Archive for May, 2007

Kids Got Guns: Selling War Young in NYC

I’ve always been afraid of guns. Something about the ability to take a life in an instant. But seeing a gun on a street cop is pretty different from being surrounded by them. That’s what happened to me this weekend.

Family was in town and Fleet Week is sold as a family event. Navy ships pull into Manhattan’s west side and civilians board them for a tour of the latest in US military might — from VR simulations to machine guns to choppers and tanks. Heck, they even had an Osprey.

As much as I dislike weapons, I probably could have brushed it all off if it weren’t for the kids. When I saw a 5-year-old ogling bombs as we boarded, I got annoyed. When we got to the deck and whole families were taking turns smiling alongside a Huey-mounted minigun, my breakfast started coming up. When we got into the belly of the ship and I was surrounded by kids younger than 10 scurrying up and down on tanks and trucks, putting on helmets, and manning high caliber guns (all while parents cheered) I decided to cash out.

Nothing like a real war to take the fun out of a little military fantasy. Nothing like single digit kids acting out military fantasies on real military gear to make you full-on disgusted with the thinly veiled recruiting exercise that is Fleet Week. Get ’em young!

Thankfully, Iraq Veterans Against the War staged a counter-event that brought the reality of war to the city in more honest fashion. And Joe shot a beautiful photo of it, too. Wish I’d been there instead. But, then, real war ain’t family fun.

We last talked about Fleet Week in Jet Fumes and Frosted Flakes.

Borders and Beauty

This week found us obsessed with borders — between countries, past and present, night and day. Contrast can be beautiful. And scary!

Border Film Project – Photos taken by migrants and minutemen as they face off on the Mexico-US border. Beautiful, heartbreaking stuff. Reminds of the touching amateur photos showcased in Born into Brothels.

Manhattan Built on British Ruins – FDR drive is built on rubble from British buildings destroyed in World War II. When you travel the FDR, you’re “passing over fragments of British cathedrals and London housing stock, flagstones quarried from Yorkshire, the shattered doorframes and lintels…of whole towns.”

Old Media Gets New Games – Storied and stuffy New York Times editorial page takes the shockingly new media step of incorporating games as serious news content.

Earth Rotation Alteration – Earth’s rotation and axis have changed due to man-made structures like dams and reservoirs. Disturbing!

Chinese Midnight – Chinatown storefront glows at night in this lovely photo by Keith Kin Yan.

Vinyl Artists Paint Vader

Darth Vader’s dead. But dozens of artists from the vinyl toy and comic scene have given him new life with beautiful, whimsical, freakish artwork in a new show opening today. I love shows where artists are all given the same canvas and let off the chain. This time that canvas is the famous black helmet.

The Vader Project is part of the Star Wars 30th Anniversary celebration at the LA Convention Center and, as much as I don’t want to be Lucas’ tool considering what he did to us with Episodes I and II (medichlorines, anyone?), I just can’t resist the creative stuff trickling out on the Vader Project flickr stream. (Some favorites: one, two, three, four.) Gimmie!

Participating artists include newer talent like Jeff Soto and VanBeater as well as old favorites like Frank Kozik. It goes to show the sort of clever stuff that arrives when Lucas hands the reigns to the new generation. Much like Genndy Tartakovsky’s brilliant Clone Wars, true heir to Lucas’ original trilogy.

Find the full Vader Project artist list here. Hopefully, an index matching helmet to artist will eventually emerge at

Update: And there it is! Tony Snyder gives us a full Vader Project catalog.

Black Women Got Game?: Why Alyx Matters

Yesterday, Valve founder Gabe Newell dropped a not-so-subtle hint that Half-Life sidekick Alyx Vance might get her own game. Props for sticking that neck out.

While she wouldn’t be the first black woman to star in a videogame (that honor falls to Jade or Catwoman depending), it would be a landmark nonetheless — the first black woman to head up a AAA franchise, and one of the most loved franchises in videogame history no less. Not to mention the first black female to appear as a central character in of the testosterone fueled first person shooter genre. (She didn’t even have to double her cup size to do it.) That’s saying something. And, oh yeah, she’d be only the second (or third?) black woman main character ever.

The biggest reason Alyx is important, though, is that both Catwoman and Jade’s Beyond Good & Evil bombed. While there are many possible explanations (a poor license and a poor title, for instance), what’s really important now is for the industry to show that, with the right content, gamers can get excited about playing these kinds of characters — characters that fall outside typical stereotypes. I can’t think of a better company to make it happen than the ever-inventive Valve, particularly since their bread and butter is the hardcore gamer.

Videogames need the diversity. Do it, Valve. Please.

For more, see Race in Games: The Unanswered Question

Dreams Get Real

A diverse bunch of projects hit our radar this week. And each brings out subconscious desires in wicked ways:

Cloud in a Box – Beautiful shots as visitors pass through Antony Gormley’s dreamlike 2ft visibility fog filled room.

Fairy Tale Protection – Unabashed AIDS awareness spot drives home a serious point with hysterical abandon. Director Wilfrid Brimo hits it out of the park for the third year running. (NSFW)

Falling Down – Denis Darzacq tosses models out the window and captures them gloriously in flight, right before they go splat.

Inside Swoon – One of the few females at the top of the graffiti world, Swoon shows us what inspires in an awesome talk. Her show at Deitch was genius. (part 2 here)

Playing With Your Emotions – Fabulous love letter to games that make you feel. By short film maker Thuyen Nguyen. (via GameSetWatch)

Design for the Other 90%

90% of people on Earth don’t benefit from design. That’s because they lack the means to purchase the most basic goods and many lack access to food, clean water, and shelter. What does it mean to design for this massive but radically different audience? Design for the Other 90%, an exhibit now at the Cooper-Hewitt, asks just that question and gets plenty of fascinating answers.

The exhibit highlights 30 products, many of them striking: from a straw that takes dirty water and renders it drinkable to a fashionably woven solar panel sidebag that provides light at night to a pot that uses sunlight to cool. The real stars of the show, though, are the stories behind the designs. Take the Kickstart Moneymaker Pump, which was originally designed to put the operator’s hips at eye level. Using an up and down motion, the pumper is able to irrigate crops at an impressive rate. But, since irrigation is largely done by women, all that eye level hip motion was seen by community members as a bit, shall we say, inappropriate. So the designers had to rework their design to lower the device significantly (a not insignificant engineering challenge) in order to make a product that would sell.

Designing products to sell (and cheaply) into this massive underserved market puts up some great challenges. Profit motive doesn’t die; it gets reinvented. Third world entrepreneur Paul Polak puts it this way:

  • If you haven’t had good conversations with your eyes open with at least twenty-five poor people before you start designing, don’t bother.
  • If what you design won’t at least pay for itself in the first year, don’t bother.
  • If you don’t think you can sell at least a million units at an unsubsidized price to poor customers after the design process is over, don’t bother.

It’s these kinds of stories and insights that inspire, so it’s a shame more of them aren’t told in the exhibit proper. (You can find them in the companion book.) Regardless, seeing design work so different from what we’re accustomed is exciting. And I hope that excitement is catching.

Design Life Now, another show at the Cooper-Hewitt, showcases the best design for the 10%. That show takes up all three floors of the main museum (and it’s busting at the seams). By contrast, Design for the Other 90% fills just half the courtyard. The difference in size drives home how fully slanted design is towards the richest of the rich. But the fact that the two exhibits stand side by side in the Smithsonian means that designers are taking the 90% more seriously than ever, and that’s heartening. Making beautiful objects that deeply matter — it’s hard work but the results reward the soul like little else.

Find more at the Design for the Other 90% website. Hear interviews with the curator and participating designers on

Last time we hit the Cooper-Hewitt, we grabbed a few undercover photos of Ratatouille.

Warrior Wardrobe Malfunction

Golden State Warriors phenom Baron Davis’ inner Artist came out last night when he wore a weird-ass flight jacket to the postgame press conference. Was he bummed that the Utah Jazz just pulled the plug on his postseason? Hard to tell since his wardrobe malfunction made him look ready to party like it’s 1999. Too bad it’s 2007, eh?

Via e-mail: I had heard rumors of him having an affair with President Musharraf, but this just proves it!!

Colors to Reality

Regular readers know we love clever colors and social activism. You’ll find a mix of both in this week’s five…

Uniqlo Explorer makes big images out of pixelated products to give a giddily random take on catalog navigation. The transitions rock. (via Veer)

Under the River – Jake braves oncoming trains to find out what lies beneath Riverside Park and finds the history of graffiti lit like a gallery: “skylight grates every twenty or thirty feet create sun-lit exhibition spots.”

Calcutta Dream
– Akshay captures a crumbling, vibrant worker’s cooperative turned coffee house in India. Richly beautiful.

Remains of Chernobyl – thought provoking Red Cross ads put everyday activities in an extraordinary locale. Shot in the shadow of the reactor.

Iraq on a Napkin – a fictional but heartfelt account of life as an Iraqi living in the occupation, courtesy of Esquire’s fabulous Napkin Fiction Project.

Karaoke Revelation: Subscription Music in Games


Bleary eyed, vocally numb, and partially deaf, we emerged from Korean karaoke bliss in the early hours.

I’ve done my share of karaoke over the years but never have I been privy to the cozy confines of Koreatown’s fabulous karaoke rooms (aka noraebangs). In the past, we hit a karaoke DVD or two at a friend’s party and perused the massive but somehow lacking song books at loud, smoke-filled karaoke bars. So, I was totally overwhelmed by the sheer volume of songs available on a whim in K-town — English, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Latin, Indonesian, and beyond. We’re talking everything from Free Bird to Shimauta to Ludacris’ greatest hits. We hit it all, tambourines in hand. And my hands have calluses to prove it.

Aside from fantastic friends and great atmosphere, then, what really made the night special was access to nearly unlimited music for just a few hours (50,000 Japanese songs alone). That got me thinking: While Steve Jobs clearly has a point that people want to own their music (85% market share can’t be wrong), the same may not hold true in gaming.

Recently, for instance, Karaoke Revolution creators Harmonix started selling song packs for Guitar Hero 2. You buy it, you own it, but only 3 songs at a time and you can’t pick and choose. While it’s a cool idea (and one I’ve been dying for since Frequency), this is one place where subscription could do better. That’s because on karaoke night having bunches of songs at your fingertips for an evening beats the shit out of owning a few songs forever. Variety bests longevity. Of course, licensing fees, bandwidth, and content creation cost are issues here. Still, I’d pay a nice sum to get a few hours with a library of downloadable songs for a Karaoke Revolution party, or even a monthly fee to have that access always. Would you?

I heart Karaoke Duet though I’m pretty sure their neighbors don’t. Image grabbed from Lost in Translation.

Evidence From the Future

Future environment. This week found us with nervous front row seat for the day the oil runs out. Clever designers found the future of design in projects for the poor at the Cooper-Hewitt. And Manhattan’s floating farm showed us how future generations might live with zero ecological footprint.

Future adults. Kids always give a glimpse of tomorrow and Dave Nightingale proved the point with his stunning still motion tumbleshot. But if you’re going to pick a future kid, you gotta go with the prodigy of a 4-year-old drummer from Mali.

Future art. We love how street art captures the past and the future at once. Like this abandoned hospital cum graffiti haven in San Francisco. Or the gorgeously overwritten Gompers middle school in LA (kofie and seak in particular). And we’re fascinated by the way the Global Graffiti Exchange lets writers re-imagine each other.

Lastly, don’t miss Joe’s dreamlike photo of summer’s edge, shot in the beautiful Brooklyn Botanic.

image via anarchosyn

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