Meta Post: Slow Ottawa

Did you miss me?

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.

As ever,

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Borges, Duchamp and I

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

Beyond Nerf Education

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In this evening’s blog post “Coverage and Exploration” my man Phil Ford laments:

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

Video: My Berlin talk on McLuhan’s Media Practice

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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.

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Meditations on a Landscape by Pieter Bruegel the Elder


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(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

You Had To Be There

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.

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Meta-Post: Pussy Riot over at Boring from Within

I’ve made a few double postings in this time of transition from my Boring from Within blog. Henceforth all my agitprop images will be posted over there, so please sign up if if you’re interested. I’ve started adding ©© (creative commons) symbols to these pieces to encourage folks to spread the word, and help raise consciousness about threats to freedom of speech and action. The Russian state’s reaction to Pussy Riot’s harmless church prank–separating two of the perpetrators from their children to place them in labour camps and clamping down on any mention of the band–is chilling to say the least.

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RIP Aaron Swartz.

Jeremy Hammond vs. the State

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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 image for larger version.

Steal it & spread the word.

RIP Aaron Swartz.

Meta-Post: The New Urban Uncanny

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.

"The New Urban Uncanny" (Boring from Within)

Planning Toronto in 1915

In preparation for my impending visit to the big city I’m posting some good, bad and ugly maps and data graphics–many of them far too colourful–from volume 2 of the Report to the Civic Transportation Committee on Radial Railway Entrances and Rapid Transit for the City of Toronto (1915). The sheer variety of techniques of data representation bespeak the anxious wonderment of this Winsor McKay moment in history.

Click on any image for a link to a huge version of the whole, courtesy of the U of T Map & Data Library.

Diagram showing in isometric projection the 1914 population density per acre for the built up portion of each block within the city limits.

Diagram showing in isometric projection the 1914 population density per acre for the built up portion of each block within the city limits.

Distribution of Population at 1914 and increase from 1909.

Distribution of Population at 1914 and increase from 1909.

Distribution of Population for 1889, 1904, 1899, and 1909.

Distribution of Population for 1889, 1904, 1899, and 1909.

Plan Showing Recommended Radial Railway Entrances

Plan Showing Recommended Radial Railway Entrances.

Diagram Showing Volume and Distribution of Daily Passenger Traffic on Various Street Car Routes in the City of Toronto under normal midweek conditions during August 1915.

Diagram Showing Volume and Distribution of Daily Passenger Traffic on Various Street Car Routes in the City of Toronto under normal midweek conditions during August 1915.

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Welcome!

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.

Alberta Heritage Gazetteer

Alberta Heritage Gazetteer

Beer Styles Chart

Beer Styles Chart

Carleton Surface Sounds

Carleton Surface Sounds

Carleton Tunnel Maps

Carleton Tunnel Maps

Guidebook for Rooftop Bird Gardens

Guidebook for Rooftop Bird Gardens

Iqaluit Visitors’ Map

Iqaluit Visitors’ Map

Morgan's Grant Running Routes

Morgan’s Grant Running Routes

Ottawa Waste Connections

Ottawa’s Waste Connections

Punk Rock Timeline

Punk Rock Timeline

Thanks for visiting,

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