Category: New York City

A Spoon Full of Penis^H^H^H^H^H Audience Makes the Public Domain Go Down

I've been working as a photographer for MoMA's PopRally for the last year or so and it has quickly become one of my favorite live events to work for. Last Tuesday was "PopRally: Silent But Deadly", and the evening's entertainment would come in form of comedy from and about public domain films. Max Silvestri, a friend and comedian I booked for a Creative Commons Salon was the MC for the night and started off the evening explaining how he was planning on curating MoMA's Department of Internet Funny Pictures. Above, you can see him highlighting a photo he found on the Internet of a snow penis made in a pickup truck.

What was so special about Tuesday (besides the fact that I took the time to read the instruction manual for my flash prior to showing up) was that MoMA packed the house showing restored mostly-public domain silent films with live improvised piano accompaniment by Ben Model. If you've ever watched a silent film, this should surprise you.

On top of that, MoMA featured awesome remixes of those films afterwards. Having taken a couple of film classes and fancying myself a basic appreciation of the history of photography, I know why silent films are historically important but I've always had a hard time actually sitting through them. I've occasionally downloaded some from the Internet Archive, but never found them particularly engaging or watchable.

But sitting and laughing with the audience at MoMA, I finally understood the appeal of the silent film -- it was the presence of an audience affirming and interpreting the screen that allowed me to enjoy it. Since there was no dialog, we, the audience, had to create and share what we thought was happening on screen with our laughter and reactions.

In other words, you're not supposed to watch silent films by yourself; they require group dynamics to really come alive. This may apply to contemporary film, and may be a reason year after year, Hollywood still breaks box office records despite panicked proclamations that the sky is falling. Theater experiences are highly rivalrous and I think this PopRally really demonstrates why theaters and real live audiences are still very important.

My favorite part of the evening were the remixes that various comedians were commissioned to do. They make less sense without first seeing the original films (none of which seem available online in their entirety), but here's one that I think definitely works by Joe Mande:

The Knockout: 15 Years Later from Joe Mande on Vimeo.

If you're not already signed up for PopRally, do not hesitate to join their mailing list, and buy your tickets early because they almost always sell out.

(The ^H's in the title of this blog post are explained here.)

Progressive Music

More history being made this week for the music industry. First, NIN topped the Amazon MP3 charts with a CC licensed instrumental album.

Today, Apple promised to go DRM free on iTunes by the end of Q1 2009.

In October of 2006, I organized the first DRM protests in the states while a student activist in Free Culture @ NYU. A year later, we protested the midtown Apple store after Tower Records went out of business (Tower was our second target after Virgin Megastore in Union Square.)

A couple of months after the Apple protest, Steve Jobs wrote his famous anti-DRM letter to the music industry. Since then Apple has ostensibly been negotiating variable pricing and removing DRM entirely from the store. Jobs probably sacrificed the one-size-fits all $.99 price per song so that he could get DRM completely out of the store.

There are still things to be done, however, before victory is declared. The iPod supporting truly free formats would be nice (I'm becoming increasingly interested in collecting FLAC music), at least until the various patents controlling MP3 expire. Also, native CC licensing built into music stores like Amazon and iTunes would be nice too.

But as Voltaire said, "The perfect is the enemy of the good."

Google Street View's Revealing Error

Google Streetmap Blurs Faces in Advertisements, Too.

After receiving criticism for the privacy-violating "feature" of Google Street View that enabled anyone to easily identify people who happened to be on the street as Google's car drove by, the search giant started blurring faces.

What is interesting, and what Mako would consider a "Revealing Error", is when the auto-blur algorithm can not distinguish between an advertisement's face and a regular human's face. For the ad, the model has been compensated to have his likeness (and privacy) commercially exploited for the brand being advertised. On the other hand, there is a legal grey-area as to whether Google can do the same for random people on the street, and rather than face more privacy criticism, Google chooses to blur their identities to avoid raising the issue of whether it is their right to do so, at least in America.

So who cares that the advertisement has been modified? The advertiser, probably. If a 2002 case was any indication, advertisers do not like it when their carefully placed and expensive Manhattan advertisements get digitally altered. While the advertisers lost a case against Sony for changing (and charging for) advertisements in the background of Spiderman scenes located in Times Square, its clear that they were expecting their ads to actually show up in whatever work happened to be created in that space. There are interesting copyright implications here, too, as it demonstrates an implicit desire by big media for work like advertising to be reappropriated and recontextualized because it serves the point of getting a name "out there."

To put my undergraduate philosophy degree to use, I believe these cases bring up deep ethical and ontological questions about the right to control and exhibit realities (Google Street View being one reality, Spiderman's Time Square being another) as they obtain to the real reality. Is it just the difference between a fiction and a non-fiction reality? I don't think so, as no one uses Google maps expecting to retrieve information that is fictional. Regardless, expect these kinds of issues to come up more and more frequently as Google increases its resolution and virtual worlds merge closer to real worlds.

Sights and Sounds of Obama's Victory

I went out last night around 1 am to take photos of the celebrations happening in Union Square. At the last minute I downloaded a voice recorder app for my iPhone and hit record as soon as I stepped out the door. I recorded the entire next half hour of shooting photos and talking to people in and around Union Square and I think it does a pretty good job of capturing the mood. Think of it as a Manhattan field recording.

30 minutes, 320kbps 71.4mb file download or listen here:

Foraging in Central Park with Steve "Wildman" Brill

After reading Michael Pollan's Omnivores Dilemma, I've become increasingly interested in learning how to forage for mushrooms. It turns out there's a Connecticut Mycology association named COMA (apparently the irony of naming a mushroom hunting society after a state of "profound unconsciousness" was lost upon the members of this group) and they recommended someone named Steve "Wildman" Brill for walks in Manhattan.

After booking a walk with Steve earlier this week, Thessaly and I showed up only 2 minutes late this morning at 72nd St. and Central Park West.

We didn't find any edible mushrooms, but we did find lots of other tasty wild edibles. The mushroom we did find turned out to be very poisonous. It was a "Little Brown Mushroom" (which is pretty close to its scientific designation since there are so many different types) that Steve told us would deposit poisons in our blood that would slowly destroy our kidneys over time. Steve made a very concerted effort to indicate just how deadly most things are out there. His philosophy of eating wild edibles is similar to the differences between white list and black list web filtering. Instead of giving general rules about what you can't eat (black lists which will always be insufficient), he gives very specific rules about what you can eat (white lists) and assumes everything else will kill you slowly and painfully.


He was able to identify that the mushroom was of the type Cortinarius, because it had a little spider web-like veil remnant.

Here are the rest of the things that I picked up:

Foraging in Central Park

From left to right, that's Common Spice Bush, Heritage Apples of Unknown Heritage (they were red on the inside and a little sour), Burdock Root, Something similar to New Garlic, Epazote, Sheep Sorrel, Sassafras, and California Bay Leaf (I think).

Check out Steve's 2008 calendar to book a walk.

Just to be perfectly clear, Michel Gondry is not missing

Michel Gondry is missing.

I ran into this poster walking around with Thessaly on Sunday. I took a photo and sent it to Flickr. I added a caption disclaiming it as being probably a hoax (I actually said it was probably a lame marketing ploy).

Then Gothamist blogged about the posters the next day using my photo.

Thankfully, today I received a message from Gondry's office saying that no, he was not in fact missing:

Hi. I would like to make it perfectly clear that Michel Gondry has absolutely nothing to do with this at all. It is not a marketing campaign. These postings are the independent act of someone not associated with Michel Gondry or any of his work or projects. We would prefer that these signs be removed whenever possible. Thank you. -Office of Michel Gondry.

Does this mean I get to be in the next Michel Gondry music video?

Pseudo YouTube

Pseudo Logo

I was Googling around the other day looking for some vintage Silicon Alley article and came across a wonderful Wired article about Pseudo blew through millions of VC funds at the end of the 20th century on lavish SoHo parties, technology, and all kinds of behavior that no self-respecting startup kid would attempt in 2008. There are some uncanny things coming out of the mouths of this older startup set:

"When TV first came out, it had an impact like a social atomic bomb," [Josh Harris] says. "But the mode of intimacy that I'm presenting, which we'll experience via the Net, is going to be bigger."

What's so heartbreaking about it all is that Harris was right, really. Just at the wrong time. Broadband saturation wasn't anywhere near where it needed to be. No one had Flash (or any other capable video codec) installed on their browser, and no one really understood the notion of viral media. People sent links and an occasionally MP3. I had a collection of .wmv files that I'd DCC to friends over IRC, but that was basically as far as it got.

Harris is convinced that when broadband Net access becomes ubiquitous, millions of consumers will end up doing exactly what he's about to do. "Of course they're going to be watching each other," he says. "It's inevitable. Everything I'm doing will be considered commonplace, just 10 years from now. It'll be no more unusual than listening to a stereo or watching TV."

What Harris really had wrong, however, was the death of privacy, which is a generational fight which will take much longer to settle. I'm still generally unconvinced that humans can live totally publicly, though things like Twitter, Facebook, and Google in general are contributing to an erosion towards attitudes about privacy erosion that we have very little control over. Harris is obviously an exhibitionist who understood the power of the 'net, and perhaps predicted phenoms like Tila Tequila and, but couldn't speak for all of us.

According to Jayson Blair (?!) Pseudo liquidated their assets in 2001 after the bust and their inability to find more cash.

But where are they now?

Josh Harris' name is virtually ungoogleable, and Wikipedia doesn't offer any help.

His girlfriend at-the-time, Tanya Corrin, however, wrote about her experience in the New York Observer:

Josh liked to tease me that he’d be the most popular. Getting press is one of the things Josh does best. Since living in public was his idea, he positioned himself as the "visionary" and me as "the hot girlfriend." I would have preferred to be presented as more of a partner. But it was Josh’s project and money, and he was starting to freak out about the latter, so I let it go.

But what about the artist, Nico Haupt? He seems to be running with a 9/11 conspiracy crew and selling a shirt that simply says "TV Fakery" here, as part of his Haupt Couture brand.