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The [Glee iPhone app] uses a special, gentle version of auto-tune, the recording effect that rounds off your notes to the nearest correct pitch. (Most pop singers today are, in fact, routinely auto-tuned during the recording process.) You’re also given generous reverb and other effects; it’s the high-tech version of singing in the shower.

But the app also somehow multiplies you, duplicates your own vocal line and assigns your clones to other notes. Now you’re singing in lush four-part harmony with yourself, with absolutely zero effort. If you can carry a tune, you can turn off the processing and go it alone.

The result — professional backup band, you processed to sound gorgeous and perfect — is exhilarating, no matter how rotten a singer you are. It’s pop-star fantasy fulfillment for a buck, and everyone who tries it goes nuts. . . .

What both apps teach you along the way is that to sound like a pop star, technical singing talent is not necessarily a prerequisite. (This is especially apparent when, ahem, you isolate Taylor Swift’s vocal track in her app.) With these apps, you now have the same support structure the pros do. You get all the benefits of state-of-the-art vocal processing — and even a taste of the public adoration — that comes with being a star.

from "Twittering Our Lives Away," by Michael Metzger, Comment Magazine, 28 August 2009

Twitter has been described as perhaps one of the greatest technological innovations since the telegraph. It will better connect us. Perhaps. But what will it undo?

Benedictine monks invented the mechanical clock in the 12th century to remind workers to take periodic Sabbath breaks. They never imagined someone like Frederick Taylor, known as the Father of Scientific Management, would use clocks to time workers in order to increase productivity.

William Farish (a Cambridge University tutor) never imagined his idea of numerical grading—unheard of before his time—would eventually marginalize mentoring. Before 1792, students were evaluated through dialogue, not digits. This conversation required a tutor. Numerical grading has wiped out mentoring.

Now consider Twitter—a wonderful new technology promising us the world. It can do a lot. What might it undo? How about paying attention?

from "Hundreds Try Out for Art-World Reality Show," by Randy Kennedy,, 19 Jul 2009

Over the last few years reality-show casting calls have become almost as much of a cultural commonplace as the shows themselves — the familiar scenes of hundreds of anxious strangers converging on a street corner with their résumés, their headshots and their A games, hoping for some kind of immortality or at least a more interesting career.

But few such casting calls have looked like the one that began in the wee hours of Saturday morning in the West Village, where Jeff Lipsky, a 37-year-old painter and digital artist from Tyngsboro, Mass., unfolded his New England Patriots lawn chair and camped out for the night in front of the White Columns gallery, first in line to audition for a new reality show being created for Bravo. Produced by Sarah Jessica Parker, the show, which doesn’t have a title or a broadcast date, will try to do for the contemporary art world what the cable channel has done for the worlds of fine cuisine (“Top Chef”) and fashion (“Project Runway”): discover young, or maybe even middle-aged or old, unknowns with the talent to command the attention of both a television audience and a serious audience in the creative field to which they aspire.

The 13 finalists eventually chosen — from among hundreds who have already auditioned in Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago and now in New York — will compete for a gallery show, a cash prize and a sponsored national museum tour, though the producers have not revealed how much money is at stake or which museums or galleries will participate.

excerpt No-toy story
from "Pixar’s Latest Film Has Wall Street on Edge," by Brooks Barnes,, 6 April 2009 :: via GigaOM

Adjusted for inflation, Pixar’s films have generated a combined $2.65 billion at North American theaters, a spectacular showing. “Finding Nemo” in 2003 was the high point, selling $405.6 million in tickets.

Pixar’s last two films, “Wall-E” and “Ratatouille,” have been the studio’s two worst performers, delivering sales of $224 million and $216 million respectively, according to Box Office Mojo, a tracking service. Attendance for Pixar films has also dropped sharply over the years, suggesting that ticket price inflation helped prop up overall sales for “Wall-E” and “Ratatouille.”

Retailers, meanwhile, see slim merchandising possibilities for “Up.” Indeed, the film seems likely to generate less licensing revenue than “Ratatouille,” until now the weakest Pixar entry in this area. (“Cars” wears the merchandising crown, with sales of more than $5 billion.) . . .

Perhaps Wall Street would not care so much if Pixar seemed to care a little more. The co-director of “Up,” Pete Docter — who also directed “Monsters Inc.” — said in a recent question and answer session with reporters that the film’s commercial prospects never crossed his mind. “We make these films for ourselves,” he said. “We’re kind of selfish that way.”

John Lasseter, a co-founder of Pixar and now Disney’s chief creative officer, routinely says in interviews that marketability is not a factor in decisions about what projects to pursue. Instead of ideas that feel contemporary, he aims for stories that are rooted in the ages.

“Quality is the best business plan” is one of Mr. Lasseter’s favorite lines.


It’s not often that aesthetics are considered in the study of science, but [University of Chicago grad student Elizabeth] Kessler maintains it is necessary if one is to fully understand the space telescope and its impact.

“There’s a lot of translation that occurs between the data the Hubble collects and the final images that are shared with the public,” Kessler explains. Translating raw data into the “pretty pictures” that have become a staple of newspaper front pages requires careful image processing.

Astronomers and image specialists strive for realistic representations of the cosmos, yet they make subjective choices regarding contrast, composition and color. The Hubble images are complex representations of the cosmos that balance both art and science. In that sense, as well as in their appearance and emotional impact, Kessler says they resemble 19th century Romantic landscape paintings, especially those of the American West.

“The aesthetic choices made result in a sense of majesty and wonder about nature and how spectacular it can be, just as the paintings of the American West did,” Kessler said. “The Hubble images are part of the Romantic landscape tradition. They fit that popular, familiar model of what the natural world should look like.”

from "I Was a Regency Zombie," by Jennifer Schuessler,, 22 February 2009 :: Thanks, Marcus, for the reminder!

Minor pandemonium ensued in the blogosphere this month after Quirk Books announced the publication of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” an edition of Austen’s classic juiced up with “all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie mayhem” by a Los Angeles television writer named Seth Grahame-Smith. (First line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”) . . .

According to Mr. Grahame-Smith, who confessed to being “bored to tears” by “Pride and Prejudice” in high school, the idea was mostly to sell resistant readers on the joys of Jane while having a bit of fun. The book, probably the first Austen/horror mashup to make it into print, is roughly 85 percent Austen’s original text, with references to monsters, putrefying flesh and ninja swordplay added on just about every page.

“I think Austen would have a sense of humor about it,” said Mr. Grahame-Smith, whose previous books include “How to Survive a Horror Movie.” (Rule No. 1 in a zombie attack: “Stop Being So Pathetic.”) “Or maybe she’s rolling in her grave. Or climbing out of it.”

excerpt The GXAT

The first question on the GXAT [Generation X Aptitude Test, better known as the G-zat] is this:

1. Do you want to change the world?

A. Yes, and I’m proud to say we did it, man. We changed the world. Just look around you!

B. Yes, absolutely, and I promise I will get back to doing that just as soon as interest rates return to where they’re supposed to be.

C. Omigod, omigod, changing the world and helping people is, like, totally important to me! I worked in a soup kitchen once and it was so sad but the poor people there had so much dignity!

D. The way you phrase that question is so . . . cheesy and absurd that I am not even sure I want to continue with this pointless exercise.

That’s the only question on the GXAT.

excerpt Shanzai!
from "Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Rebellion in China," by Sky Canaves and Juliet Ye,, 22 January 2009

Shanzhai, which literally means “mountain fortress” and implies banditry and lack of state control, refers to China’s vast array of name-brand knockoffs. Shanzhai versions of Apple Inc.‘s iPhone, for example, include the HiPhone, the SciPhone and the deliberately misspelled citrus-themed iOrgane.

Recently, the definition of shanzhai has expanded. On China’s Internet, blogs, bulletin boards and news sites carry photos of automobiles jerry-rigged to run on railroad tracks (“shanzhai trains”), fluffy dogs trimmed and dyed to look like the national mascot (“shanzhai pandas”) and models of the Beijing Olympic Games’ National Stadium made out of sticks (“shanzhai Bird’s Nest”). . . .

Once a term used to suggest something cheap or inferior, shanzhai now suggests to many a certain Chinese cleverness and ingenuity. Shanzhai culture “is from the grass roots and for the grass roots,” says Han Haoyue, a media critic in Beijing, who sees it as a means of self-expression. “It gives people another choice and the possibility of resisting dominant cultural values.”

Chinese authorities appear to regard shanzhai warily, especially when it comes to intellectual property issues. “The shanzhai culture as a celebration of the DIY [do it yourself] spirit or as a parody to mainstream culture can add fun to our daily lives,” said one recent editorial in an official state newspaper. “However, we should remain vigilant against it as a justification for rip-off products.”

Ganesh CD player, from a Mumbai photo gallery by Michael Rubenstein, National Geographic Traveler, October 2008 :: via Neatorama
image Easy
from :: via Collide Magazine
from "The Long, Dark Knight of the Soul," by Brant Hansen, Letters from Kamp Krusty, 19 July 2008 :: via Charlie Park

At one level, this movie is a bunch of violent, purposeless noise.

But there is a second deeper level.  At that level, “The Dark Knight” is a discourse on the nature of evil.

And then . . . there is a third, still deeper, final level. 

At that final level, this movie is a bunch of violent, purposeless noise. . . .

“The Dark Knight” is cultural rigor mortis.  It’s what happens when we are done, and we are done.  Jacques Barzun had it right, when he wrote a history of western culture up through the 1990s, and said, certainly, that our age is defined by boredom.  We are excited by nothing, really, but maybe for a moment here, or a moment there, we can try to be turned on.  Sex can do it (or fake sex, much more likely) but brutal violence can work, too, if for a short time.


In the 2004 movie “The Butterfly Effect”  - we watched it so you don’t have to - Ashton Kutcher travels back in time, altering his troubled childhood in order to influence the present, though with dismal results. In 1990’s “Havana,” Robert Redford, a math-wise gambler, tells Lena Olin, “A butterfly can flutter its wings over a flower in China and cause a hurricane in the Caribbean. They can even calculate the odds.”

Such borrowings of Lorenz’s idea might seem authoritative to unsuspecting viewers, but they share one major problem: They get his insight precisely backwards. The larger meaning of the butterfly effect is not that we can readily track such connections, but that we can’t.