Archive for December, 2007

Holidays in Cambodia

I’m going to Cambodia and Vietnam for the holidays, and in some ways it’s like going home. You see, growing up black in a largely white suburb of DC can be isolating. If anything makes differences plain, it’s gotta be the cliquish culture of junior high and high school. And it turns out the groups I fell in with were immigrant kids: Mexican, Ethiopian, Paraguayan, Korean, Vietnamese, more. I never wondered much about why I was so comfortable with them, I just was. But a recent story on Barack Obama got me thinking:

And there are also times when Obama’s experience feels more like an immigrant story than a black memoir. His autobiography navigates a new and strange world of an American racial legacy that never quite defined him at his core. He therefore speaks to a complicated and mixed identity — not a simple and alienated one. This may hurt him among some African Americans, who may fail to identify with this fellow with an odd name. Black conservatives, like Shelby Steele, fear he is too deferential to the black establishment. Black leftists worry that he is not beholden at all. But there is no reason why African Americans cannot see the logic of Americanism that Obama also represents, a legacy that is ultimately theirs as well. To be black and white, to have belonged to a nonreligious home and a Christian church, to have attended a majority-Muslim school in Indonesia and a black church in urban Chicago, to be more than one thing and sometimes not fully anything — this is an increasingly common experience for Americans, including many racial minorities. (atlantic)

Then it hit me: spending time in immigrant communities was a way for me to escape (in some small way) the racial confines of America — to be with people who haven’t been quite so fully indoctrinated with the racial expectations we in the US have been taught generation over generation. It gave me the opportunity to define myself as more than one thing. Maybe this poster says it best.

After my African American family at home, then, my second family is Vietnamese and Cambodian, my oldest friend is Vietnamese, my wife is Vietnamese. The sights, sounds, and smells (mmmm… pho, bánh mì) of Southeast Asia have been part of my life for so long it honestly seems a bit strange I’ve never been there. That’s about to change.

For the next three weeks, I’ll be off the grid; traveling mostly in Cambodia and Vietnam, with stopovers in Tokyo and Bangkok. We’ll be back in 2008 with more art, games, change, and everything else. Happy holidays and see you on the other side. Peace!

P.S.: Comments are closed site-wide (damn spammers!) but they’ll be back when we are. Until then, reach us via the contact page.

Update: Comments are open again — more soon!

images via stuckincustoms and infrangible; with apologies to dk

Soulful African Photos Tell Stories

The past few weeks have brought a flood of amazing photos from all corners of Africa: South Africa to Kenya, Burkino Faso to Morocco, and more. Such diversity, such beauty, such joy, such hardship.

People Of The Klein Karoo – stunning black & white shots of children and families on the Red River Farm, Western Cape, South Africa

Moroccan Road Trip – Stefan Rohner’s luminous candid photos capture daily life in Morocco (via raul)

Learning in Burkino – the Times had lovely, colorful photos from Burkina Faso for its cover story on aid problems in Africa

Kings of Africa – a three year journey produces wonderfully diverse photos of over 70 descendants of the great African dynasties

Born in Nairobi – capturing the moments after birth in Kenya. Four more amazing shots (one, two, three, four) from the same photographer appear as part of Japan’s Uneo Hikoma Awards.

See also War and Weddings, Mark Brecke’s work documenting genocide in Darfur and elsewhere (previously) and Unphotographable, a meditation on photos lost.

Sega I Love You, But…

The conversation was short. It went like this:

Me: Is Sega looking to get back into the hardware business?
He: Sega should get out of the software business.

Harsh. But what else is there to say really? For Sega, the early 2000s was a breathtaking time that found them overflowing with ideas (sometimes half baked, sometimes brilliant). Think of it: we saw Space Channel 5, Crazy Taxi, Shenmue, Jet Set Radio, Chu Chu Rocket, Phantasy Star Online, Samba De Amigo, Rez, and Super Monkey Ball within just 2 years. Stunning. Then it all fell apart.

Five years later, it’s hard to remember a time when Sega didn’t just churn out half-assed Sonic retreads and, oh yeah, ads like this. (If that mess is supposed to be a comment on male/female relationships, they’d do far better to follow Capcom’s lead.) But, then, maybe the backwards helmets is an analogy for Sega’s current business strategy: driving with the blast shield down.

That’s tough to take because Sega still shows periodic flashes of genius; typically courtesy of one Toshihiro Nagoshi (Daytona, SMB, F-Zero GX, Yakuza). But the spark really seems to be gone in most ways that matter. Was it the failure of Dreamcast? The awkward merger with Sammy? The death of long time benefactor Isao Okawa? It’s hard to say.

Regardless, I still have a warm place in my heart for the once American company called Service Games. To paraphrase James Murphy: Sega, I love you, but you’re bringing me down.

Find more Sega at Wikipedia.

FFFFOUND! Feeds Art Addiction

FFFFOUND! should be classified as controlled substance — the rush or sheer uncut eye candy it delivers can’t be safe. I mean, sure, there are plenty of social image bookmarking sites, but none has nearly the addictive quality of Yugo Nakamura’s invite-only baby. Since I found it back in September, I’ve been there. Hourly. Four reasons:

  • Quality – ffffound is a steady stream of supremely eye popping stuff (political, goofy, sublime). It rewards time spent like few others.
  • Simplicity – the fabulously unencumbered browsing interface allows images pop and suck you in. Voting is a simple click, contributing an image is two. (Copyright may decide the latter is too easy, but let’s hope safe harbor helps.)
  • Language independence – there are no tags, no comments, no categories, no text profiles, not even timestamps. Anyone who uses ffffound has only one communication channel: images. That forces the question: what do these images tell me about the person who bookmarked them? Only later do you realize you’ve been sharing images for weeks with folks you don’t even share a language with. Testimony to the communicative power of art.
  • Emergence – clusters of related images happen with surprising frequency (my recent love affair with whales for example). That’s fascinating considering there’s really no site feature that affords this (no tagging, no linking). Images ebb and flow naturally, inviting users to see patterns, call them out, and contribute to them. (I’d love to see the developers capitalize on this with a lightweight “related to” function.)

But all ain’t well in the land of visual inspiration. With any community content site, you’re going to get pollution and I’ve noticed an ever-so-slight drop in quality over the past month. Can the laser focus on beautiful images be maintained through the addition of so many new users, each with their own notion of what beauty means?

And speaking of the meaning of beauty, there are certainly many types of beauty in the human form. But when you look at the bodies that make it to the top of ffffound, they are often of the half naked female variety. Of course, there are many ways to interpret that result (largely heterosexual male user base, image availability, pop culture programming, etc.) but not everyone’s pleased with it. To form, the debate is happening in ffffound, in images: point / counterpoint. Personally, I like my communities open and uncensored but it would be nice to see more diversity in gender, ethnicity, and body type. Let’s hope a broadening user base brings balance, not dilution.

Ultimately, ffffound is a case study in design restraint. It strips away many of the expected web 2.0 trappings (tags, discussions, rounded corner coitus) and emerges with a streamlined community that’s pretty hard to ignore (or so says my crack addicted optic nerve). The challenge, then, is to grow it without losing the beautiful simplicity and content that make it so special.

Visit me on FFFFOUND! and check out creator Yugo Nakamura. I’ve got a few invites. Drop a comment if you’d like one.

Update: Invites gone!

E-mail It