anticipation, China, consumption, development, environment, international, journalism, multimedia, really?

China: Green Dreams (Finally)

China Green Dreams

Last August I went to northeast China and for the following five months I’ve been putting together a story about an eco-village in China. Or, rather, an attempted eco-village.

Here’s how Frontline/World described it: “The village of Huangbaiyu in rural northeast China was supposed to be a model for energy-conscious design. The initial project was to build 400 sustainable homes, a collaboration between U.S. architect William McDonough and the Chinese. But something went awry. Frontline/World reporter Timothy Lesle traveled to the region to investigate.”

I’m glad I got to do this project and look forward to any responses it may get. No doubt they’ll range from positive to negative. Frontline does something different with this slideshow from a web-tech perspective, which is to stream the images and sound like video rather than through Flash.

If you get a chance, let me know what you think. And if you are inspired, let Frontline/World know what you think.


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China, consumption, environment, international, journalism, video

Get To Know Your Electronic Waste

I’m a little late to the party on this one, but friend and colleague Michael Zhao has posted his multimedia project on electronic waste in China online in documentary form. He starts in California, where trashed computers are dismantled and, occasionally, recycled. More often they’re sent over to China, where men, women, and children pick them apart for materials that might be of value. My first glimpse of all this was when Michael was putting the piece together and he showed me footage of toxic-looking orange-colored smoke rising from tubs of chemicals as workers extracted gold from circuit boards. Here’s a three-and-a-half minute preview:

Josh Chin gives more of the back story here.

Andrew Leonard at Salon sang its praises here.

Michael talks about the project for the Asia Society, where he now works, here.

And you can view the whole thing here.

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consumption, energy, environment, San Francisco

Lights Out, San Francisco

Lights Out San FranciscoKeep your eyes open for an hour of voluntary darkness in San Francisco Saturday night. A “citywide conservation event” is scheduled from 8 to 9 p.m.; organizers from Lights Out San Francisco ask that all unessential lights be turned off during this time. Restaurants will serve by candlelight. They are getting a lot of attention.

In 1962, the people of Perth, Australia, turned on all their lights at the same time to say hello to John Glenn floating by in his Mercury.

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animals, consumption, environment, food, journalism, science, unfortunate

Learn Something New: Honeybees

The amazing, disappearing honeybee has become the sleeper hit of journalism. It has slowly gained momentum over the last nine or ten months and now it seems like just about everyone has heard of it, even if they don’t really know anything about it. Most coverage follows the same beaten path: bees are disappearing, did you know that people truck bees around the country?, etc. It’s all very interesting, in a panicky sort of way (kind of like the disappearing banana, though that never tugged at America’s heartstrings like this story).

070710_science_honeybeetn.jpgAnd then Heather Smith writes in Slate about why maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised or so worried. Because the honeybee that we’ve come to think we know and love is already long gone. Smith notes, “The only honeybees left—i.e., the ones that started disappearing in October—had become the cows of the insect world: virtually extinct in the wild, hopped up on antibiotics, and more likely to reproduce via artificial insemination than by their own recognizance.”

Illustration from Slate by Robert Neubecker.

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competition, consumption, music

Get Out Front: Tell everyone you’ve been listening to Spoon

Backdate your Spoon fanhood a few years for maximum benefit, same as you do with stock options. And do it now, before Spoon gets so popular that it’s too late to proclaim your enthusiasm as still unique. Tell your friends you got in on the ground floor.

If all you’ve had to go on for the last two years is Gimme Fiction, remember that Spoon has been putting its new tracks online. And if you’re lucky, you’ll have gotten your ten dollar ticket to see them at Café du Nord on Saturday night (I am not so lucky). The new album is officially released. And here’s a surprisingly poppy new song that for some reason is a little reminiscent of Billy Joel, circa 1978?, though why this is the case, I’m not sure. Maybe it’s something to do with the horns.

The Underdog
[audio:spoon_underdog.mp3]

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consumption, money

A Deal a Day

Sunday: Groceries; and that hotel room

Monday: A car, at a dealership

Tuesday: Sushi; and maybe some more groceries

Wednesday: Plane tickets in the morning; also, Six Flags, a movie, and the art museum

Thursday: Gasoline, in the morning; books, from chain stores; and that charcoal v-neck at Banana Republic, in the evening

Friday: ???

Saturday: Big plastic containers, at Target, before closing

SmartMoney very handily provides us with a list of which days of the week are the best days of the week to buy various and sundry. Scientific? Not sure. Logical? Sometimes.

Apparently there are no deals on Fridays. Don’t spend money on Fridays.

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blogs, competition, consumption, journalism, photography

Boing Boing Finally Catches Up with Me

On February 16, I wrote about the tilt-shift effect and included examples of tilt-shift photography that I created using Photoshop.

Two days ago, on the 27th, Boing Boing, the blog that leaves everyone breathless, published a post saying that you could, after all, fake the tilt-shift effect, and included a link to instructions on how to do this. Well, my goodness, who would have thought of that?

Good hustle, guys!

And now, there’s a Flickr group devoted to fake tilt-shifting as a result. Two weeks ago, you could find a small handful of Photoshopped tilt-shift pictures, at most. Now everybody’s doing it.

Admittedly, I’m no expert on this and I didn’t bother to detail the process I used to create those photos. The instructions to which Boing Boing links are pretty good—though not perfect. They don’t account for spatial relationships for individual objects when defining depth of field (although some of the Flickr discussions do), but I won’t get into that here. If you decide to make your own Photoshop tilt-shift pictures, then we’ll talk. Until then, let’s fool around with pictures of, say, that lone protester at the Great Avenue of Everlasting Peace at Tiananmen Square.

I guess this is what happens—or doesn’t happen—when your (my) blog is not known to the outside world. I forgot that the whole point of putting anything on the internets is simply a pretense for engaging in rabid self-promotion. People who had no interest in this when I mentioned it are suddenly riding the wave because everyone else is doing it. Glad you could join the herd…I guess there’s room for one more. As a bonus, in Boing Boing’s follow-up post, a program manager for Microsoft Earth managed to promote his blog and highlight his talented and probably unappreciated, underpaid Microsoft colleagues. Excellent!

But with all of these people doing this technique now, won’t it get a little old? Or is this eccentric little effect—used most often (until a few days ago) by artistic photographers, but now mass-produced by anyone with the software and time—not subject to diminishing returns? Makes me wish I’d read Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” by now so I could insert a pithy quote here.

Maybe every new fake tilt-shift will be like a little, bejeweled Fabergé egg. Mine will certainly be so precious. Or maybe this trend will follow the pattern described by corporate “cool hunters” like Look-Look’s Sharon Lee and Dee Dee Gordon (whose ideas were built upon by Malcolm Gladwell and are being capitalized upon by Auren Hoffman, et al.), which is to say :

[Q:]Let’s talk about what makes a Look-Look kid. How do you pick a kid to be part of your organization? What are you looking for? What makes a Look-Look kid?Gordon: A Look-Look kid is someone who is a forward-thinking individual, who looks outside their own backyard for information, who is someone who is a leader, who isn’t afraid to speak their mind, isn’t afraid to like investigate new things. . . . It’s someone who has a lot to say, someone who sees things that most other kids wouldn’t.

[Q:] What is the theory beyond that? Why don’t you want an average kid to know what average kids are doing?

Lee: We look for kids who are ahead of the pack, because they’ll influence what all the other kids do. We look for the 20 percent, the trendsetters, who are going to influence the other 80 percent.

[Q:] How does that work? How does a trend spread?

. . . Actually, it’s a triangle. At the top of the triangle, there’s the innovator, which is like two to three percent of the population. Underneath them is the trendsetter, which we would say is about 17 percent. They pick up on ideas that the innovators are doing, and they claim them as their own. Underneath them is an early adopter–it’s questionable exactly what their percentage is–but they are the layer above mainstream, which is about 80 percent. And they take what the trendsetter is doing, and they make it palatable for mass consumption. They take it, they tweak it, they make it more acceptable, and that’s when the mass consumer picks up on it and runs with it and then it actually kills it. [Emphasis added]

[Q:] You said it eventually killed it. How quickly are these things given birth to and then killed? How condensed is this period of time from when a trend starts to when a trend is killed?

Lee: It used to take a year-and-a-half to two years for something to move. And now it can take a couple of months. . . .

Frontline, “Merchants of Cool,” 2001

When the mass consumer picks up on it and runs with it and then it actually kills it. Think about that for a minute. Let that idea seep into your brain through your trucker’s hat.

So, then, what’s the life expectancy for fake tilt-shift being a fun, new concept? A couple of months? Maybe—in 2001. Dear Readers, it is now 2006 and something called “blogs” exist and most blogs eschew original content in favor of pointing to one of the 500 or so actually interesting things on the internets, and one of the the top three or four blogs on the entire planet is seriously called “Boing Boing,” and the rate of the novelty value of any new meme is undergoing rapid inflation, which is to say their half lives are getting shorter and shorter. The life expectancy for fake tilt-shift (as a novel trend) might be a couple of weeks; within days of its Boing Boing birth it grew from a cute little concept into something bloated and unwieldy, collapsing under its own weight and consigned to a fenced enclosure in the backyard. Its novelty finally expired a few short minutes ago. Rest in peace, fake tilt-shift photomanipulation technique. It was a good run. I’ll always remember you.

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