Archive for March, 2005

Grass Roots Technology and Empowerment

Can computing technology significantly empower disadvantaged peoples on a broad scale? Two related trends have emerged over the past 10 years that provide reason to believe.

The first and older trend is free open source software. Although it was initiated in the 1970’s, the movement has really come into its own of late with the development of software that is competitive with the best commercial options. (Linux, Gnome, Mozilla, and OpenOffice are usual suspects.) Two key features of this trend are: (1) the cost of software is being driven to zero and (2) corporate interests are no longer driving the feature sets because there is no profit motive. Software is being made purely by the people for the people.

Secondly, collaboration technologies have radically reduced the difficulty of publishing content online to the point where most anyone can do it. The accessibility of blogs, for instance, has increased the diversity of voices heard broadly — from Iraqis to stay-at-home moms. And they’re influential. Blogs break stories and force the traditional media to cover stories they wouldn’t otherwise. Likewise, Wikis have changed the landscape of collaborative content creation dramatically. Wikipedia, for instance, threatens to drive commercial encyclopedias under by offering an nearly an order of magnitude more articles than the nearest competitor. And anyone can contribute. Lastly, emerging technologies like the grassroots toolkit CivicSpace (an outgrowth of the Dean campaign) make it significantly easier to organize groups for civic action. The beat goes on.

These two trends together — software cost going to zero and collaboration becoming radically simple — open new doors. Developing countries are embracing open source, massively increasing access. Continue reading ‘Grass Roots Technology and Empowerment’

Borfed New York

Sun brightens Borf in Chinatown

Borf is creeping into our collective consciousness on signposts, phonebooths, and alley walls that catch the corner of your eye. The name has been appearing next to enigmatic stencils for some time in DC and recently there have been a number of sightings in NYC as well. Now Visual Resistance has an interview. Borf on his technique:

As Bruce Lee once said: “Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup… Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.” I just try to go with the flow. I usually feel like I can pull off anything. As long as you?re driven by impulse, the country, city, or neighborhood you do it in doesn?t matter. The environments and risk levels change, but the act itself remains constant.

Any artist who quotes Bruce Lee is good by me. One has to wonder, though, how long it will be before Borf’s identity is polluted by haters Shakespeare styles. It’s already beginning.

For more on Borf, see the rest of the interview on and a gallery at

chinatown borf photo via jellisvga

Nanga Def Jam

Daara JIn Senegal, a place where these days you’re almost as likely to see a kid wearing an Iverson jersey as a traditional boubou, hip hop has become massively popular. Superstars in Senegal, rap trio Daara J recently appeared on WNYC to spread the word. While deeply influenced by artists like Grandmaster Flash, their style has older roots — in the tradition of the tassou, a form like rap but much older. They point out that “ya dig” is an African expression and even argue that Wolof is more conducive to rap than English. Cultural echoes from Africa to America and back again — hence title of their new album: “Boomerang”.

On how American rap is understood in Senegal:

It makes sense. The environment effects the people and we can understand that. But, on the other hand, the concept and the message is a bit different because we can’t afford to talk about bling bling while we’re living in a poor country where our priority is to see people satisfying their hunger.
— N’Dango D of Daara J

As you might guess, the interview is wide-ranging and thoughtful. Very much worth the listen. Check it here: mp3 or real

On this side of the Atlantic, casual observers of the industry might say rap here has gone the other direction — pointlessly violent, materialistic, misogynistic. Emerging artists, however, see things a bit differently. Take the enigmatic MF Doom for example:
Continue reading ‘Nanga Def Jam’

DDR Can’t Flow

Dance Dance Revolution has long been the pinnacle of arcade hipness, yielding all sorts of insane performances. But, as the latest video from DJ Format proves, physical freestyling ain’t got nothin’ on vocal.

Aside from laughs, though, the video provides some genuinely interesting ideas for entertainment uses of next-generation voice recognition technology. There’s clearly some kind of rhyme recognizer involved. Plus, MCs earn bonuses for hometown shouts, syllable count, tag-team, fill in the blanks, madlibs, and incorporating everything in a word bank. Wordplay, flow, delivery. It’s clever stuff. Props to Harmonix for planting the seeds.

Watch it here: 3 Feet Deep
Be sure to stick around for the remote DJ twist at the end. Icing.

Update: Thanks to Link for finding a higher quality video and the director, Keith Schofield.

thanks for the pointer, josé

New Vintage Vice

Crockett & Tubbs as the 80s Peaked

The Vice is back; we just don’t know it yet. From Rockstar North’s Vice City to a certain CBS wannabe, it’s creeping up on us. Heck, Kenneth Cole recently ran a city-wide ad campaign mirroring the above image with new faces. Just another day in the re-emergence of the cultural force once known as MTV Cops.

Of particular note, though, is that Michael Mann has re-taken the helm. We should have guessed that he’d return since Vice has so clearly defined his style from Heat to Robbery Homicide Division to Collateral. Now, with the announcement of a Miami Vice film for next year — starring Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx, no less — Vice fans finally have something concrete to look forward to. And something to help us forget the unfortunate Mr. Bridges and a certain short-lived recording career. Olmos has aged well, though, and should be cast again — he can make anything good. Oh, and ya think Tubbs could get some lines this time around?

For more on Mann’s style, see That Miami Vice Feeling.

image grabbed from wildhorse

Innovation Stays Home

Commodore Media HubIn a recent Fortune article on Apple, you’ll find a great quote:

Your typical corporate CIO must be wondering, “Why aren’t there some nice new exciting applications for me?” Nothing has really changed in his world, while on the consumer side there’s all this cool new stuff like iTunes and the iPod and iPhoto and iMovie. That’s where the real innovation is now, and Apple is driving it.
— Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems (full text)

For a while, I’ve found my research interests skewing increasingly towards ideas that were first seen in the home and other non-business domains (blogs, instant messaging, open source, online games, etc.). What Joy seems to be saying, though, is that something bigger than personal interest is at work: innovation in computing has fundamentally shifted focus from business to the home. (Fast-follower that he is, Bill Gates picked up the thread today and, as usual, talks like he originated it.)

This has at least two implications for business-facing research (BFR). First, it can no longer be assumed that such research is leading the way. The innovation going on in the home must be taken seriously and tracked closely. In general, BFR pays some lip service to these developments but is quite dismissive when the mics are off. Secondly, corporate labs need to be on the lookout for thoughtful ways to apply the innovation seen in the home to business. This is more than just looking for opportunities to make a buck with home technologies but fundamentally rethinking how innovation happens. The degree to which this somewhat humbling perspective shift takes hold will have significant impact on the bottom lines of tomorrow.

image from the future found at

King Hippo: Down fo Whateva

Stickers seen around the city recently show a certain King Hippo being true to the game. Bout it, bout it, yo! Coverboy Mike Tyson has an impressive rap sheet but nobody acts a fool like the king.

Something’s gotta give when the most popular page mentioning King Hippo on the web turns out to be promoting an awful band. Stickers are only the first step. ¡Que se revele el verdadero hipop?tamo! Punch Out lives on.

photo via jellisvga

All Architects are A%#holes

Robert Moses

Who can dislike a play that features Jane Jacobs leading a mob of women jilted by draftsman in chanting “All architects are assholes!” Sure, it’s a bit strange but all the singing and dancing about urban planning is in service of a higher goal: tracing the great and tragic life story of Robert Moses. Oh, and let’s not forget the bunny spawning:

Amidst a blaze of streaming media, ridiculous choreography, and dozens of live fornicating rabbits, a desperate battle is waged over the creation of New York’s bridges, highways, and public housing.

As you might guess, it is a bit of a mess but you’ll forgive Boozy that for all its creativity, energy, and fourth-wall fun. Not to mention the fact that it has a surprisingly firm grasp of New York City history and, of course, Moses’ connection with Le Corbusier (“Boozy” for short).

For those who love architecture, the show that calls architects the a-word shouldn’t be missed. At $15 a head, though, it’s good fun for all. The run ends March 5.

image of rm’s misection via arnold newman

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