March 2008 Archives

Today, for the first time in six years, I looked in the mirror and thought "maybe the stud should be a bit farther forward." It never even occurred to me until today that the stud in my nose should be anywhere other than where it is. Negative or positive post purchase perception is meant to happen rather more promptly after a purchase than this. Six years is a bit of a stretch. The strange thing is that even though I was the one who decided exactly where the hole would be, I did not, until today, ever think that I could or should have made a different decision. I suppose that speaks to a generally positive post purchase attitude. After all, many products don't even make it six years.

Food value of a t-shirt

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Here's an idea I've been hoarding for a while: I want to take a t-shirt to a food testing place and get the nutritional value figured out. I want to know what vitamins it has, protein, calories, fibre, all that stuff. I like the idea of going completely overboard with labelling. So I'd really like to see a shirt that has a hang tag with nutritional info. It's purely useless information, unless you plan to eat the shirt, but still, I think it could be an entertaining gimmick, if nothing else.

A more attractive smoke detector

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As far as I know, all smoke detectors are off-white. Presumably they're off-white because most ceilings are off-white. What if I don't have an off-white ceiling? You're not supposed to paint a smoke detector, so how do you get a smoke detector that matches a colourful ceiling? I propose smoke detectors in various colours. It's not difficult to just do the plastic in a colour other than boring off-white. I know it isn't practical to make smoke detectors in every colour that a ceiling could conceivably be, but I for one wouldn't mind having a turquoise smoke detector. It might make my off-white ceiling a little more interesting.

ginger to English dictionary

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I find that I have a kind of obfuscated, often overly whimsical way of writing. I also make up words when I feel the need. All of this contributes to a use of language that I'm not entirely comfortable classing as English. I ran into that problem today. I was writing an email and noticed that although it sounded nice and had good use of rhetoric, it might not be a practical email. Email, being a perfect medium for quick and concise communication, might not be the place to be excessively narrative. That meant that after writing it, I had to figure out how to translate my own writing into proper English. It left me thinking that I need to a) write a ginger to English dictionary and b) make one of those awesome little translation tools for ginger to English conversion. I now know what my summer project will be: I need to start listening to what I say, sort out how my use of English differs from the norm, make a dictionary based on those results, and then figure out how those translating widgets work. Should be a good time.

A traffic shaping manifesto

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Capitalism is supposed to be good because it provides consumers with choice and companies with an incentive to innovate. By traffic shaping commercial lines used by other ISPs, Bell is eliminating choice. I've tried Bell. I even used their internet for a year. At the start of that year, the delay in getting my internet running was truly impressive. During that year, my internet was spotty. I rebooted my modem more times than I can count. The support was bad and the service was expensive. Needless to say, I switched. I switched to an ISP I knew and liked. I switched to an ISP whose workings I know and who I can get help from without going through an automated system. I even had the BitTorrent discussion with my ISP. I found my new ISP to be both responsible and responsive. In other words, I switched to a small ISP, one of the ones Bell services. As a free market economy allows me to do, I made my choice.

That's why I'm feeling particularly irate. I have not contracted with Bell in order to get my internet. Traffic shaping their own customers is one thing. But I'm not their customer. I do not have a deal with Bell. Why, then, are they attempting to impose their policy on me? I didn't sign on for this. I am not a Bell DSL customer. I won't sit still and allow a party I have no contract with to decide what I may and may not do on the internet. I want to use BitTorrent in peace, for whatever legal purposes I may put it to (like downloading heavy files and perfectly legal movies like Good Copy Bad Copy). I don't want my bandwidth throttled because I'm using a protocol other than http. I do not want to be bumped because Bell feels the need to marginalize certain protocols.

This is why I say, to Bell, as a customer of an independent ISP:

You're not my ISP. Don't throttle me.

The above is in response to Bell Canada's new traffic shaping policy. Read more about it here.
I'm thinking of trying to go big with this. The groundswell is there and I'd like to see something a little more present than a facebook group. I've worked up the logo that I'm going to shove onto my website in protest, and now I just need to build a website/action to go with it.

On being foolish

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I thrive on ideas and get high by getting things done. When I fall into a funk, it's usually because I haven't done anything interesting recently enough. Of course, I'm not equipped to act on all of my ideas. Not acting on ideas is what gets me into a funk. How do I deal with ideas that I can't act on? One solution is to write them down. That's what this blog is for. A more energizing solution, though, is to practice being foolish.

People aren't foolish often enough. I don't know why. Maybe they want to look good. Maybe they want to avoid failure. I, however, see no reason not to be foolish. Foolishness is the stuff of life. There's very little that can go wrong. And it provides a great rush. Besides, as the old cliche goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained. The more times I try and potentially fail, the better my chances of actually succeeding.

How does this foolishness work, then? One form it takes is the following: grab an idea that I can't possibly act on myself, think of a company it might interest, call them up and pitch. More often than not, they aren't terribly interested. Even if they are, I know that more likely than not, I'll never get anything out of it. It doesn't matter. It's the high of putting the idea in a place where it has even just a little more potential. It does nothing in my head. It does nothing in my blog. If I let it loose in the wild, it probably won't do anything, but it might. It's a very tiny chance, but very tiny is bigger than zero. Plus, I get more practice at being foolish and fearless. Not to mention the high.

Two different ways to talk about shoes

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When I give examples of types of conversation I enjoy, I usually use things like talking about shoes as negative examples. What I generally mean by that example is that I don't enjoy superficial conversations that go something like: "Hey, great shoes!" "Oh, thanks." "Where'd you get them?" "[name of shoe store]. They come in other colours, too!" "Really?"

Recently, however, I managed to prove that I'm a complete hypocrite. I caught myself having a conversation about shoes. But it was a little different. We were talking about different shoe companies, their business models, production standards, and the potential benefits of buying fewer pairs of more expensive but better lasting shoes. So, I'm a hypocrite. I'll have to stop saying that I don't like talking about shoes. It just turns out to be a matter of fine distinctions between different shoe related conversations.

Carpets in kitchens

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We don't carpet our kitchens. I don't see a good reason for that. Think: What makes a kitchen inherently bad for carpeting? Food preparation takes place in kitchens. It could cause a mess if bits and scraps were to fall onto the rug. Fine, but how many people are actually very messy cooks? Scraps can cause a mess on the way from counter to garbage bin. Fine, but why not just install an opening for the garbage bin in the counter and sweep everything in? Kitchens are high traffic areas. But they're no more high traffic than the rest of the house. I don't see a reason why kitchens shouldn't be carpeted. After all, dining rooms in restaurants are carpeted, and they see far more falling food scraps and foot traffic (with shoes!) than an average kitchen. Yes, restaurants with carpets tend to get vacuumed every night. But as I said before, they get much more traffic than the average home kitchen. I think that carpets in kitchens could be highly feasible. I advocate the use of the kitchen as a secondary living room. Kitchens are, after all, warm and central. They play an important role in life. More carpets, more arm chairs, less utility. Most people don't use the utility anyway.

Fraction People

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I'm wondering if this is a uniquely North American thing: we seem to define ourselves as fractions. I can say that I'm one eight Swedish or five sevenths Irish or whatever. Most people I know do it. If you ask, they'll be able to give you their fractions. North America seems like a perfect place to be fractional. We're a land of colonists. No one is one hundred percent anything. What I'm wondering, then, is if anyone else does that, or whether it's just us.

Human Backgammon

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Everybody loves giant scale chess, right? Three foot high plastic pawns are irresistible. I humbly propose an addition to the giant boardgame category: Human Backgammon. Use people instead of the little round pieces, preferably one group wearing black and one wearing white. Chalk out a giant backgammon board on the road or a similar surface and make participants pile on top of each other. It's more fun than cows playing bingo! Full contact, human scale backgammon: Oh yes.

Freestyle Crochet

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I've taken up freestyle crochet. I had to kick around for a few hours at an art gallery over the weekend, and since I'm not big on small talk with strangers, I figured I'd bring some crochet stuff along. So it was me, my gigantic crochet hook, a ball of yarn and a spool of hookup wire. Seriously, hookup wire brings crochet to a whole new level. I wound up making this large, squidlike, asymmetrical necklace thing. And I'm very pleased with the result. Pictures once I document it. So I think that I'm going to go on a freestyle crochet kick for a while. It seems like a good time.

Instead of shooting shotguns at cans...

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Here's a new idea for a fun passtime: Throw romance novels at Barbie dolls. It's like bowling or those carnival games with the water guns, only way more fun. Seriously, you can get a good throw with romance novels. I've tried it. They have a nice heft, but they aren't sturdy enough to actually damage things. And it's amazing catharsis.
Facebook just asked me if I wanted to not be lonely anymore. That is to say, more specifically, that an ad on facebook asked me if I wanted to not be lonely. Funny thing, I didn't even know I was lonely. Facebook clearly thinks I am, though. Lots of websites also think that I might like to know who my soul mate is. These ads clearly think that I'm not happy as I am. Maybe they think that only frustrated, angry, lonely, desperate people view social networking and news sites. And all of that is without even bringing my SPAM into the equation.

My SPAM thinks that I might like a status symbol watch. Or that I might like to look at wild girls. Or that I'm having troubles with an appendage I don't even have. It's offering me designer shoes for cheap, too.

If I were to judge our social climate by the quality of advertising I see, I'd get the idea that most people are pretty unhappy. I'd get the idea that people are lonely, that they suffer from un-fulfilling relationships and bad sex. And that they don't own enough expensive looking watches. I might think that social problems magically disappear when certain pills and supplements are taken, or at least that people want to think so.

I find that things look fairly bleak, when you judge by the ads.

Conventional media as curator

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I'm going to draw a parallel. If I want to see art, there are two things I can do. I could go online and do a search for "art." I'd get over a billion hits (check it yourself if you want to make sure). I'd get to sift through a whole world of art, opinions about art, art history... (Suspend your comments for a moment, if you will, about the non-originalness of the art online. I know that I won't get to see the real painting. But that's not the point of my argument. Forget about it.) My other option would be to go to an art gallery. Doing that would give me access to a limited amount of art, filtered through the perception of a third party. For it to show up in an art gallery, someone has to curate it. I get to look at what they think is interesting.

I think that it would be good for conventional media to operate that way. Let's have an example: Before the internet, it was alright to show one TV show in one country and a different one somewhere else. That's still how it happens, but I'm not sure it's okay any more. If a TV show airs in the UK but not in Canada, and I want to watch it but have no legal way to do so, what am I supposed to do? Am I meant to just not watch it at all? Or do I wait for the DVD to come out and then break the encryption? Or subscribe to digital cable for one show? That's no fun at all. It means that as much as I may want to watch something, there's no sensible, legal way to do it. Why don't they show me what I want to watch on TV? The standard channels only have so much space in their schedules. They have to make decisions about what they think will be successful. They don't have the resources to cater just to me. And yes, I know I could just get BBC Americas or something, but it comes with a large cable package. In order to get one show that I want, I'd have to sign on for a whole lot more. Not very sensible if I don't actually want to spend my free time in front of the TV. So, there's no easy way for conventional media to get my viewership without alienating another large chunk of the viewing public. There simply isn't enough time in the day to accommodate me.

There is, however, another medium that can target individuals quite well. Guess what it is. Did you say The Internet? You're quite right. The internet has all the space necessary to show everyone just what they want to see. That's pretty great. But there are some problems. For one thing, with enough space to make everyone happy, it's sometimes hard to find what you want. Take the art analogy above. A billion hits for the word "art." I'd have to narrow my search down quite a bit to find something that I actually wanted to look at. But that's another problem. Going to the art gallery, or watching TV, or listening to the radio gives me the opportunity to find new things. I might not have known that I'd like it, but when someone else presents it to me, wow! It's a whole new world.

We've established the strengths of conventional media and new media. Conventional media is good at filtering things, at presenting new things to viewers, at curating. The internet, on the other hand, is far better at distribution. You can actually fit all those individual tastes onto the internet. I think that the answer, then, is to make the two work together. Conventional media should become an arbiter of taste, a more curatorial venture, and should leave distribution to new media. Both media could play to their own strengths instead of the constant fear and competition that the current model provokes. Wouldn't that be nice?

Snow Weariness

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I just started noticing today that loads of folks in the mainstream media are talking about something called Snow Rage. Clever name, right? Quebec has the distinction of being the centre of the universe for snow rage at the moment. That makes sense. I feel like we've had a major storm every week or so for the last several months and there are some really spectacular piles of snow kicking around. The high profile story is about the guy in Quebec City who menaced a snow removal worker with a shotgun. It hasn't gotten to that point in my part of the world yet. Most of the time, it comes down to coming in out of the cold, grumping and brrr-ing and then remarking that at least the skiing conditions will be good. I have yet to see the rage. It's really more a sense of weariness and resignation. So, I propose that, instead of calling it snow rage, we should be calling it snow weariness. That is, until the cross-country skiers take up arms.


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There's a very clever idea that came out of a BS session at school a few weeks ago. It was break, we were sitting at the back of the room, trying to troubleshoot a project that one of our number was having trouble with. Because many hands make light work, and because people further away from the project generally have more ideas about it, we managed to make some suggestions and come up with some solutions. We're lucky, though: at any given time, there are about fifty people we can go to and discuss issues with. That's an environment that you really only get in school. The informal workshopping sessions get fewer and farther between after graduation. That's when the idea came. Why not, we asked ourselves, offer that kind of environment for professional designers? Why not, for example, have a toll free phone number that designers can call to talk about their work related troubles?

To the group at the back of the room, it seemed like a great idea. We'd call it Designphone and it would be staffed by volunteer designers and design academics, ready and raring to help sort out creative problems.

To me, it still seems like a great idea. I determined, the day we came up with the idea, that I would find some way to implement it. And then I started doing the numbers. Phone line(s), office space, toll free number, snacks to put in the office fridge (if you expect people to do pro-bono work, you should at least feed them something): it all costs money. Where does the money come from, then? I thought that the Canada Council for the Arts might be a likely candidate. They support artist run centres and encourage new media works. But wait! I don't qualify for their grants. They don't give money to students.

So, here I am, sitting here with a pretty awesome idea and no idea how to fund it. I guess I'll have to find out who else funds this kind of thing, or just wait until I graduate and then apply for a grant. We'll see.

Capitalism for butterflies as retail concept

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Give me a year, I'm going to do this: Capitalism for Butterflies could be made into a workable retail concept. Take a store, give it a consistent, overarching name, and then change what it does, how it looks, how the branding works every once in a while (when boredom strikes, when the inventory runs out). It would become a destination just because it would completely lack consistency. Look at the original Capitalism for Butterflies post to get a better idea of the model.

Talent agents for designers

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Writers have literary agents. Actors and models and musicians have talent agents. Artists often have galleries to represent them with buyers. Why don't designers have anything like that?

Being the type of person who doesn't actually enjoy networking or constantly looking for work, I'm sick and tired of doing my own legwork. I've often thought that I what I need is a personal assistant to deal with people for me, but this morning I realized that I was wrong. What I really want is an agent. I want someone to round up buyers and show them my work if it fits the bill. I need someone to look after my interests in the creative industry, because I'm tired of doing it myself.

This all leads me to believe that there should be talent agents for designers. As far as I can tell, such a thing doesn't exist yet. In a case like that, I'd normally try to jump on the concept and be the first one in, but this time around, I'm not so sure. After all, this whole idea stems from my distaste for networking.

Houses for people and squirrels

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My parents are having a squirrel issue at the moment. They've gotten into the attic and are eating the insulation and making skittering noises (the squirrels, I mean, not my parents). Being of a whimsical frame of mind, I've been trying to figure out how to make a house that people and squirrels can share to mutual advantage. I think I have the solution.

Take a normal roof, seal it up to a squirrel-proof degree. Here's the trick: raise it a little bit, less than a foot. About six inches to a foot under the ceiling proper, install a second ceiling made of glass or plexi, with one textured side and one smooth side. In the wall between the ceiling and the glass, connecting to the outside, put a little squirrel door. The door can't be too floppy, because it needs to keep heat in, but it needs to be usable by squirrels. Ta-da! Squirrels get a place to hang out in the winter and the householder gets to enjoy their antics.

It isn't charity if you demand something in return

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The grocery store I give some of my business to is doing a charity thing right now. They hit their customers up for money at the checkout, the money goes to disadvantaged kids or some such. Fine. I have no problem with that. The problem is that after you give them the money (the amount in this case is $2), they hand you a little slip of paper on which you're meant to write your name. Later on, they put all of the little papers up on the wall near the checkouts, so that everyone can see just how generous they've all been. That's the part I have trouble with. I have trouble with the idea that people demand recognition for their acts of charity. It's like the Livestrong bracelets that were so popular a couple of years ago. It's not enough to just give money for cancer research. People need others to know and acknowledge that they've given money. "Look at me! I'm terribly thoughtful, nice, and charitable." We're not giving for the sake of others. We're not giving to feel like we've done something good. We're giving so that other people will know how wonderful we are. That's my problem.

Good is defined by bad

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So often, in real life and in all our media, you hear that no one feels like they're in a real romantic relationship until they've had a fight with their partner. It's not real until a hole has been poked in the good by the bad. Reality seems to necessitate negativity.

Skate parks for longboarders

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I'm being cabin fevered half to death. Spring isn't official for another two weeks and Montreal winter doesn't give up without a fight. Just walking on the snow covered sidewalks is cardio. But it's not the kind of cardio I want. For the past couple of weeks, I've been desperately wanting to go longboarding. That's clearly not feasible due to the snow, ice, road salt, and other winter things. If only, I thought to myself today, there were some kind of indoor place to longboard. A moment later I mentally kicked myself. Skate parks are everywhere. But that still doesn't solve my problem. I'm not really interested in kicker ramps and quarter pipes. That kind of thing doesn't work as well on a longboard.

To cure my cabin fever, I propose indoor longboarding courses. Build them in old warehouses and other large places with cheap rent. Just fill the place up with synthetic hills. Some can be steeper than others, some can be for racing and others for cruising. After all, longboards are becoming more and more popular. Sure, it's partially because they make great transportation, but I think it may also be because they're just plain wonderful. I think it would up the wonderful quotient to be able to keep it up even with snow outside.

The chicken or the egg

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I'm sitting around, reading a book on my computer. It's a .pdf that I'm looking at in KGhostView. I've got the whole page, that's two pages of book on one page of the .pdf, displayed on my screen. That means no scrolling, except to go to the next page. And that's what's got me thinking.

There's no button clicking. Every time I want to hit the next page, I just move my middle finger a little on my scroll wheel. Just a little, though. It's a tiny fraction of an inch, just dragging the little bit of mouse wheel that comes into contact with the very tip of the pad of my finger. Just one drag. I don't need to go back and drag again, I don't need to extend my finger to the end of the wheel and drag the whole thing. It's perfect, it's lovely, it works with minimal effort. And like most things that work well, I didn't notice it when I was doing it right. I only noticed what I was doing when I accidentally scrolled too much and skipped ahead two pages instead of one. It's like the computer/mouse/program/mouse driver is teaching me to be subtle.

That's where the question comes in. I'm trying to decide whether the way my computer asks me to do things makes me more subtle, or whether humans just are subtle and computers are designed to work with that. I can't decide whether it's teaching me, or we've taught it. For me, because I lack the insight that would give me the real answer that I'm sure exists, it's like the chicken and the egg. Is the computer subtle and teaches us to be, or are we subtle and teach computers to be? I know that I possess the ability to be subtle. I know that the computer does, too. I just don't know who's driving that subtlety.

Not book reports, website reports

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In grade school, I had to write book reports. They usually talked about the plot, the characters, and other basic things. Because it was grade school, I didn't go into much detail. I didn't analyse much or explore deeper issues of imagery and what lies beneath the basic plot. I was writing a reading response today, but it was a little different from the usual. Instead of an article, I was meant to be responding to some websites. As I wrote, it started looking suspiciously like one of those book reports from grade school. So, I'm wondering if, in the future, children in grade school will write website reports. They could discuss what the website is meant to do, the basic layout and structure, what kind of interaction it allows (if any), that kind of thing. Here's to a new artform, then. Or, if not an artform, a new kind of busywork for teachers to assign to small children. At least it promotes media literacy.

Website overhaul

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I've given my main website a much needed overhaul. It was old and decrepit. It used tables for layout. I've been ashamed of it for the past year or so. Today, I finally got motivated to give it the work it needed. It's new, it's pretty, it's worth looking at.

Capitalism for butterflies

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I have this habit of starting little micro-businesses for individual occasions and situations. I take different things that I'm good at, different trends that I see happening, and different environmental stimuli (impending small press fairs, craft festivals, that sort of thing) and build a business to meet the need. In short, I do something that interests me now, for a limited period of time, and hope to benefit others. I then move on before the concept goes stale. I think there are other examples of this in existence, but I may take it to an extreme.

I'm calling my habit Capitalism for Butterflies, because it does a lot of the same things that butterflies do. Think: Butterflies live short lives, being pretty, flitting from place to place, pollinating. That's what an ideal Capitalism for Butterflies business does.
It exists for a short period of time, based around one good idea that is often trend based. It isn't meant to have staying power. If it works well, it pollinates. It makes the people who encounter it happy, it builds personal brand equity for the people involved, and the whole thing ends before it gets old.

A recent example of Capitalism for Butterflies: no poetry press. I started no poetry press specifically for Expozine. I got it into my head that I would show at Expozine 2007. Roughly two weeks before Expozine took place, I made a website, dreamed up a few zines, did the covers for those zines, put those on the site, and then registered myself for Expozine under the no poetry press banner. By the time Expozine rolled around, I had a catalogue of around ten zines/small books and I was ready to go. People showed up at my table, some of them actually looking for me because they'd seen covers that had interested them on the no poetry press site. I sold a lot and loads of people went home happy with copies of Flow Chart Comics, The Adorable Seven Deadly Sins and Love Poems for Undeserving People. no poetry press hasn't been active since. The website still exists, I still have copies of zines that didn't sell as well, and no poetry press might just register for Expozine 2008.

The bottom line, though, is that a Capitalism for Butterflies business doesn't need to exist all the time or for long. Good Capitalism for Butterflies businesses are low commitment, low investment and extremely compelling. They don't need to last forever. It's like having loads of different product lines under the umbrella of one company. The parent company in this case is just an individual. Every Capitalism for Butterflies project I start gets the ginger coons brand a little more equity. No loss, lots of gain and never any stasis.

Capitalism for Butterflies is a profoundly fluid business model. And that's a very good way to be.

Killjoy at art galleries

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Whenever I see art work that is predominantly derivative, I have the bad habit of wondering what the copyright situation is. Did the artist really clear every image in that collage? It makes me much less fun to go to art galleries with.

Projections on buildings

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I'm working on a group project at the moment that involves creating a proposal for an urban practice. Our idea is to project site specific movies onto historic buildings around Montreal.

I walked past the Canadian Centre for Architecture this evening and noticed something that a) made my jaw drop, b) confirmed my high opinion of the ideas of design students. This evening, presumably for Nuit Blanche, they're projecting on the wall of the CCA. It's lovely. Windmills, oil rigs, all sorts of stuff relating to their current exhibits. Admittedly, their walls make a better blank canvas than most of the older buildings in the city, but it still makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside to know that it's being done.