Securing the Homeland through Culture

Hand over heart“[The Homeland Security Cultural Bureau] is protecting the interests of the country’s national security by employing efforts to direct and guide the parameters of cultural production.”

“Which artists and strategies may be most aligned with the agents of terror? Who are the postmodernists and do they really pose a threat? Again, here we present to you a cogent argument for rethinking our culture and for aligning our needs for security with a new relation to art.”

A very official-looking, straight-faced satire site.

See also http://www.whitehouse.org/ and http://www.gwbush.com, two other satire sites. I found whitehouse.org’s Department of Homeland Security page when searching for the real Department of Homeland Security page.

>  1 November 2002 | LINK | Filed in ,

Collective Agency

iStockPhoto is a collection of royalty-free files contributed by its members. iStock members are part of an international community of artists which has created a huge database, growing at an exponential rate. Members can download from a collection of images, audio, and Flash, browse through our forums on design and photograph.

Members can now download from a database of hi-rez images, audio, Flash and more for [U.S.] 25 cents per download - new members start with 2 download credits to get accquainted.

Download credits are accumulated either by depositing money into your iStock account or from download earnings. iStock uses $.20 from each download to cover its bandwidth costs, and $.05 (five cents) is returned to the member who uploaded the file. This ensures that regular contributors will always have download credits, and all others can download photos for only $.25 each.”

Most stock photography is out of the financial reach of individuals and organizations without a photo budget. Photodisc, the pioneer of the online stock photo market, charges $50 a pop for its cheapest images. iStockPhoto is a kind of mutual-support initiative providing imagery to its members practically for free.

And, through iStockPhoto the photographer, not the photo agency, retains the copyright of the images. Many stock photo agencies have increasly asked photographers to give away more and more of their rights for less and less money.

Unfortunately, for photographers who depend on income from their imagemaking this grassroots initiative is yet another contender in a crowded market. But for those who believe imagery should be free and who want to share it freely iStockPhoto is a beautiful thing.

>  19 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , , ,

Free as in School

In April 2001 MIT President Charles M. Vest announced the plans to make MIT’s courseware freely available on the Internet. On September 30, 2002 MIT launched MIT OpenCourseWare. The online courses include lecture notes, course outlines, reading lists and assignments.

“MIT OpenCourseWare will provide the content of, but is not a substitute for, an MIT education....”

The material is free for non-commercial use and is not for acaedmic credit. From an OpenCourseWare factsheet:

“MIT [OpenCourseWare] is not a distance learning initiative. Distance learning involves the active exchange of information between faculty and students, with the goal of obtaining some form of a credential. Increasingly, distance learning is also limited to those willing and able to pay for materials or course delivery.

MIT OCW is not meant to replace degree granting higher education. Rather, the goal is to provide the content that supports an education.

From President Vest:

“We hope the idea of openly sharing course materials will propagate throughout many institutions and create a global web of knowledge that will enhance the quality of learning and, therefore, the quality of life worldwide.

The pilot falls short of the 500 courses initially planned for the launch, but it’s a very nice start.

We are opening our pilot to the public for review and feedback. It contains a sample of MIT courses, offering an early look at the content and design of OCW. As we pursue our intensive work to find the most effective way to make OCW a valuable resource for all who use it, we will continue to add courses, until virtually all are available.”

>  2 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in ,

2002 MacArthur Fellows

The 2002 MacArthur Fellows were announced today. Here are a couple of bios of folks involved in projects I’d consider “social design”:

Camilo Jose Vergara is a photographer-ethnographer who uses time-lapse images to chronicle the transformation of urban landscapes across America. Trained as a sociologist, he reaches into the disciplines of architecture, photography, urban planning, history, and anthropology for tools to present the gradual erosion of late 19th- and 20th-century architectural grandeur in urban neighborhoods, their subsequent neglect and abandonment, and scattered efforts at gentrification. Repeatedly photographing, sometimes over the course of decades, the same structures and neighborhoods, Vergara records both large-scale and subtle changes in the visual landscape of cities and inner cities in the United States. Sequences reveal, for example, trees growing in abandoned libraries and decrepit laborer housing swallowed by advancing foliage. Over the years, Vergara has amassed a rich archive of several thousand photographs that are a rare and important cache of American history. These images, monuments to the survival and reformation of American cities, are a unique visual study; they also inform the process of city planning by highlighting the constant remodeling of urban space.”

See some of his World Trade Center related photos on the New York Historical Society site or a couple of photos from the New American Ghetto series.

Paul Ginsparg is a theoretical physicist widely known for creating a computer-based system for physicists and other scientists to communicate their research results. Ginsparg’s document server represents a conscious effort to reorganize scientific communications, establishing a marketplace of ideas of new submissions with minimal editorial oversight and abundant opportunity for commentary, supporting and opposing, from other investigators. Ginsparg circumvented traditional funding and approval mechanisms by developing the software in his spare time and running it on surplus equipment. This system [is] informally known as “the xxx archive,” currently hosted at Cornell University at http://arxiv.org.... All documents are available without charge worldwide through the internet, making the latest results available even for those without access to a good research library. Ginsparg has deliberately transformed the way physics gets done — challenging conventional standards for review and communication of research and thereby changing the speed and mode of dissemination of scientific advances.”

See some remarks about the project he delivered in 1994.

David B. Goldstein is a physicist with a passion for... improving global energy efficiency. His work, which consistently refutes suggestions of inherent conflict between economic growth and environmental quality, touches on a broad spectrum of energy-related issues — from appliance design, to building construction, to governmental policies in developing industrial nations, to housing and transportation planning — and on developing effective policies to address these issues. Goldstein recognized, for example, that early refrigerators wasted a significant fraction of U.S. electrical output due to poor design. He led the effort to hold an efficiency design contest and then successfully lobbied regional and national regulatory agencies to establish energy consumption standards based on the new design, thus creating a market for the more efficient devices. More recently, he has initiated a project to encourage people, through mortgage lending incentives, to minimize the amount of energy they waste driving unnecessarily. Over the last decade, moreover, he has sought to influence and improve building efficiency standards in Russia and China. Throughout his work, Goldstein draws from his scientific training to eliminate political and economic obstacles to greater energy efficiency, with constant attentiveness to the environmental penalties of energy waste....

Since 1980, he has co-directed the Energy Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in San Francisco.... In addition to his work at the NRDC, Goldstein serves on the boards of the Consortium for Energy Efficiency, the Institute for Market Transformation, the New Buildings Institute, the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, and the Institute for Location Efficiency.”

The mortages mentioned above are run through the Institute for Location Efficiency. The Location Efficient Mortgage is designed for “people who would like to purchase a home in an urban neighborhood and who would be willing to rely on public transportation and to use locally available services and amenities rather than own a personal vehicle.” Definitely not your typical envrionmental NGO.

Brian Tucker is a seismologist whose work focuses on preventing readily avoidable disasters in the world’s poorest countries by using affordable civil engineering practices. He founded GeoHazards International (GHI) after recognizing that multi-story residences, schools, hospitals, stores, and offices built from adobe, stone, or unreinforced masonry in many regions of the world are death traps when earthquakes strike. GHI is the only not-for-profit, non-governmental agency dedicated to preventing structural failures in developing countries. Tucker works on-site with local governments, artisans, and citizens to implement cost-effective measures to construct or upgrade schools and other public service buildings and to educate residents about damage-prevention measures. He is an expert at adapting techniques used by developed countries in risk-mitigation projects so that they fit within the social, political, and economic constraints of at-risk communities in the developing world. GHI’s principal focus on schools is particularly important because their typically poor construction makes them a common source for earthquake casualties. His current work to develop and apply a Global Earthquake Risk Index is designed both to estimate risk and to motivate risk-reduction measures. His efforts have dramatically reduced the potential for death and injury to children and others from earthquakes in vulnerable cities around the world.”

Stanley Nelson is a documentary filmmaker with over 20 years’ experience as a producer, director, and writer.

“His award-winning film, The Black Press: Soldiers without Swords, synthesizes biography and history, bringing clarity and dimension to the often neglected role of black journalists in chronicling American history. In Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind, Nelson examines an enigmatic African-American icon, illuminating character and cultural context. With Puerto Rico: Our Right to Decide, he probes still farther afield, considering the implications for political democracy arising from the historical trajectory of confluence and conflict among Anglo, Spanish, African, and indigenous social structures. He is currently working on a documentary about the murder of Emmett Till; other projects include the heritage of the African-American middle class on Martha’s Vineyard and on the international anthropology of the transatlantic slave trade.”

More of his film credits are listed here.

>  25 September 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , , , , , ,

Free U.S. Military Photos

Military photos in the public domain. That’s right, copyright free high-rez images of Bush & chums, fearsome gear, and our boys in action, all courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer. Great for patriotism, procurement, or parody.

Found via Barnbrook Design.

>  20 September 2002 | LINK | Filed in , ,

A Silent Revolution

From The Guardian, Thursday July 11, 2002:

“While the internet has affected most of us somehow, it has transformed the lives of deaf people, especially the young, by overcoming two barriers that make many deaf people feel isolated. One is the geographic barrier separating deaf people from each other: there are about 673,000 severely or profoundly deaf adults in the UK, spread all over the country. They can’t just pick up the phone and talk (although the introduction of textphones has made communication easier.)

...Technologies such as email, instant messaging and chat rooms mean that deaf people can contact old friends and make new ones anywhere in the world. There are plenty of resources on the web specifically targeted at deaf people, such as www.deafclub.co.uk and www.deaf-uk.co.uk - a set of Yahoo-based discussion groups where lively debates take place.

Another language barrier, that which divides speakers of British sign language and American sign language, also melts away. The internet touches almost every aspect of life. It’s much easier to shop online if you’re deaf than to make a shop assistant understand what you want. Similarly, the educational opportunities of deaf people, few of whom go on to higher education, could be transformed by distance learning. Even more significant is the chance to work. ‘Email has the potential to revolutionise the employment prospects,’ says Nathan Charlton, a consultant at the Royal National Institute for Deaf People. Email gives deaf people, who have twice the unemployment rates of hearing people, the ability not only to communicate with hearing colleagues easily, but to share in news they might otherwise be excluded from.”

While TDD, Telecommunications Device for the Deaf, and TTY, Text Telephone or TeleType, have been around since the 60’s, compatibility issues and competing standards have slowed widespread adoption. No doubt the expense of an additional technology to service a minority population has been a factor as well.

Electronic text messaging, however, is already integrated into most cellphones. The deaf, hard-of-hearing and speech are widely using Short Messaging Service (SMS) text messaging. Reuters reports that a survey carried out with the Birmingham Institute of the Deaf showed that 98 percent of hearing-impaired people in the UK use SMS text messaging. Following the survey, a British police department adopted SMS to let hearing- and speech-impaired people report emergencies. This article tells of Chieko Takayama, an employee of Japanese cellphone company J-Phone, and her work at a store in Tokyo that specifically markets to hearing-impaired customers.

Guardian article found via plep.

>  17 September 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

Uncle Sam Wants You

>  11 September 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,


This shared web-gallery of radical arts exists to document, develop and promote the artform of the post-corporate millennium - subvertising.

Subvertising is the Art of Cultural resistance. It is the ‘writing on the wall’, the sticker on the lamppost, the corrected rewording of Billboards, the spoof T-shirt; but it is also the mass act of defiance of a street party. The key process involves redefining or even reclaiming our environment from the corporate beast. Subvertising is allot like good modern art - they both involve finding idiots with too much power and wealth, and taxing them.”

A mixed collection of images from corporate logos to propaganda posters on issues from Animal Rights to War & Peace. Most of the images are “CopyLeft” or “Anti-Copyrighted.”

“CopyLeft means copyright except for non-profit making initiatives/organizations where the it is used to positively portray what it set out to do. If you are not sure what it originally set out to do you must ask its creator. This means that you can use the (graphics, article etc.) If you are not making money out or it and do not have the intention of doing go. If you are you must get permission from the creator to use it. This is a slightly reduced form of anti-copywrite.”

The concept resembles the more developed idea of Copyleft put forward by the Free Software Foundation. On the other hand:

“Anti-Copyright means use freely for whatever you want, and comes from the perspective that copyright should not exist at all or that there is no need to copyright the information/image as you wish it to be distributed freely and reused.”

Got any images to contribute?

>  6 September 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , , ,

Smokey, the Forest Fire Bear

“Created in 1944, the Smokey Bear campaign is the longest running public service campaign in US History. Smokey’s forest fire prevention message remained unchanged for 50 years until April 2001, when the Ad Council updated his message to address the increasing number of wildfires in the nation’s wildlands. As one of the world’s most recognizable fictional characters, Smokey’s image is protected by US Federal Law and is administered by the USDA Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters and the Ad Council.”

The site features notes on the history and real-life inspiration for the character as well as vintage audio and imagery from the campaign. Yet, despite public education to prevent forest fires, fires have become more frequent and more severe. In fact, because of U.S. forest policy. From the U.S. Bureau of Land Management:

“Fire suppression had been the general Government policy for most of this century. A series of very destructive fires from 1871 until about 1945 had a powerful impact on the public, which was alarmed by the destruction of human life, property, and resources (like forest products and livestock food) caused by the conflagrations. The fact that loggers carelessly ignited most of these fires had little sway on public opinion. The Government policy, then, generally called for fires to be suppressed, despite the fact that as early as 1933 research was showing the absolute necessity of periodic fire for ecosystem health. This policy was effectively reinforced by the familiar icon of Smokey the Bear admonishing that ‘only you can prevent forest fires’, and by such potent images as Bambi fleeing from fire.

Yet despite determined efforts over the years to suppress naturally ignited fires, wildfires have become more numerous, severe and difficult to control. Wildland fire experts contend that this is the inevitable result of well-intended but misguided fire suppression efforts, which consequently have created vast tinderboxes in many parts of the West.

Fire ecologists say they expect many more seasons of severe wildfires because there are millions of acres that have been affected by our management actions that have not yet burned. Managers can intervene and begin restoring the natural fire regime. They have two principle tools: letting naturally-caused fires burn, and deliberately setting ‘prescribed’ fires.”

Prevention, of course, is the reason George W. Bush is easing restrictions on logging to “give loggers greater leeway to cut larger, more commercially valuable trees... and deny environmentalists legal tools they have used to block such logging.”

Smokey site found via MetaFilter.

>  3 September 2002 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Burn All GIFs

“CompuServe released [image file format format] GIF as a free and open specification in 1987. GIF soon became a world standard, and also played an important role in the internet community. It was well supported by CompuServe’s Information Service, but many developers wrote (or acquired under license) software supporting GIF without even needing to know that a company named CompuServe existed. GIF was relatively simple, and very well documented in books, articles and text files.

GIF images are compressed to reduce the file size. The technique used to compress the image data is called LZW (after Lempel-Ziv-Welch) and was first described by Terry A. Welch in the June 1984 issue of IEEE’s Computer magazine. Unisys [once a well-known computer company with a long history] holds a patent on the procedure described in the article, but the article describing the algorithm had no mention of this. The LZW procedure was simple and very well described, and it soon became a very popular technique for data compression (just as GIF would become a standard in its own field). It appears that neither CompuServe, nor the CompuServe Associate who designed GIF, nor the computer world in general were aware of the patent....

At the end of December 1994, CompuServe Inc. and Unisys Corporation announced to the public that developers would have to pay a license fee in order to continue to use technology patented by Unisys in certain categories of software supporting the GIF format. These first statements caused immediate reactions and some confusion.” From The GIF Controversy: A Software Developer’s Perspective.

“[Currently,] Unisys is charging web sites $5000 or more... if the software originally used to create the GIFs was not covered by a Unisys license.... The catch is that it appears to be difficult or impossible to get a Unisys license to use LZW in free software that complies with the Open Source Definition or in low-volume proprietary software. [Instead, Unysis requires a yearly license fee directly from Web site operators.] The fact that Unisys was able to patent LZW is due to a flaw in the US patent system that makes even pencil-and-paper calculations patentable.... However, Unisys’s actions are legal under US law, so the only reasonable alternative to paying the ‘Unisys tax’ on the web is to upgrade graphics from GIF to PNG format, or MNG format for animations.” From Burn All GIFs.

Burn All GIFs is a campaign encouraging Web developers to stop using the GIF format. Burn All GIFs also promotes Burn All GIFs Day to both further the campaign and to protest Unisys’s licensing practices. Burn All GIFs is a project of the League for Programming Freedom, an organization that opposes software patents and user interface copyrights.

PNG is a lossless image compression format that is free from patents and royalties. It also compresses better than GIF, supports interlacing, and true alpha transparency. It became a W3C standard in 1996 and is supported by most browsers (though some have not implemented full alpha transparency.) You can convert your GIFs to PNGs with some of the tools listed here.

>  31 August 2002 | LINK | Filed in , ,

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