside – the guy on the roof here looks like he’s just casually listening in to an interesting conversation. In reality, he was a total daredevil. When the van was in motion, he sat on the roof, clinging to the big package that you see strapped on to the cargo carrier. I’m not sure if he was doing that to try to keep the package steady on the roof, or if by riding outside the passenger compartment, maybe he got a break on the fare. Or maybe he just like the feel of the wind of the open road in his hair. Whatever – by his clothes, he didn’t look in that desperate financial shape … certainly not as bad as the kids I saw clamping on to the spare tire carriers on the backs of SUVs for a free ride (often with tragic results).
Sometimes the passengers choose to ride on the roofs of the ubiquitous blue minivans that are the backbone of the public transportation system in Ethiopia.
Anyway, the next shot is taken from the tour of the ancient monasteries in Lake Tana. I actually got to handle some of the illuminated manuscripts – a real honor, I guess. These are the types of things that I am accustomed to only seeing under glass, in heavily guarded cases, in museums.
It was a strange feeling to handle something this old and this precious. Then again, the monks didn’t really seem all that put out by the experience. I guess when you’ve grown up in an area where human history goes back 3 million years, something that’s only a few thousand years old isn’t all that remarkable.
It is amazing how vibrant the colors still are in this book.
Posted: under Uncategorized.
Tags: Art, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, Lake Tana, monasteries, Multimedia, nativity scenes, orthodox churches, Travel
Here are some more of the photos I shot when I was visiting the ancient monasteries out on the isolated islands of Lake Tana.
This first shot is the typical tourist shot, I know. The murals and tapestries here date back to about the 16th century, although there are earlier paintings and artwork.
- Yeah, I know I kinda look like Long John Silver here, being stared at by all the little angels painted on the walls. The Ethiopian Orthodox churches do not allow you to sit, so the congregation has to lean on these sort-of crutches.
The artwork here shows the influence of all the cultures that have touched Ethiopia over the centuries.
Posted: under Uncategorized.
Tags: Art, artists, Moscow street art, portraits, Travel
We’re supposed to be at the LA Times Festival of Books today, but we’re having to skip that amazing opportunity to mingle with other ink-stained wretches (and the agents who *love* them), and instead finish up on the editing work on our own … er … somewhat overdue writing projects.
What is the world coming to when we have to sacrifice valuable drinking and goofing off time to actually meet deadlines, I ask?
In the meantime, here are a few shots from our travels in Moscow. We ran across these artists outside of the Moscow flea markets, doing portraits of the passers-by for a few thousand rubles. I was struck by how familiar the scene was … I’ve seen this in Caracas, Mexico City, San Francisco, Amsterdam … I’m convinced that if I ever do get to Antarctica, I will find a couple of artsy Emperor Penguins sitting on director’s chairs, working with mixed-medium herring guts and rancid walrus blubber. Which will no doubt immediately get snapped up by a hipster art collector and spawn the Next Big Wave in the art world…
There is a strange timeless quality that comes out when you walk the streets of Eastern Europe. The past is still very much with everyone there - such as the guy in suspenders, who looks like he walked right out of a 70s "glorious proletariat" propaganda movie, where he plays the crusty, but lovable truckdriver whose antics lead to much hilarity,
I tried to get a little fancier with this next shot – to sort of show how this art is a little piece of life and humanity, even in sometimes grim, gray surroundings.
In Moscow, art looks at you. (click to see full-size)
If you look at the guys in the background, they wouldn’t really look out of place at the Harley ralley in Sturgis. But there are a lot of kinda sketchy-looking guys like this roaming the streets of Moscow. I was told that a lot of them were veterans of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, or of the more recent conflict in Chechnya. Anyone who’s been around a VA hospital here in the States will have an eerie shock of familiarity looking at these guys; long hair, still wearing the odds and ends of their camouflage uniforms, too-intense eyes that don’t blink enough, and a constant sense of suppressed rage…
Posted: under new media.
Tags: addis ababa, Art, artwork, Ethiopia, Ku Klux Klan, Multimedia, new media, Obama, painting, training, Travel, Web/Tech
I found this painting in a humble little clothing stall in the merkato in Addis Ababa, during my last day there, when I finally got some free time to wander around and explore this fascinating city a little bit.
It surprised me to find such an accurate depiction of the garb of the KKK in faraway Ethiopia. I guess movies or popular culture have exposed even the ordinary people around the world to our more sordid side...
Amongst all the funky art & tchotchkes, this painting caught my eye for obvious reasons.
What you can’t see, of course, are all the other exemplars of Obama’s presence here in East Africa. People walk around with Obama’s face on t-shirts, bumper stickers, hats … his face is pasted onto the clear glass shelves in the jewelry shops, and to the sides of the little “blue mule” micro-buses.
This is a good thing.
Invisible to just about everyone in the U.S., we are in a struggle for influence in Africa, which more and more people are calling “The Last Frontier.” China is spreading around the oceans of money (that we gave them in exchange for cheap plastic consumer goods, but that’s another story), and they are doing it in a very tricky, manipulative way. The U.S. and Western Europe have had decades of work, trying to figure out ways to actually benefit countries with their foreign aid. It has not been the easiest process.
However, we have figured out that nation-building takes time. Lots of it. And the investments tend to be gradual, building up infrastructure, institutions, ecosystems. The kinds of things that people really don’t see all at once – but if you take a snapshot of a country 10 or 20 years apart, you see the radical transformations. I know I did when I went back to both Colombia and Venezuela after 20 years absence in 2007-8.
In Addis Ababa, the modern struggles to catch up with the ancient.
Meanwhile, the Chinese are throwing up big, showy projects. Roads, bridges, dams, buildings. And slapping their branding all over them. Ordinary people see this and say, “Well look, the Chinese are actually doing something for us. What do the ferengi leave behind? They talk a lot, but what do we have to show for it all?”
In this kind of environment, having an African-American as President of these here United States is a definite advantage.
Posted: under Uncategorized.
Tags: Art, art, Community, craftmatic adjustable beds, graffiti, guerilla art, Miracle Mile, mural, South of the Miracle, spraypaint, stairway to heaven, visual storytelling
It may not be Banksy, but it’s still pretty cool to see local merchants reaching out to the community to pre-emptively cover their walls with something that connects with the local community.
I was out for a walk, and stumbled across this guy at the corner of Venice & Thurman, with a cardboard box next to him full of battered spray cans all missing their nozzles.
Turns out the storeowner (who took over the space from a rather creepy pseudo-psychic), saw that other shops in the area were constantly fighting the battle against taggers, and wanted to try to stave off the constant whack-a-mole struggle against idiotic and barely readable slogans. The illustration here is the artist’s interpretation of the store’s contents – it’s a medical supply outlet, and one of their big products for the aging population in this area are the comfy mechanical beds for all the former manual laborers nursing their aching backs.
Thus the whole “Stairway to Heaven” motif here. The rather creepy-eyed girl in the center of this part of the installation is working the controls for the beds/chairs/scooters this place sells. Next to her is the stairway, and then floating off into the clouds are the people who’ve bought the goods in this store, and are now in lower-back heaven. Which is kinda cool & inventive, actually.
Just poking above the grass (weeds? I’ve never liked these damn things, but I guess they beat crabgrass/ragweed) on the right-hand side, you can see the head of his son Mario, who was, like, totally bored with his dad’s job. Sheesh. His dad’s a guerilla artist who just got a great commission and is out doing trippy work, and the kid is bagging on him nonstop. Pretty high bar to clear – what would be impressive? Watching dad play with numbers in an actuarial spreadsheet?
I guess whatever it is that you do, after a while, those closest to you grow accustomed to it & it becomes old hat.
Posted: under Digital Migration, infographic, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers.
Tags: Art, color photos, Denial of Reality, Design, Digital Migration, infographic, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers, NY Daily News, Platform obsession, print edition, printing presses, San Francisco Chronicle, SF Chroinicle, Wrongheaded solutions
Print die-hards claimed that all that was needed to reverse the audience migration to the internet was to make newspapers more “lively” in appearance. Early verdict: looks pretty, but the advertising still isn’t there, and that sound you heard was Mort Zuckerman puking and weeping over in the corner.
I’ve been in the Bay Area for a convention of “[fill in blank] for Dummies” authors and various business meetings, and I’ve taken the opportunity to scope out what the San Francisco Chronicle has been doing with its much-ballyhooed investment in glossy magazine-style paper for the front pages of its sections, and the use of high-quality color images.
This is a strategy that is also being pursued in New York by NY Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman, who has invested more than he would like to admit to (millions? hundreds of millions?) into high-tech printing presses, capable of churning out massive print runs with razor-sharp color. The 15-tower, triple-width ultra-compact Commander CT press looks a lot like the last-generation Nikon F6 film camera. It was the apex of film technology, what many analysts recognized at the time as “the perfect camera” — but that alas, was rolled out just as every working professional made the move to use digital.
Posted: under Amusing Nonsense, journalism, Online Video, Video.
Tags: Amusing Nonsense, Art, Evil Clowns, Friday Noon Videos, journalism, Multimedia, Online Video, Seth Rogen, slow-motion camera, stop-motion video, Uncategorized, Viral Fame, viral hits, viral videos, visual storytelling, Webconomics
Last week at the International Symposium of Online Journalists in Austin, I presented a series of viral videos to make the point that the national discourse is no longer “owned” by what we think of as professional media. It may seem like a trivial point, when compared to the other nuclear meltdown-level emergencies of declining advertising, lack of a sustainable business model for the future, declining audience share, sky-high debt loads, etc. – but I believe that adapting ourselves to this new environment is the first step towards resolving these other problems.
I asked the audience how many of them "got" the central image here, and could put it into its viral meme context.
Over at the Online Journalism Review, Robert Niles makes a compelling and far more comprehensive argument about why the whole concept of ownership of the news & the national conversation has been toxic to the mainstream media’s efforts at retaining its audience share.
Another point that I tried to make was that it is OK to use humor in your reportage, now and again. The relentless barrage of bad news these days is making us all a little crazy (see this excellent Newsweek article on this topic). There’s a reason that John Stewart & Stephen Colbert are so popular – they report on the news, they give it the kind of context that is so often missing on these stories, and they do it in a way that makes us crack a smile. It’s the voice that I remember from my early b.s. sessions at seedy bars with grizzled news veterans. It’s a human voice. The voice that says, “Well, y’know, I hadda write the story about [local businessman X] getting the Nice Guy award for the paper. But the funny thing is that everyone knows that he’s a screaming tyrant whose wife tried to run away…”
It’s the kind of voice that can re-establish the trust that our audience has lost in us. The one that doesn’t feel the need to kneel and genuflect at the altar of he-said she-said “objectivity.” The one that can make us feel informed, energized, and in control a bit – because things that we can laugh at are no longer quite so scary.
[And yeah, I know, my much-promised blog post about the effects of fear in the media on all of us is still in the works. Forgive me.]
So for all of you trapped in office cubicles, or just in need of a bit of diversion at the end of the week, here are the top viral videos:
Posted: under new media, Online Video.
Tags: Art, Multimedia, new media, Online Video, visual storytelling
…and now, as a break from the heavy news about New Media & the near-constant anger & backbiting going on over whether or not civilization as we know it will survive another aggregate circulation decline…
Here’s a reminder that creativity and innovation still exist, and are being used to make beautiful things. Relax and enjoy:
Technorati Tags: video art, electrabel, 2009
Posted: under Design, new media, Online Video.
Tags: Art, Design, Multimedia, new media, Online Video, visual storytelling
The exact numbers are somewhat fluid, but most analysts agree that only 1-5 people out of every thousand that visit a UGC site will actually contribute something. That works out to between 0.1 and 0.5%
That is a very small group to base the success of your community site on. Small, fragile, fickle and easily discouraged by trolling and flaming.
The Guardian had this take:
you shouldn’t expect too much online. Certainly, to echo Field of
Dreams, if you build it, they will come. The trouble, as in real life,
is finding the builders.
I come to this question because of a recent screed by Paul Gillin on Newspaper Death Watch, micturating on the idea that newspapers should be concerned with building a community. Gillin is skeptical about communities (H/T to Amy Gahran at Poynter for bringing this to my attention) because, he says, “the question came up about what publications can do to build community.
I responded that they can’t do much and they shouldn’t even try
because, with few exceptions, readers aren’t a community.”
Apparently, Yelvington has beaten me to the punch here, with this post “Bzzzzzt! Wrong! Community should be job #1”
This is just thoroughly, thoroughly wrong, utterly self-defeating.
Failure to build community is one of the many reasons so many
newspapers are in so much trouble right now. Yeah, the Internet this
and the economy that and television blah blah blah, but don’t overlook
“failure to lead.” Far too many newspapers have either intentionally
abandoned or simply lost interest and wandered away from the mission.
Community doesn’t scale. I’ve previously written about the Dunbar Number.
Each of us has hard-wired limits, so don’t go looking for nationwide
“USA Today” community around general news. That’s clearly the wrong
place to look.
Because of the scale issue, community flourishes in the niches, and
geography happens to be one. But as I’ve said before, this whole notion
of “hyperlocal” seems to be sailing over most journalists’ heads. Or
beneath their noses.
Oh yeah. Yelvington says that when you do research, you find that newspaper readers are seeking some kind of connection. Since, to my knowledge, newspaper readers are, in fact human beings, rather than thin-sliceable demographically segmented consumerbots, yeah, that would follow.
So here’s my research. It was my first story for OJR, and still the foundation of a lot of my thinking about what newspapers + New Media are capable of, and why the old-school values that we’ve lost along the way are the keys to survival.
The nut grafs from the interview I did with Bob Cauthorn are as relevant today as they were three years ago, when I first did them:
Looping back to Point Reyes, what you see there, and I do think
there is a metaphysical story in there – not metaphysical as in magical
– but deeply emotionally compelling. And that’s why I’m delighted that
you’re bringing this story to light. Because what this tells you in no
uncertain terms, with a kind of heat and passion that I wish existed in
the normal newsroom, that our public wants us to succeed.
public wants us to survive. Our public wants us to thrive. Our public
wants newspapers that matter. Our public is leaving us because we are
chasing them away with a stick.
Folks, the core purpose of a newspaper is to allow a community to have a discussion with itself.
The Light survived because it was such a part of its community that the whole town banded together and refused to let it die. The ongoing saga up in Point Reyes only proves this point – since Mitchell sold the paper, it has strayed from its purpose of providing the community with a place to have a conversation with itself. The community has reacted like an organism, stricken with a particularly noxious infection; it has isolated the Light and formed antibodies (the West Marin Citizen) to combat the toxic intruder. Feel free to chime in the comment section with your own similes involving raw sewage, surgical waste, etc.
So here’s how I tie this together. The reason that so many newspapers are getting things wrong is that they seem to expect to just set up a “Community” section and have every reader show up and eagerly start shoveling stories, photos, videos, etc. into their CMS. Oh, if only. Newspapers, as Yelvington noted, have been bought up by “giant, faceless corporate chains” which has cost them their connection to the community, and thus their position of leadership in the community’s conversation with itself. Which is why our civic sense of decency has become necrotic & foul.
The problem, as I see it, is that newspapers haven’t quite gotten that even on the most successful UGC site, the percentage of people actually contributing content is miniscule. The commenters (latter-day letters to the editor) run about 10%. And to even get that, you have to:
- Actually reach out to the readers – make them aware your community site exists.
- Care about them – as more than just stats that allow you to gouge advertisers for more money.
- Know what they care about, and what they want to see.
- Give them a good reason to respond and reward them when they do something right.
- Have provocative content – rather than he-said she-said stories that make the corporate lawyers happy.
- Have sysops, board leaders and wizops that monitor the conversations and spice things up when they get moribund.
- And … aw hell, just read the goddam Cluetrain Manifesto again. It tells you how to do this far more eloquently and effectively than I ever could.
It’s not time to dismiss “Community Building” as yet another Web 2.0 consultant meaningless buzzword. Community is the frickin’ core mission of the newspaper – or indeed any local media. It’s just that to do so, newspapers are going to have to disaggregate, along the lines of what Bakotopia has done; split into niche groups that allow people to actually talk to their neighbors about things that are geographically significant/interesting/infuriating/delightful. You know – the way that newspapers used to do, before they got so self-important, pretentious and serious…