[Cycling and] The Zero Calorie Junk Yard Dog

Distance: 56.09 mi
Elevation Gain: 2,699 ft
Calories Burned: 3,423 C
Junk Yard Dog Calories: 500 C
Side of Frites Calories: 500 C



In Bill Rice’s New York Times obituary,  writer Larry Mitchell, described Rice as “interested only in happenstantial fame, rarely traveling more than a few blocks from his home.”

I get a hard time from many friends, for fitting that description pretty much exactly, as an artist. Whatever success I have feels happenstantial.

happenstance (plural happenstances)
    (countable) A chance or random event or circumstance. 
    (uncountable) The chance or random quality of an event or circumstance. 

Logical vs. Physical

click image to enlarge

Content Web site design -- as www.2x4.org -- have not gone unnoticed among designers (first pointed out to me by artist/educator Abby Goldstein), but so far, seem to be been seen as just a web-based gimmick, not real "design." As you might surmise from the side-by-side screen caps above, 2x4, appears as text, then opens to reveal content in the form of text and images. All very semantic, no Flash, just good "old-fashioned" text/Javascript.

I am not proclaiming this as non-design, but it springs from a different well than traditional "web design."

When I first began looking at the web in 1994, like most, I filled my pages with links built with little icons, and images -- and this method of navigation has persisted to this day, reaching its awful zenith in sites like www.cnn.com, so busy you can barely find the content, in the clutter.

Print designers keep attempting to re-purpose book/magazine design to somehow organize the jumble, but frankly, even on the best sites, like the NY Times, it is not totally successful (close though, by my eyes, since it uses a browsing-based layout).

Web design can [should?] find its roots and inspiration in web function, rather than from print. Not that I want to return to - every page looking like Jacob Nielson non-designed it. But I am seeking an understanding of logical design based on function.

It is a battle not easily won. Talk of blog-design, removing traditional navigation, using browsing rather than searching, limiting the number of images to essential (as in traditional book publication) do not meet with enthusiastic understanding. But I am making minor headway as I find a voice for the design principals.

And there is the problem, explaining web-based design, so it does not appear I am trying to give design back to the geeks in the IT department, who in some ways are responsible for all these zillion-image web site designs in the first place.

The core of this code-wise has been beaten into my head by my friend Rick Frankel, who's mantra starts with "logical markup" -- an H1 tag is a header, not just big bold text, in a nutshell.  The key here however, from my point of view is "logical."

But I am seeking more, a clearer design sense - more clearly articulated, outside of showing examples like 2x4.org. Programmers are talking about "logical," but the results are marginal, except "under the hood."

I continue looking for fellow travelers.

Friend Tally

I resisted Facebook, thinking it was just for college students, but then I noticed that many of my friends were there, and it seemed like a good way to keep in contact. Frankly since lower Manhattan emptied itself of artists, I seem to seldom see anyone, except occasionally at openings.

While you can list yourself publicly on Facebook, the majority of users don't, so you have to gather a group of friends around you, to actually view anything meaningful.

So you search your address book and begin adding friends. The first thing you notice is that you have very few friends compared to some who seem to be the most popular kids at school, with 500 or more "friends."

Accepting you will never be that much of a star, you begin comparing your friend list, with those of your friends, ex-friends, ex-lovers, and those you remember as losers. It is not always a pretty picture -- this friend tally.

Anything is better than that first screen you get, when you join, the disturbing statement "Fred has no friends." I looked after a week I had 26 friends, including some of my students, and a couple of friends I was glad to reconnect with.

Facebook does appear to be good place to connect with other creative people, since each of your friends opens you up to posts from their friends. Close enough to the way the real world works, or at least used to work for me, when I first came to NYC, and seemed to have thousands of friends.  But then I could sit on my loading dock, drink beer, and watch  artists walk by.

Subliminal Messages

Lately I have been sleeping with my books. Revisiting photography and writing, after years of being on vacation building web sites. Not that web site consulting has not been ...

I remained convinced I could just pick up where I left off in the early '90s and make images again. I adopted the mantra of many artists, working in commercial or educational careers, "when I have a block of time, I will make some art."

So far it has not worked out for me. I like some of the work I have been doing, as do others, but it seems to lack something that I have lost over the years, and I am not currently sure what "it" is.

Summer Ends Early

I sold my red couch on Craigslist.com, it reminded me too much of lazy sleeping, I did not want to do anymore. So now I am back to straight back chairs, and tables, everywhere.

My life has taken unexpected [expected] turns lately, comings and goings of friends from my life.

I helped a friend reduce household possessions to 400 pounds for shipping by air, it forces one to think about what is important, in the George Carlin "stuff" kind of way. I have been simplifying my life, selling possessions is almost as cathartic.

I returned for the fall to teaching at Fordham University discussing web design.

I have been talking to myself on the street more, riding my bicycle more, and meet unexpectedly with quiet genius everywhere I go.


I slept though the first half hour of Amos Poe's film Empire II, shown at the Tribecca Film Festival. It started at 11 pm, I was exhausted and dozed off immediately to Patti Smith.

Now normally -- being asleep at the beginning of film would be a issue, however in this case I woke up into the blast of the film's soundtrack and breathtaking color as though I had directly entered Robert Smithson's experience of [art as] filmic art. Once resident in Poe's landscape, I reveled in it like a dream, upset to be returned to the theater at the end of 2 1/2 more hours.

"A tone-poem meditation on the city of our dreams. With music by Patti Smith, Jim Carroll, Lucinda Williams, Jeff Buckley, Jimmie James, Steve Earle, Cassis Staudt, Max Nova, Gram Rabbit, Peggy Lee, Allison Moorer, Hysterics, Debbie Harry, B.B. King, Pink Martini, ... and many more."

life on the [change]

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
-Rainer Maria Rilke (except from Archaic Torso of Apollo)

Too cold to go to the park today, no humans around. The TV has been on and off all day, I bought "art supplies" at Lowe's home center.

Making photographs is always [easier] to talk about, than the actual doing. A friend of mine came over tonight, we ended up talking about the ink on the pages of Aperture magazine, rather than the photographs themselves. Reminded me of all the photo-geeks online who write about equipment. As I become increasingly unsure of what art is -- a website which seems to have transcended geek-speak, and taken on a life of its own (hundreds of camera lens tests) comes to mind; www.ksmt.com.

After my friend left, I ate a pint of ice cream, while looking through the phonebook-sized April issue of Artforum, my confusion -- not lifted, but I am looking forward to my studio tomorrow.

I had so longed, all weekend, to talk about the art, rather than the ink.


UPS just delivered a sheet of miniature "grass," browned from not receiving enough water during the hot summer months, or perhaps the "grass" died during the winter?

Since it is very tiny, and it's plastic, I don't have to mow it.  I hated mowing grass when I was a kid.

Fumbling around in the past

I was poking through my film-based photographs today, searching for bridges and water -- I found this photo from one of my first visits to NYC. I took it in the '60s, my college [girl]friend Paula and I, riding the Staten Island Ferry. Paula looking all "Jackie."

I remember clearly the Nikon F camera I used, its weight, even the smell of metal and leatherette. The camera made me feel, even as a student, I could make real art.

Cameras always subtly excite me. I studied painting, but I never found harmony with the materials, the way I did with those little photography machines. Paula's father Frank loaned us a Miranda camera, the first precision Japanese camera I had ever seen -- started photography for me (I think I might have broken the camera!).

Paula had a friend in the architecture school, at Washington U, who sold me my first Nikon F [first serious camera]. While taking that photo I realized we both wanted to live in NYC. Eventually Paula and I moved to NYC, she first, to study and eventually become an illustrator. I stayed in St. Louis 4 more years. We were so sure, that day in NYC, we would be artists.

Today my working camera is digital, not such a visceral instrument, but still, the act of recording moments in time...

addendum: Finding that photo forced me to drift around in the past, reminded me how easily beauty escapes our grasp. The last time I saw Paula she rollerbladed into De Robertis Pasticceria on 1st Ave., beautiful as ever. She talked happily about her husband, her life in NYC. I never saw her again, she died in 1988, from breast cancer.

Just one of those days, when I can smell spring, when art and life are on my mind. Back to work now. Enough.

"Dot-Com Throne"

Tomorrow I get my Aeron chair back from Sam Flax. The seat needed repairing and the arms were worn out. Herman Miller offers a 12 year warranty so all I had to do was pay for pickup and delivery. Sam Flax has been great, personal emails, and a three personal phone calls!

Target's Kool Kolors Task Chair

Sometimes the Aeron seems a bit pretentious now that the dot-com era is "over." Like I am harboring a fugitive that escaped the Nasdaq debacle. In the interem I bought a couple of inexpensive green desk chairs from Target, gave one to a friend, smaller, nice colors, less showy, they fit into my smaller Brooklyn studio nicely.

I miss my Aeron, not just because it is comfortable, dare I say cozy? The NY Times called it the "dot-com throne," when the Aeron's designer, Bill Stumpf, died in September of 2006. My favorite quote from that article, "Aerons piled up in a corner as a kind of corporate graveyard after they laid off 95 percent of the staff in about two months."

I survived -- and so did my Aeron, both the Nasdaq and 9/11. I brought mine from Manhattan to Brooklyn in 2003, I will be glad to have it back home.

(It just came via messenger, and they rebuilt it like new, new seat, arms, and pneumatic cylinder!  www.samflax.com)

After a few days, I am not sure I will keep it, maybe I have finally outgrown it, now that I have been with the little green cutie from Target.

Update: I kept the Aeron!

"equivalent reproduction"

Lately I have been wanting to put something online about how [and maybe why] some of my photographs exist.

I had model trains when I was a kid. My mother built my first "train board" for me, and my younger brother, when I was about 6. My mother painted with great economy, I knew at the time she had created something unusual, no other kids I knew had. I wish I had better, color, photos.

my mother's highway around the lake

When I was 15, building a models, in my parents' basement, no one seemed to grasp I was building an alternative reality to inhabit. The "real" world was excruciatingly boring, just endless hours at school, watching the hands tick off the minutes until lunch, nothing to do but figure out ways to cheat on the the next exam. No video games or the internet to escape to.

Jean Baudrillard was still in school, but there I was, right in the midst of his future words,

"The very definition of the real has become: that of which it is possible to give an equivalent reproduction. . . The real is not only what can be reproduced, but that which is always already reproduced: that is the hyperreal… which is entirely in simulation."

Well maybe more in the world of the Matrix? Baudrillard is, after all, more political in his arguements, and I am more interested in the paradoxes of reality and illusion. But his name does come up.

Reality has never been as satisfying as I had hoped, but still, I am not really commenting on Baudrillard's lament on the disappearance of the real, "the most important event of modern history."

I meant this post to be less convoluted [abstract] than it actually is, I was thinking, originally, to just show a photo of a model during construction. It is hard to be Charlie Brown.

"New" video

After seeing DISBAND perform, I was drawn into looking through some of my video tapes from the '70s. While at Washington University my friend Danny Dries bought one of the earliest portable video recorders, the SONY 3400, I was crazy to have one too. At that same time the magazine Radical Software showed up in my life:

"The historic video magazine Radical Software was started by Beryl Korot, Phyllis Gershuny, and Ira Schneider and first appeared in Spring of 1970, soon after low-cost portable video equipment became available to artists" http://www.radicalsoftware.org/e/

I finally found a way to buy a SONY 3400 in the summer of 1972 (it cost as much as my car!). Video tapes from then were reel-to-reel 1/2 inch, and when I tried to play them back in the '90s they just sat on the machine and squeaked! Nothing would play! But in about 2001 I read it was possible to "bake" old SONY tapes in the oven, driving out the water that was causing the problem, and they would play. So I cranked up my oven, and managed to re-record many of my old tapes.

My old 1/2 video now is jumpy, and has scan lines (it looks like an iMovie effect) but they do play, and I just put the first one on my web site as a flash movie.

They really are historical documents (in the words of Galaxy Quest). In 1972 having a personal video recorder was like having the first Brownie camera!


30th Anniversary Reunion of DISBAND featuring Ilona Granet, Donna Hennes, Diane Torr and Martha Wilson.

Ilona Granet, photographed today at P.S.1

"DISBAND consisted of women artists, none of whom knew how to play any instruments so we used Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets, hammer, radio, flag, bedsheet, party hats, flour and fake braids to perform songs like "Every Day Same Old Way," "Sad," and "Iran-y." DISBAND included Daile Kaplan, Barbara Kruger, and April Gornik in the early days. Later, Martha Wilson, Donna Henes, Diane Torr and Ingrid Sischy were joined by Ilona Granet. Then Diane dropped out when we were in Italy, and we disbanded in 1982."
-- Franklin Furnace

I was sitting in the audience with artists Carolee Schneemann, Julie Harrison, and photographer Terry Slotkin, realizing how fortunate I was to be among interesting, brilliant, courageous, and beautiful women!


But for QVC

Why Richard, it profits a man nothing
to give his soul for the whole world.
But for Wales?
--Robert Bolt in "A Man For All Seasons"

upon hearing about a non-profit client's new QVC alliance

Macbeth! beware the conversions-per-clicksters

"The VC community continually salivates at ways of creating a craigslist... The days are gone when Craigslist was simply a hobby of founder Craig Newmark's... 1.7 million page views per day and nearly 7 million unique visitors per month."
--Tom Foremski, Silicon Valley Watcher.com

Recently I listened (as an observer) while an executive casually threw the statement "we will register 10,000 visitors" into a planning session, as if there was simply no chance it would not happen. Like many executives, who have not found time for the web, the idea that, if you spend bags of money on a site, "they" will come, is a universal misunderstanding of what drives web traffic.

Plain speaking, out among them English

I was talking to my friend Rick Frankel about a web application, and mentioned possibly using Flash. You would have thought I had suggested writing HTML, where whole interface page was inclosed in <blink> .. </blink> tags. For those of you who never used Netscape Navigator the blink tag was perhaps the most annoying HMTL "feature" other than the pop-up window.

Rick was adamant about pointing out, that in he feels Flash does not pass the usability test. Web-based applications are ephemeral (Jacob Nielsen), and thus they must have a very low learning curve. Users may not get a chance to come back, time and again, to learn your web application's GUI. This is why the basic HTML form, with multiple choice questions, or simply text boxes, works so well. The application asks one sequential question after another, and the user is seldom confused.

Jakob Neilsen gives a Flash confusion example in one of his "Alertbox" posts: "On a page that asked for the square footage of the area to be covered, he was swearing as he tried to calculate his floor area by hand. Next to the form he was struggling with was a large animated graphic with flying words, including "room planner," "set up room size," "length," "width," and several other terms indicating that the box linked to an application for computing floor sizes. Too bad this user didn't see it. Nor did our other test users."

For me simple is usually better, so I listen to Rick, but there may be hope (see Nielsen's newest report, "Flash Usability: Design Guidelines for Web-Based Functionality, Tools, and Applications").

Rick's added eMail note: It's not just about usability, it's also about searchability and structure (Google "semantic web").

Anyway -- buy the book, see the movie...
Jakob Nielsen
www.useit.com (Jakob Nielsen)