Sunday, April 27, 2008

Computer Shutdown Day Saturday May 3

The global Shutdown Day event takes place on Saturday, May 3 -- and ironically, given how much I have been promoting it, I will not only have my computer on, but it is the centerpiece of my grad project for the show that opens that night! However, I feel good that I was able to make two contributions: the two-minute video below entitled it "Shutdown Day - One Year Later" about my initial participation. It is embedded on their Shutdown Day website and has gotten over 6,000 views. The second contribution I think I made was an early email discussion with Denis, the Montreal computer programmer, who initiated this day to encourage balance around computer use. I pointed out that last year's event had been the same day as the flashmob pillow fight on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery, and asked if that had been intentional. It hadn't been, but this year the central concept is for people to participate in local flash mobs rather than sit hunched over their computers. The grad exhibition goes for a week, and this blog will go on indefinitely. And all of you who are out taking part in Shutdown Day, check me out on another day!

Friday, April 25, 2008

My Interview with Waldo

I did a couple of all-nighters on making the above video "The Waldo Interview". I have been collaborating closely on the "Where on Earth is Waldo" project with Melanie Coles, and we wanted to get this video available as soon as possible to feed the global multi-media interest. Please follow the above link to her blog to learn about her project in her own words. In keeping with the theme of this blog, this reflects on my Waldo experience using the COABC (Came of Age Before Computers) point of view.

The first learning point for myself is that -- at the age of fifty-seven -- if I am going to be choosing to work for fifty hours solid, I need an ergonomic chair!

Also, what does it mean for me personally that, having chosen to commit to doing my art using a computer, I found that working on the Waldo project was the most fun I've had at Art School? I think that a big part of the reason that the Waldo project went viral on the Internet is that the aerial photo is of a real object -- it is not a photoshopped image on a map. I think there is a hunger for the "embodied", as I call it. The 54-foot painting of Waldo up on the roof is real, as are the fifteen art students who worked together to put him up there. As this blog evolves, I will be focusing more on Internet-related projects that re-connect people back into participating in the face-to-face world.

Another personal COABC reflection is that now there are some Internet places where I not only have stopped grinding my teeth, but actually enjoy myself. YouTube is one of these sites. From the user point of view, it is simple. Click a link recieved in an email or the "play" arrow in a website, and away the video goes. No matter how old and clunky your computer, and how basic your skills on the web, there are no compatibility issues, nor extra software you need. No wonder YouTube has leaped over the digital divide!

Finally, at the time I am writing this, two of my YouTube videos -- "The Waldo Interview" and "Shutdown Day, One Year Later" (see my March 24 article) -- have had over 2000 "hits". A third, "The Making of Waldo" (April 10) , has had over 1500 people fire it up. A "hit" means that somebody out there found an art piece that I made, and then took the time to watch it. As an artist, I am just as thrilled at a report of a hit as I would be looking at the guest book of people who had dropped into a gallery, or the tally of how many sat in a theatre to watch it. But I know that it is very unlikely that I would ever get that kind of attention, here on the ground, as a new grad -- or ever! A "hit" is the currency of the internet. An ephemeral connection. But I do feel like I'm getting paid. In a future posting I will look at the implications.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Snail mail in a post-fax world

Twenty years ago, I saw no future in faxes. Now I am in the place where I've come to believe that again. Throughout it all, snail mail has kept poking along. Does snail mail have a future? I hope so, not only for myself, but for my parents.

When faxes first came on the market in the mid-eighties and my boss asked me to buy a fax machine, I resisted. What would you ever use them for, when the mail only took three days? He told me to order one anyway. I was gratified when it sat gathering dust for weeks in the filing room. But then one day the green light on the clunky machine flickered, and out rolled a hot shiny piece of thermal paper with a customer's order on it. The rest is history.

Fast-forward to my recent decision not to buy a scanner that threw in a personal fax capability. This time the problem for me is that I no longer have a land-line telephone. Anyway, between emails and the scanner, when would I ever need to use a fax? If I ever found myself needing to send a fax because the destination required one, I could always do it from the post office.

For moments like that, I am really happy that the post office is there, and I am glad that I can contribute to the salary of that nice person who works there. It is the courier for people who don't have receptionists. And they haven't quite figured out how to squeeze Christmas packages through wires. I correspond with my siblings by email, and sometimes my sister will print them out in large font and take them over to my parents. There is a new American service which converts emails into letters and mails them for you, for a price.

Currently, as I am about to graduate with a "high-tech" media degree, I am making my own "high-touch" thank-you cards for the people who have supported me. I visualize the pleasure of my friends and family when they find that tactile personal envelope in their mailboxes -- an occasion like a parcel used to be. Perhaps I could buy a package of envelopes and address and stamp them in advance to commit myself, then print out those family emails myself. My sister would appreciate it, it would support the postal service, and it would probably make my dad's day to have a real letter arrive through the "inbox" in the middle of his door.

Looking forward to your comments

Sunday, April 13, 2008


There are days in the lab at school when I deeply regret the decades it took me to get back to art school after my yoyo attitude led me to drop out back when I was still in my early twenties. But in the spirit of "looking on the bright side" I've always comforted myself that all those intervening years at least led to some wisdom, which could add depth to my point of view. However this morning at 4:00 a.m., as I was winding down from my video editing on the "Waldo Interview" piece, I had to confront that I might be losing my Wisdom edge as well.

For one thing, I seem to have slipped into a mode where I check the day's analytics on this blog in order to wind down. Hmmmm ... whatever happened to my longtime routine of using that time to work through the Public Library's "Maeve Binchey Readalike" list? For another thing, when I did fire up my "Dashboard" I felt the sort of reaction that, had I seen it in my son, would have led to a Mother/Son Talk about seeing the cup as being half-full rather than half-empty.

Scroll down to the picture of the dashboard I posted yesterday -- where my blog had achieved a summit of 90 hits on April 11. Well, okay. It was 89. Well this morning, when I peeked instead of going straight to bed, I saw to my horror that the midnight posting of the April 12 hits showed me sliding down the other side of my little mountain. Here is the "one day later" graph.

What would I say to my son? I would tell him that he could look at 45 hits -- well, actually 39 -- as being still more than twice my pre-Waldo-Echo peak of 15 on April 3. I'd also try to get a little sermonette about celebrity in before he put his headphones back on. Which I am about to do right now with my own headphones. Still hoping to get that little sucker up on YouTube before Melanie's CBC National Radio interview on "Q" tomorrow.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Part of the COABC demographic - by ladyofthelake

When I read your posts I often feel like you are talking about me. I have come late to the computer, digital camera, cell phone age and find it challenging but rewarding when I master a small skill. 
I loved the piece on your cell phone. I got my first ever cell phone about a month ago and am still very intimidated by it. My husband (he has never had one either) and I spent a whole evening going through the instruction book just learning the basics which I had pretty much forgotten by the morning.
Yes I am definitely a COABC and can totally  relate as to how difficult it must have been to go back to school with all  those new generation tech whizzes.
I became much more interested in improving my computer skills when my daughters went away to school and I wanted to communicate and share photos.
 I recently started a new job which requires quite a bit of computer use and I am very lucky to have a young lady I work with who willingly give me lots of help and advice. She is very patient!
I am very impressed at how you are getting out there helping, shall we say more mature people learn how to use digital cameras, computers etc. not to mention completing your degree at Emily Carr. You must be very proud of yourself as you should be.
I am looking forward to reading and learning more from your blog.

Riding a (good) viral event

The word "virus" in relation to computers started out as a bad thing. But now, with blogs, to have something you uploaded "go viral" is a huge thrill. I'm getting a small taste of that now, and it gives me insight into the world view of my son and fellow students. On the Sunday before the CBC TV interview which brought Melanie Coles' "Where On Earth Is Waldo" project to the attention of Brazil, and eventually the world, I put together the above video based on a slide show that I made as a an assignment for class. I uploaded it to YouTube when she got on TV the next day. In the one week that it has been up there, as of today 700 people have looked at it. That is a whole movie theatre worth of people. (And if you click on it now, it will be 701!) As a comparison in the year that I have been uploading videos there, I have had just over 800 views of all the other 12 videos.

So now I am right in the middle of being involved in a good story, and, because we live in a time-compressed world, now is the time tell it. Today I'm going into school to use the sound studio to do an interview with Waldo to upload to YouTube as fast as I can - hopefully before Monday (April 14) when Melanie has a national radio interview on "Q". See my postings below on April 10 and April 3 for more details and a link to her site. She has embedded a link to my blog, where, before the word got out, I had posted an article looking at her work in the context of other art. I subscribe to Google Analytics and I have been monitoring the echo effect of people coming over from Melanie's blog to check out mine.

She is using analytics to monitor her site too, and we both noticed that the sudden peaking flattened the prior lines on our graphs. Her blog was getting 1500 hits AN HOUR yesterday, whereas my peak was 90, the day that Brazil found Waldo. But for me it is a thrill. And I am beginning to understand how seductive it is to check how you are doing on the internet. So this has been a good COABC moment of insight.

Another COABC insight is the sense of urgency to put more material up there to meet the demand, out of a sense that we might be hitting Minute 7.5 of our Andy Warhol quota. I have looked around me in the lab during this end of term crunch, and know the solution to time compression is to find shortcuts. Here is where I trip over my ten thumbs, which feel very big right now! I had enough knowledge to be there doing the scanning, but not enough to know that a shortcut I took was going to have exactly the catastrophic effect I keep assuring COABC's is not likely to happen if they just take the risk and thrash around a bit. Long story short, I found myself without access to any of the source files I had so carefully collected during my role as Melanie's video documenter throughout the project. I knew I was vulnerable -- that my external drive was old, and was suddenly being carried around a lot. But I needed to be able to move all those files somewhere else. And the problem with backing up large amounts of data, is that you need a bigger container. I had already bought myself a larger external drive, but to do all the formatting and so on I needed to either take the time to figure it out, or organize myself to ask for help. So it was sitting on my table, stlll in the packaging, when the one it was supposed to replace took a dive. Murphy's law had kicked in, as it tends to do when you are busy and it feels like there is no time.

So that was the bad news. But the good news is that I DID know enough all along to be burning DVD's of the Waldo source files and giving them to Melanie. So I actually had that "backup" that computer repair guys always ironically ask you for. And for bonus points, it was "offsite". Though getting it back involved Melanie hiding the disks that night in a hole in a wall next to her place of work. Unlike Paris Hilton, we both had to interrupt our fame to go in to our part-time jobs. I had a cell phone moment like one sometimes overhears late at night on buses, as Melanie gave me directions to "it" and my side of the conversation must have sounded like a drug deal! Bottom line, today I have the files, tomorrow (please God) I upload a new video to YouTube to catch the wave of CBC listeners on Monday. Wish me luck!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Live and Around The World With Computers - by Michael Godin

I first became involved with computers back in the mid-80s when I was still working at A&M Records as V.P. of A&R (Artist and Repertoire). Computers first became introduced there with a big main frame for all of the financial aspects of the company, sales, inventory, recording budgets, etc., and then personal computers for the various departments. Over the subsequent years, I became involved with computers, but for mainly office type functions.

However in 1997, I came of age with computers and the Internet when I started an online oldies radio show, Treasure Island Oldies. In those days, listening to music on the Internet with a 28.8 kbps modem was almost the equivalent of having to hold two tin cans attached end to end by a piece of string. If you spoke into one can and both ends were held to keep the string taut, the person at the other end would hear that other person's voice. However, dialup was susceptible to the 'loose string' syndrome, and you often lost the signal. Since those days in the last century, my show has grown with the technology of better audio streaming technology, higher bandwidth and much greater stability.

I host the occasional video feed of the show live from the studio; a chance for the listener to play voyeur into a radio studio and watch the dj putting on the show. The show is available in stereo in high speed broadband in both Real Media and Windows Media formats, and is heard all over the world with listeners in the far reaches of the Earth. I receive a lot of email from those listeners and I am also able to see the various countries where listeners and visitors are from who come to the website. Another cool aspect is that the live show is archived for later listening on demand. As the show is live from 6 to 10 p.m. Pacific time Sunday evenings, many international listeners can hear the show at a more convenient time for them.

The show is extremely interactive, with a library of over 12,000 titles (so not many repeats of Pretty Woman and Unchained Melody every 20 minutes), a live chat room where the "nuts in the hut" hang out together every week for four hours of music and sharing the live show together. There are instant email requests and a 24/7 voicemail request line.

May 4th marks the 11th Anniversary of Treasure Island Oldies, a passion of mine for all these years, and a labour of love, with the odd bit of income from text ads from AdBrite and Google Ads, and a handful of listeners who "subscribe" to the show for $4.95 a month via PayPal. But I don't and have never doine this show for the money. If that were the cae, it would have ceased years ago. I do it because I must, need to, am driven to do it - I love it. It's my artistic release. I love sharing great music and the memories that go along with it.

What I am most proud of is how this show remains my prime creative passion and outlet, and the fact that it is now one of the longest running oldies radio shows in the world on the Internet. Do a Google search for any number of phrases like oldies radio show, oldies blogs, rare oldies, lost treasures oldies, etc. You'll be surprised with the results.

Since September of 2007, I got tired of either no replies or negative responses from networks to carry my show, so I established my own private syndication network and apart from being online on the mediaontap network, the show is now also heard on FM, AM and other Online radio stations across the USA in Georgia, New Hampshire, Indiana, Washington State, Massachusetts, Texas, and New York; in the UK in Manchester and London, and in Sweden in Gothenberg. This week I have a brand new station joining the network, 102.7 FM CIWS Whistle Radio in Whitchurch-Stoufville, just north of Toronto. They only launched a few weeks ago and they are now my first radio station in my own country, Canada!

So yes, I sure have come of age since computers and in particular, the Internet.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Waldo project getting global attention!

Three days ago, Melanie and a television crew did a CBC TV Interview on the rooftop. The part I liked the best was when she put her hand over the lens and said "Don't photograph the rooftops!"

Next day her website got 4,000 hits from Brazil, where the project had been covered by both TV and radio. The day after that (which was only yesterday!) Melanie found herself cutting class and requesting extensions on her due dates at school in order to do interviews with media - not only Canadian but also from the US and the UK. She tells the story of her surprise ride into fame on her site.

This morning two local newspapers, the Vancouver Sun and 24 Hours both had a photo of Waldo on the front page.

We were really glad that I had a short 1.5 minute video based on my slide presentation on Melanie's project to our grad class already done. The day the news broke I uploaded it to YouTube. Here is a link
"The Making of 'Where On Earth Is Waldo'".

Next for me is to make a second YouTube video based on the premise of an interview between myself and Waldo, about how it feels to be a famous quarry (again). Here is a photo of myself and Waldo, after we had finished laying him out.

The cover story yesterday in the newspaper "24 hours" concluded "The popularity of the project, which caled for 15 friends working 16 hours in a lower Eastside studio, proves anything is possible." As one of those 15 -- who became involved right from September when Melanie first described her very simple, oddball idea -- I know that, hands down, this has been the most fun I've had at art school. As a COABC I've been hesitant to come forward to work with groups, and have tended to isolate myself. A lot of that was due to self-imposed fear and shame about my slowness on the uptake with the technical tools. I am so glad that Melanie and I were part of a small mutual support group on our grad projects. She welcomed me as a collaborator, and I can see that my participation has been useful, and that I did bring a different but also useful set of strengths.

And now I'm off to work on that video! This coming Monday, Melanie gets interviewed on "Q", the CBC Radio One show. I hope to have something up there by then!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Where On Earth Is Waldo?

As I describe in my profile, as a "Came of Age Before Computers" artist I rather reluctantly switched into media arts when I became convinced that the innovative art for the foreseeable future was going to involve digital material and be accessible through the Internet. On of my friends during this, my final year as a student of Media Arts, is Melanie Coles. We have been helping each other out with our grad projects, and so I've had the delightful experience of working with her on hers. Her work is a good example of interesting art which uses the internet as the medium, just as other people use paint. Though she uses paint too....

I was one of many volunteers who helped her to paint a huge "Waldo" and hide it on an undisclosed rooftop in Vancouver. It is now there, cheerfully looking heavenwards, waiting for the next Google Earth "fly-by" when a satellite photo will be taken.

Last night we sat side by side in a computer lab at school as she was looking for the first time at aerial shots taken from a helicopter. To see the shots from the helicopter, follow the attached link to Where On Earth Is Waldo her blog about the project. We have already found the rooftop on Google Earth, and have found that the level of detail of the zoom showed a barbeque right next to where her Waldo Painting is now located. When will the photo of Waldo show up on Google Earth? Nobody knows. They schedule regular updates of their photos, especially in urban areas like Vancouver, but have a policy of not disclosing when they will be aiming their camera at a particular area. Possibly because there is an increasing interest in projects like Melanie's where objects are being created to be seen from a Google-eye view.

As an art student, Melanie has deliberately situated her Waldo within a history of land art that is on a scale and located in a way as to be aimed at the eye of a deity rather than to be seen by those on the ground. The huge images carved into the chalk on hillsides in Britain stretched back to ancient times, long before it was visalized that people could ever fly. In July 2007, as part of the launch of the Simpsons movie, a biodegradable Homer was painted next to a famous chalk fertility symbol called the "Cerne Abbas Giant". Here is a link to the BBC coverage about how local pagans "Wish for Rain to Wash Away Homer"

The huge, donut-waving Homer is part of the growing body of "Google Earth" art work which is intended to be experienced indirectly through the lens of satellite photos. Some real-world artworks, such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa as seen by Google Earth can be found easily by typing the name into the search. The link I gave is to a searching a popular website called "Sightseer on Google Earth" which facilitates looking at monuments from a different point of view. It was only a short step beyond looking at real monuments for artists to start doctoring digital photos to add content. An example is a series by a group of Australian collective of artists and designers called "The Glue Society". The example shown here is a Google-eye view of the parting of the Red Sea. Here is a link to an online article "The Bible according to Google Earth"

Those of us who relate to Google as primarily a work or research tool sometimes do not hear about how deeply it is becoming embedded in our culture, especially for those who grew up with it. There is a growing, highly ironic, theory growing in Vancouver 24-hour internet coffee shops about "Is Google God", since it seems to possess many of the powers that have been ascribed to a deity -- for example "Sees all" and "Knows all". There is a tongue-in-the-cheek website called The Church of Google which offers eight proofs that Google is indeed God. I would be interested if anyone who grew up in the days before Google cares to comment about what role Google has taken in their lives.