Web Informant #249, 22 May 21, 2001:
Blame it all on green ketchup


Things are getting strange these days, what with life imitating art imitating life all over again. Some of this has to do with the web, some doesn't.

For me, it all started when I heard that William Shatner was asked to host the Miss USA pageant. And this after he plays a washed-up host of a beauty pageant in the movie "Miss Congeniality." I guess playing a washed-up lounge singer in those Priceline ads wasn't enough for him.

Driving around this past weekend, I noticed that Pennsylvania now lists its URL on its newest license plates -- as far as I know, the only state to do so. I am not sure why its government thinks we need to be reminded of its location in cyberspace while on the road -- do they expect people to pop up the site on their wireless PDAs or screen phones while driving? In New York, that is illegal in a few counties (talking on the cell phone presumably could include typing in URLs on other wireless devices while driving, but I guess we'll need a test case on that before long). But what I really appreciate is this web site, which has reproductions of license plates from around the world, a true labor of love and something that only could happen on the web:

Last week we were treated to a lame hoax about a faked death over the web: too bad the parties involved missed the ultimate faked death of Alan Abel over twenty years ago, including a NY Times obit. Granted, this is even before Al Gore invented the Internet, but still.

Yes, life imitating art indeed. The real masters of computer- as-art forms are currently occupying two New York Museums: there is the Gehry show at the Guggenheim, and the Bitstreams exhibit at the Whitney. (Warning: excessive use of Flash and Active X ahead.) Gehry will be around till August, while Bitstreams is about to pack up in a few weeks and leave town.

The two shows couldn't be more different. The Gehry show has mostly models of his amazing buildings, with lots of commentary, videos taken on site, and heavy books of plans. I am a big fan (and met him once at a TED conference). But seeing his creations, I was even more appreciative of his sheer genius and how he has managed to push the outer limits of technology to build his buildings. Gehry takes a napkin scribble and turns it into a shelf full of drawings that are generated by a computer-aided design system. Okay, no big deal. But the CAD program also drives a fabrication system, to create the unique fluid designs of his structures. This CAD program drives some sophisticated manufacturing process and creates each piece of the building's exteriors. The buildings are a wonder to behold, and for those of us working in the more mundane aspects of the computer business, the entire process is incredible to see. Plus the interior of the Gugg has been done up to catch the overall spirit of Gehry's style.

The Bitstreams show is the work of many artists that make use of computers to create their art. We were very fortunate to get a terrific docent tour when we got to the museum, and her explanations made the exhibit all the more fascinating. Several of the pieces made a big impact on me: a visual computer simulation of global currency futures by John Klima, the skulls by Robert Lazzarini and the frame by frame dissection of the movie Titanic by Jason Salavon.

It is hard to visualize these pieces from the web pages I've cited above. Salavon took each of the 300,000 some odd frames from the movie and calculated somehow the dominant color in each frame, then placed that color in a small one inch square pixel. As you "read" his piece from top to bottom, you can imagine the progress of the movie and pick out your favorite parts. (It is the last artwork on this page.)

The Lazzarini skulls, for example, are quite beautiful and disturbing at the same time: they are created by taking a computer modeling rapid prototyping tool, and stretching the dimensions to distort them, producing solid bone casts from the models. All of this work at both museums wouldn't be possible without the technology that we use on our desktops. Like Lazzarini's skulls, our applications have been stretched and formed into new shapes and uses by these artists.

If you must know, ketchup (green, red, or whatever new colors it comes in) should be refrigerated. And here are lots more fun facts you need to know. All we need now is ketchup-based art. (This is not so far-fetched. I did see something about the Last Supper done with chocolate syrup. No, I am not making this up.)

Book promotion dep't

I am deep in the midst of writing my second book, tentatively entitled Home Networking Survival Guide, to be published this fall if all goes well by Osborne/McGraw Hill. I am having a blast writing it, and have posted the current Preface to the book on my web site for you to examine. The book will be a very practical guide to getting your first home network up and running, and include many recommended products from my years of testing and installing networks at various friends and neighbors homes. If you'd like to comment on early drafts, or serve up some testimonials (presumably but not necessarily in that order), you know where you can find me.

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David Strom
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