The Look and Feel of Cars.

I recently glommed on to the new car blog, Jalopnik. The site is, overall, okay in terms of both design and content. (My real theory about this site is that it will drive better ad revenue for owner Gawker Media, of whom I’m a huge fan more generally.)
Jalopnik inspired me to think about how the idea of “look and feel,” which typically applies to and describes websites, might telescope to automobiles. As a thought experiment, it might be interesting to see how (recent) cars connnect to an individual (e.g. me) and how that might be described. I’ve been in quite a few cars in the past five years, so, vrooom, here goes:

  • Honda Accord: Tight overall apperance and drive with very sealed interior. The ride is tight but there is a consistent feeling that the machinery under the hood is overly complicated. If broken, G-d help you.
  • Toyota Corolla: Sharp looking exterior hides a boring interior with little personality. In contrast with the Accord, however, the engine feels like it will go forever – a perpetual motion machine.
  • Saab 95: Superbly tight compartment with incredible sound and air environment. While the engine purrs, one drives with the tacit knowledge that one dent, one blown tire or one new alternator will set you back $1000. You drive it, though, and you’re feeling safer than anyone on the road. Except for those in Volvos. And H2s.
  • Audi A6: Beautifully detailed car that sits in a driveway looking like a souped up VW.
  • Ford Focus: Opening and closing the door feels like a mistake was made; the company used edge-thin metal thinking that this would be “cutting edge.” The interior looks nice from ten feet away but one worries that there will be death involved if the car crashed.
  • Honda Civic: Clean, strong body and well-fitted interior. However, sitting inside, one gets the feeling that the car is made for anyone, everyone, and no one in particular.
  • Subaru Outback: Tight. Drives tight. Acts tight. Looks uptight. Shows an unclear personality: not sure if this is an SUV or a car or a station wagon. But when driving in it, you know you’re “good.”
  • Mercedes-Benz S-Class: Class is all it is and that’s pretty much what one wants it for. One can’t help but feel like a person of importance; it’s as if the car, upon entry, injects you with genetically superior DNA.
  • Hyundai Elantra: The immediate feeling is that this is what the Chinese are going to do someday. Good superficial overall look and feel, but, underneath the copycat design, you know there’s only a few pennies of quality material.
  • Lexus LS 430: A serious car for serious people. There’s nothing fun, funny, or funky about this car but when you’re in it, the car commands a kind of respect people like me don’t have. My guess is that this car would prefer someone in their early 50s.
  • Mazda 3: A working vehicle. Everything works. The car works. The stereo works. It all works. Except for that one rental I had, in which the trunk wouldn’t close.

Memorial Pack.

In honor of the many people who have been killed since almost five years ago, I wish you a thoughtful Memorial Day. This movie, strangely animated and horrendously compelling, may be a sign of things to come, a record of future tomorrows and wars and retributions to be had.
[The device, illustrated in the movie, was designed and invented by a friend of my parents’.]


I used to be a bit of an art critic. I wrote for a few periodicals in upstate New York, for a number of international art periodicals, and for my own little art zine back in the early 1990s. My last stint was for a magazine called Atlantica, a really sweet and thick magazine that was had its roots in late 1990s Madrid. I wrote a number of pieces on many different artists, fancying myself as bit of an aesthete, a committed art enthusiast and a socially sensitive critic of “post-industrial visual production.” I wrote those works honestly but under the slanted gaze of someone who felt he knew something. A critic necessarily takes on this view because they’re being paid (in funds or fans) for supposed knowledge.
The unfortunate reality is that most critics, and especially those of the art kind, know far too little about visual production and its consumption, practices, markets, and audiences. Art critics, by and large, are glorified college-educated bouncers. They’re paid little to attract attention but they’re not actually part of the party.
I write this not as a confessional but because I recently read a really harsh, ad hominem review of my friend and colleague’s fantastic piece Neu-York by a “critic” that takes the entire piece to task for not making the artwork that she herself would have wanted to make. If you read between the many lines devoted to this harsh, very personal critique, it’s possible to feel the trembling envy that the writer holds while typing. Here’s a quote:

And yet she didn’t bother to do the first leetle bit of research on German (especially Nazi) and American street and place-naming conventions. She didn’t bother to use her damned imagination, either. Can you say “wasted effort”?
This trips all of my wires, seriously. Street renaming is my thing — it’s the systematic and massive renaming of streets in Berlin while I was living there in the nineties that first got all my geographic juices flowing. I spent a semester doing a project on it, and in 2001 I did a street renaming performance in San Francisco. To rename four streets I did decades of hours of research. And alternate history is seriously my thing.

Pathetic and sad. The writer, whose name is not even clearly articulated on the site (it could be Claire Light though clarity and light are not entirely integral to her blog posts), unwittingly fits herself into the self-absorbed, forlorn trope of “if you can’t do, criticize.” I found a little about the critic here.
Almost makes me want to make art again.

Switch 2.

After the last totally disastrous post and another recent prediction that failed miserably, I’m going to stick to less political fare.
I’m somewhat interested in Apple’s new under-the-radar switch (from PC) campaign. They use the trademark white background, simple dialogue and seemingly unscripted, ironic body language and quipping conversation that the company has become known for in its previous “switch” campaign.
I’m particulary in like with the Networking ad. It shows off the best of a large geek and a twiggy nerd in situ while a pretty Asian woman enters the scene; the first represents a PC, the second a Mac, and the third a digital camera. The acceptable racism and stab at heavyweight folks obviously doesn’t bother too many people. And while both male characters are charming, unusual-looking, and well represent body types and technology tropes, they appear a bit knowing, stiff, and too ordinary.
Apple knows that switching computation platforms is not an easy task and, in its marketing efforts, the company knowingly winks at the hell that could arise from moving over. On the other side of the same coin, the white background, clear language and jovial smiles reference heaven, the prospect of redemption and the peace of mind brought about by good decisions and informed consent. The totality is both discomforting and comforting at the same time. I watch these with a sense that I know of what they (Apple, the characters, the writers, the producers, the editors) speak and that they speak it all too well. Perhaps if I was still in graduate school, I could say this was a case of watching a reified series of subjects committing themselves to the lies we tell, the hopes we hold, and the death we wish to preclude.
One note: if you have fast connection, I urge you to view the “HD” version of each of the ads. These huge Quicktime movies show how incredibly detailed high definition imagery can be.

Stormy Weather.

I’ve been idly sitting by my computer reading the political headlines, and ooooh, it’s going to be a messy week, and not for the weak. There’s nothing scary or particularly new in any of this; it all could have been easily predicted (and was) by my more conspiratorial friends. What is a bit frightening is that Mr. Bush and team, like cornered wolves, may try to do something truly nutty—declare war, declare martial law, resign, or worse.
IMF acts to avoid markets meltdown
CIA leak probe looks at Cheney writings
Karl Rove Indicted on Charges of Perjury, Lying to Investigators
NSA Whistleblower To Expose More Unlawful Activity: People Are Going To Be Shocked
Granted, the parallels are extreme: The Bartlet Administration Comes to a Close.
Postscript: I was wrong, completely wrong.


I’ve often thought that micropayments to bloggers would be a very helpful, and perhaps even lucrative, method to keep blogs afloat. I’m fascinated by a new payment system called IndieKarma that I learned about through Jason.
In a nutshell, IndieKarma allows website visitors to donate tiny amounts of money (well, one American cent) to a blog that accepts IndieKarma funds every time that visitor visits. It’s kind of a nice, simple, and elegant system in theory; you pay for content that you like, read and want to continue reading. Jason does the math:

Financially, if a reader visits a site 60 times a month (which is not that unusual for weblogs), that’s $0.60/mo. or $7.20/yr…the price of a couple lattes at Starbucks. If you’ve got 1000 people who read your site that are signed up through IndieKarma, that’s $7200 per year, a sizable chunk of change.

I’m tempted to try it or at least learn more about it. But there’s something about it that reminds me of the old, wild, West Web and the e-money that many companies tried to sell us poor suckers. Remember Whoopie Goldberg and Flooz? (In February of 2000, $27 million was invested in the company in second-round funding. How about Flooz’s competitor, the lovely Beenz? Boy, did they screw up.
I don’t mean, in any way, to put bad Karma on IndieKarma. The idea is sound, if not quite brilliant, and, if IndieKarma can gain enough subscribers and bloggers, many folks will benefit.


Canada is a small country that continues to impress.
Yesterday, we sent in our census questionnaire. It included two documents, one in French and one in English, with a yellow, postage-paid envelope to allow easy return to the government. The questions were very well-written and the design of the document was very straightforward and easy to follow. The questions were non-intrusive (though I understand others receive more thorough sample sets) and you could file your return either on paper or via the Web.
I just went to the website and, notably, the online forms are accessible to those with disabilities. This is impressive, and while not difficult, it means that the government here went the extra yard to ensure the greatest number of people could enter data about themselves, their families and partners.
I also found an interesting history of the census. But, for me, I’m fascinated with the clause at the end of the census document which gives everyone the option to release their completed information to the public in 92 years: “For those who give explicit permission, Statistics Canada will transfer their information to Library and Archives Canada in 2098, which in turn will make it publicly available.”
I try to imagine how unimportant my personal information will be in 2098. It’s not hard. But I’m also trying to imagine what the world would have inherited in 2098 and what my children’s children might look like in that inheritance. Canada, or no Canada, that’s hard.

Waiting Room Magazine Waiting for a Designer.

A new magazine called Waiting Room is currently looking for a designer who can create a really compelling and unique media kit. They already have the content and structure.
They can only pay $500.00, but if they like the results, there may be a long-term design engagement for designing every issue; this would amount to real money. I think the design calls for someone young, unafraid and bold who has already developed a pretty sophisticated visual vocabulary and who wants to potentially make their mark in magazine design.
What’s is Waiting Room? I’m glad you asked. The magazine will cater to a young audience of those diagnosed with cancer or who know people have cancer. The disease, from the information I’ve seen on, is completely out of control [PDF] and affects even the young among us.
[Disclosure: I’ve been on the advisory board of the magazine for a while now and I told Elizabeth Daniels, the founder, that I would post this in the hopes she’ll find someone right for the job.]
Here is the advertisement that was posted for this project a few weeks ago in the online design journal Newstoday:

Graphic Designer with Illustration Skills

We are looking for someone to design our media kit. We are hoping the person we end up hiring to do our media kit will also be the right person to design our first issue. We are the first national, lifestyle magazine about cancer for the 15-39 demographic. We launch in early 2007 with a circulation of 25,000.
Designer must have experience in print work, have mean illustration skills, and must also know how to deal with typography. We are looking for someone special, an “artist” to bring a vibe to the media kit that will preview the magazine and be unlike anything anyone has seen about cancer. Think Swindle, BlackBook, YRB. This person must be able to both take direction and work independently. Knowledge of production (working with a printer) is a must.
Must know InDesign.
Responsibilities for the Media Kit include:

  • taking a document that is already laid out and making it look spectacular
  • using different ideas throughout (being really creative) but having a theme that pulls everything together
  • listening to ideas, suggesting things, and executing what is necessary with flair
  • working quickly and effectively

Please email us a short statement about you with samples of your work or a link to your online portfolio. Make sure that you specify your role in creating the material you send us if it was produced by collaboration.
A big plus would be to be located in Los Angeles (but not a requirement).