Friday, March 31, 2006

Traveling the World, More Notes on Comics

As if it wasn't already obvious, I'm really hooked on comics again. I just finished Guy Delisle's Pyongyang; A Journey in North Korea. It's a must read for anyone who has spent time in either Koreas (especially you: Steve & Laurie!). Though it was a bit irritating coming from a white Canadian... since I occasionally you occasionally feel that the critique is of all Koreans. Nonetheless, it does illustrate how any one who asks me if I come from North or South Korea has no idea what they're asking. There's some really nice panels, and a great "guest" spread from a colleague that provides a wonderful stylistic contrast.

As far as Korean related media I loved, I'd rank this up with Suki Kim's The Interpreter (Korean Mafia in NYC!) and the film Spring Summer Fall Winter... and Spring!, as well as another comic I picked up Same Difference by Derek Kirk Kim... who turns out to be a doppleganger (check out his picture!).

Also the Luther diaspora
strikes again. After reveling in my new found comics interest, I've had a great exchange with Brian, from whom I learned about Jessica Abel, and who sent (!) me Scott Pilgrim by Brian Lee O'Malley when I was home sick. Set in Toronto, it's a great mix of real life, indie rock, and video gaming, Gorrillaz eat your heart out!

Lastly, after I picked up Jessica Abel's La Perdida (set in Mexico City), my shop had an instore last week where I met her, and her husband Matt Madden, whose book 99 Ways, is great meditation on comics, art, and creation like Scott McCloud's book.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Fantastic Four Times Square

"The towering Four Freedoms Plaza is the new headquarters for the Fantastic Four. It is a gleaming concrete and glass skyscraper topped by four immense numeral 4s. It is located on the same site as the old Baxter Building but there is little the two buildings have in common." (From the Fantastic Four Compendium (1987!))

It took the Gawker's iteration of how the Conde Nast building is losing its views, to notice the "four immense numeral 4s" at the top.

Yes, New York is the Center of the Marvel Universe (Daredevil in Hell's Kitchen, Spidey from Queens and what not), but I hadn't realized this similarity. The Conde Nast building just went up in 1996-99. Furthermore, the comic book Baxter building was also involved in paper, though not publishing in particular. I hope the tenants know what they're in for when Doctor Doom comes roaring into town.

God bless the interweb in cobbling together these coincidences. Apologies for the super geeky fanboy comics post...

Visiting Aliens: Orchids and Cactus

Mitchell and I went up to the New York Botanical Garden yesterday to see the Orchid Show.

After a brisk walk from the Bedford Park station and cold wait at the gate, we finally reached the Conservatory, and truly entered a new world: a humid, warm, fragrant world richly green, and brightly accented with a kaleidoscope of flowers. It took my glasses a good minute or so to clear up. Though I knew that orchids varied greatly, it was overwhelming to see so much variety gathered together. The show was packed, and the fancy cameras were out in force.

The desert cactus wing was a great counterpoint... equally alien seeming, but subdued in colour. Mitchell was intrigued by the variety of cactus. Just as curious, but more subtle were the lithops, or "living stones" which Mitchell thought looked like little bums. I was surprised to learn later that they do flower quite brightly.

Part of the draw of the orchid show is the opportunity to bring one home from the gift shop. Like the conservatory, the gift shop was packed with people eager to bring home their experience. Starting at $25, the shop is a great deal to pick up more than the standard white orchids. In the end, Mitchell picked out a lithop for $4, and I, a cactus.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Buckwheat & Other Varietals

Hopefully you noticed in my "Lately" section, a link for buckwheat honey. Buckwheat was my first taste of varietal honey. Last spring I was drawn in by the stylish packaging of DUMBO's Beehive Beeproducts, curious of the deep dark colour, and astonished by the rich flavor. I've learned that dark honeys have more antioxidants and minerals than lighter ones.

I've been loving the distinct flavor of varietal honey and been wondering, like many foods, why I was only familiar with the singular taste of common, commercial honey. Beehive has the
answer: "Cheap honey is imported from China and Argentina and any domestic honey bought by the large packers is blended in, creating an homogeneous taste."

For the packaging, I gave out different bottles for office holiday presents, but it's the flavor that's been returning for more adventures. Beehive's
idea is: "By promoting the work of artisanal beekeepers (specifically harvesting varietal honeys), it is beehive's hope that honey will take its place as the unusual, complex food that it is"

Just a tip though, there are other varietals at lower price point, but try them out!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Intelligent Design of Fixed Effects

Among Malcolm Gladwell and Steven Levitt, there is a dialog on the crime drop in the late 90s. Gladwell, in the Tipping point, attributes the drop to "broken window"-based police work. Levitt & Dubner in Freakonomics aren't convinced and come up with Roe V. Wade a the significant event. One element of their difference is the assumption of fixed effects. In this case L&D argue that controlling for State and year effects, broken windows theory doesn't sufficiently explain the 1999 drop in crime.

In our project and many statistical models, we create fixed effects, aka-dummy variables. The idea is that there will be variation that will occur between years, or states, or other categories of variables that aren't among your chosen variables. Thus the model assumes that a good economy, or an employment rate of Y will always accounts for X coefficient, every year, in every state. Stepping back though, this isn't a given, the economy or employment could certainly affect people more one year than another. But in econometrics, those variations are lumped together with all the other factors associated with that year or state.

Fixed effects are related to another element of a statistical model, the error term. The error term assumes, that yes, there maybe other variables at work, but they cancel each other out, and that only the important variables are included. This is the "intelligent design" Achilles heel of econometrics. The "model/evolution" explains only so much until you can't explain it "error term=designer". The difference is that a judge isn't about to throw out econometrics as methodologically soft.

Songs I'd Like To Share and Other Notes

Kate Valk returns in the title role of the Wooster Group's "The Emperor Jones."
Photo by Paula Court, NYTimes

If all goes according to plan, I'll be the featured listener this Saturday on Freeform Faust on KWLC. In my college years, I had a show for three years. I picked out songs mostly by women about women to help Faust equalize his male:female ratio. I owe my own awareness to Lara many years ago. Tune to KWLC on Saturday from 12:30pm—2:00pm (CST) to hear Freeform Faust.

Saturday night Josh and I saw Dave Chappelle's
Block Party. It was marvelous how there were no surprises, yet the power of seeing things unfold was immense. From the excitement of the CSU marching band going on short notice, to performances by the all-star line up. Plus lots of love to Brooklyn, and Bed Stuy. From the film's site:
A genuine crowd-pleaser, Dave Chappelle's Block Party spotlights comedy superstar Dave Chappelle as he presents a Brooklyn neighborhood with its very own once-in-a-lifetime free block party. The unprecedented combination of comedy and music was shot on location. In addition to Mr. Chappelle performing all-new material, the stellar roster of artists includes Kanye West, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, Dead Prez, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, the Roots, Cody ChesnuTT, Big Daddy Kane, and - reunited for their first performance in over seven years - the Fugees.
Sunday I bought a ticket at the door for the
Wooster Group's Emperor Jones. It featured Kate Valk in the title role (from Eugene O'Neill's 1920 script), done in black face and heavily referencing minstrel show depictions. There are a couple of pieces about Kate Valk and the production. It is simply amazing how she channels the big imposing Brutus "Emperor Jones."

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Tats Cru

Snapped this yesterday while doing field research in the South Bronx, aka SoBro, aka, Bronx Community Board 1. A mural by the world famous Tats Cru in their stomping grounds.

Less interesting... they've fallen into graffadi, notoriously of the PSP and Hummer. Luckily others are keeping them in check.

More about Community Board 1, particularly interesting: the statement of need.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Understanding Comics

After the previous post, Jason took me to Rocketship Comics on Smith Street. Despite being a great, open and some what minimal store, I still found myself overwhelmed with lots of unfamiliar magazines. The thrill though, was having great variety of non-superhero, non-Archie comics to look through.

Hesitant to commit to single issues, I turned instead to Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics from 1993. It's a great read: interesting, varied, meta. Take a look at his attempts to reinvent comics for the internet.

It nicely discusses of how comics work, contrasted with other art forms. In particular he discusses the trade offs of highly representational art in comics which brought to mind Gamble's comic project, Running D.O.G. Also interesting is how comics convey or play with time. It's also a great survey of styles and history and is pointing me towards other comic artists. (I'm open to recommendations!)

I rank this up with the giants in discussions of their art and craft: like the Norton Lecture series (ee cummings, Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, et cetera), Rem Koohaas, Susan Sontag and onward.

Also, Rocketship's first posting was this manifesto.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Back on the Shelf

Growing up I was an avid comics reader, leaning towards Marvel rather than DC. But since high school, I haven't really kept up. Adulthood did point me towards adult comics, both of the R. Crumb variety, and the Daniel Clowes, but still, it didn't take as a habit. I may be falling back into it though. Last week I picked up "Put The Book Back On The Shelf" a collection of shorts based on the music of Belle & Sebastian (which many of you know I admire). The combination was too much to resist, so I stopped at Midtown comics nearby the office. Priced like a book at $20 (good bye 50-cent comic), the collection is treasure of several styles of art, and interpretation. Some are newspaper cartoony like Archie (Riverdale is in the Bronx you know), some tread near the animated realism of Waking Life. Some narrate the songs, some create a world inspired by the songs.

If you're not sure what a comic book is like without a hero or daily strip, this is a great place to see some possibilities.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Amazing Expansion of Joy

Cnet had a minor post on the Balloon Project... what a great site, great concept, great photos. From their site:

In 1996, Addi Somekh and Charlie Eckert began traveling to different places in the world to make balloon hats for people and take photos of them. The goal was to show people all over the world laughing and having fun, and to emphasize the fact that all human beings are born with the ability to experience joy. In total, they visited 34 countries and have over 10,000 pictures. Inside this web site you will find all sorts of photos and stories, as well as a way to purchase their book, The Inflatable Crown, and see scenes from the upcoming Balloon Hat documentary film.
Besides the picture sets (especially their sets of three), I loved their collection of defining laughter.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Giving A Speaker Resonance

I'm imagining for $50 more, Apple could really have made a splash with the iPod Boombox.

Just prior, Jobs demonstrated zero configuration (automatic) streaming on the Mac Mini.
How much more and how much more difficult would it have been to put WiFi in the iPod Boombox and provide options to stream audio (for video too) using only the speaker, or in combination with a computer or television's attached speakers? Hello. Simple surround sound. That feature alone would have pushed me into temptation.

There is a lot of potential here. Why can't a computer set up and utilize a variety of speaker configurations. Why would anyone need a home theatre receiver, PVR, and a DVD player when they have a computer? I think the true killer app for the coveted living room space is speaker management. The XBox or PS3 could do the same.

Sweeter Smelling Roses Through Renaming

Last night I realized the irony of my previous post and my research project.

In art, double meanings and uncertainty is part of interpretation, adding to the richness of an experience. But statisticians dread this. We create multivariate models and look at the coeffients. How much, and in what direction does a change in X lead to a change in Y. Single. Meaning. Clarity.

Recently I read Freakonomics. One of the things that really bugged me, especially for such an "outside the box" book, was the claim that "economics was how the world is, not how it ought to be". On face, it's a dichotomy of science vs. art. But I argue that economics, and science for that matter, is only the world as it is measured.

I'm scrapping a long winded explaination about measurement, because Seth Godin simplifies the issue further: How are things named? His case in point: Global Warming.
Again the question: What is the meaning & what is the experience? In this case, the meaning and experience are contradictory. And yet it become terminology, however illconcieved. Some things are not roses.