January 01, 2005

Abbot Kinney - The best contemporary architecture walk in America?

Looking down Abbot Kinney

Yesterday we wandered along Abbot Kinney Blvd in Venice. A mix of shops, restaurants, businesses, bars, and residences, it is, for my money the premiere contemporary architecture stroll in the United States.

Bookstore at one end of Abbot Kinney

The photos shown here are from my Abbot Kinney photoset on Flickr. And I didn't capture all that I really liked.

The old and the new

What works about Abbot Kinney? The maintenance of the older brick buildings lends character and history, something you don't get a lot of in L.A. The contemporary architecture fits with the older work -- taking on the same boxy shape.

(post-?)Modern architecture

Also, the contemporary architecture, on its own, just looks good. The buildings here are bright, clever, creative, without being over-the-top, gauche, or ugly.

A mix of color

And, the mix of small boutiques, restaurants, and architecture and design firms lends a fiercely independent air. No chain stores here!

Big and little

So, next time you're in L.A., head down for a stroll along Abbot Kinney. It's not that long -- 4 or 5 blocks. It'll take maybe an hour, and that includes shopping and, say, getting a cup of coffee. Enjoy the genius of this street, and wonder, like I do, if this has simply just happened, or somehow been planned.

Posted by peterme at 03:26 AM | Comments (5)

December 31, 2004

What is "Communication"?

In the New York times article on the internet and socializing, we're told that "57 percent of Internet use was devoted to communications like e-mail, instant messaging and chat rooms, and 43 percent for other activities including Web browsing, shopping and game playing."

And it made me think that a fairly arbitrary distinction is being made here in the use of the word "communication." If I post to my blog or Flickr, or view other people's posts or photos, am I not engaged in "communication"?

Posted by peterme at 07:19 AM | Comments (3)

When Data Makes You Say, "So What?"

The New York Times reports on a study about the internet and socializing. Guess what? The more time you spend online, the less face-to-face contact you have!

Um, so what? The tone of the piece suggests this is a bad thing. You get statements like: "According to the study, an hour of time spent using the Internet reduces face-to-face contact with friends, co-workers and family by 23.5 minutes, lowers the amount of time spent watching television by 10 minutes and shortens sleep by 8.5 minutes."

Um. Okay. Could you distinguish between friends, coworkers, and family for me? Because I purposefully *use* the internet to have less face-to-face time with coworkers. It's called telecommuting. It allows me to have more control over other parts of my life. Like socializing. With friends. And family.

Without reading the original research (it's not yet published online), I can only assume the Times reporter, John Markoff, isn't a very deep thinker, if he can't distinguish between types of face-to-face interaction.

Posted by peterme at 07:16 AM | Comments (5)

The Review Emphatic with Peter Merholz

Couple nights ago we saw The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. I'd gone in with low expectations -- I enjoyed The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore, but early notices suggested that Wes Anderson had gotten a little too precious for his own good, drifted a little too far away from people and emotions toward a world of quirks.

Life Aquatic may be Anderson's best film yet. It doesn't have the deep emotional center of Rushmore, but it's simply funnier and a lot more fun to watch. Yes, it's weird, quirky, and bizarre. But it's soooo delightful. Like the old MAD comics drawn by Will Elder, every scene is crammed with details you want to follow. And, unlike what reviewers suggested, it's in no way condescending. Wes draws you into his masterfully created dollhouse/trainset/whathaveyou.

One thing that's clear about many filmgoers is that they simply don't deal well with weird. And Life Aquatic has weird in spades -- David Bowie sung in Portuguese, brightly colored faux sea creatures, stupid dolphins with cameras on their heads, an intricate boat replete with spa, a deep water submarine that holds 15, a character seen eating in every shot he's in. Perhaps the daffiest scenes involve pirates and gunfire that is shot in a way reminiscent of a junior high play -- lots of pops, people shouting, goofy costumes, and utterly, utterly non-threatening.

Anyway, ignore the naysayers, turn off your cynicism, sit back, and enjoy the ride.

Posted by peterme at 06:30 AM | Comments (8)

December 27, 2004

Movie Review: In the Realms of the Unreal

To witness Henry Darger's art is to get immersed in his fantastical story of the Vivian Girls, spunky pre-adolescents fundamental to a war being fought between Christian Good and the Secular Bad. I first saw Darger's work at SFMOMA about 5 or 6 years ago, and his vivid, candy-colored depiction of "The Realms of the Unreal" sticks with me.

Darger is firmly ensconced in the canon of American outsider artists. With no formal training, he devised his own approach, liberally borrowing from found sources to piece together his bizarre tale. A recluse, Darger lived alone in a small apartment in Chicago, toiled as a janitor by day, and produced his haunting narrative at night.

He also put penises on his drawings of naked little girls. No one knows why.

For me, perhaps the most resonant aspect of Darger's work is its size -- drawings could be as much as 10 feet wide, vast panoramas filled with obsessive detail.

It's this aspect of Darger's work that gets lost in the documentary film In The Realms of the Unreal. Through interviews and Darger's autobiography, filmmaker Jessica Wu pieces together Henry's lonely life, weaving it with his life's work, the fantastic story "In the Realms of the Unreal," with over 15,000 pages of textual material, and 300 large format drawings.

I can't recommend this doc to people who haven't seen Darger's art, because I don't think it does his artwork justice. It can't capture the bigness and detail of Darger's work... I was left feeling that people who'd never seen his work wouldn't have any real idea what the fuss of the film is about.

Also, Wu decided to animate Darger's art in order to aid in telling the story... A bold decision that leaves me uneasy, as it tampers with the vision that is being held in such high esteem. It also makes an imprecise introduction to Darger.

If you *are* familiar with Darger's art, then by all means, you should see the doc -- Wu's presentation of his life and work is thorough and compelling. The interviews with those who know them offer insight into the recluse, though it's clear that no one will really know what was going on with Henry.

Posted by peterme at 04:04 PM | Comments (8)

December 26, 2004

Flickr Wondring

Lane and Nadav have been posting thoughts about Flickr, and I couldn't help but throw my voice into that echo chamber.

Lane is right when he says it's about the pictures. He's wrong that the network is simply the plumbing. That is, depending on his meaning of "network." Those sites that truly succeed on the web do so because of a fundamental appreciation of what "the network" brings. Amazon, eBay, and Google being the biggest, shiniest examples. They get that the network, with its constituent elements of people doing things, and through those activities, somehow connecting to each other (whether it's direct, as in items on eBay, or indirect, as in different people buying the same product on Amazon, linking to the same page in Google), they get that that connection is meaningful, exceedingly meaningful, and if you can leverage that behavior, you can provide an experience orders of magnitude more interesting than when you ignore that connectedness.

Nadav is onto something when he compares Flickr to a massively-multiplayer online role-playing game. And for identifying the importance of play in Flickr. (This is the point at which it might be helpful to explain that the name of Flickr's developer, Ludicorp, comes from the word "ludic".)

But the comparison doesn't strike me as wholly apt. MMPORGs are about the players. Flickr, as Lane pointed out, is about the pictures. More than the people. No, really. Obviously, the pictures are taken by people, and the primary connection that a member of Flickr has is with other people.

But Flickr starts and ends with the picture. My most viewed photo is of my color-organized bookshelf. People viewed it because of what it is, not because of who I am.

Also, an MMPORG must have some kind of economy. Some system to measure risk and reward, to incent people to achieve more, do better, etc. Such an economy would run contrary to the Flickr ethos... If people tried to, I don't know, game the system by filling it with photos whose only point was to engender popularity, well, it would make the system much less interesting.

Also, I think, an MMPORG must be escapist. Allow for leaving this world and entering a place of fantasy. Flickr, being about the photos, being about the snapshots, really, is firmly grounded in our world. It provides joy through it's multiple perspectives on reality.

Anyway, this isn't to detract from Nadav's post. His points are insightful, and valuable. It simply is to push and poke at this thing we all love, to better understand it. Though, I wonder: is this analysis of Flickr like dissecting a pet? Yes, you know how it works, but, well, you kill this thing that you love?

Posted by peterme at 03:03 AM | Comments (11)


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Abbot Kinney - The best contemporary architecture walk in America?
What is "Communication"?
When Data Makes You Say, "So What?"
The Review Emphatic with Peter Merholz
Movie Review: In the Realms of the Unreal
Flickr Wondring
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