Posts tagged “vonnegut”

Out and About: Steve in Boston

I was in Boston earlier this week to speak at UI16. During a bit of downtime, I went for a walk and of course, started taking pictures. Given our recent interactions article about noticing and document street art, I wanted to share some of what I saw.

One tag (bundtcake? budcloth? badclam?) and stickers for a cutesy-brand pet waste removal service, a skater magazine, a web/movement/thingy, and a beer label that seems to be fake and actually points to a local art collective.

There’s that tag again, the Eye of Providence (a local reference?), and a DJ promoting himself with an homage to the locally dominant Dunkin’ Donuts branding.

Some buffing of previous stickers, that same beer cum art sticker, and the random and hilarious Vonnegut and crossbones (I found a better one here).

Much larger pieces, including Andre. I like how you can see a little bit about how these were done, as they emanate from the fire escape.

A number of streetlights near here had these colored plastic blocks in letter-like forms. I felt like it was probably “official” since it was in a vaguely design-y district and consistently placed on city infrastructure, but there was no information about it and so it was hard to be sure. And that moment – trying to determine if this is “legit art” or “street art” or one masquerading as the other – was delicious. I passed by here with my local friend Joe and asked him about this. While he didn’t know, for him it evoked the 2007 incident when 8-bit-graphics promoting Aqua Teen Hunger Force caused a bomb scare in Boston.

Under the bridge. Just a more familiar graffiti scene, one that seemed to typical, unremarkable, and even slightly comforting (despite the broken glass I had to step around to take this picture).

What I Read On My Vacation

Where Were You by Rob Walker
Walker collects a year’s worth of reactions to various obituaries. While I admire his lo-fi approach to turning a habit into a publication, and acknowledge that he promised very little except “here it is” I mostly found this unsatisfying. Walker is a good storyteller, journalist, writer, etc. He gets his facts in line and then tells us what it means. He (by design) doesn’t do that here. And so you get a lot of “I didn’t really know this…” or “I don’t really care about that” which mostly generates a squawk reaction in me. What?! How could you not know….how could you think that…etc. etc. And that isn’t pleasant. It was a quick experiment as a reader, so no regrets.

How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer by Debbie Millman
This is the sort of book I’d imagined writing someday – sitting down with a bunch of folks in a similar field and interviewing them. I ran an impromptu panel discussion at a regional IDSA event in 2004 where I did just that. And I’ve done a few podcasts for Core77 (including one with Debbie Millman). For the most part, this book was fascinating. It’s a powerful demonstration of how crucial rapport is to a good interview. In many cases, Debbie is interviewing people with whom she has a historical relationship, and so that rapport comes from friendship/colleagueship. In other cases, she’s encountering them for the first time in their (in-person or email) interview. I’m not sure, but I think I can tell the difference; certainly the in-person interviews range wider and allow for more following up and clarification, and that’s often where the good stuff comes out.

The subjects are all prominent in the graphic design field (although many of them were names I did not know) and many of the questions are exactly the same; this reveals itself more in the email interviews where the lack of opportunity to follow-up creates a disappointing sameness. By the end of the book, I was pretty bored in the same questions over and over again. I could see cutting out some of the interviews and letting the remaining ones go a little longer.

The book is mostly fascinating, however. Some themes and characteristics emerge: relevance, ego, humility and insecurity, thoughts on creativity and collaboration, and what I found to be the biggest personal a-ha – the relationship of other professional-level endeavors to support the primary one. These folks all identify as designers, but most of them also express themselves as painters or writers, and tell a coherent story as to how that activity is a critical complementary pillar to their design process/identity. Maybe that’s true for many of us; do we talk about it enough or is there a concern that this will dilute our perceived quality in our primary professional identity. Certainly for me, writing and photography feed into the work I do with our clients. I’ve advocated for others to develop these secondary pieces in order to support their main work. Still, it was gratifying to see that emerge strongly and consistently across these thought leaders.

Rochdale: The Runaway College by David Sharpe
My time at University of Toronto was blocks away from this rather drab senior center; one day I heard from one of my residence pals that said building had once been a den of hippiedom, an out-of-control social experiment. I picked up bits and pieces over the years, but this was my first chance to read an in-depth history of the Rochdale experiment. It’s a perfect artifact of the 60s idealism/naivete giving way to abuse, crime, drugs, financial ruin, and every other form of entropy.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
I know we’re supposed to love Vonnegut for his sadly wry commentary about the nature of man, but this is my third Vonnegut in a short time and I have been left wanting each time.

Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Japan by Alex Kerr
I just started this book in advance of our trip to Japan in just a couple of weeks!

Around the World in 57 1/2 Gigs by Dave Bidini
What is it about the Canadian book publishing industry that they can’t afford copy editors? Bidini tells a story about how in the early days of his band (the Rheostatics) they blew off a record exec who got the name of an XTC album wrong. But Bidini makes a couple of errors himself when referring to the titles of popular rock songs (while he’s being dismissive of those songs, even); his publisher should make sure he doesn’t look like a hypocrite! Anyway, it’s another round-the-world book from Bidini. In 2002 he went across the globe to play hockey in strange places, here he’s playing rock-n-roll in strange places. His adventures are great, his writing is improving (editing notwithstanding), and he’s fairly fearless in engaging with strangers across the barriers of culture, politics, alcohol, and hunger.

Woken Furies by Richard K. Morgan
All the books in this series are complex, mysterious, hardboiled, techy, and filled with action. I love ’em.

JPod by Douglas Coupland
I’m already on record objecting to this book, since Coupland figures as a character. I finally read the book (rather than criticizing it without having read it) and it was…okay. The parts with Coupland were extremely distracting, taking you out of the narrative to wonder why the author put himself in the book, why the author had the narrator despise Coupland so. Is that clever irony, oh, Coupland wrote the book but he’s using someone else to talk crap about him? It’s really him that’s saying that? See…distracting. Otherwise, it was a satisfactory Coupland romp, without the soul-cutting brilliance that a third of his books reaches. Oh, and J-pod has nothing to do with Japan or iPods. Phew.


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