Archive for the ‘Public Information’ Category

Visible Sounds: What You Can’t See Won’t Hurt You?

Here’s what Serato Scratch Live looks like, if you haven’t seen it before:

When I’m not busy ballsing up a mix, I’m staring at this screen – mainly at the middle, at the sound wave graphs. They’ll show me where a break’s coming, where the sound gets fuller or quieter.

The newer recordings I have tend to be fuller. You can see it onscreen because the sound waves go bonkers, stretching the volume limits and bouncing through at a higher frequency (witness Major Lazer above).

Now I’m no musicologist. But I’d guess that coverage of the Loudness War gets to the root of what’s going on here:

Do you find it a bit weird that we don’t ‘see’ music like this more often?

The graphic equalizer has been around for nearly half a century. But iPods just show us timelines or numerals, and sleeve art. Music videos give us visual reference to understand a song, but rarely any data. The modern displays on digital radios are mainly functional.

Cue data viz delight when I discovered this little number today… A Visual History of Loudness (PDF) [via The Loudness Wars: Why Music Sounds Worse]

Wowzer. I’ve not even included the visual for 2010 here – but it probably won’t blow your mind to learn it gets louder again. You’ll have to check out the PDF.

So there’s one argument that appears to make sense: “Because louder music creates a more immediately pleasing effect on the listener, record execs have been ordering the volume knob cranked up for the last three decades.”

But is there more to it? Feels to me that musicians and producers must have played a role too. Look at this Ableton recreation of ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ [via Lemonade Was A Popular Drink…]

It’s not just about jacking up the volume. It’s about sampling too. Every time a track takes a sample and ‘smacks the pitch up’, it compresses more sound into a smaller space. That also makes it harder for you, or me, to mix it with another record – we’ll need to filter out more sounds to stop that nasty soundclash noise.

*SURPRISE ENDING* You might have heard of The Mosquito – a high frequency sound device that “stops teens from loitering”.

If you’re under 25 you should, in theory, be able to hear this:

The Teenager Audio Test MP3 [via The Oatmeal]

So what do you reckon? Will the music industry get itself back on an even keel? Will Apple introduce iTunes upgrades that let us ‘see’ sound differently? Will bigger gaps develop between the hearing ranges of different generations – and will they be used against us? Or will the kids fight back with ringtones?

Too many questions. I’m sorry. Got overexcited there.

If I were to make a prediction, it’s this – advertisers will make more use of sound and, specifically, sound viz this year. We haven’t seen the last of this.

More sound experiments:

Mathias Delplanque – ‘Call Centre’

– The sounds of the Indian call centre, remixed

Giles Turnbull – ‘The Present Sound of London’

Audio journalism from the Big Smoke’s undersides

More data viz goodness:

Information Is Beautiful

information aesthetics

Flowing Data

The 2009 Feltron Annual Report

Name the Price: Kind of Bloop

If you played computer games at some point in the 80s, the early 90s, or for one single candy-fuelled session that engulfed the best years of your childhood  – you might like the sound of this. Yes you might.

kind of bloop

Image cred: Kickstarter.

Andy Baio, of and web heroism fame, is looking to orchestrate an 8-bit re-recording on Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue.

Judging from the 8-bit Hip Hop Medley and Ocarina of Rhyme (!) tunes that were passing around a few months back, this project could yield an album that sounds pretty sweet (in small doses).

PAX 2008 : Chiptunes on Pike Street by nmhull on Vimeo.

Is this all just a global excuse to create hip retro websites and low-fi graphics?

Indonesian Chiptunes @ Urbanfest 2008 by vish on Vimeo.

Could it go the ugly way of autotune?

Auto-Tune the News #2: pirates. drugs. gay marriage. by schmoyohoon YouTube.

We could sit and speculate all day.

But if you like the idea of an 8-bit Kind of Blue, you can pay to hear the results.

That’s the model used on Kickstarter (another Andy Baio project).

Come up with an idea, see if people will fund it.


In Baio’s words, Kickstarter is:

“…a site that lets other people pre-order your dreams — an easy way to get the people you know to fund your ideas into reality.”

264 people have pledged $5,555 to make Kind of Bloop a reality, and there are still 67 days to go [at the time of writing].

Now how’s that for some smart, efficient economics?

11 Tweets Worth Blogging About

So blogging is dead again. But I think this one’s still got a pulse. Hello readers! +3,000 of you last month – thanks y’all.

That said, I’m Tweeting more than blogging now. Which will come as a massive yawn to anyone who follows ‘the internet’.

For the less geeky – there’s a 60% chance you signed up to Twitter then quit.

Too complex? Too hyper? Too pointless? Bored now Stephen Fry’s out of that lift?

If you struggled, or you’re just finding your way, here are 11 great Twitterers I follow – and the main reasons why:


@undrln – “highlights from the world of advertising, marketing and design”

WHY? Most rated scoops from the undrln social bookmarking site. Diverse. Punchy. To the point.


@DAVID_LYNCH / David Lynch – “Filmmaker. Born Missoula, MT. Eagle Scout.”

WHY? The LA weather reports. And he writes like Special Agent Dale Cooper talking into his dictaphone.


@bigspaceship / Big Spaceship – “Twitter feed of digital creative agency Big Spaceship, curated by Founder/CEO Michael Lebowitz”

WHY? Shares and insights from NY’s (and the world’s?) most creative digital production shop.


@PSFK / Piers Fawkes – “Ideas & Trends Site PSFK’s Tweets: Inspiration To Make Things Better”

WHY? Highlights from PSFK HQ can’t eclipse Piers’ solo digging. He pulls out some gems, and pulls no punches on adland hypocrites.


@QtipTheAbstract / Q Tip – “The Renaissance, TWEETS IS WATCHING!”

WHY? Unlike many musicians on Twitter, Q Tip has interests beyond the pale of his own PR. Love his YouTube soul treats – a great sharer.


@lessig / Lessig – “law prof, reformer.”

WHY? The enfant terrible of copyright law is a font of knowledge for digital artists. A master of the short-form, and responsive to his followers. He “gets it”.


@iaintait / Iain Tait – “Work: Creative Director at Poke in London. Live: Brighton. Likes: Good things. Hates: Evil.”

WHY? Pound-for-pound the best ad man on Twitter. Boundless curiosity. Every bit as active and innovative as he is friendly and engaging.


@hipsterrunoff – “Hipster Runoff is a blog worth blogging about.”

WHY? Ironic post-ironic quips from the poster boy of “Am Appy” sponsored mp3 blogs. Plain funny. An indie meta-Twit.


@brainpicker / Maria Popova – “Digital anthropologist, curator of culture and semi-secret geek obsessed with brilliant ideas, data viz, smart design, sustainability, good music and TED”

WHY? I wonder when Maria sleeps. Slaves relentlessly to share and connect a wealth of A-grade art, technology, consumer and eco ideas.


@BBHLabs / BBHLabs – “Marketing Skunkworks: new models for marketing, new models for creative businesses (@malbonnington @melex @glickglick)”

WHY? Ample accompaniment to their sterling blog. Rigorous research and rich, dense presentation – full academic-style accreditation always in place. Respect.


@thefader / The FADER

WHY? Got real tired of Resident Advisor’s spammy Twit dumps. FADER pace it right. They parlay with their artists. Link to free downloads. Constant quality.

BONUS To complete a dirty dozen, here are my details:

@guybingley / Guy Bingley – “Harmless amateur”

[A Note of Caution: I’m no substitute for any of the starting 11 in this list.]

The Destiny of the Rupee


“See, this country, in its days of greatness, when it was the richest nation on earth, was like a zoo. A clean, well-kept, orderly zoo. Everyone in his place, everyone happy. Goldsmiths here. Cowherds here. Landlords there. The man a called Halwai made sweets. The man called a cowherd tended cows. The untouchable cleaned faeces…

… in the old days there were one thousand castes and destinies in India. These days, there are just two castes: Men with Big Bellies, and Men with Small Bellies.”

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.


Indian school via Mad Decent.

India, to the best of my limited knowledge, is a country built on codes and glimmering with symbols – however prismatic.

Soon there will be a new symbol. And it’s already caused some division.

The Indian government has launched a public competition to design a currency symbol for the Rupee. Entrants must be Indian nationals and are required to supply a bank draft of Rs 500 with their applications by 15 April 2009.

From what I’ve read, Indian designers are peeved they have to pay the government to participate. But there’s already spec work up on ‘the internet’.


Indian Rupee spec design by Christian Büning; Design of the Euro.

Erik Spiekermann, founder of FontShop, is “afraid their brief is a little off”. Check out the discussions at Fontblog (in German) and TypeOff.

All the hubbub set me off on a dig. Beyond the obvious (£ Pound/ $ Dollar/ € Euro/ ¥ Yen), I had no idea which currencies bear their own symbol.

Do you?

Here are a few you might not have known:


Left to right:

Yuan Renminbi (China), Colón (Costa Rica), Rial (Iran), New Sheqel (Israel), Won (South Korea), Naira (Nigeria), Baht (Thailand).

So apart from China, none of the BRIC economies have their own currency symbol. Although Russia’s been searching since 1999.

The majority of nations in South America and the Caribbean bear the $ symbol.

What does any of this mean? Will a new symbol for the Rupee help transform India’s destiny into that of a “nation with Big Bellies”?

And should designers be paying for their crowdsourced work to compete?

Currency symbols elsewhere:

World Currency Symbols index.

– The story of the Euro Symbol: From Logo to Letter.

Bankface? Remixing bank notes.

Now Leaving Marlboro Country

The Observer reports today on the tobacco industry’s latest toasting.

Strides are afoot to de-brand cigarettes. Now the UK’s largest tobacco company, Imperial Tobacco, is threatening legal action against the Government on the grounds that “…plain packaging for tobacco products is unnecessary, unreasonable and unjustified.”


Debranding cigarettes by We Made This.

Apparently the Government’s proposal includes the following outline for packaging:

“Except for the brand name (which would be required to be written in a standard typeface, colour and size), all other trademarks, logos, colour schemes and graphics would be prohibited. The package itself would be required to be plain coloured (such as white or plain cardboard) and to display only the product content information, consumer information and health warnings required under the law.”

Swift progress and bold activism from the Government, if you consider that graphic images were introduced to packaging as recently as 1 October 2008.


New gruesome anti-smoking campaign from Virgin Media.

I can believe the research findings behind this. There’s no doubt that brands have significant sway in the shadowy market for smokes.

But if we’ve got the strategy right, is white labelling the best solution?

I think back to stories from the early hip-hop scene. DJs would white label records so no rival could steal their killer party track.

It created more fascination. More mystique around that thing with no name.

“Design, brother, modern design is plenty important!” from Well Medicated.

Can you imagine how much cigarettes would stand out if they had no branding?

They would be a unique product at the news agents. They’d have even more intrigue than the blacked-out top shelf mags.

There would be only way to discern between cigarettes. By buying them, and trying them.

Designers have constantly found fresh approaches to the anti-smoking cause. Work for this year’s World No Tobacco Day only serves to reassert that point.

But there’s a big difference between an anti-smoking campaign and designing the package that holds the cigarettes.


Marlboro Man from World No Tobacco Day on Can Stop.

If you were designing the generic cigarette box, wouldn’t you work to make the design intentionally bland?

Wouldn’t you create an aesthetic that gave the product no stand-out at all?

There was a lively discussion on Dave Trott’s blog last month about the ethics of cigarette advertising.

He advised a placement team to do bad advertising on their tobacco company brief if they wanted to get off the job.

Perhaps that team could share their thoughts. Or perhaps some designers could create a cigarette packet to epitomise “boring”.

Because “boring” is the answer you’ll get from a spy if you ask them a question about their job. It’s pretty much the only answer that won’t solicit further enquiry.

White labels, in my opinion, will provoke it.

Micro Work for Micro Pay


Available Online for Free by Evan Roth (via Wooster Collective).

Evan Roth of Graffiti Research Lab has his first solo exhibition to coincide with a new self-published book.


AVAILABLE ONLINE FOR FREE: Selected works by Ethan Roth: 2003-2008 was made in Linux using open source software.

It costs $20 in print and is… available online for free. You can download it here.


This feels like a timely intervention.

Right now there’s debate over at the Freakonomics blog on the subject of micropayments.

Why do we expect things free online when we would happily (or at least without question) pay for the same thing in a physical, offline shop?

Is there any hope for Kachingle and other new online micropayment schemes? Seems latecoming and reactionary, although sites like GOOD are developing some interesting alternatives.

Can see why the recession has made peeps reconsider – particularly on the cost of information.

But the (free) words of Marshall W. Van Alstyne (M.I.T.) go KA-CHING for me:

“Putting micropayments on news is like putting tollbooths on an open ocean.”


Another way? Gross National Happiness.

Journos Ask: Does Grey Matter?

Is going to a talk at the London School of Economics “relevant”?


I guess it’s all subjective. But here are some inscrutable facts:

Monday 23 February 2009, a debate at LSE:

Why did nobody see it coming? Reporting the Global Crash of ’08.

The panel included: Vince Cable (Lib Dem MP), Gillian Tett (Financial Times), Alex Brummer (Daily Mail) and Evan Davis (BBC, Dragon’s Den).

They were asked questions like:

– Did the media know that the crash was coming?

– If they did, why didn’t they warn us?

– Is it the media’s role to speculate?

Evan Davis (BBC) explained that the media tends to report – and has to report – key news that’s either good or bad.

There’s simply not time, in mainstream broadcasting, to digest the grey filling in that black and white sandwich.


Is that what bloggers do? Is that what people Tweet about? Is that how people use and consume the bulk of their online media? I must have missed that party.

Publishing stories is fast and personal now. It’s ok to make mistakes. It’s good to be subjective. It’s better to start a conversation with the wrong opinion than sit back and smugly wait.

At least two of the panel were bloggers. There was no lack of knowledge, insight or erudition on display.

Does publishing red-tape let journalists down? Or has big media been as complacent as the global economy in following – and promoting – its own “dominant narrative”?

Big questions for a Monday night. Few answers. A thick wedge of grey. Just like this post. But I did warn you.

Soda Jerk and Pirate Pops


The “internet piracy trial of the decade” began today with The Pirate Bay in the docks.

The four defendants face a fine of 1.2m kronor (£1,000) and two years in prison. They could leave 25m torrent-tracking users behind them if it all falls down.

Feels strange that this is happening now. Last week pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline announced their intentions to go open source. Offline business is starting to follow the online models of sharing.

I never can understand what makes creative copyright so different. Ideas are ideas, right? Maybe it’s time to pick up Lawrence Lessig again.

Or sit back and enjoy a Soda Jerk remix … while there’s still some in the bottle.

Pixel Pirate II Hollywood Trailer by Soda Jerk on YouTube.


Soda Jerk interview on Create Digital Motion

– Understanding fair use copyright

– Remixing in… Microsoft Excel?

Snow Falls, Signs ATTACK!

It’s snowing in London. With a steady drift of public safety announcements. In the main, “it’s snowing” or “remember to wear a jumper”.


Hacked programmable road sign, Austin, Texas.

Expect tangles both over and Underground tomorrow. Confusing signage and Tannoy instructions likely?


Misspelled road sign, London.

There’s a higher chance of chaos with dynamic messages. Even when constructed right, you can’t control the timing in context. Are trees a crime?


Fingers crossed that Transport for London are in a playful mood this week. It’s more inspiring than “remember to wear a jumper”.


How to Shoot a Promo

The El Paso Police Department got it dead right with this 1992 promo.

“This is coming to you from El Paso PD and the homies from the hood.”

By starring in it themselves and using the medium of rap, they must have dissuaded hundreds from a life of gang-banging. Possibly thousands. (Hilarious link via Minivegas.)

Easy to forget in all this how a police promo could go wrong. Unless…

Let the public shoot it on their mobile phones. Spontaneously. While you’re killing an unarmed civilian on a public subway platform. (CAUTION: this video is not for the squirmish – and will leave you confused and angry.)

The BART police shooting of Oscar Grant on New Year’s day has triggered another sad episode in US race relations.

Since the video started circulating on YouTube, there have been riots in Oakland. Apparently with little coverage in the national media. Now that sounds familiar.


This photo comes from a Flickr collection by Thomas Hawk. Very few pictures around at the moment, from what I can tell.

If the national media keeps their back turned on this one I’m sure the public can do the promo for them. And they won’t like it.

More on the 2009 Oakland riots:

‘Pigs Go Home’: New America Media

Report from the Oakland Riots: Vibe

Video of the Oscar Grant protest