Archive for August, 2009

Boarding my plane this morning, alongside other Delta travel advertisements like “Down Under for Less” and “The Far East: Closer than Ever,” I came across this ad that I had to take a picture of:


Does anyone else find this wildly inappropriate? Am I being uncharacteristically sensitive, or does this ad evoke imagery of conflict diamonds, apartheid, and all-around pith-helmet wearing, gin-and-tonic drinking, “sun never sets on the British empire” old-fashioned conquest and exploitation?

I can tolerate some of Delta’s more annoying policies like charging their customers for just about everything besides use of their bathrooms (from basic food to headphones to extra carry-ons), hiring particulary short-tempered (and -legged) flight attendants, and seemingly having more bawling children and bitter divorcees per capita than any other airline, but this campaign seems particularly insensitive. Granted, I wrote this post from the air, courtesy of Delta’s free (for now) WiFi (which still blows my  mind), but perhaps they need to be alerted of some of their more backwards mindsets before they make a leap into the future.


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Technology is Awesome


Sometimes you don’t really realize how far technology has progressed because of constant exposure to its gradual improvement. Only when we watch basic cable on an old TV is the true quality of 1080i apparent, or when we download an old 32-bit console game (like I did with Crash Bandicoot: Warped yesterday) do the high-def, anti-aliased, shimmery graphics of the Playstation3 really impress.


Crash's designers picked orange because it was the the Playstation 1's most vibrant color

Don’t get me wrong–I’m still nostalgic for what I consider classic games (NES to Ps1-era games…come to think of it, the Playstation 2 is rapidly becoming a “classic console”), but our imaginations were definitely working overtime when we thought the blocky shapes we saw at the time were actually impressive renditions of real-life objects. That said, even the headache-inducing polygonal graphics weren’t enough to suppress my massive grin and waves of 4th-grade nostalgia from Crash’s unique and humorous gameplay.

Click to see the full-sized Lara Croft evolution

Click to see the full-sized Lara Croft evolution

My point is, I  just played a 2v2 multiplayer strategy game of Warcraft III from a Delta Airplane at 30,000 feet...and I’m on a solid-state drive $300 Linux netbook that weights 3 lbs. Who knew airlines offered wi-fi in the air? I certainly didn’t. Talk about progress–if anything demonstrates the functionality and usefulness of a netbook, it would be playing videogames and then blogging about it at 30,000 feet. Yet they still can’t fix my excruciating right-ear pain when I fly (Anyone seen Ichi the Killer? It’s sorta like that).

Note: don't watch this movie.

Note: don't watch this movie.


An example of the  technological improvements in one aspect of videogame technology–the more polygons per second a console can render, the smoother an object will appear on screen, until all the jagged edges of a polygon-based object appear smooth.

  • 1994 – Sony Playstation: 360,000 polygons per second (pps)
  • 1996 – Nintendo 64: 500,000 pps
  • 2000 – Playstation 2: 75 million pps
  • 2001 – Xbox: 125 million pps
  • 2005 – Xbox 360: 500 million pps
  • 2006 – Playstation 3: 275 million pps

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I just created an account on  Google Voice, and am very excited to see how well it works. Google Voice lets you create a single Google Telephone number (from a list of available US numbers) that can call all (or any number of your phones). In the setup, you can configure which phone rings based on which contact is calling so that you can separate personal life from work numbers, or set groups based on geographic location.

Since this service uses a combination of Google software, voice over IP technology (VoIP), and SMS text messaging, it is useful for a number of reasons. These seem to be the most useful, but the technology is still improving, and I have different needs than others.

  • A single number for all your phones – Like Thunderbird (Mozilla’s email application that can consolidate all your emails) or Pidgin (a free chat client that can communicate on Facebook chat, gchat, AIM, MSN, and more), having a single program take care of all your voice communication needs is a really efficient idea.
  • Free Transcription of Voicemails – This is the feature that really interests me. Google Voice automatically transcribes your voicemails, sends them in text message form to any of your phones, and can mail them to your gmail account. The software is still a little buggy (see below), though, but for someone who never checks his voicemail, this is the ideal way to see what messages people are leaving in SMS text message format.
  • Customization – Google Voice offers a lot of customization, like  personalized voicemail greetings for certain individuals or groups, assigning different phones for different groups. Even though all your information and contacts are in one place, it affords its users lots of control over how well the information is parsed.
  • Cheap international calls – Haven’t tried this out yet, but Google Voice (like Skype) offers extremely cheap (as low as .01USD/minute) international service.
  • Free SMS text messaging anywhere in the United States – For people who don’t get free text messaging, you can save on your limited number by sending them from Google Voice, if you’re near a computer.

Is this just another example of Google providing technology that will eventually render us totally helpless? Could be — but I’m all for simplification/consolidation of media, social and otherwise.

Like I said, the transcriber’s a little iffy, like a game of Chinese Telephone (which is probably not the PC term anymore). But I’m not sure if it’s having trouble with my Southern accent. So…call my number…leave me voice mail, and we can see just how well this transcriber really works.

>>> Andrew Manugian: (901) 205-9217 <<<

Bonus Section! List of childhood games  as I knew them and their new PC names

  1. Smear the Queer – Kill the Carrier
  2. German Spotlight – Spotlight Tag
  3. Chinese Telephone – Broken Telephone

EDIT: Examples of transcriptions I’ve gotten (this technology might be in need of improvement).

Yeah this voicemail. Kinda about section wait delivering Galway survey start work and I will go straight to voicemail. Gonna anyway. It’s Thursday, it, all the parties. If you want and I got all right about 12 cases beers, so you know need your truck for anything. I may need to get I. So that’s about it, so if you want, thursday 6 o’clock. You can call me for more details if you want. But if.
Andrew, It’s me the check so just Wednesdays. Yeah, I called number then, and indeed answered found this number. Anyways, I was trying to so I was checking to see what’s up. But seeing wired of also asking for a free ride. Ask for an insight for the whole group voice. Thank you, because I could use it. My number of your local number so I can get people move it to my apartment to actually call me at all. Bye call my phone but thanks see. This actually transcribe vehicle this. I’ll talk to you later. Bye.
Hey Paul space. Talk to you talk, I’ll kill you and your 6 you this.

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A few weeks ago, I was looking through our library for my favorite childhood books when I came across a veritable tome that caught my eye. Quips, idioms, truisms, and queries cover all sides of this book in black. The book’s a workout—to lift and to read, and I’ve been casually flipping through it for days now. This book is Alan Fletcher’s The Art of Looking Sideways (Phaidon Press 2001).

It’s a tremendous book for casually browsing as every page is chock full of anecdotes, oddities, illusions, illustrations, photographs, excepts from essays, and trivia–all haphazardly organized into some 72 chapters with such intriguing titles as “Space-Time,” “Perfection,” “Perspective,” “Paradox,” and “Stereotypes.” In some ways, it reminds me of Adult-Swim bumps without the music, and any fan of that programming block could easily see the similarities between their favorite programs and Fletcher’s imaginative and absurd collages.


Get The Art of Looking Sideways on Amazon

However, give the pages the more critical look they deserve, and you’ll be justly rewarded with a highly-referential media consumption experience that challenges, educates, and demands a reader’s total attention.

Since I graduated with a degree in Film and Media Culture, I have had difficulty absorbing any media without thoughts of encoding/decoding, semiotics, meta-narratives, psychological and anthropomorphic needs, and culturalism racing through my head. Usually, any such remark or pontification expressed in a social situation is immediately shot-down or disregarded as rapidly as was my first foray into more experimental media interpretation, back in 11th grade (slightly paraphrased):


Mr. Shelton: The element water is often used in classical literature in order to thematically represent cleansing or renewal. Baptism or submersion imagery, in particular, are literary devices that represent a renewal or transformation. Characters may plunge into total immersion, only to find themselves emerge anew, transformed, or changed.

11th grade Andrew (dying to raise hand): So, like in the film Predator, the plunge into water reverses the tide of battle?

Mr. Shelton (raising an eyebrow): Andrew, this is an English literature class, we’re not talking abo…

Andrew (cont’d): …the previously-invisible Predator’s cloak malfunctions in the water, rendering him visible to Arnold, whereas his means of thermally seeing Arnold is also foiled because Arnold is able to disguise his heat emanations by covering himself in wet mud, thus rendering him invisible. It’s a role reversal and turning point in the film caused by immersion in water!

Mr. Shelton: Sure, and then John the Baptist grabs a Gatling gun and mows down bunch of orcs?

Andrew: No…it makes a lot of…

Mr. Shelton (interrupting): Moving on…

An entire class of sophomoric boys laughs uproariously, and Andrew is left red-faced, silent, but determined to apply traditional academics to the movies and video games he loves. His next comment citing the Classical unities of place, time, and action for the success of Die Hard met slightly less resistance and he moved on from there.


Even meeting considerable resistance from a young age, I knew I was headed for media study greatness

(I should note that the diminutive, chain-smoking Mr. Shelton was also one of my most influential teachers in high-school. His no-nonsense grading, resigned (yet tailored to perfection) method of teaching adolescent boys, and cynical attitude ending up teaching the lot of us to roll with the punches, to respect oneself regardless of the derision of an authority figure, and to perform one’s best when met with an extremely challenging situation).

However, back in the 21st century, I’m happy to say my education in media studies is totally applicable to this particular book.

The author, Alan Fletcher, has compiled an expansive compendium of word and image designed to tackle discrepancies between signifier and signified, find the bizarre and amazing in the routine, attack the passive acceptance of cultural consensuses, and reveal the contextual and arbitrary nature of any form of communication. A reader is forced to flex, challenge, and strengthen his visual and communicative intelligence as he finds himself making perceptual and mental jumps that defy convention.


Thanks to its referential and combinatorial aesthetic, The Art of Looking Sideways, ventures into the realm of postmodern collage, shattering conventions of high culture and combining them with science, popular culture, and non sequiter connections…but after reading this book for a few weeks, a reader might venture that after careful study, nothing is a non sequiter…

A reader fully commited to understanding this book must struggle to make meaning of the overwhelming amount of sometimes loosely-related stimuli presented to him. A single page might have an optical illusion, a clever turn of phrase, a hand-drawn nestled figure, detailed architectural blueprints, and a brief timeline of life on earth.

Victory, by Shigeo Fukuda

Victory, by Shigeo Fukuda

The reader finds himself shedding rigid perspectives in making links between different symbols and ideologies in the context of the overarching chapter..asking himself did Alan Fletcher deliberately design the theme of the page, or is “Nothing is a sign unless it is interpreted as a sign,” and as such, my decoding is as valid as any authorial input?


Besides being both an enjoyable read for a casual consumer, a study of cultural and social origins, norms, and iconoclasm for a psychologist, and an exercise in media studies for the media-culture scholar, The Art of Looking Sideways could also be a useful go-to for graphic designers or advertisers looking for inspiration. It’s a complex snapshot of our culture and aesthetic today, with insight of its origins, and perhaps its future. I definitely recommend it.


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