All Kinds of Shakers
Brainy like a pro, Someguy, down with Pac-Man, brass balls, staying on top of the world, Web World War I, what Frida Kahlo and Popeye have in common, and why ugly old warehouses belong at the heart of every city. Welcome to the All Kinds of Shakers issue.
By Maria Popova
BEGGARS CAN BE CHOOSERS
As the recent proud purchasers of a Canon PowerShot Pro S3 IS, we’re quite aware of the onerous endeavor that is researching stuff online, and the crucial role product reviews play. Which is why we dig SmartRatings, a new service that aggregates expert reviews on gadgets from across the web and serves them up to you in a nifty, easily digestible format.
You get an overall product score based on the scaled and averaged ratings different experts gave it so you can base your decision on a total score in a unified 1-100 scale. The computer, electronics and camera reviews come from all across the range, from gadget-god-truth-bestowing CNET to casual-opining Stuff. And while they don’t weigh experts differently based on their perceived reputability, they do curate sources to only include solid, legit experts.
Once you’re ready to commit, SmartRatings uses PriceGrabber software to show you where you can snag the thing at the best deal. And if you need more than just gadgets, the Price Finder tool (also based on PriceGrabber) lets you browse any category you fancy, from baby stuff to outdoor gear.
Apparently, you can save a buck on Boy Butter if you get it at drugstore.com over other retailers.
Here’s a thought: using the capacity of the digital age to spark real creative collaboration. And we’re not talking about video mash-ups and other ephemeral CGC stints. We’re talking about 1000 Journals, an incredibly smart project that meshes the traditional, pen-scissors-and- paper art of journaling with the concept of digital distribution and collaboration, building a tightly knit community around it all.
The way it works is simpler than it sounds: you either start a real paper-based journal, scan it in and upload it, or you join other people’s already uploaded journals and contribute creatively. You control the level of others’ involvement in your own journal — you can make it fully public so anyone can chip in creative content, or you can make it personal and just share with others to look at.
If you choose to share your journal, it can be either a travelling one (mailed to people who sign up to contribute) or a location one (staying at one public location, such as a cafe, shop, or bookstore). The travelling kind can have a theme if you so with and can be by invitation only or open to everyone who signs up. And the location one is always open to all contributors, but they have to make a trip to the location. You can download instruction bookplates to glue to the inside covers of your creation so people would know what the hell just hit them.
So far, 1000 Journals is sporting close to 3,500 members, more than 600 personal journals, 54 location ones, and over 1,000 travelling. And they’ve already published a best-of book cleverly listed as authored by Someguy.
We must say, the work is sometimes weird, sometimes absolutely brilliant, often dark, but always strikingly honest. Take a look.
Got pixelation nightmares but don’t wanna shell out a grand on Adobe Cs3? The good folks at Stanford are there for you with a free web-based service that lets you turn raster pixelation debacles into great-at-any-size vector images. (For those getting the Huh’s right about now, raster images are pixel-based and get worse as you enlarge them, but vector drawings are made up of geometric shapes that you can resize all you want with zero fuzziness.)
VectorMagic, unlike other similar apps, is seamlessly optimized for any operating system. And, unlike the Adobe stuff, it takes zilch out of your pocket. Plus, completely web-based, so your broadband takes all the slow-down weight from your hard drive. No more Illustrator-crashing-Photoshop-crashing-everything lovelies.
For your Luddite benefit, these nice folks have an instructional video showing you exactly how to make your vectorization dreams come true. It’s simple, really: you upload a JPG, PNG, GIF, BMP or TIFF, configure what file format you want back (EPS, SVG or PNG), let the vector magic happen, then just review and download your effortless payoff.
Great on everything from pencil-on-paper hand sketches to fuzzy vacation photos, VectorMagic actually outperforms Corel and matches Adobe in a side-by-side comparison of results. And, speaking of results, how about these bad boys?
BALLS FOR RIGHTEOUS BRAWLS
If you’ve touched any piece of media lately, you’ve heard of the WGA strike, writers’ first stance against studio monopoly since 1988. You may have even heard that Steve Carell, in a heroic we’re-all-in-this-together act of support, called NBC and refused to report to work due to not just merely “enlarged balls” but “brass balls.” Whatever their size, he clearly has them to stand up to the giants.
But level of informity aside, if you’re like us, you still need some clarifying nudging to really get what the whole shebang is about. So here’s a neat and pretty compelling clarifier straight from the source:
Pity that audiences, the currency of network ad sales, won’t feel the impact until months later (because season shows are written several episodes ahead), which means networks will sit and wait, hoping writers starve to death, before they do anything proactive. And, for what it’s worth, we’re calling to cancel our Comcast today. How’s that for a 0.00000001% chip at your currency pie, network meanies? We may even mention something about brass balls to the cusomter service rep.
Care to know what’s on the minds, lips and eyes of the world? You could spend half your day sifting through Digg, del.icio.us, YouTube, Fark, Reddit, and all their other web-mates. Or, you could just go to the super-nifty PopUrls, which aggregates, well, popular url’s from every possible buzz source: the video giants (YouTube, Metacafe, iFilm, AOL video and more), the photo hubs (think Flikr and friends), the social bookmarking beasts (your Digg, Fark, del.icio.us and on and on), the news leaders (Yahoo and Google News, among others), and the weird new media hybrids (you know, Twitter, Mahalo and what not).
This bad-ass lets you customize your view and presentation, from actual content displayed to layout, page background, and font size. It also has a nifty Scrapbook feature that lets you store URL’s on a sticky-note-looking thingie so you wouldn’t have to clutter your bookmarks or open Stickies (if you’re not PC Guy and actually have them).
PopUrls is the rather ingenious brainchild of self-proclaimed “web communications maverick” Thomas Marban, an entrepreneurial Aussie who back in the day co-founded werk3, one of Australia’s first web agencies. This latest project is easily the best execution we’ve seen of the so-called Single Page Aggregators concept.
Just one thing on our wish list for the cool app: tagging content from all the different buzz sources so we can see broader themes and subjects that emerge across the web in real time.
In case you’re not following the social networking tumults of the past two weeks, here’s a quick recap: Facebook announced their new “business solutions” platform of hyper-targeted advertising (SocialAds), friend-linked e-commerce recommendations (Beacon), and deep behavioral tracking (Insights), on top of a Microsoft deal. Google, still the laggard in the SN game, responded with a groundbreaking OpenSocial platform, an ad-serving alliance with various high-traffic SN sites.
To give you an idea of the extent of this Google/Facebook face-off, here’s a list of who the OpenSocial allies are and how they fare traffic-wise.
Pretty impressive, given Facebook’s 65 million. But, of course, results will depend entirely on the actual competing platforms and how each handles content. Because, in the end, it always comes down to relevance and engagement, not total eyeball numbers.
Meanwhile, the talk of the town has it that all the Google-Goliath pressure may force Facebook to dump their own recently released proprietary advertising platform and become another sheep in the Google alliance herd. Our plan: wait and see. Sounds like a solid one, no? We’re also not opposed to some wager cash changing hands.
CONSTRUCTING / DECONSTRUCTING CULTURE
Inspired by the classical busts of the Roman Republic, Seattle-based artist Scott Fife works sculptural wonders out of cardboard and pencil. The artist’s architectural training meshes brilliantly with his anthropomorphic studio work to deliver something completely immune to the seen-it-before epidemic.
Scott grew up in the golden age of advertising and large-format magazines, which bred a fascination with pop culture. Then one day, as a student at Cronbrook, he was cleaning up an Andy Warhol show and was taken with the irreverence of the legendary Warholian pop art.
Twenty-five years later, Fife has coined his own strikingly distinct style of culturally-relevant pop art — and pop it is: he’s done sculptures of anyone from Frida Kahlo to Bob Dylan to Popeye. And his scope of vision encompasses culture in its entirety, from the raw to the avant-garde. He’s also sculpted revolutionaries, pin-up girls, Witness his creative process in the making of Lionel Hampton in stop-motion.
We dig the tangible human element in his art: the process of constructing by hand, the indulgence of the traditional by using only old-school tools, the promise of accomplishment engrained in the sense of building. And, for what it’s worth, Scott Fife’s creations strike us more than Warhol’s ever did.
Fine, let the hate mail pour in.
Midway between Chinatown and Center City stands this architectural pariah and social darling.
And while graffiti sightings are as common as big pharma claims ED to be, this one’s an interesting burst of colorful self-expression in a bland surrounding of industrial murk.
Ah, the power a spray can holds to a face-in-the-crowd teenager.
Published November 16, 2007