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I Demand Better Graffiti

April 25, 2012 1 comment

Gerald R Ford Graffiti at the Ottawa Ave Exit

Recently someone in Grand Rapids, Michigan started adding Banksy-esque stenciled images of former president Gerald Ford on walls downtown.  The first image that appeared depicted a standing figure of Ford, which later had a word bubble added with the words “Motu Viget” (the city’s motto which is Latin for “Strength in Activity”).

Another figure appeared more recently of Ford with his arm raised and the infamous quote from Ford’s Oath of Office speech in 1974: “our long national nightmare is over.”

There are also other works I haven’t had the chance to see yet depicting Ford and his quote “I am indebted to no man,” and even other local celebrities like Floyd Mayweather, Jr with the quote “all work is easy work.”

I’ve been amused by these works and am now keeping one eye peeled near the I-196/US-131 interchange for more of these illustrations, wondering about the motivations of the individual(s) behind them, what they’re building toward and hoping that the Michigan Department of Transportation is slow to act on its threat to remove the graffiti.

This morning, however, I noticed that someone had scrawled the words “War Criminal” in red spray paint with poor handwriting next to the first Ford illustration.  It upset me.

I wasn’t upset with the characterization of Ford as a war criminal, there’s certainly a case to be made for that.  Rather I’m pissed at how utterly lazy and unimaginative the response is.  I’ve decided that I don’t hate graffiti – I hate CRAP graffiti.

  • Crap graffiti is some jerkweed tagger plastering the exact same sloppy, rounded uninventive image of their inane alias over every available surface out of view of a security camera.
  • Crap graffiti is some lazy, ignorant suburbanite teen adding a wobbly swastica to a school wall for shock value – completely unaware of the origin of the icon or the weight the symbol carries.
  • Crap graffiti is what adorns so many railroad cars – though there’s slightly more time invested, it still is the same unoriginal design: a crunched, barely-legible thickened font filled in with swirls of color.

T Rex "King" Graffiti on Division Ave in Grand Rapids

If you’re going to post something for hundreds of people to see each day as they walk past a transformer box, don’t you take enough pride in what you do to make a good show of it?  Ostensibly you’ve got the need to communicate (which you’ve demonstrated by risking misdemeanor charges) – if you’re going to go to all that trouble don’t you want to be effective and original when you do so?

So you want to critique President Ford – fine; add to the stencil illustration and give him an arm offering a thumbs-up to Suharto to massacre East Timorese civilians, or add a stencil of Henry Kissinger doing the same.

That goes for anyone that puts up a billboard (which I usually consider to be visual affronts more offensive than graffiti, distinguished only by the fact that they’re more expensive to produce and are officially-sanctioned).

Can’t we do better?  If you’re going to confront me with your message – at least provide me some value; a bit of humor, a spark of originality, an artistic flourish, a new font … ANYTHING.  Maybe social media has ruined me – but I now expect to extract something of value from attempts to get my attention and I refuse to believe I’m the only one.

So taggers and advertisers – give me better graffiti.  Make it art.

Congress: Leave Google Alone and Leave the Tech to the Experts MMkay?

September 21, 2011 1 comment

Leave Google Alone

Right now former Google Chairman Eric Schmidt is being grilled on Capitol Hill in the Anti-Trust hearings that the United States Legislature is holding about the search engine (and cloud services) provider.  Essentially Google is under fire for promoting its own content ahead of that of competitors.  So, for example, it would prioritize Google Local listings/reviews above those of Yelp.

If Google gives their own products preference in their searches – that’s their business and they have every right to do so.  Were some sort of law to come out of this in the form of a suit against Google or a statute passed by congress, it would attack the common practices of virtually every organization running a search engine on their site.

Here are some examples to illustrate how problematic that precedent would be: Read more…

The Future of the Post Office and the Digital Divide

September 14, 2011 1 comment

The Digital Divide

What does the future of the United States Post Office hold for the people affected by the Digital Divide?

I wish I knew.

What I do know is that the current state of Internet access in the US is completely inadequate for us to consider ourselves a functioning democracy.  As the New York Times and SavetheInternet.com just noted, we’re behind ROMANIA in terms of Internet speed (25th out of developed nations).

Here are just some of the reasons that Internet Access should be considered a basic right for all people:

Political Involvement:

  • Legislation moves quickly enough now that the standard “snail mail” (plus the added time it takes for legislators to screen their mail given the threat of terrorism) means it’s really too slow anyway and now the spectre of privatizing the mail service is in the future which will increase costs to send a letter (because it’s no longer subsidized by the government).
  • Want to send a fax to your legislator?  Unless you own a fax machine, most places charge a dollar or more per page.
  • Many required disclosures by public organizations have moved online, and virtually all historical documents and records are available online.
  • Citizen Journalism is a burgeoning phenomena that could potentially bring a great deal more transparency to the world we live in, but it also requires high-speed Internet access to work.

Career Advancement:

  • Moving onward and upward without Internet Access is extraordinarily difficult.  Consider the impact of the decline of the newspaper industry on access to classified ads for jobs.  Many organizations have moved to online job listings through web-based services like Monster.com, Indeed.com, Beyond.com, etc.
  • Networking still happens face-to-face, and it’s still valuable, but networking (and maintaining networks) online is rapidly becoming a new norm.
  • Social networking and other web-based platforms are now integral to most work that pays a decent wage – using those tools requires a considerable amount of time online to learn and practice skills.

Entrepreneurship:

  • The other day I saw a van for a local HVAC servicing company wrapped with branding imagery that included a Facebook button.  The “Flat Earth” has brought about a revolution in commerce and anyone can easily start up a business with far fewer resources because so many things can be accomplished inexpensively online (from payroll to managing finances to setting up an e-commerce platform).

Not enough attention is being paid to this issue.  Here’s a great example; even PBS has retired its Digital Divide site:

PBS Digital Divide Site Retired

Edutopia has a well-written piece on the state of the Digital Divide in the US which was recently updated and includes contextual information on the last decade of attempts to address it.

One of the ways to address the digital divide is to break the stranglehold the for-profit telecommunications industry has on Internet Access.  Attempts nationwide have been made to provide low-cost or free Internet access – like municipalities purchasing and providing wi-fi for their citizens (which have been fought tooth and nail by the telecoms).  That’s the main reason I was so excited about Google Fiber; the possibility that experiment holds for bridging the digital divide is promising.

GoogleFiber4GR

Even Grand Rapids has attempted to bring low-cost or free Internet access to its citizens (GR’s “The Rapidian” has a good write-up about the current efforts involving a company called Clear“) but progress has been slow.If the Post Office is dramatically cut or eliminated outright, that’s going to dramatically ramp up the need for a “digital” equivalent of those “analog” services.

Video – My Team Competes in GRCC’s Innovation Competition

April 26, 2011 3 comments

Visualization of Parking Feature of App

My favorite thing about working at Grand Rapids Community College is the small group of amazing people I get to collaborate with on a regular basis on really innovative and tech-driven projects (many of which we’ve managed to get through bureaucratic hurdles and actually put into practice – like being the first college in Michigan to offer text message alerts for students/employees in crisis situations back in 2005).

Some of these people (Szymon Machajewski, Garret Brand, and Eric Kunnen) and I recently entered GRCC’s “Armen Award” competition as a team with a mobile application built entirely by Szymon in his free time based on a concept we developed that would help save both students and the college time and money and promote conservation and sustainable practices at the college. Read more…

We are the Next Killer App

January 5, 2011 1 comment

Given the telescoping nature of evolution, it’s damn hard to make any predictions about the future.  There is, however, one prescription we can follow: creativity is essential.

We’re entering an era where it’s less important to have the technical skills to do the back-end coding that creates compelling storytelling, and much more important to be able to innovate and be able to think creatively in the use of those technologies.

Daniel Pink and other thinkers have written extensively about our transition from a society where the left brain dominates to one where the right brain takes over.  The industrial age mindset that pulled us away from our agrarian, tribal roots is giving way to a right-brained world where we are loosed from the need to have intimate expertise in the technologies we are using in order to communicate with them.

Take, for example, Xtranormal.com.  It’s a site that allows you to create short movies using computer-generated characters.  You can choose from a variety of characters, scenes, background noise, facial expressions, gestures, etc. and the script you type out is .  It was recently used to create a pretty hilarious snark-filled portrayal of journalism students that was circulated by a variety of social media aggregators.

This is just the beginning.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to check out Sir Ken Robinson’s fantastic TED lecture “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”  He illustrated this phenomenon (and how it’s challenging the traditional model of education to respond):

If you’re looking for opportunities, look for creative people. Look for the right-brained, D&D-playing, insect-watching, action figure-collecting, “I-think-better-with-my-socks-off” kind of people.