Archive for July, 2006

Bill Goggins

Monday, July 31st, 2006

2ThumbsUpMile21.jpg_1.JPG Bill Goggins, a friend of SMITH and a fantastic journalist and raconteur, died unexpectedly, shockingly, while running the S.F. Marathon over the weekend. Bill was totally quirky and completely curious. Those qualities, and many more, made him a pleasure to work with as an intern at a weekly newspaper back in the day, sit next to at a wedding, or drink a cold one with in a dive bar in San Francisco. His good pal Paul Boutin offers a fuller tribute here and the San Francisco Chronicle reports on Bill’s profound mark on Wired magazine here.

Update: This is a picture of Bill at mile 21. He died doing what he loved (he was a very fit and prepared runner). Bill, my friend, you will be missed. - Tim

Military Cam Pain

Saturday, July 29th, 2006

The BBC’s website today published a report that the Pentagon is paying close attention to the content of any videos posted online by military personnel. Though there’s no specific policy forbidding such posts, the report says, there is some concern among the top brass that graphic images of carnage and destruction might send the, um, wrong message.

The BBC has not been able to confirm that contractors are scouring the internet for inappropriate material from the military.

But US Central Command — which is responsible for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan — does have a team reading blogs and responding to what they consider inaccuracies about the so-called war on terror.

And a longstanding military public affairs officer in Iraq said the Pentagon is also worried about some of the images that are appearing online.

“There’s continuing concern about the use of these videos and stills being used by our enemies to propagate the false notion that our military members are barbaric, warmongers — which is unequivocally not the case.”

Glad that’s settled. Can somebody let Jimmy Burns know?

Now That’s What I Call Personal Media

Saturday, July 29th, 2006

Rumor has it that THIS BILLBOARD right now graces the corner of 7th Avenue at 54th Street in New York City.


Rumor also has it that the woman who bought the billboard maintains a blog, here, detailing all the things that her husband has done to her (and to be fair, she to him).

The Hoax Museum weblog, among many other blogs, has a post arguing that the billboard is probably viral marketing.

What do you think?

“Watching Beirut Die”

Friday, July 28th, 2006

I’m a long-time fan of chef/food writer/TV personality Anthony Bourdain’s writings. For those of you who don’t know, when the current fighting in Lebanon began, Bourdain was there filming his show, and was trapped. Today, he writes for Salon about the experience. It’s a must-read; in my opinion, it’s one of his best, if not one of the best articles I’ve read all year.

The news clip of President Bush, chawing open-mouthed on a buttered roll, then grabbing at another while Tony Blair tries to get him to focus on Lebanon — plays over and over on the TV, crushing our spirits and dampening all hope with every glassy-eyed mouthful. He seems intent on enjoying his food; Lebanon a tiny, annoying blip on an otherwise blank screen. I can’t tell you how depressing that innocuous bit of footage is to watch. That one, innocent, momentary preoccupation with a roll has a devastating effect on us that is out of all proportion. We’re looking for signs. And this, sadly, is all we have.

A few miles away, of course, hopes are similarly downscaled — yet far, far more urgent:

Will there be bread?
Will there be water?
Will the power come back on?
Is my family OK?
Will I die today?

In the end we are among the lucky ones. The privileged, the fortunate, the relatively untouched. Unlike the Lebanese Americans who make it out, we don’t leave homes and loved ones behind, we will get out and return to business as usual. To unbroken homes, intact families, friends and jobs. After a hideously disorganized cluster fuck at the eventual “assembly point” — a barely under control mob scene of fainting old people, crying babies, desperate families waving pink and white slips of paper, trying to get the attention of a few understaffed, underprepared and seemingly annoyed embassy personnel in baseball caps and casual clothes — we are put in the charge of the sailors and Marines of the USS Nashville who’ve hauled ass from Jordan on short notice to undertake a mission for which they are unrehearsed and inexperienced. Yet they perform brilliantly. The moment we pass through the last checkpoint into their control, all are treated with a kindness and humanity we can scarcely believe. Squared away, efficient, organized and caringly sensitive, the Marines break the crowd into sensibly spaced groups, give them shade and water, lead them single file to an open-ended landing craft at the water’s edge. They carry babies, children, heat-stroke victims, luggage. They are soft-spoken, casually friendly. They give out treats and fruit and water. They reassure us with their ease and professionalism.

On the flight deck of the USS Nashville they’ve set up a refugee camp. I wake up on my folding cot and look around. With every group of traumatized evacuees — with every family, every group of children, there’s a Marine or two, chatting, exchanging stories, listening. They open their ship to us. They look so young. All of them. None looks over 17. “Where you from?” one asks me. I say, “New York” — and he tells me, “I ain’t ever been there. I’d like to.” His friends agree. They’ve never seen New York either. The mess serves tuna noodle casserole and mac and cheese and corn dogs. A sailor or Marine in a bright green dragon suit entertains children. We are kept informed. We are reassured. We are spoken to like adults. On the smoking deck, a Marine shows off a Reuter’s cover photo — taken only a few hours earlier — of himself, nuzzling two babies as he carries them through the surf to the landing craft. His buddies are razzing him, busting his balls for how intolerably big-headed he’s going to be — now that he’s “famous.” He looks at the picture and says, “You don’t know what it felt like, man.” His eyes well up.

YouTube is a Strange Place.

Friday, July 28th, 2006

So, between repeated crashes of my browser, I braved the wilds of YouTube to bring you yet another in the ongoing saga of viral videos to occupy your Fridays. And this time I’ve really gone above and beyond, if I do say so myself — I’ve got not one but five videos for you today.

First up is a video I found from YouTube user Lonelygirl15. When searching YouTube for this kind of thing, I tend to find one video I think is mildly amusing and use that to go searching for other, similar videos that merit being posted here . So I decided to see whether Lonelygirl15 and her partner had anything else up on the site.

And boy, do they ever. They’ve got a whole saga, in fact, some of it far more personal. They’ve got parent issues, hormonal issues, issue issues — and they share them with the world, in some cases vlogging back and forth at each other. First up is the original video I watched; after the jump, watch the whole messy situation unfold. I don’t know why, but I find this whole thing totally fascinating — sort of like rubbernecking. As much as you want to, you just… can’t… look… away.


Sic Transit Gloria MySpace

Friday, July 28th, 2006

OK, maybe gloria is overstating things a bit. But a few days ago, The Hollywood Reporter ran a report by Diane Mermigas that outlined plans for the coming hyper-commodification of MySpace.

Fox Interactive Media is in the midst of a massive push to harness the power of MySpace and its other Web-based businesses to redefine online advertising and marketing, e-commerce, digital video-on-demand, blogging, instant messaging, classified advertising and other interactive services in a user-friendly way that is poised to add hundreds of millions of dollars to News Corp.’s revenue base by the end of next year.

“It’s so not about social networking anymore. It’s about what is next,” [FIM president Ross] Levinsohn said in an interview at the FIM think tank located near the 20th Century Fox studio lot.

What’s next for FIM is leveraging MySpace’s online community and communication into a peer recommendations framework for leads on everything and anything: the best children’s playgrounds in Los Angeles to the best concert seats in Madison Square Garden to the best steakhouse in Dallas. Such peer recommendations provide a gentle [segue] into targeted, fine-tuned behavioral marketing for national and local advertisers wanting to reach MySpace’s 15- to 34-year-old core user.

As Jeff Spiccoli might say, it’s no longer MySpace or YourSpace, Mr. Hand. It’s OurSpace, and we’re sharing it with marketers who will data-mine our self-expression to see what we’re most apt to buy. Read it and weep here.

Tonight a Website Blew My Mind

Thursday, July 27th, 2006

Ever get the sensation your head’s exploding? I got that, but in a good way, earlier today when I first stumbled across We Feel Fine. We Feel Fine is a mind-bogglingly slick feat of coding crafted by web artists Jonathan Harris and Sepandar Kaumar. The pair describe We Feel Fine as “an exploration of human emotion on a global scale” and “an artwork authored by everyone.” I would add that it is a damn clever idea, and brilliantly executed.
We Feel Fine combs the blogosphere every ten minutes, searching for statements that include the words “I feel” and “I am feeling.” It scoops LiveJournal, MySpace, Flickr, Blogger, Technorati, and more, grabbing the entire sentence in which the “I feel” appears, as well as, in many cases, the feeler’s age, location, and even the weather conditions in the time and place where the feeling was expressed.

we feel fine screenshot

Then, the We Feel Fine applet arranges this data in six beautiful, compelling, and interactive formats. The world’s feelings become colored balls bouncing around your screen, waiting to be clicked on and revealed by you, or quivering mounds whose size represents a feeling’s relative prevalence.
I don’t know whether to consider the project and its results deeply funny or deeply moving; perhaps it’s possible to be both at the same time. It seems intrinsically hilarious, though more in a thoughtful than a ha-ha way, that I can handily search for instances of people in Ghent, Belgium, who are feeling “able” (for your information, there are three). At its heart, We Feel Fine is Web 2.0, with its characteristic speedy statistical sorting and precision, applied to the world of human emotions – which, as we all know, are about the least precise, least sort-able things in the whole world. Until now. Kind of.
In either case, you owe it to yourself to take fifteen minutes right now to check this thing out.

(Hat tip to GrrlScientist)

Sorry, We Don’t Offer Dental (Be a Blogger)

Thursday, July 27th, 2006

SMITH is expanding our blog, and we’re looking for new bloggers to add to our ever-growing stable. It’s a chance to work for an up-and-coming publication (and, need I mention, a chance to work with me). No big time commitment — all we ask is a couple hours once a week, though if you have more time, you’re obviously welcome to do more. If you’re interested, email a cover letter, resume and clips to me at alex (dot) koppelman (at) gmail (dot) com.

Shooting War: The Book

Thursday, July 27th, 2006

Big news: Shooting War the exclusive SMITH webcomic in 2006 will become Shooting War the book in 2007. Warner Books has signed up writer Anthony Lappé and artist Dan Goldman to create the Shooting War book (hardcover—rare for this sort of thing), which will be the first offering in the big fancy pub house’s new graphic novel division. The book will include most of the stuff you’ve been reading here for the last few months, plus a lot more new material (or at least until the hardest-working artist in Brooklyn collapses and begs for mercy). In a story from Publisher’s Weekly on all this, Warner Book editor Jaime Levine says our adventures of Jimmy Burns, the vblogger hipster who wants to save the world, will be aimed at the same audience as Jon Stewart’s America: The Book. Sold!


On a personal note, Anthony and Dan have been inspiring to work with and watch create this webcomic. It’s been wild seeing a community come out of nowhere, and feeling the love from hundreds of bloggers and media spots who dug what we’re up to. Jeff Cranmer has copyedited nearly every word of Shooting War, agent Ian Kleinart got the boys a cool deal from Warner, and Jeff Newelt has contributed both to the creative flow of the project and evangelized the gospel of Shooting War to anyone and everyone who crossed his furry path, online and off. Tim Barkow, my partner in SMITH, created the site without much time or help from anyone (and lots of demands from everyone), and Jimmy Raskin from Indelible made us one bad-ass video for one low, low price.

I would also like to thank God, Halle Berry, and Julian Dibbell—you all know why.

Meanwhile, if you like us, Digg us by registering and voting for Shooting War here—it helps immensely.

Chapter 10 goes live next week.

Story of My (Working) Life

Wednesday, July 26th, 2006

fire lane

A lovely Flickr photostream here about Yahoo! coworkers who have something to learn about car-parking etiquette.

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