Dispatches from Andyland "Your reality, sir, is lies and balderdash and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever!" — The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

June 29, 2009

The connection between an the artist and tools

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Andrew @ 11:14 pm

Can you picture an artist who claims that they can’t sketch/draw/paint/sculpt or otherwise use  tools to manipulate their medium? Or an author who is can’t write or type? That without using these tools can still create world famous works?

The recent news of Michael Jackson passing away keeps bringing me to this question. The news keeps reminding me of Jackson, and when I think of Jackson, I think about the plagerism lawsuit over The Girl Is Mine. In it Jackson claims that although he doesn’t know how to play an instrument, he composes complete renditions of his songs fully formed out of his head (melody, harmony, counterpoint, rhythm.) , through singing and scatting into a tape recorder. No rough drafts, rewrites, editing etc. The tapes then go to Quincy Jones who arranges the piece and writes out parts for the studio musicians.

I find it hard to believe that someone can have that great of a musical mind they can conceive of these great pieces, and yet not have the ability to correlate that hitting this or that key on a keyboard matches the pitch that is going on inside his head. I would think that eventually tying the notes of those melodies into their names would be necessary, if even as a temporary holding space to work out the rest of it. (or more accurately, since I know of people with physical disabilities creating works under extraordinary difficulty: Christy Brown painting with his left foot, or Richard Stallman dictating code to a transcriber, that the effort to create without learning a tool seems far more burdensome than actually learning it.)

Although I think the story that was given seems implausible, I’m not sure what the true story is. It could be that the work was transformed by musicians piece by piece so that Jackson didn’t realize that it was thoroughly transformed. I’ve known some very clever graphics designers who could do that.  You start by giving your idea of what you want. They already know how they want it to end up, and all the development iterations involve convincing you that their changes are a refinement your idea. It could be that his private deals with unknown songwriters is that they have to give up composer credit for their work. Whatever the real story is, once I decided he was lying about how his music was composed, I decided that the potential that other statements were lies were high.

Maybe its just me though. There have been too many times I’ve been in disagreements with people that the tools that they need to use are “computer stuff” and so they can remain oblivious too it: Salesmen asking me for help setting up an LCD projector and Powerpoint. Web content producers not understanding or caring that a (table embedded in a table embedded in a table)^n embedded in a Javascript document.write() will not render quickly no matter how many servers are added. That when the web server you are using treats URLs case-sensitively, you shouldn’t put the wrong URL on a billboard facing the southeast expressway. Where is the line though? At what point does something become a system needing a technologist to extend or maintain and at what point does a content producer need to accept responsibility to understand the tools of their art?

June 4, 2009

A little shakey on the concept

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Andrew @ 7:58 am

I subscribe to Boston.com’s BostonUpdate twitter feed over RSS because although some people feel like it isn’t a good twitter feed, its a better RSS feed than what they supply. (Some of the feeds seem autogenerated and are too noisy, the rest are too special purpose and have few updates if not ignored entirely.)

Yesterday I found tweet: Ooops, we ought to update our SEO title on the Political Intelligence blog. Calling the title the “SEO title” makes me think that the person who sent this knows very little about the web or how web pages work, about blogs or the Movable Type system used for the Political Intellegance. What they are calling “SEO title” is normally just called the title, or maybe “the page’s title” or something like that. Anything that needs a short description of a web page will likely take it from the web page’s title. Its used on the window title bar in most browsers; If you bookmark the page, the title is used; When a search engine displays its results most will show the pages title (which still isn’t what I’d call SEO at this point.) I’d hope that BostonUpdate would have noticed these things before while using the web and made some connection between their content and how it is used. Its because the page’s title has such importance that search engines may tend to put some importance on the words title  which gives it some effect on the pages ranking.

As a reader I shouldn’t even care what a site is doing for Search Engine Optimization. (except to the extent that I want their pages described well so the appriate content show up high enough on search results.) I really shouldn’t know or care what they are doing for SEO. Google’s Search Engine Optmization Starter Guide seems to agree with me: “Even though this guide’s title contains the words ‘search engine’, we’d like to say that you should
base your optimization decisions first and foremost on what’s best for the visitors of your site.” If they think of the title as the “SEO title” it just shows that they are trying to game the system; And game a system that they don’t fully understand.

When a person is working in some sort of creative work, it seems to me that they don’t only need to have skills in isolation, but they also need to understand the media that they are working in. I writer needs to work differently depending on whether they are making a novel, a coffee table book, or a comic book. A photographer and a cinematographer have different concerns, especially about movement.  Thinking of the title as just “some SEO thing” and not understanding what a <title> tag on a page does implies that the person who wrote that tweet has never recognized a connection between what they wrote on the web and what happens if they bookmark a page they wrote, never recognized a connection between the content they are working with and what is in the title bar of their browser. To be effective producing content in a media someone should see what sort of effects their actions have in that medium. This comment doesn’t give me a very good feeling of the understanding of the media they are working in.

May 26, 2009

GlobeReader

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Andrew @ 10:24 pm

I have this big mondo blog post about the state of the media. I keep adding to it and never getting to a point where it can be finished off. I figure that I need to break it into pieces before it becomes a  Gordian Knot that I can’t untangle. Here is one easily extracted piece:

Who in the world is the GlobeReader product designed for? It promises the reader “an experience similar to your newspaper’s look and feel.” Is there really a market people who would prefer to read their news on a computer rather than paper and ink but find the web too cumbersome?  

The only other possibility that I could initially think of is the other side of news media marketing. They really have two sides to their marketing: marketing to their readers and to their advertisers. Since newspaper advertising produces far greater revenue than web advertising, it could be a product that appeals to advertisers. From what I could see of the demo, no.  At the most they show a single standard banner add at the bottom of the page. (The demo for  TimesReader, that this seems to be based on  shows no advertising at all.)

For the features that GlobeReader seems to have that Boston.com seems to lack :

  • Resizable text. (can be done to some extent with a web browser’s text resizing, but there is too much absolute positioning within the boston.com site design and you wind up with small boxes of large text.)
  • Offline access. (can be done with some RSS readers or predictive caching.)
  • Mac OS-X Aqua style transitions. 
  • An alternative, utilitiarian  site design.

Is there anything else that I’m missing?

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