PBS Buster

Interesting. Two days ago I posted a comment noting that I was surprised that the U.S. Government has not been policing the Public Broadcasting Service and Corporation for Public Broadcasting. I knew it was only a matter of time.
Today, the Education Secretary has criticized a kids show for depicting lesbians. The show, which I’ve seen many times, is called “Postcards from Buster” and it features the wiley Arthur character Buster filming people, including religious Jews and country farmers, and their lifestyles, habits, and families. Apparently, PBS has already pulled the plug on the show’s episode but a station in Boston will air it. Pathetic.

Dead Websites

A dead website is the great unspoken on the Web and among Web audiences. Registerting domain names, getting hosting, designing a site, building a site, developing a site, redirecting a site, scaling a site, integrating a site, redesigning a site: these are all fun, pretty, happy terms. But the truth of the matter is that websites are very temporary objects on the fluid Web and have half-lives just like every combustible thing.
They are born, they grow, they are loved by a few, they communicate a few things, and then they go on to die. The death of a website generally goes unmarked, unnoticed, and unrecognized. A dead website is no longer a valuable enterprise but a historical record, a fiercely marked arena of time. A website that has died gets no funeral, no sendoff, no eulogy, and often gets no final words. Websites seem to die a strange death – they are both very public and very private organisms, created by a living few for a living audience and when they pass, the act of viewing them or reflecting on them is inherently solitary. I’ve yet to see a blog about dead sites, but I’m sure there could be one.
No, this is not farewell.
But I’ve noticed quite a few (quite good) blogs that I once read, which are no longer alive, including Dean Allen’s Textism, Mark Pilgrim’s Dive Into Mark, and Charles Hartmans’ eponymous weblog.
I suppose there’s at least one other interesting thing about website death, though, that differs from that of humans: they can be resurrected.

Non-Literary Literacy

It was a weekend spent mostly inside, except for tonight when we ventured into the cold yonder to have dinner at a friends home about 18 blocks away. Boy, was it cold but it felt fine.
Being indoors and having time to explore new sites led me to the new PBS Kids Go! site which features a large section called Advertising Tricks. It’s pure media training for young kids, with interactive features like “Create Your Own Ads” and “Design a Cereal Box.” It’s impressive that, with the government now funding public relations for its political programming, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is funded by taxpayers, has seeded this smart educational enterprise. I hope it lasts and I say that not cynically but with real hope that the site has both legs and feet. Hey kids, the perfect burger for the camera lens is made with brown food coloring, Superglue, and glycerin!

Winning Design To Lose

I love the Airbag blog and buy into most of what Greg Storey has to say. He’s a wonderful designer and commentator and he gets tremendous amounts of traffic, as can be witnessed by the 163 comments about his “contest” to design a logo for his buddy. Greg isn’t the first one to ask designers to submit their work (called “on spec” because there is no pay) for credibility and a gadget (he’s giving away a $99.00 iPod Shuffle). But I find it rather grotesque that even beginning designers would want to help a business design a logo for some shilling and a t-shirt. It’s my humble opinion that if a business wants to do business, they should do business with other businesses and not look for handouts. Anyway, the comments in this post do better justice to the injustice than I.


I’m here listening to the United States Senate lob nice, gentle questions to Condeleeza Rice, the person who could not anticipate any terrorist acts against the country despite her access to every bit of intelligence the country held. It’s amazing to me that Rice is treated so kindly and thoughtfully and that the Democratic Senators perceive themselves as having so little “political capital.”
What’s the point? The point is that today, while these hearings are going on, Airbus has released the massive and immensely fascinating Airbus A380 family of planes. A collaboration among almost every major European country, the new airplane is supremely fuel efficient, can carry 555 passengers, and will be available for service in 2006. The airplane has two decks and (in typical European fashion) three classes. The development and production of this airplane is an indication of Europe’s new economic, technological, and monetary strength and stands in sharp contrast to the more-of-the-same coming out of our Washington, D.C.
Interestingly, one of the U.S. Senators today mentioned a new book by a journalist named T. R. Reid called The United States Of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy. I finished this book yesterday and it’s an absolutey must read for anyone concerned about the future of these United States.
Reid, a Washington Post writer, has written a book that demonstrates how Europe has quietly constructed a powerful new United States that is quickly becoming more economically instrumental in the world while maintaining its high quality of living and social security. The twenty-five nations that banded together to form the European Union have spent their entire “political capital” to ensure that their collective nationality can not only become an effective economic force but maintain its high standards for health, human rights, and transportation. Reid is careful to point out that the extraordinary amount of money used to support the European welfare state comes in part from the subsidies of the U.S. over the past 50 years in the form of military and other assistance. But Reid’s overall point is that the new U.S.E. has created a political, cultural, and social powerhouse despite its darkly divided historical record — and it’s done so with very little recognition on the part of most Americans of prominence.

Lost but Found

Looking back at the past few days of posts, I’ve thought about how critical I have been about various odd facets of the world inhabited, from art, advertising, disaster relief, and Microsoft (in that order). I don’t take any of it back but it’s good sometimes to find something slightly new and unexpurgated, even if it’s slightly exploitative: Look at Me is a website featuring photos “lost, forgotten, or thrown away.” The images contain the mostly happy faces of people in love, people embracing, people posing. The photos have been found all over the world and are posted by a lone ranger who seemingly cares about these quiet, still moments of captured time of faces forgotten in places known and unknown. Each image is a curiosity, a sinkhole, a lost nest, a mild conundrum.
You might like this one of glee, or this one of women who look masked, or this one of a lady who (as always) looks like her pet, or this one of five teen girls formally smoking, or this sad one of a woman nowhere, or this one of two girls in a wash basin eclipsed by a house’s shadow.
It’s sobering to realize that most of these people are dead. They lived and perhaps their only shells are on one of these pages.
This is not the first time someone has committed to restoring the dignity of photographic relics. (Susan Sontag would have enjoyed this site.) But I think there’s something restorative about looking at these images, somehow placed and replaced again.
P.S. If you want to cry, look at all of them together.

Art of Art

Disclaimer: This post is self-promotional in nature. Today, my company MANOVERBOARD launched the State University of New York, University at Albany Art Department website. I’m happy with the results, much thanks to my coder friend and colleague M.B.
Having spent so much time building this site, I’m still interested in understanding why art-related websites are so often poorly crafted and hold such impoverished content. The companies, organizations, and institutions funding these sites have resolve, taste, and dedicated donors and stakeholders; somehow, somewhere along the way, their translation on the Web missed the mark. It’s been this way for as long as I can remember a Web. Just a few examples that run the gamut from the low to the high and back again:

Hardee's Heart

Seth Stevenson of Slate wrote a piece yesterday called Porn, Again – Another lewd, suggestive ad for meat. The series of Hardee’s ads, one of which shows a woman generously fisting her mouth, takes meat eating and meat advertising to a new low. In other heinous meat culture news, according to a editorial response by writer Eric Schlosser in this month’s Vanity Fair, J. Patrick Boyle, CEO of the American Meat Institute, said last September, “If I wake up to a Kerry administration, I wouldn’t know whether to update my resume or slit my wrists.”

The Other Tsunami

The past few weeks have demonstrated an incredible outpouring of support to those victims of the Tsunami disaster. The results are impressive:

Now is not the time to stop giving where it’s needed. But I believe it’s also the time to ask the hard questions as to why this disaster has trumped all disasters. In particular, it’s distressing that an entire continent far closer to Europe and the U.S. and wealthy Arab countries is being decimated by AIDS and virtually nothing is being done nor said. Here’s a list of stats about AIDS in Africa, lifted off of CNN.com:

  • 5.4 million new AIDS infections in 1999, 4 million of them in Africa.
  • 2.8 million dead of AIDS in 1999, 85 percent of them in Africa.
  • 13.2 million children orphaned by AIDS, 12.1 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Reduced life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa from 59 years to 45 between 2005 and 2010, and in Zimbabwe from 61 to 33.
  • More than 500,000 babies infected in 1999 by their mothers — most of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The U.S. Census Bureau projects that AIDS deaths and the loss of future population from the deaths of women of child-bearing age means that by 2010, sub-Saharan Africa will have 71 million fewer people than it would otherwise.

According to the BBC, AIDS kills 6,000 people each day in Africa. The sheer racism of this cash infusion to Asia is grotesque and needs to be called for what it is. This is not in any way to denigrate the true suffering of those families massacred by the hands of the tsunami. Nor is it in any way to knock the massive donations pushed from West to East. But it seems to me that it’s time that international organizations begin using their newfound spotlight to show donors — individual, corporate, and national — the more massive, more ongoing, and more outrageous disaster occurring on the African continent.

Spaces of Air

More to the point of blogging, an interview yesterday appeared on CNET called [Bill] Gates taking a seat in your den. Gates, in this article, mentions something I’ve heard very little about: MSN Spaces.
What is Spaces? Essentially it’s an online “Show and Tell” in which individuals can create a personal blog and put up photos and links and other digital ephemera. Sounds like what Blogger.com did a few years ago? Indeed. Take a look at some of these “spaces.” They’re not inherently any worse than most of the Blogger.com Blogspot sites out there but there’s something chilly about the way these “spaces” are (un)organized, the way the cookie cutter cuts jagged lines around the icons and the curved bars, the way that Microsoft commoditizes the top-most part for its business practices. I feel, looking at these “spaces,” that blogging is now, more than ever, a democracy of the lonely.
Sidenote: In 1999, I and many others at my former employer, OVEN, were building complex Flash-based “spaces” for broadband clients wherein movies, music, video, text, and documents could be shared online. It’s too bad those design and software assets are in the ether as Microsoft could have bought them wholesale from the company for about $500,000 back in 2001.
Postscript: Just for comparison’s sake, here is a list of Microsoft employee bloggers. Each one is as ugly as the next. I especially like this one.
Hey, when did good, customized design count for anything anyway?