Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Shanghai/Cambridge Blogger Breakfast

This Friday, February 2 Project Good Luck is hosting its first international “blogger breakfast.” We will meet 8-9pm EST and link up via MSN IM with Shanghai and Beijing based bloggers to discuss the state of blogging china, current events around media innovation and to socialize.

If you would like to participate send an email to

Monday, January 29, 2007

Robotic Birds with Morning Coffee

My favorite gift this holiday season was a pair of robotic birds given to me by my goddaughter (here is a two-year-old with taste). They are Breezy Singers designed by Tomy/Tomika in collaboration with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This means that my Cardinalis cardinalis (Northern Cardinal) and Sialia sialis (Eastern Bluebird) are anatomically correct and sonically exact. They move their heads and chirp in the most winning way when their motion-tracking senor is stimulated. One part Mary Poppins with equal share of P.K. Dick’s electric sheep. The Lenin-head candle is from a friend’s trip to Czechoslovakia…a different story but equally weird and charming.

Bird fact: the war between European Starlings, House Sparrows and the Sialia sialis for resources has decreased bluebird numbers, but human-placed nest boxes have helped a resurgence of the population.


Saturday, January 27, 2007

Über-Meta Time: Second Life 'talk' of Davos

Adam Pasick Reuters bureau chief for Second Life reports that the virtual world platform is the “talk” of the conference. From the Reuters’ auditorium in Second Life Pasick streams video interviews with World Economic Forum attendees. The Mitch Kapor interview is a discussion of SL itself. Fortune’s David Kirkpatrick makes a similar claim in regard to his Davos jaunt. In fact, he made virtual worlds the subject of the dinner party he hosted. I guess it’s über-meta time. Meta policy makers get tour of metaverse.

Note, in the interview Kapor’s avatar is talking (audio stream) not typing, which is a demo of soon-come SL interface.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Build Your Campus Google 3D Competition

Sent to me by the every ready How2, GoogleBlog is hosting a competition for 3D models of university campuses.

“Today the Build Your Campus in 3D Competition begins. This spring, you and your (presumably equally artistic) friends can honor your campus turf as you hone your 3D design skills just by modeling your school's campus buildings in Google SketchUp, geo-reference them in Google Earth, and submit them through the competition website to earn lasting online glory.”

It’s not insignificant that the competition does bundle all Google properties:

Google SketchUp
Google Earth
and the prize is an all-expense-paid trip to…Google

But the public value of Google’s ability to create free and shareable tools is profound. Perhaps this should also be kept in mind when assessing their ability to generate money from the branding and amplification of their applications or their forays into search censorship and DRM. Appalling ubiquity, yes. Evil empire, not yet.

Ok kids, got out and make cities.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Chinese Media Student Shops Super 88

Jin Liwen, one of my graduate students working on the pgl international media research, is the guest author on this post regarding cultural differences between American and Chinese daily culture. Her video mash up is funny. Here’s her advice for the ladies—don’t drink icy water. Thanks Liwen!

I have been in Boston for nearly half a year. Beyond any doubts studies at MIT are really tough. Apart from the four courses of the first semester at CMS, I have to work for two RA programs, one is Convergence Culture Consortium, and another is the animation project of Beijing Film Academy. However, I am lucky that what I am learning or working for is exactly what I like. For example, there is one class called major media texts that deals with classic English literatures such as Shakespeare’s Othello or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It gave me a lot of chances to read beautiful stories, watch classic films like singing in the rain, and go to theatre to watch live performances like bobrauschenbergamerica. Another class workshop provides us with some hands-on practices to make audio or video projects. For workshop I successfully made my first short film called The New Trojan War (2006) Besides, I’ve also got some new understandings of the cultural differences between China and America through my experiences in MIT during the first half year. Here I would like to share with you some of them:

1. Ice Water vs. Hot Water
Actually, when I studied in the Johns Hopkins University-Nanjing University Center of Chinese and American Studies last year, I have found that Americans like ice water so much even in freezing winter. They rarely drink hot water. The weirdest thing is that girls would insist drinking ICE water even during their periods. You know, in China, we always drink hot water or tea. It will make us feel warm and refreshed. And girls are warned against any ice drinks or foods (especially ice cream) during periods. My friend told me that American females even drink ice water immediately after childbirth. It’s unbelievable to us Chinese! We believe that after parturition females have to stay in bed for months and be treated well enough. And of course, they have to be far from any ICE things. I am still curious about the reasons of this cultural difference. And I cannot provide you with a cogent answer yet. Maybe you can tell me. ☺

2. Deference or Defiance?
There is one big difference between American and Chinese classes. In China, we have our professors standing in the front of the classroom, while students will be seated formally under their professor. Here in America, everything is gonna to be more casual in class. Professors would sit down like students do. They (Students as well as professors) can be seated in any comfortable positions. You can prop up your legs with a chair. You can take off your shoes or even bare your feet in class. You can go to bathroom whenever you want. Hey, I am not exaggerating! That’s what I have experienced. In class, you can ask any questions at any time. And professors seem to be pleased to be defied by students’ questions. On the contrary, in China, we are supposed to keep silence and listen to the professor attentively. And we Chinese never link verbal aggressiveness to cleverness or sagacity.

3. American Chinese Food
If you come to Boston, you will never feel hard to find some Chinese food. There are many Chinese restaurants here. And you can also easily find some Chinese food trucks or food courts on campus. However, those American Chinese foods are not true Chinese foods! They are not healthy at all! They are too oily. And most of the foods they provide are meat, chicken, beef or pork. It might be easy for you to find so-called Chinese quick meals, but it would be never easy to eat true Chinese vegetables here. Actually, these American Chinese foods are so oily that I have gained a lot of weight after I kept eating them during the first semester.

4. Globalization and Fried Spare Ribs Wuxi Style
If you really want to eat Chinese vegetables in Boston, you can go to some Chinese supermarkets such as Super 88 and find some. Of course you’ll have to cook them by yourself. Actually, what surprises me is that I even find the Fried Spare Ribs Wuxi Style (Wuxi Jiang Pai Gu) here in Super 88. And that’s the specialty of my HOMETOWN WUXI. I feel so proud and happy when I buy it here. Haha.Obviously, the power of globalization truly shortens the ‘mental distance’ from China to America. And you will strongly feel the trend of globalization when you go shopping in supermarkets or malls because you will find that you are so familiar with almost every brand. P&G;, Nike, Starbucks, Olay, Häagen-Dazs… are just everywhere!

They are just some of my feelings after I came to MIT last year. Maybe I’ve misunderstood or maybe that’s true. Whatever, I still have one and a half year to experience and to understand those interesting culture shocks here. I would like to share with you more in the future.

In the end, I will be serious to tell you that I really love Boston! This is an amazing city, tranquil and prosperous, dynamic and rich in its history and culture!

pix by Liwen are Kresge Auditorium, view from the Charles, home cooked, meal, lobby 7, and Liwen before and after.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Google Unbound @ New York Public Library

Google hosted the free and all-star loaded conference yesterday Google Unbound @ New York Public Library on the future of publishing. Chris Anderson, Seth Godin, and Cory Doctorow, among others led the assembled through a magical demystifying tour on good network media practice. Here are a few takeaways.

Chris Anderson in marketing the Long Tail theory from blog to book gave proof of the long tail concept. In his Go Beyond the Block Buster presentation he talks network marketing strategy and even more crucially points to necessary industry change of perspective.

1. Recognize mid-level success IS success. It is not only the author with 1 million readers, but authors with 500 or 2000 readers who are important to this new economy.
2. Feed the meme. Be the best person on it.
3. Asking Nicely™

Seth Godin said give away books. The talk or the concert is the special thing, not the reproducible object.

1. Books are not paper. They are information and they can also be objects. Refresh on this so you are not confused about what you are actually making and what the goals are.
2. Don’t yell at people. Get permission to talk to them. Get to know your readers.
3. Stop cutting down trees. E-books, audiobooks, and other transmedia permutations will not replace print. Nonetheless, consumers themselves are already reorganizing the central value of print.

Cory Doctorow has stated many times and reiterated it here that he has made more money selling books by giving away a free and complete download than he would have constricting circulation.

1. No one every succeeded by telling their customer that they have bad taste. Talk to people, feedback and educate, which means learn from them as well.
2. Copying will only ever get easier

Thanks Google, that was fun.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Doug Aitken takes Manhattan

Tuesday artist Doug Aitken unveiled his fragmentary film, Sleepwalkers, on the exterior walls of the Museum of Modern Art. The scale of the piece is amazing as it is meant to be viewed from the street as people pass by. Commissioned by Creative Time and MoMA, the build up for the public art piece has been pretty major, with a full-scale movie poster campaign in the subways and a feature in every New York culture publication. The mayor was there for the launch, ‘nuff said. The film, or perhaps it’s more correct to say films, are silent, telegraphic, and slick. It’s an all-star cast (as in famous actors and singers), but my favorite moments were those of pure abstraction. Aitken shoots the architecture of the MoMA building and New York itself with a combination of austerity and the punctuated––literally a kind rhythm or tempo to the images that at one point creates an ersatz strobe light effect. This is public art, but for a public that views from a distance, creating a kind of double voyeur: the restless city watching itself shifting around through a filmic sleepless night. The nonlinear technique Aitkin has been playing for a while certainly lends itself to this mode. The city as a remote but powerful player in these mini dramas is critical to the piece, from how the film is projected onto the surfaces of the building to the actual cityscape growing out from around the images.

January 16–February 12, 2007
Evenings, 5:00–10:00 P.M.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Culture jamming with Ji Lee: abstractor TV

Multimedia artist Ji Lee of the infamous Bubble Project has a new video piece where the curious young culture jammer (def. one who monkeys with the signs of power) learns how to turn video billboards into lovely pieces of abstract media art that are something along the lines Jeremy Blake. One also finds an instructional video for turning the TV into home art. Check out

…as he says,
please enjoy.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Cyworld 2d avatar versus 3d

Thanks to Ravi for reminding me that Cyworld, like the Wii Miis, is a 2d format. The point I was making in the previous post had to do with the viable use of avatars, not the particularities of the format, but I am glad to be corrected. More on Miis and 2d avatars to come. The cuteness factor and the step away from the “uncanny valley” effect (too close to photo real to be comfortable) + ease of use are all big +++ for 2d. check out Youtube Wii Mii channel.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Second Life Source Code Published

Stepping away from media representation of SL, the other side of the coin, in terms of problems working with the platform, is that SL DRM boil down to virtual world megalomania. Linden Lab ends up acting like a mini-Microsoft is the way one friend put it. SL has had distinct limits to its openness as a transmedia platform. Residents might “own” their digital goods in-world, but there is nowhere outside of SL where those goods can be used. Effectively the world does not communicate outside of itself and its de facto proprietary nature will be the downfall of its ostensible free market…until now.

Linden Lab announced today the publication of its Second Life client source code to be used under GPL standards.


This does not make avatars, objects or other things developed in SL immediately cross platform, but it does give users unencumbered freedom to choose how to use the platform. I quote from
Cory Doctorow’s excellent post.

“What good is your wonderful Second Life real-estate, architecture, gadgets and wardrobe if Linden Labs can throw you out at any time? It's like amassing Soviet-era rubles -- you could only spend them in Russia.
But by opening up the source code for Second Life, Linden is inviting a competitive marketplace for Second Life hosters.…This turns Linden wealth into real-world wealth. And it also takes an enormous stride towards turning Second Life residents into real citizens instead of mere customers. Citizens get to petition for redress of their grievances from a state that represents them; customers can only take their business elsewhere. Customers only ever get to love it or leave it. Citizens get to change it.”

Town Hall with Cory Linden to talk about this terra re-forming tomorrow.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Second Life backlash: Clay Shirky blows up the spot

As the virtual world chronicles of the early naughts will be written, Clay Shirky’s “A story too good to check” will go down as the shot heard round the world that started the Second Life backlash. I guess “backlash” is not quite as romantic as revolution or even counter-revolution, but part of Shirky’s point is that the hyperventilation language around the Second Life virtual world platform needs to pause for reflection. Shirky, an influential media theorist and blogger, lit the flame, but it was inevitable. The rinse cycle on much things web 2.0 has been the early stories of 2007 from NYTs to Wired. But to the plot…

2 million virtual residents was the problem. Or more pointedly, how Linden Lab, the creator and host of the virtual world Second Life, accounted for that number. And even worse, how the business and technology press, in the opinion of Shirky, had failed to maintain journalistic standards in covering this story. In effect, Second Life has been too sexy. In the business of virtual play, cyberdildonics definitely captures the popular press imagination. The other hot button of course is $$$$$. If the accounting in terms of actual users is chimerical, then what else is smoke and mirrors about this?

Shirky claimed in the mid-December Valleywag post that Linden Lab, if not directly lying about the number of users of its platform, at the very least turned a blind eye to the press reporting of numbers that could not be verified. Or could not be verified in a meaningful way. The tricky bit of business between Linden Lab, the press, and the growing number of critics is the grey zone between one-time visitors and regular users that the company gangs into one larger number under one category, residents.

As Shirky writes, “Someone who tries a social service once and bails isn't really a user any more than someone who gets a sample spoon of ice cream and walks out is a customer.”

He delivers a sensible and precise a cautionary tale about previous hype around virtual world platformsand the second coming the 3d interface, even citing the beloved Howard Reingold reporting live from a computer-server city from a decade ago.

Many of the individuals involved in reporting on, developing in, or utilizing Second Life, which might also mean playing Second Life, have weighed in on this.
Electric Sheep, terranova, CNN, danah boyd, GSD&M;’s Joel Greenburg. Believe me the list goes on. It’s hit a sore spot:

The problem is not really the numbers, although reliable metrics for emerging platforms is absolutely a concern for those doing business in these spaces.

The critical question is what kind of a model is SL?

Shirky writes, “[V]irtual reality is conceptually simple. Unlike ordinary network communications tools, which require a degree of subtlety in thinking about them…Second Life's metaphor is simplicity itself: you are a person, in a space. It's like real life.”

Second Life may turn out to be the Friendster of the “metaverse”––the first to disseminate the signal strongly but also fast to disappear once the My Space of this format appears. Last winter there were 200,000 who visited SL. Today there are somewhere around 2 million who have at least stepped in to use the interface, to see for themselves what this is all about. WoW has already demonstrated a mass scale of technical application and popular interest for MMORPG. SL, Multiverse, and the growing numbers of virtual world platforms beg the question of future network use. It’s not like real life. Not by a long shot. One is animating a proxy through multilayered terrains of information. Some of them might take the shape of cliché singles bars, but the procession toward ever more complex simulation in computing is there. Not every user can code, but certainly more users will learn to script (or edit video or stream media) as Flilckr and Youtube have made clear. It also seems incorrect not to recognize exponential user growth in regard to 3d virtual worlds. Let’s not look at the U.S. for a moment but Asia, specifically the Korean Cyworld that is a 3D world massively used for social-networking in the way that My Space functions for American youth. The all-encompassing metaverse that Philip Rosedale promises Second Life will become may be a fiction of the CEO’s own virtual world fantasy. The potential of 3D search engines do not trump text-based and 2D formulations. But it seems short-sited to says that 3D imaging and spatial representation do not open doors for emergent use of communications networks. At the very least, the qualities of 2D social networks are mutated, amplified, and animated by these real-time moving image worlds. VW platforms, including SL, can claim the following qualities:

1. Community building of social networks that reach on and offline
2. Communal projects that span systems designs to educational, business, and activist organization
3. Avatar proxies are not minor. Yahoo avatar, Wii’s Miis, Facebook….every place where users are able to created multi-media profiles they do. The puppet show of virtual worlds speaks very strongly to a collective desire to play in this way.

We are still in the beta stage on this, a continuing beta from the 1990s I suppose, but the tipping point from niche to popular use seems to have arrived. In 1990 how many people outside of computer scientists working in universities had email accounts? By 1990 how radically changed was the email demographic look? Does anyone remember squinting through CUSeeMe 2600-baud camera feeds in the mid-‘90s waving at each other from across town? There is a little sLonelygirl15 embedded in that scratchy black and white feed. There are particular problems with the individual VW platforms that are glaringly apparent. But in a larger sense, there is no “final form” to the VW platform. As My Space fades other adaptations will grow to take its place, so with the virtual world.

I entirely agree with Shirky’s point that the press media’s coverage of SL has been about “provider adoption” (residents and creative industries making virtual money and staging marketing events) as opposed to “user adoption.” Some of this is opportunistic and some of it is the difficulty of figuring out what to write about if it’s not the recognizable, top-down stories that dominant standard press coverage. Writers
Julian Dibbell and James Au have set an excellent precedent on embedded journalism in the unreal. Nonetheless, to trash the whole set-up on account of media hype misses the basic message of the medium. I think it’s a real one.

James Brown new year

From the digital pen of the excellent Art Jones, a 2007 new years card giving love to the legend, RIP.