Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How Android Differentiates from iPhone


After considering the iPhone, I bought a Motorola Droid a couple weeks ago. I read lots of reviews, and it seemed to me that the difference between the iPhone and the Droid boiled down to this: if you use your phone for media like songs and videos, buy an iPhone, but if you use a lot of Google services, buy a Droid.

I was wrong.

Google is integrating Android with telephony technology acquired from Grand Central (now Google Voice) and Gizmo to provide a whole new class of telephone applications. The difference between iPhone and Android boils down to this: if you use your phone for media like songs and videos, buy an iPhone, but if you want a mobile device that's part of your personal communications empire, buy an Android phone.

The first clue was when I was setting up Google Voice and it asked to notify me when number portability became available so I could switch my cell number to Google Voice. Well, maybe the first clue was that I could get a phone number from Google Voice at all.

Google Voice has tons of nice features for managing your voice communications life:
  • Interfaces with all your phone numbers
  • Routes calls from specific contacts or groups of contacts to specific phones (for instance, business contacts go to business phones)
  • Screens unknown callers with a prompt to provide name
  • Transcribes voicemail, then optionally forwards messages (in text & audio) to email and text
  • Plays specific outgoing messages for specific contacts or groups of contacts
  • Provides web-based and phone-based user interfaces

Then I configured my Gizmo VoIP phone in Google Voice. If you don't have a Gizmo account, you'll have to wait until Google re-launches the services. Other VoIP technology will work, but won't be integrated as nicely later on.

What's interesting about VoIP with Google Voice? Free calls. One way to place calls with Google Voice is to select a number from the Google Voice web interface. Google Voice calls me, then connects me with the number I selected on the webpage. When Google Voice calls me on VoIP, the phone call is free. So I can travel anywhere in the world where I can find Internet, and call anywhere in the US for free. Google is leveraging its Internet infrastructure to move the voice traffic market onto IP-based networks.

But wait, there's more. You can make free calls entirely on the Droid. I downloaded the sipdroid application to my Droid, and configured it with my Gizmo number (include the leading "1") and password, and set the proxy server to proxy01.sipphone.com. I'm still working out some details, but in theory I can select a contact from Google Voice on my Droid or on a website, and carry on the conversation on my Droid over VoIP. All for free. Look, mom, no voice line.

Of course, you probably can use most of the Google Voice features on an iPhone. I bet that Google will integrate Google Voice and VoIP functionality much more tightly on the Android platform, though. Making Android devices the mobile piece of an integrated search and communications platform is a smart strategy for Google. Even if Google releases the rumored Nexus One phone under their own brand, handset manufacturers will want to make Android-based devices in order to leverage Google's IP-based telephony infrastructure.

As it turns out, Apple and Google have developed their respective handset technologies to leverage their online strengths. iPhone always will surpass Android phones at using iTunes media distribution. As Google rolls out its Internet-based communications infrastructure, Android always will surpass iPhone at managing online communications.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Google Wave Collaboration Examples

I just got access to Google Wave. It's not too much fun to play with yet because I don't have enough friends or collaborators with Google Wave, so there's nobody to play with, and Google Wave is a collaboration platform at heart.

I posted about Google Wave when is was first announced. Since then, the Wave people have put together a lot of educational videos, and videos showing early applications are starting to show up, too. Here's an 8 minute overview of Google Wave (a reduction from the 80-minute video the Wave team posted when they announced Google Wave):



Some important Google Wave terms:

  • Wave - an instance of a collaboration created using Google Wave. I assume this is a log file contained time-stamped information that collaborators are entering and deleting. The file is shared somewhere on the web (at some point Google will let you host Wave on your own server).
  • Extension - an application collaborators include in a Wave. A simple Extension that you get in the default Wave client is a polling application that allows collaborators to vote ("yes", "no", and "maybe" are the choices). I assume that a Wave contains one or more instances of any Extension collaborators include in the Wave.
  • Robot - a collaborator that is an application (as distinct from an application that collaborators use, which is an Extension). One useful thing for Robots is to provide programmatic interfaces to other services. For instance, Google is developing a Robot called Twave (short for "twitter wave") that allows Wave users to post and read tweets, and filter for keywords. Twave isn't available as of this writing. Google is building a very cool Robot that will translate Wave conversations between collaborators. I can't wait for that one.
To get an idea of possible Wave-based applications, here is a video that shows a customer service application for Wave users to access a customer service cloud built on SalesForce.com:



This blog post describes an SAP collaborative technology called Gravity that interfaces with Google Wave. Here is another video that shows how employees from two companies that have merged might use Gravity and Google Wave to collaborate on combining business processes:



In the future, I think there will be Robots that will help with tasks like legal compliance or ISO 9000 compliance for organizations that use Google Wave.

I'm interested in using Google Wave for start-ups I'm working on (Garth!!!), as well as for the Moab Music Festival, a not-for-profit with collaborators spread all over the map. I'm figuring out what Extensions and Robots might help writers, musicians, photographers, and other creative types work together, too.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Spiraling Towards Moab

Every year, I go to the Moab Music Festival for my spiritual reawakening. I hope you can join me next year. I'll explain more about the Festival in upcoming posts. The first thing everyone asks me is: how do you get to Moab?

It can take as long to get to Moab as it takes to get to Europe, especially if a thunderstorm stops airplanes from landing in Denver or Salt Lake City. My first piece of advice: don't be in a hurry to get to Moab, or return home. Enjoy the journey.

Here are your basic travel options to go to Moab:

  • Fly to Canyonlands (CNY). The story they told me at the airport is that the U.S. Postal Service subsidizes one airline to carry mail into Moab, so there is always a commercial flight directly there. Currently, United makes the flight via Denver. In the past Salmon Air flew through Salt Lake City. The Thrifty Car Rental people will leave a car for you at the airport. It takes 20-30 minutes to drive into Moab.
  • Fly to Grand Junction (GJT). This is my favorite route. It's usually a lot cheaper than flying into Canyonlands/Moab directly. There are many rental car choices at the airport. The two-hour drive along the Colorado River is the best drive I've ever made. Stunning. Take I-70 West, then UT-128 to Moab. The only trick is to take the second Cisco exit off I-70 which is clearly marked as the route to Moab. The first Cisco exit works, too, but it's a long drive on a frontage road through a ghost town. Try to leave Grand Junction in time to drive through the Colorado River gorge during the day. These days you can get to GJT on United (via Denver), Delta (via Salt Lake City), and Frontier (via Phoenix). I usually plan on lunch at one of these airports on the way to GJT.
  • Fly to Salt Lake City (SLC). It takes about four hours to drive from Salt Lake City to Moab. You can take the Big Horn Shuttle. The shuttle's fine if you're meeting someone, but you might as well rent a car at SLC otherwise. The drive over Soldier Pass can be treacherous if weather conditions turn bad. I prefer the drive from Grand Junction because it's shorter and the Colorado River section is so overwhelming. However, the drive over the Wasatch Mountains and across the high desert on US-6 is plenty entertaining.
  • Fly to Denver (DEN). It's about six hours to drive from Denver to Moab. Just get on I-70 and drive to UT-128.
  • Drive from anywhere. After 9/11/2001, one of the musicians couldn't get a flight to the Moab Music Festival. He drove from Los Angeles. I've driven from San Francisco. On that ride, we spent a night at Lake Tahoe, then drove I-50 across Nevada. I've also driven from Crested Butte and Telluride. Almost any drive across this part of the United States is long and beautiful.
  • If you have a private plane, why not fly directly to CNY.
Once you get to Moab, there are many lodging and dining options. You'll want a car to drive to Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and to trails around Moab. If you're staying for a stretch, consider renting a condo. Then you can take advantage of the farmers market and butcher to cook up a few meals.

After you drive down UT-128, take a look at the opening of Austin Powers in Goldmember:



Safe travels!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Religious Globalization

When I think of the term globalization, I think of manufacturing moving to China, call centers moving to India, Internet communities, and lower prices at Walmart. As I researched my novel, I looked at the impact of globalization on both religion and art. Luckily, Miranda Hassett's book Anglican Communion in Crisis, How Episcopal Dissidents and Their African Allies Are Reshaping Anglicanism was published just as I started my research. She documents globalization in the Anglican church from the eyes of an anthropologist (who happens to be an Episcopalian). I've mentioned Hassett's book in an earlier post. In this post I want to look more specifically at the impact of globalization on the Anglican church.

st thomas episcopal church front

Religious globalization has some economic basis. A simple analysis of the Anglican communion before its 1998 Lambeth conference holds that the conservative American Episcopalians paid the African Anglican churches for their votes against homosexual ordination.

Hassett provides a much more nuanced look at the interactions of the African Anglican churches with both conservative and liberal Episcopal churches. The familiar aspects of globalization were in play. The advent of the Internet in the mid-1990s improved communications between the America and Africa, and low-cost airfare made it possible for church members to travel and share views in person.

On the American side, conservative Episcopalians looked for allies who agreed with their view that scripture forbids gay clergy. Feeling marginalized in the American Episcopal church, they found Anglicans in Rwanda and Uganda agreed with their views.

On the African side, clergy had to manage the colonial stigma attached to the church. Their decisions to work with the conservative American Episcopalians probably had more to do with the perception that supporting gay rights appeared as further acquiescence to American culture and politics than with their actual concern about homosexual bishops and priests. As a practical matter, in 1998 there was no significant gay rights movement in Rwanda or Uganda, no openly gay seminarians aspiring to priesthood. Embracing America's conservative Episcopalians and allowing conservative American churches to leave the American communion and join the African communion was great public relations for African churches that strove to establish an African identity.

Of course, the African churches did gain economically from the alliances that formed with conservative Episcopalians. Hassett's book shows, though, that money was not the driving force for the alliances.

Things have changed since 1998. At the recent Episcopal General Convention, the church voted to embrace homosexual and transgendered ordination and supported development of rites for same-sex marriages. The Episcopal church has demonstrated a capacity to allow widely divergent points of view. It was, for instance, the only American denomination that did not split during the Civil War even when members had opposing views on slavery.

Other religious persuasions might want to steal pages from the Anglican church's playbooks on globalization and diversity. It has shown how to keep its communion largely intact by accepting international alliances, and by allowing divergent beliefs within a medium of common prayer.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Travel Tips

Summer travel has kept me from posting much here lately, but not from discovering some new online travel services.

You're probably using the website of your favorite airline, which is exactly what they want you to do. Sometimes, though, you can find cheaper flights by comparison shopping. Sites like Travelocity, Expedia, and Orbitz allow you to compare prices from different carriers. If you're flexible on your flight dates, you may find a very cheap airline ticket.

A service I use frequently to sanity check flight prices is kayak.com. Kayak claims to scan airline prices continuously, and it appears to me to find cheaper itineraries that incorporate multiple airlines more than other services. Once you find the flights that best fits your schedule and budget constraints, Kayak provides a link to the carrier sites to purchase your tickets.

I learned about a couple of new online travel services this summer. If you want to fly somewhere and are willing to wait for the best ticket price, try yapta. After you enter your desired flight schedule and destination, yapta provides you updates as fares change (which they do frequently). You can use yapta to track hotel pricing at your desination, too.

After you purchase your tickets (or reserve a hotel room or car), try TripIt. I have to admit, this is my favorite new travel service this year. Once you set up your account, you forward email from airlines, hotels, and rental car companies to plans@tripit.com from your email account. TripIt parses the emails and fills in your calendar automagically. That's good enough for me to make TripIt a great service, but TripIt also simplifies trip planning for a groups of people, and let's friends track each other's travel. I also can track friends' travel in my calendar if I want.

Now that you've purchased your travel, automatically entered your itinerary in your calendar, and alerted all your friends, you'll want SeatExpert to find the best seat for your travel. I haven't tried this one yet, but my friend Brad likes it. If it can help me and my friends put seats together for our next flight, I'll be dancing in the aisles.

Here are some other travel tips:
  • Consider driving if your flight is an hour or less. Given the time it takes to get through airport security, it may not take much longer to drive. End-to-end from San Francisco to Los Angeles, it takes about two hours longer to drive. The big advantage is that you have a car to drive when you get there.
  • Consider taking the train. In the U.S., Amtrak is a great alternative, especially on the east coast where a four or five hour train ride takes you to the center of several major cities.
  • If you're renting a car, use sites like Travelocity to compare rates. Sometimes you can do even better by calling a nearby Enterprise office.
  • If you're booking a hotel, use sites like Travelocity or Hotels.com to find the best rate. Sometimes you can call a hotel directly and negotiate an even better rate.
  • When you're purchasing travel, you may get discounts because you're a member of AARP, AAA, or other associations or clubs. Look for places on the travel site to enter your membership information. Sometimes you have to contact your association for the code you need to enter.
Happy trails and safe travels for the rest of the summer. Let me know if you have other favorite online travel services.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Chatty Interviews

I've been interviewing friends on a variety of technology and art topics. Before I interviewed Lily Tung Crystal, I explained to Lily that I wanted to interview her using an online chat (Yahoo Messenger, Skype, AIM, name your poison). Lily, an oftentimes journalist, had never interviewed or been interviewed by chat. She told me she always interviewed by talking with her subject. I realized that maybe this was a new way of interviewing.

A long time ago, I worked in the news department of WDCR & WFRD radio. Most of my news broadcasts consisted of reading news stories from the teletype, but sometimes I got out of the station to investigate stories in the Hanover area. When sugar prices spiked, I went to the grocery store to ask shoppers about how higher sugar prices might impact them. Very exciting journalism, as you might imagine. Hanover wasn't spilling over with breaking news except every four years when the presidential primaries marched through New Hampshire.

What I've found by interviewing in the online chat medium versus the tape recorder medium is that I get less spontaneous responses from my subjects, but better thought out responses. If I were a news reporter or a criminal lawyer, I probably would miss the spontaneity of a verbal interview. For the interviews on this blog, though, I prefer well thought-out answers from the interviewees.

Here's a list of interviews I've done so far using online chat:
  • Brad Rubenstein: the latest on low-budget film production from the producer of Red Hook.
  • Chris Perez: the latest on Art Basel and the Venice Biennale from the owner of Ratio 3 gallery.
  • Peril Digest: the latest on 'zine culture from the (anonymous) publisher of Peril Digest.
  • Chris Chebegia: how Building Information Management technology enables the realization of very complex architecture.
  • Lily Tung Crystal: managing a "portfolio" career and the latest on Asian-American theater.

One big advantage of using online chat for an interview is that I can edit and annotate an interview with web links as the interviewee responds to my questions. A typical interview takes about 30 minutes, although slow typists may stretch that time. When the interview is over, I usually show the interviewee a first draft of the post in five or ten minutes to make sure there are no glaring problems.

I hope you're enjoying these interviews as much as I do. Online chat and all.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Virtual Life

Tom Boellstorff wrote Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. He describes virtual life in Second Life on the NPR show To the Best of Our Knowledge. If you connect to the audio on the program, go to 26:00 to hear his segment. It's about eight minutes long.

Boellstorff discusses many different activities on Second Life, from hanging out to getting (virtually) married, from running businesses (some people make $10,000 per month on Second Life) to learning foreign languages.

Virtual worlds are great for role play. Boellstorff talks about users who change their avatars' gender or race or age. Since users don't know the "real" user they are interacting with, according to Boellstorff, they get to know each other from the inside out rather than from the outside in. Just as relationships or emotions were intermediated by older technology such as, say, love letters, Second Life and other virtual worlds provide an immersive intermediation of emotions through role play.

While role play in virtual worlds lets users explore different sides of their personalities, it also has educational applications. This video shows an example of training for treating a heart attack victim in Second Life.



Linden Labs, the owner of Second Life, publishes economic statistics of activity. Nielson Games compares Second Life with other virtual worlds here. Second Life usage spans all ages and geographies, with older uses spending more time online than younger users. Linden Labs generates about $0.87 of revenue per hour used, and total hours run around 30 million per month.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Interview: The Complex Career of Lily Tung Crystal

Lily Tung Crystal lives many lives, as actor, journalist, teacher, blogger, and proponent of Asian theater. You may have seen her recently in readings of new musicals by Jay Kuo, or in Cabaret at the San Francisco Playhouse (she's on the right in the photo), or reporting from China on NPR.

I wanted to know more about how she balanced all these pieces of her life and kept her creative juices flowing. Our chat this morning gave me good advice on managing a "portfolio career", then took me on a tour of Asian-American theater and new works on the horizon.


Steven Damron: The first time I heard the term "portfolio career" was at breakfast with you. I love the term. How does it describe your work?

Lily Tung Crystal: I love it too.

I do a lot of different things. For most of my career I've been a journalist and producer, and then in 2005 that led me to media and communications training. But I'm also a professional actor and singer. I have many interests and passions, and honoring them all is important to me and enriches my life. But there are people out there that might judge someone like me for what they perceive as sacrificing depth for breadth. I, on the other hand, still believe in the idea of a Renaissance person. Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, after all, did many different things. They were artists, engineers. Michelangelo was primarily a sculptor and had very little experience in fresco when he was commissioned to do the Sistine Chapel.

At times I hid my artistic endeavours from people in the media industry where I made most of my living. But then I went to an interview with the owner of Make Your Point Communications, a boutique communications training company, and when I left, the owner Kraemer Winslow said to me, "You are a perfect fit for us because you have a portfolio career." And I thought, "Eureka! That is what I have." She really valued my plethora of experience in disparate, yet related fields (they're all media and communications related). And her positive perception of all that I did encouraged me to embrace my identities.

I realize that my portfolio career, like a stock portfolio, actually helps me in today's economy. I have a myriad of clients hiring me for varying reasons. It's a good way to make a living, and I'm never bored. all my interests and fields support each other, so that I have the time and means to pursue what I like.

SD: Looking at your website, you still separate out your acting from your journalism, but they coexist on the same page. Is that how you manage the two sides of your career now? Is it marketing, or do you feel like they are really different sides of yourself?

LTC: It really depends on the situation.

SD: Do you have clients who see you in one way or the other?

LTC: There have been times when i'm fearful that people in the writing/journalism world would find my acting/singing "trivial." But through the years, I've found that I haven't put enough faith in people. Most people admire it and sometimes even envy what I do. And I've also found that if a potential employer or client does not respect my artistic side, I probably don't want to work with that person anyway.

After embracing my two sides, I've also learned that they support each other. As a journalist/producer, I mostly write about the arts. In fact, in 2003, I was awarded a prestigious one-year arts journalism fellowship by the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University. Being an actor enriches my arts knowledge as a writer, and vice-versa. I recently received a grant from Theatre Communications Group to write for American Theatre Magazine. One reason they chose me is because they liked that I was an actor and a writer. The editors there feel any working knowledge of the theatre only enhances a theatre writer's skills. And I love it because I can support the theatre, about which I'm so passionate.

Finally, being an actor helped me immensely in becoming a good media and communications trainer. Skills are skills. They're interconnected, and they all enrich each other.

SD: Any tips you'd like to give the readers on managing a portfolio career?

LTC: I've been a freelancer all my life, and many people ask me how to sustain a freelance career. I always have three pieces of advice:

1) Try to have a good cushion of savings. Freelancing can get stressful and nervewracking, especially when you don't have work for a month or two. But if you have, say, six months of savings, you can relax more and keep from freaking out if there's a slow period (like now).

2) Grow a good client base with at least 3 or 4 regular clients. That way when one client doesn't call, the other two or three may come through with work. Again, like a stock portfolio.

3) My third piece of advice has to do with having a portfolio career. Do many different things and do them WELL. The more valuable talents you offer, the more clients you can maintain and the easier it is to find work. I write news. Iyour current profile pics matches your current status perfectly, like serendipity or synchronicity or something. I copywrite. I produce. I media train. I act. I sing. This helps me build a client base.

Finally, embrace all your talents. Knowing how to do many things is something to celebrate! Many people stifle their passions, but life is too short to NOT do what you love. I believe in the power of optimism and putting energy into what you love. If you put energy into your passion and work hard, the universe will reward you with work in that field.

SD: You bring an actor's eye to any journalistic work on the theater. What theater are you excited about right now?

LTC: It's a hard time for the theatre right now, so I especially admire the theatres that are doing new, cutting edge work. It's harder to find audiences that will take a chance on new work, as opposed to a traditional piece they know they will like. The Magic Theater, ACT, and Berkeley Rep always have an interesting mix of work. But I really admire smaller theatres like Shotgun Players and SF Playhouse who are always doing innovative pieces despite their smaller budgets.

I just did a story for American Theatre Magazine about Shotgun Players' upcoming production of writer/director Jon Tracy's "The Farm." It's an intriguing adaptation of George Orwell's "Animal Farm" that's written in rap, hip hop, and spoken word.

Finally, I get excited about playwrights and producers who are creating more Asian-American theatre. There isn't enough material for Asian-American artists, so it's always great when a composer/producer comes forward with good writing for actors like me. One such person is Jay Kuo, who wrote "Insignificant Others," "Homeland" (now called "Worlds Apart") and his new musical "Allegiance." He deals with politics and race in his work and writes strong characters. Playing Mrs. Park in "Worlds Apart" is such a joy for me. She is a Korean immigrant mother that makes you laugh and cry throughout the musical, and an actor can't ask for more than that. "Allegiance" stars George Takei and centers on the Japanese-American internment during WW2 - good, heady, influential stuff. And the music is beautiful.

SD: I'm excited about Jay's work, too. It's great to see good roles written for Asian actors. What are the challenges for you and other Asian actors finding roles?

LTC: If you look at Hollywood today, there just aren't that many Asian-American faces on the screen. Many people just don't think about us much. I'm of two minds about it. The market is getting better - there is more color-creative casting, meaning if a character is not race-specific, directors are more open to casting Asian-Americans. But oftentimes if a character is non race specific, directors think of hiring a Caucasian first. They often don't think of hiring an Asian-American actor unless it's an Asian-specific character. It varies from theatre to theatre. Some theatres have that sensibility; others don't.

A good thing is that there are writers like Jay Kuo and Lauren Yee who are creating more work for Asian-American actors. As more of them come forward, there will be more work for us. There is also a new Bruce Lee musical that's being developed in New York right now.

I feel that Asian-Americans are in many ways experiencing what African-American actors experienced 20, 30 years ago. There is still an inequity in terms of African-American representation in entertainment, but there are more black actors on stage and on screen than Asian-American. A lot of people don't think about that. Part of it is our responsibility as well. We have to keep working hard and supporting our own work so that when opportunities come up we do good work.

My eyes were opened one day by filmmaker Justin Lin. From a story I wrote:
“Many Asian-Americans aren’t interested in their own artistic work,” notes Lin. “At the Sundance Film Festival I went into a studio marketing meeting. They had pie charts, and I saw slices labeled African-American, Caucasian and Latino. When I asked, ‘Where are the Asian-Americans?’ one executive said, ‘Look, Asian Americans put a lot of money into the community, but their spending patterns are white, so we consider them Caucasian.’ We’ll go see a white actor in a film; we’ll go see an Adam Sandler movie. Studio executives don’t think about racial politics, they think about making money. African- Americans will support their own films, so studios make specifically African-American films because they know they will make at least $7-8 million in one weekend. That’s where I see a glimmer of hope. If 10 percent of the Asian-American population came to an Asian-American movie, film executives would see a market there and start paying attention.”

SD: You mentioned to me earlier that you were interested in starting an Asian-American theater in San Francisco. Are you working on that?

LTC: Hopefully one day it will be an Asian-American theatre, but right now I'm trying to organize an Asian-American actors network. This would be a grassroots group of Asian-American actors, and it would offer acting workshops and business seminars so that Asian-American actors could get training and support and share their experiences in the acting industry. The longterm plan would be to grow this group into a production company.

I was recently one of five Bay Area actors to receive a Titan award from Theatre Bay Area - a $2500 grant that goes towards my acting career. Part of this money will go towards the founding of this network.

SD: Final thoughts on Asian-American theater?

LTC: I do feel things are getting better, but we as Asian-American artists have to be vigilant in creating material for ourselves, supporting each other, and working hard. I may not write plays, but I support Asian-American playwrights. Sometimes, I witness Asian-American artists saying that it's hard to maintain our skills because there is less opportunity to do so. That is true. But we still have the responsibility to work hard and maintain our skills as much as possible. If we don't, no one else is going to help us get out there.

And to theatres, directors and casting directors out there: hire us!

SD: Thanks for your time this morning! You have great insights into managing a complex career and American-Asian theater.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Internet Collaboration

Last week, I blogged about collaborative video making on the Internet. This week I'm blogging a quick survey of current Internet collaboration services. Internet collaboration is a kind of division of labor, where multiple people work on specialized tasks to accomplish an output.

One well known collaborative project is Wikipedia, an encyclopedia of knowledge written by individual contributors. You can build your own Wiki of information for a project or a business using open source TikiWiki software.

Which brings us to open source software, another well known example of collaboration on the Internet. The Linux operating system is perhaps the best know open source product. Source Forge is the best known online service for coordinating open source projects. Along with Youtube, it's possible for software developers to create a software product, then show users how to use it. Here's an example of a video that shows how to use free open source software products to create a website:



There are plenty of other collaborative services available on the Internet. Here are some examples that show the breadth of services and business models used in Internet collaboration.
  • Amazon Mechanical Turk. A marketplace that matches tasks (called "Human Intelligence Tasks") with people who will perform them. For example, today you can earn $0.10 for performing the task "Write Information Technology News & Articles One Paragraph Abstracts."
  • Answer Sites (e.g., Yahoo! Answers, Amazon Askville). These sites help users answer questions that are difficult to answer using Internet search engines or sites like Wikipedia. One of the questions today: "Any ideas to make a boring locker a pretty locker?" Unfortunately, these sites are usually not useful for complex questions that require, say, market research.
  • User Survey Sites (e.g., Survey Monkey, Keynote). These services help website publishers collect survey information from users, often to improve the functionality of the website.
  • Dolores Labs. A start-up similar to Amazon Mechanical Turk, but with services to process more complex tasks with higher quality control.
  • Extraordinaries. A not-for-profit that distributes tasks to skilled volunteers via cell phone. Tasks are short, and include activities like translating documents and giving advice. With phone cameras, it may be possible to deploy a sensor network to solve simple problems like, "where are all the potholes?" Here is their video:

There are other collaborative services in which users solve problems, often to help identify images and often as part of a game or security check where it may not be obvious to the user that he or she is participating in a collaborative activity.
  • Google Image Labeler. A game where players type in keywords to describe an image. Players score points by matching keywords, while Google scores points by labeling images.
  • Clickworker. A service NASA used to categorize space images with help from users.
  • CAPTCHA. Captcha systems verify users are people and not bots by presenting text that is easy for people to read and difficult for computers to parse. When CAPTCHA is used to present words an OCR system can't recognize to people logging in — essentially creating a human OCR — it is called reCAPTCHA.
This quick survey of Internet collaboration shows the variety of ways tasks can be allocated to groups of people.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Collaborative Video

I wrote last month about performance art on Youtube.

For your summer viewing pleasure, here are a couple more collaborative video pieces that have found their way to me. The first one is a promotion for a song from a Japanese group called Sour:
This music video was shot for Sour's 'Hibi no Neiro' (Tone of everyday) from their first mini album 'Water Flavor EP'. The cast were selected from the actual Sour fan base, from many countries around the world. Each person and scene was filmed purely via webcam.

It's smart marketing because it draws in fans, gets tons of views (over 665,000), and it's a fun video.



You can buy their music on Amazon, but it's imported and expensive!

Then there is the short animation called Live Music. According to the New York Times:
[The] upstart company Mass Animation kicked off a project many people in Hollywood thought was laughable: making a five-minute animated film using the Wikipedia model, with animators from around the world contributing shots, and Facebook users voting on their favorites.
Yair Laundau produced the film with sponsorship from Intel. The entire project is coordinated through Facebook:
The tools and 3-D models that animators will need to collaborate on this project including a limited duration version of Autodesk Maya 3D Animation software are provided, and can be accessed through the Mass Animation application on Facebook built by Aniboom.
Here is the trailer for the film due out this fall:



Next week I'll write more about Internet collaboration. This is the tip of the iceberg.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Interview: Building Information

Building Information Management (BIM) systems allow building contractors to manage all the information about a building project. Without BIM, complicated structures like Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall are nearly impossible to build. BIM also improves the economics of building less complex buildings.

disney hall exterior close up 5

Chris Chebegia studied Construction Engineering Management and now manages (BIM) systems for building contractors. I chatted with Chris about how he uses BIM on construction projects.


Steven Damron: How long have you been using BIM?

Chris Chebegia: I personally am not a modeler or designer. I manage modelers during the construction phase of a project, and this is my second large scale commercial project. Four years total experience for me.

SD: What was your favorite project?

CC: My previous experience with BIM was at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and I would call that my favorite project to date, with or without BIM. However, BIM made it an extraordinary project to be part of.

SD: Describe how you work with the modelers and designers.

CC: My experience has been in "design assist" - where the design is partially complete, and the model is being used to check the coordination of the design. Typically, the different disciplines of the design team do not coordinate their drawings through the traditional design process. BIM modeling makes uncoordinated design stick out like a throbbing sore thumb, as you see the design busts or conflicts graphically when the different design disciplines are combined and overlayed in the model. We then fix the conflicts prior to construction, thus saving potentially millions of dollars and months off completion dates for large projects.

SD: So BIM helps pull together all the information from all the parties in the building process?

CC: Correct.

SD: Did Frank Gehry get directly involved in the Disney Concert Hall?

CC: Yes. And Frank Gehry was one of the first architects to use the modeling and BIM process. He is not much of a computer guy himself, but he definitely supported the use of the digital model to convey his design intent. He adopted and modified for his use an aerospace engineering modeling program called CATIA, which had never been used for architectural purposes. I believe that program has served to better the traditional BIM models and processes that are more commonly used in architecture and construction industries, like AutoDesk (AutoCad, Revit, and other 3D programs).

SD: I imagine many of Gehry's buildings would be impossible to building without BIM. How does BIM help in less complex projects?

CC: That is correct. I was told that without the technology of 3D modeling, the Concert Hall could not have been constructed to the accuracy of the design intent. We actually set large steel members in place at Concert Hall based on the laser coordinates set in the field and lined up with cross-hairs that we established on the beams.

Regarding more simple structures, the modeling program helps to coordinate MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) like a dream, because you see all members to scale, in 3D.

SD: There must be a certain size or cost level below which the overhead of BIM is too expensive.

CC: Modeling may not be as cost effective for smaller projects. It just depends on the owners needs. For example, we are up to renew our licenses here on seven workstations, and we are looking at more than $30K in software licenses alone!

SD: What do you see in the future for contractors building large structures? Can BIM get better?

CC: My collegues and I would tell you that BIM absolutely is the future of design and construction. There are even machines now that download BIM data to survey equipment that can actually robotically layout reference points in the field! This equipment is still being tested and perfected, and many contractors don't trust it yet, but it is to design and construction what the Internet has become to the world of communication.

Regarding improving on BIM, yes, there are many things that still need to be improved, and integrated between the design side and the construction side. One major issue is getting City approvals on changing models. There needs to be a way for a BIM model to be saved, marked as a "approval copy", and sent to the authority having jurisdiction for record. There also needs to be a way for inspectors to track changes in the model, not just on printed docuements. These are things that involve bureaucracy and will take time to change. But the software has to be there first.

SD: You always seem very excited about your work, like a kid with a new lego set. What is most fun about your job?

CC: I really enjoy solving problems. There is always a new issue to overcome on a construction site. You can never anticipate what a day will bring.

SD: What was today's issue?

CC: Today the fire marshall was here and not happy with the egress (which changes hourly). So we had to revise our work plan for the rest of the week, re-strategize, and move on. Then the chief inspector was here asking why we did something different than the way the drawings showed it, so we explained, and have to re-model and submit details for City approval.

SD: I've never had those problems at my work. Is there anything else you want to tell the readers about BIM?

CC: Ha! I will say this: Attention! If you want to make a ton of money, travel the world, and call your own shots (as long as you don't mind long days staring at dual screens), then get some AutoCad and 3D modeling training and become a modeler. Talk about high demand! Those guys are at the top of the world right now.

SD: Thanks very much for your time, Chris. See you at a large construction project near me soon!

CC: You are welcome for a first class tour of Tivoli Village in Las Vegas whenever you wish. See you soon!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Hamburger Eyes

Late notice, but you can catch the opening night of Hamburger Eyes at 111 Minna Gallery at 7pm tonight.

Hamburger Eyes Photo Magazine is based in San Francisco and published tri-annually by Burgerworld Media. The magazine features black and white photography with the aim to revitalize the sensation of photography as a craft, as well as a tool to record and document. The show celebrates the release of Hamburger Eyes Issue 013.

According to the gallery:
The shows title, “EXODUS” evokes not only the feelings of mass migration, but of transmogrification. Hamburger Eyes Photo Magazine, subtitled “The continuing story of Life on Earth”, has dedicated their pages to the study of the human condition. And, in this exhibit they intend to display their visions of transcendence from past, present, and future-kind. It is a mission of containing time by setting it free, thus shall begin the EXODUS.
If you can't make it tonight, the show runs at the 111 Minna Gallery through August 1, 2009.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Interview: Peril Digest

The zine world is full of small handmade publications catering to specific audiences. The Internet has fostered even more zines since publishers can print to pdf or doc files, and then email to a distribution list. Some zines have turned into websites or blogs.

I had a rare opportunity to chat with the creator of Peril Digest, a zine full of manly adventure. The editor, a friend who shall remain anonymous, draws and distributes Peril Digest on the side.



WARNING: most of the links below will take you to very adult sites.



Steven Damron: How long have you been producing Peril Digest?

Peril Digest: Two years.

SD: What was your inspiration?

PD: The lack of stories to accompany the plethora of exciting male (read: sexy) illustration on the interwebs.

SD: Were there other zines that you followed before you started peril digest?

PD: Only a few: Omeliscosmos web site featuring male transformation stories ... it was more of a website than a zine...guys like Pat Fillion, Bo Otokono, Kalabro, Iceman, Gengoroh Tagame, Juan Carlos Soto ... these guys were also looking for a way to share their creative juices and stories and we all sort of hooked up over the years. A lot of the guys simply creted blogs of sites, but I felt like what I was going for was more of a magazine format which i always found was more appealing in a sort of collectible thing, a sort of artifact stating that "I am here".

SD: Early zines were published, almost like pamphlets. Now most zines look like they are either episodic websites or distributions of pdf files.

PD: Yeah, and in their way they have a sort of low brow appeal! Like the piers had here in the west village in the 70s and 80s. I do think that Bob Mizer had kind of perfected the whole zine thing LONG before anybody with [his] A.M.G. and Physique Pictorial.

SD: You draw on paper and then scan your drawings for distribution?

PD: I draw, scan, write, and share the zine as a word doc.

SD: How do you find your readers?

PD: Mostly folks request my zine through three sites: Y!, the yaoi art site, Eka's portal, a "vore" art site, and Fur Affinity, a furry site with a very open art policy. I have pages at these site with examples of my work, but I choose to share the body of my drawings and stories with folks who go that additional step of emailing me and requesting my work, stating their age for the sake of keeping my largely adult material from falling into the hands of minors. I also put notice on Deviantart.

SD: What was in your latest edition?

PD: My most recent issue contained three stories: one was a sort of jungle piece featuring a recurring character, a botanist who. while defending the forest and nature, has some sexy encounters with plants, wildlife and people. He is a classic nerd-hero with a tan ... you can see the appeal, and I love to use the stories as a way of searching the internet to explore places I have never seen. In the most recent story, the botanist was in Mexico. It involved native peoples, symbols and landscape. Writing in general for me is a sort of vacation of the mind to places I'd like to see for myself (and perhaps sleep with some of the people there.)

SD: Did the botanist get to sleep with anyone?

PD: Well, it is true that he did, but there is quite a lot more going on: I like to spend copious pages describing his arrival at the airport, his journey into the jungle, to develop the character. Someone once said that museums were a sort of "embroidery of the imagination". I like that phrase because I feel that dimensionality even in one's sexual fantasies is key to fulfillment.

SD: I was wondering if he slept with anyone because you said that your zine contained mostly adult material. Does he arrive at the airport naked?

PD: Naked in the biblical sense?

SD: I suppose. I guess what I'm getting at is, what is the nature of the adult content?

PD: Transformation, capture, and redemtion ... it's an old trick ... in fact in American literature, it is the basis of the first pieces written in the new world: "a story of captivity among the natives".

SD: I know in your professional life, you deal with the interpretation of native culture all the time. Does that influence your work on the Peril Digest?

PD: Most correctly so. Certainly when one "goes native" it opens a whole pantheon of opportunistic expierience ... in the aforementioned narratives the sexual aspect of the tales was always referred to in an obscure manner, I am simply taking the next step, removing age old taboos against sexual encounters with the foreign, then alien, the cross species ... in some instances.

SD: We talked about influences already. Are there zines you've seen coming out that you like now?

PD: I'd have to say that Japanese Yaoi and Manga mags seem to be the most daring/edgy as far as exploring sexual variance, political and stereotypical mores and the like. Sunyapei Nakata, Tagame, Sadao Hasegawa, Ebiasu, these guys had and have a real enthusiasm for breaking boundaries and shattering inhibitions.

SD: What's next for Peril Digest?

PD: Well, I am currently working on a rather larger piece that involves a young man caught between his inborn talents and gifts and the whirlygig fates that place him in various situations and sexual circumstances. His openness to the tides of chance seem to be carrying him along on a sort of virtual wave. That wave, be it positive or negative, is one of self-preservation, experience, and pleasure. Not too far from what one might experience, given the absurd and oddly humorous world presented to us every day in the news, on the interweb, or on the bus. Since I am a hobbyist, the unfolding of the story, not yet complete, is also subject to a vast array of personal encounter.

SD: Anything else you'd care to let the readers know about zines and Peril Digest?

PD: Behind every pair of eyes one can find another universe. It is only by discounting that fact that we diminish the true vastness of experience. Although it may be convenient to edit out that which we intuit, it may not be altogether prudent :-)

SD: Do you want to give out an email address for people who want to read Peril Digest?

PD: meninperil@gmail.com. A caveat: Peril Digest is a work of utter folly, it is FULL of ideas and circumstances that run directly counter to the norms of western society. Peril Digest and its characters are ALL adults.

SD: I think that's true with most zines, isn't it?

PD: My guess is there are many exceptions to that fact.

SD: Thanks for your time!

Writing about Works of Art

The novel I'm writing is about an ex-priest who starts an art gallery, so I have to write lots of scenes about art with lots of works of art. In some ways, the art pieces are like characters. They have physical characteristics. The main character interacts with them. They have to be believable. Did I mention I have to write about a lot of art work?

Art critics describe art all the time. If you ever find yourself with my predicament and need inspiration for writing about art work, imagined or not, pick up some art books. I mentioned Albert Elsen's excellent textbook The Purposes of Art in another blog post. An art book Nawaaz Ahmed loaned (well, now gave) me is a more casual look at contemporary art called The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa by Michael Kimmelman. Whereas Elsen looks at art from a social and economic purpose point of view, Kimmelman looks at art in relation to his (and, by extension, our) life.

Here's a description Kimmelman wrote about Ray Materson's art:
... Ray Materson sewed portraits of ballplayers in New England. As a nine-year-old Little Leaguer in 1963, he idolized the great New York Yankee team of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, and Whitey Ford. Thirty years later, Materson was in prison in Connecticut, serving a fifteen-year sentence for armed robbery. He took up embroidery, of all things, improvising with the rim of a plastic plate to make an embroidery hoop. Materson embroidered with unraveled sock and shoelace threads, using scraps of boxer shorts for backing. He sewed sports logos, flags, a group portrait of his prison baseball team, but most strikingly, pictures of his former Yankee heroes. They're each about three inches by two inches, smaller than baseball cards, 1,200 stitches per square inch: miniature portraits of amazing delicacy, each of which took him about fifty hours to complete. He embroidered a picture of Mantle swinging for the upper deck; Tony Kubek scooping up a grounder at shortstop, the bleachers behind him packed with fans; and Clete Boyer crouching at third base, baked by sunlight, casting a shadow toward the outfield. In Materson's embroidered memories, it remained 1963. The Yankees were still facing the Dodgers in the World Series, which they hadn't yet lost, and Materson was not yet in prison but nine years old and playing in the Little League on a perfect autumn afternoon that seemed like it would last forever. Materson, a lost soul, became an artist not despite his difficult circumstances but because of them.
Kimmelman paints a complete portrait of the artist and the artist's relationship to his work. The short story in this paragraph makes the artist come to life through the description of the process of making embroidery.

The Accidental Masterpiece helped me find better ways to describe art work. It also informed some of the ways my main character looks at art in relationship to his own life. While you're anxiously awaiting the publication of my book, read The Accidental Masterpiece.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Wind Power

As I was driving along Interstate 5 last Friday, I listened to Science Friday on NPR. Listen to this program for the latest on wind power.

windmills over i-580 2

Highlights:

  • Wind power could provide several times the power consumed today worldwide
  • Capital costs are higher for wind turbines than coal and natural gas
  • Fuel costs for wind (free) are much lower than coal and natural gas
  • Investment are required in the electric distribution grid to move power from windy areas to large populations
  • In the short term, more efficient consumption of energy may have a greater impact on reducing fossil fuel use than conversion to alternative energy sources

I recommend listening to the program for specifics. It's about ten minutes of audio. The guests, Revis James, Director of the Energy Technology Assessment Center at the Electric Power Research Institute, and Michael McElroy, Professor of Environmental Sciences at Harvard University, present good practical trade-offs and theoretical analysis of deploying wind turbines.

When I turned off I-5 to I-580 to return to San Francisco, I looked at all the wind turbines above the freeway. It would be great if we figure out how to harness all that free power.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Two-for-One Laptops

My friend Jim told me about VirtualBox a year ago. I didn't think much about it at the time, but I downloaded it for my laptop, and then I downloaded it on my desktop. Now, inside the VirtualBox, I run Ubuntu Linux on my netbook (Windows XP) that I carry with me on trips, and on my iMac (Mac OS X) at home. All this for free! Why, you might ask, does this matter?

A couple of weeks ago, I met a guy who's at a virtualization start-up. He told me about a large law firm in Silicon Valley whose lawyers like to work away from the office, probably on beaches or in ski chalets. Their problem? When these lawyers traveled, they had to carry two laptops, one from their IT department with all the approved applications and security, the other with all their Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, photo, video, game, and other personal stuff.

Then someone in the IT department figured out what I figured out at home. They could deploy virtual desktops that run on the lawyers' laptops. Problem solved! The lawyers now carry a laptop of their choice (well, it has to have x86 chips inside) with all their personal stuff on it, and run a virtual machine that does what their second IT-issue laptop used to do. It's a two-for-one laptop. The lawyers are happy to carry one laptop instead of two. The IT department is happy because they buy fewer machines and deploy the same the apps and security as before.

You'd think VMware would clean up in this market. I think the market is still fragmented enough for new entrants.

In fact, companies like MokaFive and Doyenz are entering the virtualization market with different technologies and market focus. On the technology side, there are differences in how much of the virtual software goes on a server (so-called cloud computing) versus on the end-user device. On the market focus side, all these companies are approaching different verticals with different packages of solutions. One solution you've probably known about for a while, but never thought of in this context, is the virtual PBX offered as a service from RingCentral and Google Voice (formerly GrandCentral).

Cloud computing may be one of the reasons Oracle is buying Sun. Virtualization in Solaris has a huge performance advantage over VMWare's virtualization using hyperviser. According to Forbes,
What Solaris offers IT is a top-to-bottom engineered approach to virtualization where the hardware, the hypervisor, the OS and the ZFS file system are all designed to deliver optimal performance and manageability. Solaris Containers are a lightweight but powerful virtualization option with very low processing overhead (2% vs. about 20% for a hypervisor). Linux will get there but at a slower pace as the multiple parties involved negotiate with each other.
Of course, Oracles also gets VirtualBox as part of the deal. That tells me there will lots more competition and new products in the virtualization space soon.

But, why wait? You can do it all in the safety of your home today.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Music To Write To

Writing means spending time by myself. It's not lonely, with all my characters around to entertain me. Sometimes I play music while I write to keep the party going.

Not all music works for me. As much as I love Ella Fitzgerald singing Cole Porter, for instance, it's hard for me to hear the words I'm writing when a fine singer is singing someone else's fine words.

Heavy Metal is totally out. First of all, I hate the boring predictability and drippy testosterone of the genre — distracting and clichéd, which is the opposite of how I want my writing to sound. Second, my next door neighbor plays the worst examples of it at full volume. That means I either need ear plugs when I write, or something I can play to drown out the heavy bass.

For some reason, what I like mostly when I write is tango. Oddly, when I spoke to Nawaaz Ahmed about his writing time, he said the same thing. Tango is best for writing.

Maybe the inspiration was a concert of tango music last year at the Moab Music Festival. Paquito D'Rivera and Marco Granados organized a program called Buenos Aires Now, Tango after Piazzola. The program featured Pablo Aslan (bass), Fernando Otero (piano), Raul Jaurena (bandoneón), and Emilio Solla (piano). Most of the musicians had composed works on the program.

emilio solla, raul jaurena, pablo aslan, paquito d'rivera, marco granados

I've heard Granados a few times. Although his Music of Venezuela album is a treat, it's based on the Joropo and other traditional Venezuelan music — not the tango.

Aslan wrote a dissertation on tango music, and his album Buenos Aires Tango Standards reflects his thorough understanding of the form. It is a great blend of traditional tango with modern musical elements.

I listen to Solla's Sentido and Conversas albums a lot when I'm writing. Solla writes in a very modern jazz idiom while his rhythms are tango sexy. If you have trouble finding them on Amazon, you can find them from Solla's European distributor. Here's a video of Solla playing at his Tango Jazz Project two years ago:



Of course, I sneak in some other music. For some reason Prokofiev Violin Sonatas work well. Colored Field by Aaron Jay Kernis works, too. I don't know why.

I find that when I listen to well written music, it inspires me to make my words better. What's best is I like all this music when I'm not writing, too. Hope this helps when you need something to liven up your writing parties.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Interview: Art Basel

Chris Perez runs Ratio 3 gallery in San Francisco. Ratio 3 has a booth at Art Basel this year. Art Basel and the Venice Biennale are the must see events in the art world.

If you want to know the latest in the art world — the buzz from Art Basel and the Venice Biennale — you'll want to hear from someone at ground zero. Here is my interview with Chris after a week showing at Art Basel:


Steven Damron: Is this the first time Ratio 3 has shown at Art Basel?

Chris Perez: Yes. This is our first time participating at Art Basel in Switzerland.

SD: How did you get invited?

CP: You have to apply, and then if the selection committee approves your application, you are invited, but you have to pay. All galleries that are admitted into the fair can also apply to Art Unlimited.

SD: What is Art Unlimited?

CP: It is a curated section, and hosts some of the largest installation and works. It's really quite amazing and it is only up for seven days. They must pour hundreds of thousands into producing it.

SD: Did Ratio 3 apply to Art Unlimited?

CP: No. Since it was our first year, I thought I should just focus on our booth.

SD: What was in Art Unlimited that you liked?

CP: I liked the Mel Bochner piece. And there was a piece by a Chinese artists about the people starving in Africa that was quite moving.

SD: You're showing work by an artist you represent, Jordan Kantor, right?

CP: Correct. We are participating in the Statements section of the fair. Statements is for younger galleries presenting a solo project by an artist that has not had a solo museum show.

SD: But Kantor has had museum shows, right?

CP: Yes, his work has been included in two museum group exhibitions, SFMoMA and the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

SD: Why did you decide to show at Art Basel? How is it important for Ratio 3?

CP: It is extremely important in terms of context and exposure. There are lots of art fairs, but Art Basel is the most important and the most selective. Galleries have to wait years before they can get in, if they ever do.

SD: What have you seen that excites you at Art Basel this year?

CP: At the fair?

SD: We can start there.

CP: Moriceau & Myrzk drawings at Air de Paris. Doug Aitken video at 303.

SD: Are these from younger galleries like Ratio 3?

CP: No! These are established galleries. I liked the Seb Patane video at Fonti who are also in Statements.

SD: Since the last Art Basel, Lehman Brothers went out of business and the economic markets melted down. Is there any talk about that at the fair?

CP: Of course! Sales are much much lower than in the past. It took a while for the economic meltdown to touch the art market but it has certainly bit it hard. But some galleries are surprised by how much they have sold. Of course they are offering good discounts on work

SD: Has this translated into lower attendance? Who have you spotted at the show?

CP: Fewer American collectors, but the fair is always packed with people just looking.

SD: Do all the art stars show up at Art Basel?

CP: Of course! It follows on the heels of the Venice Biennale opening, so everyone is here. John Baldessari, Maurizio Cattelan.

SD: I was going to ask you about the Venice Biennale. Was there any buzz from people traveling from Venice to Basel?

CP: Yes. People seemed to like Bruce Nauman and the Elmgreen and Dragset installation the most.

SD: Any trends you're picking up from your trip to Basel? Any emerging concepts, materials, artists?

CP: Young artists drawing on found photos, lots of modernist looking abstract geometric work.

SD: I read one commentator raving about Gerhard Richter's new photo-based work. Did you get to see that?

CP: Nope. There is so much to see. It's quite overwhelming. I also need to spend as much time in my booth as I can.

SD: What events did you like outside the fair?

CP: There are lots of parties and openings, but I wasn't up to going. Liste, the young art fair is good, but the Il Tempo del Postino was amazing!!!

SD: What was it?

CP: It is an exhibition organized and conceived by Hans Ulrich Obrist. But it is an exhibition that occupies time instead of space. It was essentially a three hour art opera. Doug Aitken's piece for Il Tempo del Postino was phenomenal. It was essentially an a capella piece sung by southern auctioneers. Really good!

SD: The fair has one more day. Anything I should see if I'm there?

CP: The Beyler and Schaulager. I heard they are amazing spaces.

SD: And can you say what's next at Ratio 3 when you return?

CP: Safe Word!!! It's a group show inspired by our neighbors, kink.com.

SD: I plan to be at the opening! Anything else you want to tell the readers?

CP: If you care about contemporary art, now is really a good time to support your local galleries. People love to visit galleries and art fairs, but none of it can exist if people don't participate and buy.

SD: Thanks for your time, Chris!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Raquel, Is That You Inside Me?

My generation grew up watching advanced medicine on Star Trek and The Fantastic Voyage. Here's a look at the future from 1966:



Forty-three years later, sans Raquel Welch, researchers from the Medical Robotics Laboratory at the Israel Institute of Technology will be showing off a microrobot called ViRob, a 1mm diameter device that can crawl through vessels and cavities. From MedGadget:
ViRob measures 1 millimeter in diameter and 14 mm in its entirety was developed in the lab of Prof. Shoham in the Medical Robotics Laboratory at the Israel Institute of Technology. The robot moves using an external electromagnetic ignition system, stimulated by an electromagnetic field with frequency and volume that do not agitate the body, enabling it to maneuver in different spaces and surfaces within diverse viscous fluids. The vibration created by the magnetic field propels the robot forward, as the tiny arms protruding from a central body grip the vessel wall. A basic prototype of the ViRob, which can move as fast as 9 mm per second, has been developed thusfar.
Here's a video of the ViRob robot (spoiler alert: no special effects):





If you're more impressed with real products than lab technology, try the da Vinci Surgical System, a remote controlled robotic surgeon coming to a hospital near you soon. Here's the da Vinci trailer (spoiler alert: real blood):





I don't think patients want their surgeons in another building, or country, but the implications for outsourced surgeons are clear.

In Ontario, Canada, the Shouldice Hospital performs only hernia repairs.
Shouldice Hospital has been dedicated to the repair of hernias for over 55 years. The trained team of Shouldice Hospital surgeons have repaired more than 300,000 hernias with a greater than 99% success rate.
Specialization at Shouldice has accomplished what specialization generally accomplishes: far better results. Assuming all the communications are stable between the doctor's console and the operating robot, I would prefer a hernia repair from a surgeon at Shouldice on the other end of a da Vinci System than a local surgeon. That's not quite true. Shouldice may have cleaner operating rooms, better staffed recovery rooms, or other factors that improve its success rate. But chances are, everything else equal, I would get better results from a Shouldice surgeon. How quickly we see outsourced surgeons depends on whether improved success rates of remote specialized surgeons outweigh the cost of the da Vinci Surgical System.

All that science fiction medicine I watched growing up is turning out better than I imagined.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Error of Emission

Today, an Italian car company opened 3,000 dealerships in the U.S. You can buy Italian minivans and SUVs in every major city. Cook up some pasta and find one near you!

How did it come that a European company bought the third largest U.S. auto manufacturer?

You could argue that the Chrysler got in financial trouble because of its health care and pension liabilities. You could argue that Chrysler was a victim of the current credit meltdown and consumer deleveraging. At the end of the day, it was a magnificent eight-cylinder, 5.7L, four hundred horsepower error of emission.

Fifty-three years ago to the month, the U.S. government committed to an extensive development of road infrastructure, the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System. The Highway Trust Fund collects fuel taxes and pays for road construction, to the tune of about $40B per year now. That translates into roughly 10-15% of U.S. car sales per year, and it's not keeping up with demands for new projects, maintenance, and operations.

By creating a standard for transportation infrastructure, the government fueled the growth of the Detroit economic engine. As long as oil and credit were available, Detroit could build big cars to fit on big roads. As long as the car business grew, it could fund burgeoning health care and pension liabilities. Detroit had no incentive to invest in anything other than bigger cars and bigger engines, and it made magnificent SUVs with profit margins high enough to pay for everything.

My point is really this. The United States makes important national policy on energy and transportation that impacts how investors and companies sell and market products. The decisions made fifty years ago need re-examination. They have taken the U.S. down a road where U.S. auto manufacturers have profited while losing market share. When a few assumptions in our policy changed, when oil prices skyrocketed and credit markets seized, it left the U.S. companies vulnerable to buy-outs.

Should we find a different road? New technology enters the market when there is an opportunity to displace existing technology. Market entry relies on predictable infrastructure investments. Right now, we keep our fuel prices lower than other countries and we can't keep up with transportation infrastructure spending. It might be a good time to raise taxes and invest in better infrastructure.

I enjoyed a nice Sangiovese with Fettucini Alfredo last night and toasted the Italians for coming to our rescue.