ambientfindability… wtf? aka the post in which I finally admit to utter ignorance instead of simply displaying it

Can someone, please, explain to me Because I’ve been there; I’ve read the home page; I’ve clicked around. I’ve discovered links to it and tried to understand them in context. And I just don’t get it. And I’m not talking about the whiny, reactionary “I don’t get it” of buying a new cellphone of a different brand and stubbornly refusing to read the manual and encountering that culture shock of suddenly having to think inside a Scandinavian head instead of a Korean one or whatever. I’m talking about playing around with something, generally understanding how it works, and still having no clue what it’s for. Yeah, that kind of “I don’t get it.”

Granted, this is probably a bad page to start on, but ambient findability seems like an interesting idea to me. And to give you some of that all-important context, I almost thought I understood what it was going to be about when I read this Sterling post. I thought it was a book. I mean it looks like a book, right? And mentions “chapters,” but at the same time it totally obfuscates the fact that there might be a book, if there is, in fact, a book. Which I think is my point about not getting Because what it seems like to me is a well-implemented tool for hiding and disorganizing information. And I’ve already got one of those, balanced precariously atop my neck.

The Lego Conspiracy

For reasons that will go unmentioned, I’ve been tracking the price of the Lego Strata/Creator 1000-piece tub. Last week, you could purchase this tub at Walmart, Toys-R-Us, Amazon and a bunch of online toy stores for $14.99. Over the course of the last two days, the price at every single one of these places has jumped to $19.99 or $20.99. Froogle is still listing some $14.99s this morning, but those are cached. Walmart was the last to fall, some time between midnight last night and 10am this morning. Actually, Stewart Toys is still holding the line somewhat at $17.99, but that site looks a little shady to me. Then again, they do put forth a novel story: they’re an online toy seller that turned into a brick and mortar toy store in Oklahoma. I’d be more convinced if they had pictures.

You might be tempted to cry “price fixing!” And if you did, I would applaud you. But this kind of fixing… um, gouging… um, exploitation… um, “value perception uptick response” is completely consistent with market economics. Because if you’ve ever tried to buy Lego around the holidays (as I have–again, don’t ask), you’ll notice that the shelves go bare right around… well, today, actually. You can get the $199 bio-mega-mecha-transformer-T-1000 Lego chopper-moonbase up until Christmas Eve, but the plain old block sets, the ones that don’t need instructions because you can make whatever the hell you want out of them, those are gone.

I can expand this observation into my general theory of Christmas shopping: if you haven’t completed it before Thanksgiving, you’re totally screwed.

Happy Holidays!

Update: Here’s one solution to the expensive Lego problem: just make up your own price!

The Black Rocking of America

One of the central challenges of the Burning Man ethos has been how to carry something of the experience back to the “real world” with you. There are many reasons for this. First and foremost perhaps is the concept of the Burning Man himself–the central icon of the festival whose fate, year after year, is to be destroyed in a last, celebratory conflagration. The idea being that art, in this context, is meant to be temporary, either in the moment-by-moment expression of costume (including nudity) or the destruction by fire of more physical installations. The meaning of all this symbolism is clear: check your inhibitions at the door, but also what happens at Burning Man stays at Burning Man.

And even if you want to, the experience is difficult to transport away, due to both official policy and sheer scope. Video cameras are restricted and licensed, still cameras have difficulty with the scale. Audio recordings, blogs and personal accounts all capture only the narrowest of vignettes of the totality of the event.

Yet now we have Burning Man Art showing up at City Hall, albeit in San Francisco. It’s hard to know if this is a result of the art world taking Burning Man more seriously, Burning Man taking art more seriously, or just the quasi-evil Burning Man Project extending its brand reach. I include this last possibility only because of my deep distrust for the reality of the Burning Man experience. Yes, there’s a lot of nudity and drugs and fire. But there’s also a ton of rules and law enforcement and above all a fuck-load of money flowing through the enterprise. And when you liberally mix draconian policies and open flames, cops and feeling-no-pain naked people, volunteerism and large chunks of capital, it’s really hard to trust the results.

So when Burning Man art “escapes” into “the wild” of public plazas, I think we need to ask, is our society opening or is Burning Man becoming more mainstream? Because while on the one hand a War of The Worlds-inspired, skeletal cephalosaurus on stilts would be right at home on the playa, in the city plaza it’s not much different from the annual Johnson City Lights Spectacular, which is put on, incidentally, by the local electric company. And is that art or marketing?

A Strange Thing Happened on the Way to War

I probably need to see Jarhead, if only because I missed the actual war. I think that might be the moment I disconnected from the American experience. It’s a strange thing to accidently be in a foreign country while your home country is at war. People ask you questions you not only can’t answer (which will always be true in war), but for which you’re utterly unprepared. I was in Mexico, and in Mexico they’re always convinced gringos are there doing something sketchy. It’s more interesting that way. And they’re right half the time. And the other half they still make money at it. But they were convinced I was there “dodging the draft.” Try explaining to someone in another country, speaking a different language, that you’re not dodging the draft, that in fact there is no draft, and this isn’t a real war. It’s a tough sell. It was a tough sell back then, when the actual war was about four days long. I can’t imagine what it would be like today.

And Gulf War 1 was a really odd one to miss because, as I heard when I got back, it was the CNN war. Shit was blowing up on television! I heard… I was out of range of television. I missed that brief moment in the sun. I also missed that brief moment, in the sun. Notice that shit doesn’t blow up on television this time around. Even with record numbers of journalists in harm’s way and twice as many news channels. Possibly because we’re not doing the blowing up of shit at this point, and so we don’t know where to point the camera. We’re not wagging this dog.

Because for the Money We’d Rather Bring You One More Crappy Bruce Campbell Contractual Obligation

The SciFi channel is about nothing if not blown concepts, missed opportunities and ruined franchises. Still, it’s hard to understand why they’d kill something like this. I mean they’re the SciFi channel. Could it really have been killing them to be keeping Omni’s fiction editor employed while racking up Hugos and Nebulas? This was costing them what annually, the catering budget of Locusts: The 9th Plague?


Okay, this one is just for Austinites, or maybe Texans: Did anyone see a light show tonight in the northern sky around 8pm? It was momentary, of course, and looked like a shooting star, only about 20 times brighter and with maybe two or three trails instead of one. My guesses were, in order of occurrence: meteor shower, disintegrating space junk, disintegrating space station, super-sonic fighter jet igniting afterburners. The trajectory was most definitely downward (but only slightly), so that eliminates a lot of terrestrial explanations like fireworks and model rocketry. Nothing in the news tonight, so I assume astronauts were not involved.

Dude, That’s One Mean Prince Albert

Actually, it’s more of an ampallang, maybe, but I’m really not sure what they were going for, and we’re really not going to go there. If you’re one of my more conservative, squeamish, or just plain nice readers (there’s three of you; you know who you are), then please stop right now. Don’t read on. Don’t click. Because this is by far going to be the most disturbing and confusing thing I’ve ever linked to (it is to me–that’s for sure). And because I simply cannot post something like this without attribution and expect to maintain my intellectual (not to mention sexual) identity in your eyes, it came from here. I can only imagine the ads and search engine hits I’ll get off this post.

Journalism: the Last Bastion of Unapologetic Irony

This article about looking for the elusive Austin Yellow Bikes would have been a whole lot more compelling if the guy had, instead of spending “three-plus hours last week and a modest amount of the Austin American-Statesman’s mileage budget,” actually spent his time on a bike riding around downtown talking to people about the Yellow Bike project.

I could care less about the Yellow Bike project, of course. Austin, like all Texas cities, is an absolutely suicidal place to ride a bicycle. But I do respect the idea of attempting to reach saturation with a resource like bicycles. I’ve attempted the same thing with pens–buying dozens and dozens and leaving them everywhere in an attempt to always have one at hand. The lesson I’ve learned is that the numbers required for this to work are always much greater than any reasonable estimate you can come up with. Based on my pen experiments, I estimate that to succeed the Yellow Bike project will have to infuse Austin with approximately 18 million bicycles.

Home-Brew Noise Canceling . . . Finally!

For a story I was writing about 20 years ago, I dreamed up this idea: why not take a set of microphones and a PA speaker/amplifier setup and interpose some phase-shift/delay circuitry to create a DIY noise cancellation system? It might not be acoustically perfect, but it would damned sure do something cool. A few years later, Saab and Volvo started building this into their car audio systems and Bose started putting it in headphones. I’m sure I stole the idea from Arthur C. Clarke or Popular Science, so I never bothered to try to collect royalties. Now, finally, there’s this article telling you how to do it (for headphones at least). I really want to build this, connect it to about 5000 watts of amps and a cloud of speakers, and silence my whole neighborhood (from my perspective anyway).