January 14, 2007

Upon seeing a protest poster

The anti-war movement's inability to separate the war in Iraq from the occupation of Palestine is analogous to President Bush's inability to separate 9/11 from the invasion of Iraq.

Focus, people.

January 11, 2007

Run don't walk

Jonathan Lethem has a piece titled "The Ecstasty of Influence: A Plagiarism" in the February issue of Harper's. It's the single best essay on intellectual property I've read.

It doesn't even start out as a typical Harper's essay about a socio-culutural crisis. There's no big downer opening explaining how we're all doomed but may as well try to understand the problem that's gonna eat us from the inside out.

Lethem instead presents a survey of the way cultural influence works in the creative process citing examples like Nabokov (who apparently stole Lolita) and Muddy Waters. He goes on to talk about how we grow up in a time that is steeped in cultural reference, that we grow up knowing parodies of work well before we understand their antecedents. It's not until the fifth page that he busts out with the Jeffersonian analysis about the intent of intellectual property.

From there he busts out, hitting on the importance of a gift economy in avoiding the commoditization of art. And there's good personal anecdotes both about his experience as an artist and as an audience member. (I particularly like the story about how he couldn't see an Iranian film adaptation of Franny and Zooey because Salinger had the screening shut down ... Lethem remarks "The cold, undead hand of one of my childhood literary heroes had reached out from its New Hampshire redoubt to arrest my present-day curiosity.")

Lethem concludes with a blessing to his readers: "The name of the game is Give All. You, reader, are welcome to my stories. They were never mine in the first place, but I gave them to you. If you have the inclination to pick them up, take them with you."

And then he has a notes section in which it's revealed that his whole essay is actually a collage of other people's work.

Basically the whole thing is stolen including the personal anecdotes (altho' the bit about Salinger is his, though the setup is from Village Voice critic Amy Taubin. But the intimate "Give All" conclusion ... that's from Saul Bellow.

Despite having read some of the source material (Lessig, Wallace) I didn't realize the true meaning of the essay's subtitle until I got to the end. And it knocked me out of my seat. I actually stood up and left the restuarant where I was eating (I'd already paid) saying out loud, "That's amazing!"

The thing is that on its own it is a great piece. It's a brilliant essay showing how cultural remixing is an integral part of our lives; as creators, as audience members ... even just as humans trying to understand the world and exist in a community. But as a piece of remix art itself it is a phenomenally powerful illustration of that underlying principle. I highly recommend it.


We're less than a week away from the release of the World of Warcraft expansion pack and it's pretty exciting times in Azeroth. The Dark Portal has opened and Highlord Kruul has been seen rampaging about the countryside.

This afternoon he strolled into the capital city of Ironforge and promptly killed everyone. In a matter of minutes there were hundreds of bodies strewn across the normally bustling halls of the dwarven city. In the end, Blizzard had to restart our server because folks kept engaging the unbeatable badass.

It's the closest I've seen to a natural disaster in WoW and it was awesome. If I had designed this encounter I would have made it so that Kruul left some permanent mark Ironforge. A collapsed wall, scorched cielings ... something. Anyway, it's made me more stoked for the expansion. And I managed to snap a couple sweet screengrabs; one of Kruul in full majesty and the following wherein Krull is bringing down his doomsword upon the head of my wee character.

January 10, 2007


With the iPhone launch, Steve Jobs has managed to do what game console companies have done for years; launch the device without having to let anyone use it. I used to think it would be a pretty neat trick to be able to do that on the Web ... and then Gmail did it when they first went out to employees only.

By doing this you allow the device to be a mythic fulfillment of everything missing inside the heart of the fanboy ... and for the hater it's the final confirmation that those Mac v. PC ads really were mocking you.

Allow me then to out myself: I want the iPhone. More than that, I want to pay to upgrade to the iPhone Pro a year later as well. In short, I'm tremendously excited about the iPhone and have been made more excited by some of the objections lodged against it.

Before continuing I should acknowledge that there's a legitimate problem with the phone. It should have been built to support 3G instead of EDGE. The browser is going to do a kick-ass job but it's gonna take you a lifetime to load the NYT. Second, there's a legit concern from those who point out that people like feedback when typing. I'm guessing that the much-touted patented solution for dealing with text input will take a few revs to get right. And even then there will still be folks for whom it won't feel natural.

But even with these concerns, the iPhone is good news for anyone who wants to buy a phone at any point in the future. Current cellphone UI has basically done one of two things: 1) bring Windows to the phone with a bunch of hierarchical directories (e.g. PalmOS or Windows Mobile) or 2) just been the worst software ever made (e.g. whatever the hell Sprint, Samsung and Motorola are doing).

Based on my extensive experience not-using it, the iPhone represents a step foward and I feel it will be a big step. By bringing touchscreen metaphors like pinch and scroll out of the MIT Media Lab and into the hands of millions, the iPhone will be more than just an innovative cell phone UI. I believe it will be a guide to ways in which we can move beyond the menu-driven point and click paradigm that's governed basically every device in the past 20 years.

If you consider this as the potential of the device, objections like "where's the extra memory card slot" or "it'll get scratched" don't really stack up. Even things like "what about the battery life" are relatively unimportant. The original iPod had a battery life of about 6 months and then you had to replace the entire fricking thing! It still revolutionized the way people interact with their music.

Going to MacWorld is like going to a church revival, and I'm really disappointed my one Keynote experience was a couple years back when nothing very important was announced. I think this year they announced something worth cheering for.

January 01, 2007

Happy New Year