Friday, December 30, 2005

Is dorky the new sexy?

Sagan was, simply speaking, sexy, in a sense that transcends mere sexuality.
—Keay Davidson, Carl Sagan: A Life, p. 264

In perusing the Wired News list of "2005's 10 Sexiest Geeks", I noticed that my friend and dorkbot instigator douglas irving repetto was on the list!
Some people say the term "sexy geek" is an oxymoron. Here at Wired News, we say it's redundant.
I don't know who nominated doug, but my guess is Xeni Jardin (herself a pretty sexy geek), who's listed as a suggester for the article, based on the boingboing team's contact with dorkbot (such as David Pescovitz's MAKE article and several bb posts).

See also my previous post about dorkbot's 5th anniversary. The dorkbot map (which I started) is growing at a rapid rate, with 45 members so far.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Lincoln Center's Cartoon Musicals in NYC

A much-awaited film series has begun this week: the return of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's series about the wide-ranging intersection of animation and music, Cartoon Musicals! This is a dream come true for animation buffs: the series features some truly rare and offbeat stuff, and curator Greg Ford shows his excellent taste and vast, insightful knowledge of the medium.

The first part of the series, back in August, already set a high bar. A Disney compilation showcased the early Silly Symphonies with their imaginative world-building -- the best one showing the rivalry in a music world between lands of classical and jazz music -- and the wild graphic inventiveness of some of the more experimental segments from compilation pictures like Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, and Melody Time -- the best being "All the Cats Join In" from Make Mine Music, which I recognized as largely animated by Fred Moore's, since the wild joy of the dancing teens in the cartoon shows his famed ability to create appealing characters. Fantasia 2000's "Rhapsody in Blue" segment, shown at the end, looks like a pale retread of the graphic styles used earlier. Meanwhile, the screening of Tex Avery and company's MGM shorts showed the power of crowds: there's nothing like hearing one's fellow theatergoers break into applause at the mere anticipation of Red Hot Riding Hood, the moment her name appears in the credits! And the screening of Columbia shorts gave an opportunity to see a rarely shown studio's work -- although this was the least popular of the screenings I attended, the audience apparently gravitating to watch, say, Warner Bros. cartoons with a crowd (a good resource about Columbia's cartoon character Scrappy is Harry McCracken's Scrappyland website).

This time around, the roster is equally impressive. Shorts programs include compliations of such off-beat artists as Oskar Fischinger's abstract animation and George Pal's 3-D stop motion Puppetoons. Pal was basically the only person in America at the time to regularly use the stop-motion animation technique; and instead of using movable puppets, he used a mind-boggling technique of "replacement" animation which involved creating thousands of separate physical copies of a character. He then went on to make live-action films that included some of the pioneering serious science fiction films, such as Destination Moon, War of the Worlds, and When Worlds Collide.

Features include the Fleischers' Hoppity Goes to Town and Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure. The latter is particularly rare, and I've been curious to see it ever since a January 2003 retrospective of the great Tissa David (who was one of the first women in animation) included a charming clip of her animation of Raggedy Ann and Andy in the forest; other master animators who worked on the film included Emery Hawkins, Art Babbitt, Grim Natwick, and director Richard Williams -- as the program notes point out, it's odd that the mainstream success of Williams's Who Framed Roger Rabbit hasn't led to more interest in his other work. (See also Eddie Bowers's website about the sad story behind Williams's ambitious, experimental feature The Thief and the Cobbler, which was taken out of his hands just as he was completing it and released in butchered form). Also, it was the subject of a great making-of book by animation historian John Canemaker, The Animated Raggedy Ann and Andy, which includes chapters on David, Hawkins, Babbitt, and Williams (it's truly refreshing to see such solid emphasis on the animators in these days of celebrity-voice overexposure).

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Rushkoffiana

Now is an exciting time to be a fan of the maverick media theorist Douglas Rushkoff.

He's known for analyzing media and the power of storytelling therein, and has dealt both with how viewers can become empowered by "taking control of the story" and the shadier side of how advertising and other manipulative forms of media control the audience (and has analyzed the potential for new media forms to lead to both cases). Also, he's known for dealing with Judaism from an unconventional, counter-institutional perspective as an "open source religion", such as in his book Nothing Sacred: The Truth about Judaism and articles like "Judging Judaism by the Numbers" and a New York Press article on the "self-imposed death of institutional Judaism". Freethinking lapsed Jews turn out to be like Paikea in Whale Rider, who was the black sheep of her Maori tribe for flouting the convention of male leadership, only to turn out to be the true heir to the tradition underneath the superficial differences and rituals.

Appropriately his message has straddled mediums: nonfiction and the farthest-out fantasy fiction; books, comix, newspaper and magazine columns, and TV documentaries. He also doesn't hesitate to combine these topics in unexpected ways, such as a book chapter titled "From Moses to Modems".

Two major Rushkoff projects have been released this month: his business book Get Back in the Box ("I think it will succeed in doing for business and organizations a lot of what it was I trying to do for Judaism: showing that a renaissance, open-source mindset leads to great innovation.") and the first issue of the ongoing comic series Testament. He's said:
...the two main projects I do have coming out right now - Get Back in the Box and Testament - represent the culmination of the last two decades of inquiry and experimentation. So these projects aren't over just because they're about to be published.
Before the book was released, he released for discussion some provocative passages from Box onto his blog as "Thought Viruses":
  1. One Thing
  2. Open Source and the Authorship Society
  3. Social Currency
  4. Follow the Fun
  5. The Ben & Jerry's Syndrome
  6. Brand as Communication
  7. It's Supposed to be Fun
Also, he has an ongoing column in Arthur magazine. See the outstanding first installment Evolution as a Team Sport for a taste: it looks to renaissance as a better metaphor for change than revolution, and the analysis of the role of centralized currency and the resultant central banking is remniscent of William B. Greene's and Proudhon's theories of mutual banking:
...it was during the Renaissance that centralized currency came into widespread use. Before then, localities developed their own currencies, often based on real commodities, and many of which existed side-by-side more centralized currencies that were used for transacting with other regions. With the establishment of the nation state came the exclusive right of kings to create money by "fiat" - literally by invention - and then force everyone else to compete to pay it back. To this day, people who want to buy a house must borrow, say, $100,000 from the bank and then pay back $300,000 over thirty years. Where does the other $200,000 come from? The borrower is to compete for it in the marketplace. Only $100,000 was loaned into existence. The rest must be taken from others.
There's also an archive of columns for The Feature (which ended earlier this year) for even more stuff to dig through (I'm telling you, keeping up on Rushkoffiana is almost a full time commitment itself).

His short book Open Source Democracy: How Online Communication is Changing Offline Politics is available online as a free ebook. Also available for viewing online are his documentaries on advertising and manipulation, The Merchants of Cool and The Persuaders.

Rushkoff appeared on Sunday, December 25 on the WBAI radio show Equal Time for Freethought, as part of a subversive winter holiday special from the secular humanist viewpoint (Rushkoff covered Hanukkah, whereas Robert Price did Christmas). The show is available as a MP3 in the WBAI archives.

(last updated December 29, 2005)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

dorkbot turns five!

This month, New York City's monthly watering hole for techies, artists, and hackers, dorkbot-nyc, had its fifth anniversary meeting. Founded by artist and Columbia University Computer Music Center professor douglas irving repetto, its motto, "People doing strange things with electricity", gives the impression of what to (un)expect. Its dorky arena includes almost anything within the wide bounds of electronics, including both hardware and software, with a square emphasis on low-budget, do-it-yourself, personal projects. The results are geeky, goofy, technical, off-beat, and as wacky as the presenters' personal interests; the three presentations of a typical session will have almost nothing in common.

The first meeting I attended, when dorkbot had been around for less that two full years, was in April 2002, featuring a video by Kyle Lapidus and Tali Hinkis, who together with their children, the musical prodigy Rama (who's already composed a theme song for dorkbot) and Lisa Dlisah, have been among dorkbot's most stalwart regulars. I heard about dorbkot on Michael Stutz's now-defunct linart mailing list, where doug would regularly announce meetings with subject-line titles that inevitably worked dorkbot's name into spoofs like "oh when the dorks, go botting in". As the title suggests, the list dealt with the intersection of Linux and art, and was one of the predecessors of the the free culture scene, before the explosive growth of Creative Commons in early 2003. I've almost never missed a meeting since then (there are some pictures of me to be found in the photo gallery archives of past meetings).

Some of my favorite projects over the years: Cory Arcangel's mischievous digital antics; vagamundo, aiming to educate about the difficulties faced by Latin American immigrants by recreating them in video game format -- where the video game is housed in a vendor cart similar to the one used by them; Caspar Stracke's experiments with the wonderfolly obscure CED movie-on-a-record home video format; Tom Moody's MSPaintbrush art; Scott Draves's electronic art including his open source, Philip K. Dick-inspired electric sheep generative screensaver; and doug's own walking table. One project I wish I hadn't missed is Steve Baldwin's Ghost Sites, concurrent with the tenth anniversary of the world wide web; his website is a truly fascinating compendium of the forgotten corners of web history.

While the meetings have spread mainly through word-of-mouth (as is in keeping with the spirit of them anyway), it's attracted some media coverage, including a June 2004 article in the New Yorker and a fantastic article in the first issue of a publication that perfectly meshes with dorkbot's aim and audience: MAKE magazine.

There are dorkbots that have sprung up in different cities across the globe (which I honestly don't know much about), but the nyc one is the original. The global distibution can be seen in the map for dorkbotters that I recently created (using Google Maps via Frappr) which already contains over thirty people.