September 04, 2003

Critical Theory Need Not Frighten

via Andrew comes a pointer to Landscapes of Capital, a website devoted to deconstructing recent media campaigns devoted to commerce and technology.

There seems to be an entire book's worth of material here, all served up for free to you, the Web reader. I've spent nearly an hour pouring through it, and I'm not even close to reading it all.

Though it takes a semiotic approach, and quotes people like Barthes and Bakhtin, don't let that scare you! It actually serves as a wonderful primer, making critical theory approachable by presenting it in an accessible context. It's great that the authors have made available the actual commercials in question, so you can see exactly to what they are referring, and understand their criticisms much more easily.

The content of the site is fascinating, depicting how corporations utilize imagery to promote certain mythologies, and how a number of patterns have emerged in the telling of these stories.

I was particularly taken with a series of ads developed in 1998 for First Union (which hadn't been shown out here on the West Coast). These are slickly produced, very expensive, remarkbly dense creations, which, as the authors point out, provide a treasure trove of symbolism.

Geeks will appreciate an ad from Micron Electronics, as it stars Jeri Ryan before she made it big as 7 of 9 on Voyager.

As someone who has read a bit of history about the American west, MCI Worldcom's ad that equates the new global information infrastructure with the "golden spike" that connected east with west via railroad is remarkably prescient in a way that was unattended -- we commonly associate the railroads with the corporate malfeasance of the robber barons, and a couple years after this ad was shown, MCI Worldcom became an icon of swindling and greed.

In a following post, I'll discuss some meta-issues around this remarkable website.

Posted by peterme at 04:17 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

What If I Ditch the Olive?

My latest post to the Beast Blog is worth mentioning here:

The neighborhood playground:
No Drinking?

I find it odd that the martini glass (with olive!) is the universal symbol for alcohol. Particularly because the folks at whom this sign is directed are likely drinking something that has it's own identifiable silhouette.

Posted by peterme at 01:35 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Can I Have Your Attention

Steven Johnson's latest post comes from a chapter of his forthcoming book on attention and focus. It's a good read. Back in the day, I pursued research on attention and focus (Scroll down to April 24, 2001, then back up to April 26, 2001).

Posted by peterme at 01:32 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 01, 2003

RSS Readers Are Too Hard To Use

And could be "fixed" with one simple change in their user experience.

One-click subscribe. Currently, you have to cut-and-paste RSS feed URLs into RSS readers. If RSS feeds ended with ".rss" (instead of .xml or .rdf), then simply clicking on them should launch your preferred RSS reader and automatically subscribe you to the feed. Cutting-and-pasting is a pain, and will keep RSS out of the hands of the less tech-savvy, because it requires them to understand things like "URLs" and that they're "subscribing" to a "news feed." What is understand is that I cilck and I get stuff. Currently, if I click an RSS feed I'm awash with unformatted gibberish.

Alternatively, I suppose it's pretty obvious that RSS aggregation will simply become a feature of next generation web browsers. I now use the RSS reader Shrook, which utilizes the Safari toolkit to embed a web browser in the reader. How long until Safari (and IE, and Mozilla, etc.) simply allow you to track your RSS subscriptions? It would be a pretty simple addition to the web browser interface, and have the added benefit of being the first significant bit of browser evolution since Mosaic allowed for inline images. (Though I suppose auto-filling of forms was also remarkably valuable.)

Posted by peterme at 08:04 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Where in the US is PeterMe?

One of my primary motivations for my last trip was to visit a part of the country that I had never seen. With northern New England visited, my travel experience in the US looks as follows.

Where's PeterMe?
I've never been to Alaska or Hawaii, either. And I've now been to British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Quebec.

I hadn't quite realized the pattern of travel until I saw this -- I pretty much haven't been to the "edges" of the country. I'm not particularly motivated to visit Montana, North Dakota or Delaware, but I've long wanted to lollygag around the Deep South, a part of America that looms so large in our country's history, but about which I only know that I've seen through various mediated forms, or from folks who moved away. (And it wasn't until I was writing this that I realized I hadn't been to West Virginia, either. Somehow, been all around it. Anyway, should I go to W. VA?)

What have I taken away from my US travels? One thing I've found is that, with the exception of Indiana, every state I've visited has had something to offer. Something worthwhile to experience, to understand.

The places I like most? The places where I can most easily be me. When traveling, this state is made clear by where I can engage in peterme rituals--afternoon coffee, bookstore browsing, enjoying local beers, eating great food, wandering neighborhoods, seeing good movies. Cities that have resonated: Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, Austin, TX, New Orleans, LA, Madison, WI, Minneapolis, MN, Chapel Hill, NC, Cambridge, MA, Burlington, VT.

The more I've thought about it, the more I'm impressed with Burlington. Vermont's largest city, it's still only 40,000, and it's in the corner of a state with only 600,000 people. Yet it provides a richer urban experience than many cities in this country, and allows you to have it without being overwhelmed. That it can support all those restaurants, stores, and a first-run four-plex arthouse cinema causes me to scratch my head at the economics of it all. If there were other cities nearby that fed into it, it would make more sense.

See you on the highway, or in the coffeehouse.

Posted by peterme at 08:00 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

August 31, 2003

Eastern Travel, August 15-17: Adirondack Museum, Ephrata, and, Okay, We're Done

By the 15th, which was also the 15th day of our travels, we were getting pretty tired of traveling. Knowing we only had a couple days left, it was difficult for us to feel adventurous.

On our way out of the Adirondacks, we had to stop at the Adirondack Museum, which presents the history and culture of the area in a massive complex. It's expensive ($14), but it's also hard to spend less than three hours there.

Among other things taking place, there was a yard-spinning demonstration, at which Stacy learned how to make a felt ball.

Starting the felt ball
You start with a mass of yarn...

And after some dunking in water and rolling, you end up with a ball of felt...

Finishing the felt ball

Stacy asked the leader of the demonstration, "So then what do you do with this?" And she replied, "That's it. You've made a felt ball. You're done." Which seemed like a lot of work for little pay off.

Elsewhere at the museum we saw this remarkably patriotic fire engine...
Patriotic fire engine
The symbolism makes the mind reel!

And the cafe looks out over Blue Mountain Lake...
Peter looking over Blue Mountain Lake

After the museum, we high-tailed it through the rest of the park, and then through the rest of New York State, and into Pennsylvania. We ended up in Reading, PA, eating dinner at the Ugly Oyster while calling nearby motels for lodging. Finding a motel room was remarkably difficult -- they were all full up, or only had smoking rooms available. We located one about 10 miles on, for $70. (When are lodging spaces going to learn to increase the number of non-smoking rooms? I've never heard of one filling up their smoking availability. And what is it with depressed towns like Sycamore, NY and Reading, PA having no lodging? Who is staying in these places? Anyway.)

The following day we headed to the Ephrata Cloister, an historic site remembering a community of German Anabaptists who lead a quasi-monastic pastoral life (to whit: the members of the community slept on slabs of wood 15 inches wide. And their pillows? Blocks of wood. And they woke up every night at midnight for two hours of service. And in an effort to more closely emulate God, who didn't sleep and didn't eat, they slept and ate as little as possible. It's not surprising that the community didn't last very long.) It's a classic intentional community (the subject of Stacy's research), and we spent a fair amount of time poking around, until the rain washed us away.

Ephrata Garb
Our tour guide at the cloister was dressed in the garb of the original inhabitants.

Ephrata was our last bit of real traveling. We headed into Baltimore for lunch, and then onto just relax for a day before Stacy had to go back and I had to start work. The afternoon and evening were a relaxing mix of of wandering, shopping, and eating with friends.

Outside the AVAMOutside the AVAM, one of North America's best museums.

The following morning, we had a low-key breakfast at Firehook, ate sample fruits and cheeses at the Dupont Circle farmer's market, and then Stacy dropped me off at The Watergate (yep, that Watergate), and the traveling was pretty much over.

As is this chronicle of the trip. At least, for now.

Posted by peterme at 11:12 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Eastern Travel, August 14-15: Long Lake, NY

From Burlington, we headed straight for Adirondack State Park in New York. We drove through Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, both of which were annoyingly worked up tourist destinations. We continued onto Long Lake, where I had stayed about 5 years ago, and got ourselves a reasonably-priced room at the Adirondack Hotel.

Long Lake is both a town and lake (so named because it's 14 miles long and 1 mile wide). Though catering to out-of-town visitors, it's not overly developed the way the other Adirondack towns appeared.

The big event for our stay in Long Lake was climbing the summit of Blue Mountain, a peak about 10 miles south of the city. There's a trail for getting up there, a hike which is 2 miles long. It's also remarkably steep towards the end, and requires climbing angled rock faces. A fire lookout post offers amazing views to those who complete the ascent.

The View from the Top
The tallest peak for miles.

Stacy at the Summit
Proof that we were actually there.

Walking down the lookout
Walking down the fire lookout stairs.

We dined that night in the hotel's well-appointed dining room. It was while we were waiting for our table, and getting a drink at the bar, we learned that much of the northeast was blacked out, particularly in the state of New York. Which surprised us, as there was plenty of electricity in Long Lake. We were lucky, it turned out -- other Adirondack towns were without power.

Dinner was good, and I had to admire eating at a restaurant where, when you order an entree, it comes with salad and sides. We chatted with our remarkably fit waittress, Jessie, whom, it turns out, is the seventh generation of a family that helped found Long Lake long ago. I reeled at the thought of a family staying in one place for that many generations in North America -- it's probably more common back east; I don't think it's plausible for we westerners.

For dessert, we walked to Long Lake's main intersection, which has not one, not two, but three places you can get ice cream -- Stewart's, Hoss's Coner (get it?), and Custard's Last Stand (get it?). We ended up at Custard's, from which I got an unmemorable cone, and Stacy got a glacier -- soft serve poured into a Slush Puppie. Stacy made sure the thank the gods for this creation.

(I may not have mentioned it earlier... Stacy is a slavish consumer of slush drinks -- Slurpees, slush puppies, granitas, etc. It seems to be a Canadian thing -- I've since learned that Winnipeg is the Slurpee Drinking Capital of the World. Slurpee-drinking is like Oreos- or Reeses-eating. There are proper ways to do it, methods for ensuring maximal enjoyment. To whit--as you get about half way through your Slurpee (which you're drinking while you're driving), tap it on your knee to help it settle before imbibing further. One of Stacy's favorite drinks on this trip was an Apple Cider slurpee we got after we toured Ben and Jerry's -- she raved about it for miles.)

The following morning we headed out of Long Lake. We stopped to get some coffee at Hoss', where we saw them putting out the bear.

Rolling out the Bear

We then visited "Buttermilk Falls," seemingly a must-view for any visitors to the area.

Stacy at Buttermilk FallsLess "falls", more "slopes."

As you can see from the picture, they're less "falls" than rapids. I don't understand the deal that is made about them.

Having fulfilled our visitors' obligation, we continued on our journey. . .

Posted by peterme at 10:43 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack


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Critical Theory Need Not Frighten
What If I Ditch the Olive?
Can I Have Your Attention
RSS Readers Are Too Hard To Use
Where in the US is PeterMe?
Eastern Travel, August 15-17: Adirondack Museum, Ephrata, and, Okay, We're Done
Eastern Travel, August 14-15: Long Lake, NY
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