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20 Years Ago I Saw Pink Floyd In France 

 08 June 2008

I spent the summer of 1988 in France, and one of the highlights was seeing Pink Floyd at the Stade Municipale in Grenoble. All these years later I've searched high and low for a recording of that show, and I know one exists because someone created cover art that is available for download, but no torrent containing the audio for downloading. But I did just find this clip on YouTube of the first few minutes of the show. Here the band is playing "Run Like Hell," from "The Wall." And somewhere in that audience is a 17-year old me.




The final act of the show was "Comfortably Numb" and I found a video that was making the rounds that year and was shot on the same tour. I remember a very bright orb emerging from the stage, and as it rotated it opened up into a star-like shape and got only brighter. You can see it here, but it doesn't look very bright. Still and all, it was a great show.


The View From Belvedere Castle 

 07 May 2008

Creativity In An Age Of Imbecility 

 19 April 2008

When I was a boy, I was often asked by adults and occasionally by other children what I wanted to be when I “grow up.” My answer shifted over the years. There was the fireman phase, the paramedic phase, the policeman phase, the pilot and astronaut phase. Among my playmates I knew kids who wanted to be mechanics, gas station attendants, doctors, veterinarians and aeronautical engineers. Now all anyone wants is to be famous.

Now there's a collective mania about fame and the Internet. Build a blog, the thinking goes, and by self-indulgently examining the unremarkable minutiae of daily life or creating contrived situations in order to document them for the imagined amusement of others, and you too can be famous.

By one estimate, the number of people writing blogs, sharing photos and video streams, and producing other forms of so-called user-generated content was 77 million in the U.S. last year and will grow to 108 million by 2012 or roughly a third of the population. That's a lot of useless junk that any ignorant wretch can push out to the Web with minimal effort.

Contrast this with Maggie's experience in producing Maggie's Place during 2004. (Images that link to her section of this site are sprinkled throughout this post.) Blogging itself was still new. Blogging with video and audio was all but unheard of. When the conventional wisdom on the Web said that one doesn't make the user scroll, she wanted one long scroll, not unlike what you find on the pages of certain popular social networking sites these days. Before video was freely and easily embeddable (YouTube and the like didn't exist yet) she wanted video directly on the page. Hence the embedded Quicktime files. When she wanted not only embedded audio, but user-controllable audio embedded in specific places throughout the page, we lucked into Hipcast, and I learned about the IFRAME tag. Her artistic vision for what she wanted to execute predated much of what is now de rigeur on the Web.

Digital cameras that use computer chips to produce a perfect picture with every click of the shutter have turned day-to-day photography on its ear, turning anyone who in the age of film would take the occasional red-eyed ill-focused snapshot into people who not only take lots pictures, but who are willing to publish them for all the world to see on services like Flickr and Picasa. The removal film and paper from the photographic paradigm has had an unintended effect: There are no limits to how many pictures you can take, and few limits on how many you can store. All the more to share photographic evidence of every vulgar waking moment within a Flickr stream.

This rise of the faux-creative class is cultural catastrophe that is cheapening the value of the truly creative. The barriers to entry are as low as they’ve ever been. Anyone with a Wordpress account can be a “writer.” Anyone with a Lulu account can become a “published author.” Substitute camera and Photoshop seat and you have “photographer.” A Flip video camera and a Vimeo account makes you a “filmmaker.”

How might Picasso, Jackson Pollack, or Richard Avedon or Miles Davis have fared in this age where every child is told by their parents that they’re talented, and every high school stoner who picks up a guitar is instantly branded a musician? I fear that today they’d be drowned out by the rabble of the faux-creatives, the cultural curse of the imbecilic, fame-obsessed, Internet age.

I say this all having watched my own in-house artistic genius (pictured) energetically create an enormous and brilliant body of work. A year before widely available Flash tools permitted anyone to embed video and audio within a blog post, she innovated her own multi-element approach to the blogging medium, forsaking text that at the time of its conception in late 2003 and early 2004, when blogging was largely experimental and text-driven with some photos, she pioneered an approach what would in time become the norm, well before the means were widely available to the masses.

The result is a series of intensely personal essays that combine photographs, video and music in a manner that today would be expected on any one of billions of sites, but in 2004 was both technically difficult for a Web layperson like myself to carry out, but also in its conception fundamentally different from what was being done at the time. In essence she envisioned then what everyone else is doing now. Her motivation was neither fame nor money, but to give people a chance to enjoy her art. Fame found her.

Where I'll Be Friday Night 

 30 March 2008

It's been more than a fracking year, but this Friday the wait will pay off. I'll be parked in front of a TV set watching the opening of Season Four of Battlestar Galactica. I've not written about it here before, but it is in my estimation, the best thing ever put in television, easily outdoing everything that has come before it in the science fiction genre, and a substantial portion of everything else. For once a show that happens to have to be set in space has been created under the assumption that it can and will be enjoyed by adults of higher than average intelligence.

There are no silly pseudo-scientific solutions to the problems faced by the characters, no last-minute inventions based on theoretical particle or temporal physics. It is instead a basic human drama set in a time of catastrophic events, not so unlike what we've come to experience and imagine to be plausible in our own reality, or perhaps in the reality that has been visited upon others. In one sequence of episodes, a planet settled by the human protagonists is occupied by the antagonistic, genocidal Cylons, leading the humans to struggle with the idea of, and to ultimately carry out suicide bombings as a means of resistance.

The plot arc of the first three of four planned seasons have covered topics ripped from the streams of cultural and political consciousness: Stolen elections, war crimes, trust, marriage, family, and a peculiarly thoughtful twist on the old boilerplate of science fiction television, what constitutes being human.

Season three climaxes as four core characters discover suddenly that they are actually not humans as they’ve long assumed but Cylon sleeper agents of unknown purpose, it made my very skin crawl. After hating Cylons all their lives, they suddenly are Cylon robots made to appear and act human. The philosophical implications for the current political culture are staggering. When terrorists are the ultimate villains, what happens when those who fight terrorism are viewed through other eyes as terrorists themselves? Down becomes up; heroes, villains, and so on. The moral clarity through which one might wish to see the vital polemic struggles of the day are oddly clarified because there are no right answers. Show runner Ron Moore constantly asks the simple question What would real people do in the given situation? Answer: The best they can, which often isn't enough.

It has been criticized as being a liberal-motivated allegory about the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, yet reaches no firm conclusions, leaving the messy moral ambiguity of it all unresolved. Eventually humanity escapes its occupiers in an impressive and complex military operation so richly imagined by the show’s writers and so masterfully filmed in a combination of live-action and CGI special effects that it looks as though it could have been taken from combat footage on CNN.

Battlestar thankfully lacks the stupidity that so often infects nearly all television drama, but is instead played straight by a powerful ensemble led by Mary McDonnell who will for the remainder of her career be best remembered by the honorific “Madame President.” Her ruthless portrayal of the cancer-stricken President Roslin, head of the 50,000-odd survivors of a human population that once numbered in the tens of billions has been daring. It is jarring, when a female head of state, who can’t help but be compared to the real-world counterpart who would be president of our own republic, it is jarring when she orders the summary execution of an enemy agent. Edward James Olmos as the worn-out warrior Admiral William Adama is the opposite of the moralistic philosopher of Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard. He’s instead a soft-spoken leader who not only doesn’t have all the answers, but when pressed isn’t above blatantly lying to motivate the people he leads.

The show is a remake of a forgettable 1970s TV travesty, and the title still tends to trigger memories of Lorne Greene as Bonanza’s Ben Cartwright transplanted to spaceship. The unfortunate circumstance of its title tends to color people’s reaction when I tell them the title of my favorite show. There must always be an explanation. This show is nothing like the original, except in the most basic of plot premise elements: The remainder of humanity stuck on spaceships looking for a planet called Earth they know of only through myths and legends. Eventually they’ll get here. What they’ll find when they do – they may arrive on Earth during the time of the dinosaurs, or in the wake of a latent environmental collapse – is the question that Battlestar Galactica fans like myself will be pondering now through over the course of the next fracking year.


A great start. The car 

 14 January 2008

A great start.

The car just had a flat. Luckily we're on the Triboro Bridge at the toll booth. The people are helping.


Yeah, Sure. I'm Getting Out Of Here On Monday. 

 13 January 2008


This is what the satellite pictures show of the Northeast tonight. In a few hours I'm expected to board a JetBlue flight to San Francisco for MacWorld. Given the image at right, what are the chances that I make it? Pretty poor. I spent the better part of the evening calling all over the city for a car service that wasn't booked solid. (Who knew lousy weather prompts people who would otherwise take the subway to work suddenly think it makes sense to spring for a car service? I certainly didn't.) In any event, I'm expecting Monday is going to be a one-of-a-kind travel adventure, fraught with long lines, impatient waits on the runway, and the kind of fun and games that only JFK International can deliver when the weather goes to Hell. To keep it fun and interesting (for myself at least) I'll be blogging via Blackberry along the way. Stay tuned. My car arrives in only a few hours!

Scrabulous, Game Six 

 23 December 2007

I don't do much on Facebook, but I've become addicted to playing Scrabulous, an online version of Scrabble. I have been over the last few months, battling through a best-of-seven series against Shel Israel, co-author with Robert Scoble, of Naked Conversations, who I've known since I wrote the series of stories on Jambo for Forbes. We're now into our sixth game: I'm leading three games to two, and as of this writing am ahead by 31 points. Here's a link to the game. Shel blogged about our match when it was only two or three games old here.