Friday, December 31, 2010

Advice wanted: 'Home space' screensaver hooked to persistent universe?

My brother and sister-in-law got me a $50 gift certificate to iTunes for Christmas this year, which has had me snatching up a whole bunch of paid iPhone apps for the first time in my life; an entire new screen of them now, in fact, and still with something like eight dollars left. One of the things I picked up just on a lark is an app called Yoritsuki, which has turned out to be one of the most clever relaxation gadgets and white-noise generators I've ever seen; it essentially renders a persistent Japanese-inn-style home space every time you boot it up, where every single element is the result of a deep customization process that the program remembers from visit to visit, and where the view, animations and sounds change depending on your local weather and period of the day. In my case, then, I have it set to play the sounds of a soothing rainstorm every time it's booted up; and once it's on-screen, the app basically goes into a non-sleep mode, presenting this subtly animated landscape and resulting New Age alarm-clock noises as long as you want, and including a sleep timer built in.

This is brilliant, I think, and I've instantly become addicted to mine; and at $1.99 a pop over at the App Store, God only knows how much its developers are raking in these days. So it's gotten me thinking -- wouldn't it actually be pretty easy to create something like this as a screensaver for a full-sized desktop or laptop computer, so that the persistent environment would pop up every time your computer went to sleep? And wouldn't it be easy to marry a whole plethora of animations to the real-time information about your physical environment that's streaming into that computer anyway, so that the view shows rain or snow at the exact same moment it's happening in your real neighborhood, or shows the wind blowing at the exact same rate it's actually blowing outside your physical home? And wouldn't it be equally easy to even marry things like an email account, so that for example those hanging lamps you're seeing would glow red whenever you have new mail? And that way it would not only be sorta like a personal little MMO environment but even a useful way to glean important information like the weather and your email status in a glance?

So what enterprising young programmer wants to create this with me, and sell it for two bucks at the Mac App Store when it opens next year, so that we all become rich like those lucky sons-of-bitches at "Angry Birds?" Let me know if this would really be as easy as I imagine, or if there are hidden complications that I'm not thinking about.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Big List of Predictions #3: The European Union becomes "Eurasian."

(This is part of my "Big List of Predictions" I'm documenting here at this blog. See this entry for a longer explanation, or check out the tag "BLOP" for all previous predictions.)

PREDICTION #3: The "European Union" will one day become the "Eurasian Union."
MADE: December 2010
FRUITION: 2060-2085

EXPLANATION: The next few decades are destined to see the EU adhere more into a central organization from an economic and legal standpoint, as the participating countries get more and more comfortable with the idea that they will not lose their individual cultural identities by doing so (we're already seeing the beginnings of this right now, in fact, with the virtual takeovers of the Greek and Irish economies by the central EU bureaucracy in Brussels); and this is bound to draw more and more future admissions from nations that can just as easily be considered Asian as they can European, say for example a combination of Russia, Turkey, Israel and Jordan by this time 50 to 75 years from now. To account for this, then, the federation will be renamed the "Eurasian Union," so that it can still keep its EU abbreviation; the four existing Asian participants at the time of incorporation will be symbolically depicted on the flag as four same-sized stars but in light blue interspersed within the existing twelve gold stars already found there.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Big List of Predictions: An Introduction, and parts 1 to 3.

Long-time readers know that one of the things I'd love to have happen in the future is to actually get paid in the service of being a corporate futurist, someone who essentially predicts the future for companies and non-profits and helps them establish long-term strategies designed only to pay off in another ten to twenty years. So I thought it'd be fun, then, to keep track of all the various little predictions I always seem to be making about the world as I do my daily reading; that way I can point back to it in the future and say, "Look, I correctly predicted that gasoline-starved suburbanites would begin eating their own babies in 2030!"

Anyway, I've decided to just jot them down here at my blog, to at least keep track of them and also share them with friends; you can see the full list at any time in the future simply by clicking the "BLOP" tag at the end of this entry. I'm starting things off today by listing the first three right in a row; they each have different timeframes and agendas, so will hopefully give you an idea of how varied I plan on making this goofy little nonfiction series. Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves!

- x -

PREDICTION 1: The "Obamian Age" will instead turn out to be "Weimar 2.0."

MADE: November 2010
FRUITION: 2012-2016

EXPLANATION: Instead of ushering in a new long age of an overall Progressive structure on the government, like how Roosevelt influenced his own times all the way to the 1970s, the Obama administration will instead be seen as the short-lived nadir of an American "Weimar Age," marking a brief lull between two giant disasters that each fueled the other. It's a reference to the liberal Socialist structure that ran Germany in the brief decades between World War One and the rise of the Nazis, an intellectual disaster of sorts wherein a group of insular policy eggheads endlessly debated the fine points of constitutions while the country fell apart around them. The "Obamian" obsession with the subtle details of diplomatic ritual, in the face of a growing economic disaster, is seen by his champions as it happens as a brilliant display of intelligence and global savvy, but in the future will be cited as a folly of out-of-touch wonks that directly brought about the election afterwards of a charming yet fascistic populist who will once and for all plunge the American economy into an unstoppable sinkhole, making the economic crises of the Bush years look like the same kind of simple warm-up that World War One now seems in the face of World War Two.

- x -

PREDICTION 2: The US's coming "Suez Crisis" will involve pissed-off Chinese and a very public spanking.

MADE: November 2010
FRUITION: 2030-2050

EXPLANATION: No matter how much they want to deny it, all empires eventually come to a close, finally marked one day by a normally routine military matter that ends up becoming an unmitigated disaster, and with that former mighty power clearly no longer rich or powerful enough to take care of the problem; for the British Empire, for example, that was the Suez Crisis of the 1950s, with the American version bound to come in 20 to 40 years from now, and likely to have something to do with a rapidly ascending China. It will likely not involve mainland China territory, but like the Cold War be a proxy or even virtual battlefield; say, for example, that American ships are finding themselves regularly harassed by overzealous Chinese sailors in the Indian Ocean, and the US has decided to send in the navy to quickly take care of the problem, which turns into not just a slow-motion disaster like Vietnam but literally a quickly embarrassing debacle. Because of the slippery nature of the conflict, the US will be at least be able to spout a few platitudes and walk away relatively harm-free; but unofficially, it will be a sobering moment in American history, as the population finally realizes that America has lost the title of hegemony, and will never again be able to automatically do whatever it wants.

- x -

PREDICTION 3: The next "Great Age," known as "the Synthesis," will be a thousand-year grand reconciling between East and West.

MADE: November 2010

In the vastest terms available, the 12,000 years of recorded human history we now know about can be broken down into a series of "great ages," with the last several (the Classical Age and Middle Age) lasting roughly a thousand years; if this turns out to be the case with our current age as well (the Scientific Age, starting with the Renaissance circa 1500), that will have it ending around 2500, and with humanity at that point in the middle of their next great age of history. That will be known as the "Synthesis," and will reconcile Eastern and Western civilizations into equal partners of the planet for the first time in several thousand years, resulting by the end in two halves of the planet now almost entirely equal in money, resources, infrastructure, religious fervor, and global influence. The reason this will take so long to achieve is that both hemispheres will eventually have to learn to deeply embrace whatever from the other culture is missing from their own, which we're seeing the very beginnings of in the East right now in places like Turkey, a country rapidly adopting such rational Enlightenment ideas as truly free elections and a truly transparent justice system; but in the West, this is going to involve the much tougher idea that secular democracies are simply proven not to work in the long run, without the traditionally Eastern concept of an "official morality" dictated to the public by the government, a lesson that will take centuries longer for Westerners to embrace than the ones from the West currently being adopted in the East. But that said, this very well might not involve Western governments adopting an official state religion (although it certainly will in some cases -- we're fairly close, for example, to seeing the rise of the world's first modern Christian Republic); by this time 500 years from now, you may very well see for example a way to use Platonic philosophy to espouse an official set of moral absolute rights and wrongs, or some sort of Zen/Quaker/Pagan hybrid.

Plans for "imago" are tentatively back on.

(Let me make it quickly clear that this image by Jules Andre Brown is only being used for test purposes today, for mock-up versions of things that don't yet exist, and that nothing pictured here today is actually for sale yet.)

Did you hear? I got hit by a car last year! And that led to a shattered hip, which led to a settlement check this fall, which after paying all my bills left me with enough left over to buy my first-ever top-of-the-line Macintosh, and by that I mean a 27-inch iMac with quad-core Intel i7 processors, PLUS my first-ever legal copy of Adobe Creative Suite 5, including the software needed both to design publications again and convert them into iPad magazines for sale. So that has me thinking seriously again about imago, an idea I've had for awhile for a hipster photography magazine run by my arts organization, the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, which I've been thinking of maybe trying to put out every three months next year in a whole variety of formats for each issue -- a PDF that a person can print out or load on an e-ink device; an copy that people can "flip through" online, and then order a glossy paper version of if they want; and an enhanced iPad version for sale at the Apple iBook Store, which includes multimedia elements not present in the other versions.

The whole idea behind this project is to try something I could do literally just in my spare time on the weekends, for example while watching "Svengoolie" and drinking beer on a Saturday night, but that after publication could simply exist labor-free as part of a "long tail" of bringing in small yet tangible amounts of real money slowly with a big catalog over time; so not only would I sell each issue of the magazine itself into perpetuity, but I'd put together "hipster museum" style posters of each of the five artists featured in each issue, and sell them as a series of print-on-demand merchandise that people can order online, with the above image for example available as everything from a coffee mug to refrigerator magnet, t-shirt, three-by-four-foot poster, bookmark, button, etc etc etc etc. That essentially gives you six new, unique revenue streams with each issue, or 24 at the end of a year under my plan of quarterly issues, which once you're done actually setting up would simply sit there and exist to draw in pure profit, albeit just a tiny amount of profit per artist. That's why you have to have so many for the endeavor in general to be worth the center's time, and also why it likely wouldn't be worth it cutting into my weekday time used for book reviews, publishing original books, planning live events, etc. This would mostly be about putting out a very cool new product, something a little edgier and more visually oriented to add to CCLaP's overall repertoire, to not have it take up too much time but hopefully by the end of the year make at least $500 if not more, and in the meanwhile using the center's resources to creatively highlight 24 very deserving photographers over the course of a year.

Anyway, more news on this as it develops!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

To a mouse, a cellphone is a home theatre.

And a spool of thread shall be your dinner table.

Just a thought I had the other day that I hadn't thought about in awhile...

Back in 2006 and '07, I was a pretty serious habituate of the virtual reality known as Second Life, which in its early days was a real Wild West of illegal activity and copyright infringement, because of no one paying attention back then to what was going on there; and since one of the things you can do in Second Life is stream in a video file from elsewhere on the internet, a big thing that a lot of people did back then to generate traffic to their location was establish "virtual movie theatres," where they would stream in Bitorrented bootleg copies of current movies in an actual 3D theatre-like space, and with you able to sit your avatar in one of the theatre seats and watch it. And what always struck me at the time about the experience was how easily you could fool your brain by the set-up; that when it's in the context of a tiny little person sitting front of a relatively giant screen, your brain is easily tricked into thinking that it's actually watching a giant screen, even though in reality the movie file is just a little window within whatever normally-sized computer monitor you use on a regular basis.

"Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH:" Greatest. YA. Novel. Ever.

I was thinking about this because of a recent conversation I was having with a friend, where we were discussing our mutual love of booting up Netflix Streaming on our iPhones; he was saying how every time he does it, he thinks of those old cartoons where mice are shown using tiny human implements as full-sized devices (a thimble as an ottoman, a toothpick as a sword), and how to a mouse, an iPhone running Netflix would be literally like a giant home theatre. So now I think about that too, every time I watch Netflix on my iPhone, and it's just funny to me how easily you can trick your brain into thinking it's actually watching this giant high-def television the width of the whole room, as long as you're picturing yourself as two inches tall and sitting right in front of it.

That's all!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Regarding the Silver Age "Brady Bunch" that almost but never was.

'60s network television -- where the '50s never died.

Here in Chicago, one of the high-numbered television stations shows "Brady Bunch" reruns all Sunday afternoon, which I often half-watch while doing computer chores and the like; this last weekend, for example, they ran a whole string of episodes from the very first season, which got me thinking all over again about just how radically that show changed because of the specific years it was on the air (1969 to 1974), and because of how much of a difference in tone it took over those years. Except this time, I don't know, maybe it's because I'm now in my forties, or perhaps the look of those early years is now changing from quaintly old-fashioned to literally historical, but it really struck me this weekend how innocently charming the first season of the show actually is, and how we would have an entirely different cultural memory of the Brady Bunch if it had managed to maintain that tone throughout its entire run, like a number of other shows on the air at the same time managed to do.

"Yours, Mine and Ours" established the premise...
"Please Don't Eat the Daisies" established the zany yet innocent tone...
And a stubborn refusal to let go of the Kennedy Era established the look.

See, despite its countercultural start date, the Brady Bunch was originally conceived as a genteel family comedy in the Mid-Century Modernist style, influenced heavily by such similar movies at the time as Yours, Mine and Ours and Please Don't Eat the Daisies; and if you watch the first season, you'll see that there's actually a sort of legitimately funny if not corn-filled humor more appropriate to '50s sensibilities, a zing to it all that's smarter than how it might appear at first, since it's based mostly around a family-friendly, very innocent type of story that's trying to be told. I mean, seriously, have you ever really stopped and noticed the Kennedy-Era wet dream the Brady house is supposed to be on the inside, from the euclidean background decor to the Eames-like influence on the furniture, to the kitschy quasi-Baroque sculpture adorning bookshelves and the like? And this was the same year as Woodstock!

"My Three Sons," which technically started in the Eisenhower Era, so at least had an excuse.
"Family Affair," which didn't, which perhaps is why it's now the most obscure show out of the three.

And in fact everything at first about the Brady Bunch fairly screamed, "Skinny ties will never go out of style! Skinny ties will never go out of style!," which to be fair was pretty typical of network television in the mid- to late-'60s, a medium that by its very nature is terrified of radical change, as evidenced in similar shows on the air at the time like "My Three Sons" and "Family Affair," which let's not forget both ran into the early '70s just like the Brady Bunch did, but without ever fully giving up the square attitudes and outfits they established when first starting. So is this maybe why the Brady Bunch is so profoundly more well-known now, 40 years later, than either of these other two shows? Because really, that's mainly what the Brady Bunch is known for now, not for its humor but for being an oddly awkward record of how places like television networks and people like family-sitcom producers exactly dealt with the countercultural era, that is to say not well at all, the series long ago passing into the realm of ironic enjoyment for all the ridiculously silly ways it dealt with the changing social mores going on around it.

At least two of these people went on to coke-fueled late-'70s orgies.

It's funny, I think, how my opinion of the Brady Bunch has radically changed over time: how when I was a kid, I simply found it entertaining; while as a teen and into my early twenties, I found the early shows fatally dated and the later ones an inappropriate hoot; while now in middle-age, and dealing with Brady-aged kids on a regular basis for the first time, I suddenly find myself now legitimately charmed with the early episodes, and wondering what its fate would've been if it had stuck to its guns its entire run, instead of devolving into a mess of male perms, vacations to Hawaii, and groovy hippie pads in the attic and den. Anyway, just some random thoughts on a boring Sunday afternoon!

My new goofy blog! My new goofy blog!

So before anything else, a little introduction to lead off this new blog...

I've been maintaining an online presence now since the mid-1990s, with various different types of posts showing up at a variety of places; for example, for a long time I posted both my longer, serious thoughts and shorter, goofier ones at my main website, back when I was updating it almost every day, at the same time that I was also writing and publishing full-length creative work, which I no longer do. Now I update that journal only every week or two, and only with long essays about cultural issues; and instead of doing my own creative writing anymore, I now own and run an arts organization called the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, where I post book and movie reviews every day, plus produce a podcast twice a month, plus publish three to four original books a year.

Between 2005 and 2009, then, I posted most of my shorter thoughts about both pop culture and my day-to-day life at an old account called "I Am A Camera" (IAAC); but as you might already know, the owners shut down that service in autumn 2010, and didn't make it easy to export what was already there, which is why I decided to just let it all get erased, especially since the vast majority of it was either reprints from my Flickr account or late-night thoughts about Star Wars. And then eventually, like everyone else, in 2009 I caught the Facebook bug, and for the last year and a half the vast majority of all the goofy things I've had to say online have all fit within a 140-character limit over there.

But going through my VOX archives one last time the other week, I realized that I want to start doing more of that again, writing just a little more substantial than Facebook updates but not substantial enough for any of my main sites; and I also realized that I want to start reprinting a lot more of my Flickr photos again, with longer remarks like you can do in a blog entry, which is why I've started up a new version of IAAC here at my longstanding Blogger account. (See my profile for all my old, now dead blogs that are archived here at Blogspot.)

Anyway, I think that pretty much covers it, so I hope you'll have a chance to stop by on a regular basis. Unless of course random late-night thoughts about bad television shows and know-it-all urban-planning theories isn't your thing, in which case you should run away as fast as your feet can carry you.

Even a thousand library books will never love you back.

Pictured here: Southwest Airlines was talking about this in their latest in-flight magazine, and it sounded so good that I made one after getting home that day -- a "black and orange," that is, which is a "black and tan" only with Oktoberfest ale substituted for the usual lager.