I’m a historian, curator, communications strategist and information designer, living in Los Angeles since 2020. I have decades of work experience in universities, museums, government and the private sector.
In recent years I’ve become a globally-recognized advocate for the design of safer streets and motor vehicles. Whatever the challenge, I’m passionate about combining words, images and data to communicate content that matters.
I’ve been busy trying to scrounge a living over here with my most ambitious and elegant web project to date, a guide to sustainable living in Canada’s capital. I’m five days in, and already I’ve made $40. I’ll be adding blog and audiocast profiles of local initiatives in the coming weeks. If you know anyone who’s into righteous poverty and/or saving the planet, kindly spread the word.
Mark O’Connell’s recent New Yorker blog review of two new books on Jorge Luis Borges opens by sensitively praising the Argentine master’s literary talents, and closes by deeming him politically incorrect. One big problem, in O’Connell’s eyes, is Borges’s failure to adequately appreciate women writers. Without letting us in on the joke, the critic informs us that he “laughed out loud” upon reading Borges’ remark that Emily Dickinson was “the most passionate of all women who have attempted writing.” Perhaps it’s the word “attempt” that O’Connell expects his reader to find so laugable. And perhaps he doesn’t fully grasp Borges’ understanding that this is no insult, since any communication is but an essaie.
As a lead-up to a second fit of pique O’Connell recounts the following conversation from 1980: Continue reading →
Our students, products of the no-child-left-behind era of “accountability” and quantifiable results, expect a full reckoning of everything they will ever be expected to do in a semester. In the years I’ve been teaching, the typical syllabus has grown in size from a simple 1-3 page statement of aims and procedures to a swollen pseudo-legal document that assumes the character of a contract. The more suspicious or legalistic of our students come to treat every class like a drawn-out game of Simon Says and act like the prof can’t legitimately ask them to do anything that isn’t explicitly laid out in the syllabus. The syllabus-as-legal-contract suits the administrators, politicians, and parents who don’t trust the professors any more than the students do. And professors, including myself, go along with it, even if they don’t really like it.
Testify, brother! The biggest problem in this age of lawyers and helicopter parenting is that everything has to be *fail safe*. (I’m pretty sure it was Phil himself who hipped me to the wonderful term Nerf Education; he may have invented it.) In my risk-averse neck of the woods (Canada’s capital) I’ve been told on good authority that there’s little point in applying for government funding for academic projects unless you can demonstrate positive results in advance. Evidently the Age of Exploration is over. Continue reading →
Over on YouTube (scroll down for link menu) I’ve just posted a VHS-quality vid of myself standing up in Berlin on a Friday afternoon in late November 2011. It’s the only visible evidence of a few such talks that I gave in his centenary year, based on my researches into the McLuhan fonds here in Ottawa. Here’s the official announcement:
In a 1959 talk and a 1964 book Marshall McLuhan famously declares that “the medium is the message.” By 1967 the title of a typographically adventuresome book turns “message” into “massage.” In each case McLuhan is urging his audience to care less about the apparent content of communication (what happens to be “on” TV or “in” a book) and more about the psychodynamics of the particular medium (the effects of television or the book per se).
Although later interpreters have viewed the medium=message/massage tenet as central to McLuhan’s thinking, there has been little sustained attention to the practical role of inscription, publication and broadcast in his work. In short, it is time to pay closer attention to the media practice behind McLuhan’s media theory. This talk, based on extensive researches in the McLuhan fonds at Library & Archives Canada, surveys the evidence for McLuhan’s quotidian encounters with the very media that he investigates.
(Click image to enlarge, and again for more detail.)
From the vault, here’s a tiny essay written back in September 1995, my first week at Harvard, for a graduate seminar with the brilliant Joseph Leo Koerner–a class that ended up being my real introduction to both Marshall McLuhan and my design mentor Edward Tufte. The brooding mood of the piece, and maybe even the choice of subject in the Sackler Museum exhibition, is indebted to the Coltrane Orgy playing on WHRB while I wrote it. Before long I’d be writing conventional catalogue entries on a number of neglected 17thC French landscape prints for an exhibition at the Boston MFA. None of those works approached the sheer weirdness of this ca. 1555 etching/engraving by Jan and Lucas Duetecum after a design by Bruegel.
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Carl van Mander writes that Pieter Bruegel was said to have swallowed up the Alps and spit them out as pictures after returning from Italy to the Netherlands. Looking at the image in front of us, it is tempting to think that the artist disgorged the half-digested mountains into a riverbed near Tivoli and sketched the following scene as a souvenir of the gruesome event. Of course we don’t have to adopt the metaphor of coughed-up cud when trying to describe this picture. We can imagine instead that the vast belly of the earth has been sliced open, exposing her pungent, pulsating entrails. Like the tiny animal forms dotting the left-hand horizon, the spilled-guts metaphor recalls a secret buried deep within this same Roman landscape: namely the bones of a thousand sacrificial sheep sliced open by ancient diviners seeking knowledge of nature’s inner workings. Continue reading →
I arrived at the Pressed Cafe in Ottawa as the summer sun descended at the far end of Gladstone St. As I neared my destination so did a compact, long-haired man pulling a silver rolling suitcase. Emerging out of a side street as if at random, the man crossed the street, smiled and nodded at the small gathering of people smoking and chatting, and went straight inside. This is the place.
For the next half hour I stood outside the door, watching the crowd file in. By the time my friend arrived with the tickets the music was underway, and the house was packed with about eighty people ranging in age from 20ish to 60ish. We had all come to see the man with the silver suitcase–the inimitable krautrock legend Damo Suzuki–in his second-ever jam with local psych rockers The Band Whose Name is a Symbol. The former Can frontman earns his living playing hundreds of gigs a year with members of the global consortium of “sound carriers” comprising The Damo Suzuki Network.
I concocted this bit of agitprop after reading an important op-ed detailing the US gov’s troubling War on Reality. The article contextualizes this proposal outlining the very naughty tactics of Team Themis, a consortium of information security firms enlisted by the government at arm’s length. Further details on the Hammond debacle here.
Click on the image below for a link to the ol’ Tumblr blog (Boring from Within) that predates the site you’re reading. The boundary between blogs #1 and #2 is porous and may prove untenable, but as a believer in multiple technologies (and multiple selves) I’m maintaining them both for now.
A few days since the soft launch of this site and Design Incubator they both seem to be functioning well enough. So feel free to explore, leave some comments, sign up for the blog via the sidebar button. And please spread the word.
The site you’re viewing is a personal blog. Design Incubator features twenty projects produced by my January seminar/studio Adventures in Multimodal Design. Here’s a sampling. Click on a thumbnail to see the whole project, and send it to a friend of you think they might like it.