Friday, June 30, 2006

Russians in the Sky with Dwellings

Check out this animated visualization of a wild russian design from 1928(!) for an extremely high-rise apartment building. The only thing missing is Georgei Jetsonov and comrade Judy.

(It will play smoother the second time thru)

You can see more weird commie stuff on the Russian Utopia site.

Another reminder that the period between WWI and the economic collapse of the 1930's was a very strange and daring time in many places.

I live near a historic district in Dallas with many houses built in the 1910's-20's and every year some of them open up for a tour. Most of them are filled with the sort of traditional antiques you'd expect to see in any hollywood picture set in an old house. One of them had stuff that looked like it fell out of a 60's psychedelic Peter Max painting. Very strangely shaped, very strangely colored. I remember a set of bar stools that looked like giant Q-tips with the cotton swab part covered in flourescent red, green and blue.

But all designed and built in the 1920's, the owners said.

Another old house was memorable for the custom tilework on the floor (appearing much like the ones in this article). "Those are not swastikas", the tourguide insisted, "those are Buddhist good-luck symbols!"

Monday, June 26, 2006

The woman who found a penis in a soup can

I used to work in a media group attached to Nortel Networks, a Canadian telecom company. One day our marketing manager came to me and asked me to make an animation that could be printed as a flip book in corner of a catalog they were preparing. People might actually keep the catalog around longer if it had something interesting to look at she reasoned. Cool idea, huh?

I brainstormed the task with other members of the media group. We developed the idea of having a guy take a can of alphabet soup and shake telecom acronyms out of it into his mouth and then eat the can too. The idea was that [redacted] could make quick work of complex problems. Everyone agreed it was a fab idea although none of them could imagine how it I might ever do it.

Basically, I made a "Telecom Soup" label for a can and shot some video of one of our technical illustrators tossing it over his shoulder. Then I spent a couple weeks warping and retouching the footage. This was back when a 100MHz Mac was considered insanely powerful.

When I finally unveiled it, everyone was ecstatic. It was the most astonishing thing anyone had ever seen come out of our group. Word spread around the company and people I barely knew were stopping by my desk to see this new wonder. "Outstanding... Fantastic... Amazing", they said.

One day a woman I had never met before stopped by and asked to see it. I showed it to her and she said "This is sexually offensive and it can not be printed in the catalog."


The soup can symbolized a man's penis and the letters coming out of the can were semen, she explained. And eating the can was just another representation of oral sex.

All the people who had liked the animation, even those who had a hand in coming up with the idea, disappeared and rematerialized as people who were aghast at what I had done. My managers faded back to the safety of their cubes, admitting no knowledge of this project. Phrases like "very disappointed" and "poor judgement" were tossed around.

How the inspector woman acquired this power I don't know but she seemed to enjoy the attention her accusations brought to her. One of our designers was tasked with decorating a conference room. They only gave her a $50 budget so she went to Wal-Mart and bought some pre-framed, color-coordinated "art" photos of fishing equipment. The people using the conference rooms were "fishing for solutions" she reasoned.

"Racially offensive," the inspector woman declared. "Many black people can not afford to go fishing. These photos will make them uncomfortable and less likely to participate in discussions."

My animation got printed in the catalog anyway, but only because the marketing manager who had requested it originally was thinking of leaving and didn't care about the possible fallout. There was no fallout, no customer ever complained. The soup can was just a soup can.

But the marketing manager did get fired a few months later. It was one of those typical corporate things where two security guards showed up at her cube, gave her five minutes to collect her personal belongings and then escorted her off the premises. I don't think it was related to the flip book flap, but I have no idea really. I only know about the security guard scenario because our management, while not disclosing the actual reason for firing her, wanted to smear her reputation by hinting that some serious breach was involved.

So anyway, children, corporate life is not like the training videos they show you during your first week, where people calmly discuss a problem and agree on a solution that's "win-win" for everyone. It's like a Klingon starship where crewmembers will gladly maim or kill one another for a promotion.

There were quite a few episodes like this where I got buy-in and approval from everyone on the details of a project I was assigned to, and then was abandoned by all of them when some obscure person somewhere raised some insane objection.

"Trust no one," became my strategy for the rest of my career at Nortel Networks.

Update, September 2, 2012: After many years of executive misperforamce, Nortel Networks declared bankruptcy a few years ago and was parted out to the four winds. 

One key element in Nortel's demise was a serious book-keeping scandal in which the very highest executives had falsified financials to boost their bonus pay.

At its height during the dot-com boom Nortel accounted for a third of the value of the Toronto Stock Exchange, but it never had the luster of its main rival, Cisco Systems.  If anyone had a choice they would always install Cisco equipment rather than Nortel.

I recall some of our CEO's adages: "Sell the product now, we'll fix the bugs later." and "We don't need to be innovative, we can buy someone who is."

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Stephen Hawking's Good Night Nurse!

Top ten duties of Stephen Hawking's Nurse:

10 - Changing flat tires.
9 - Playing "which pocket are the car keys in?"
8 - Visual aid in lecture on "Curvature of Space."
7 - Optimizing his hard drive.
6 - Shouting "Run for your life! He's had two hit-and-runs already this month!"
5 - Private "Tea Time Movie" hostess
4 - Riding shotgun in Monster Wheelchair Rallies
3 - Listening to him say that Carl Sagan's "Big Bang" wasn't really all that big.
2 - Extension cord wrangler
1 - At bedtime, pressing CTRL-ALT-Delete .

Saturday, June 10, 2006

al-Zarqawi was framed

If I was going to make a presentation on a terrorist I had killed I'd just put his pic on some foam-core board and leave it at that. The knotty-pine frame... that's over the top. That's like something you'd hang on the wall of your hunting cabin in northern Minnesota.

Well, the seventy-two virgins (sixty-seven? I keep hearing different claims) are going to be disappointed with Abu al-Zarqawi when he shows up looking like this.

"Uh, Abu... you looked younger in your pics on the internet"

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Barry Manilow can't sing

Another painful toll-of-time ouch...

Barry Manilow used to have a great voice. Now he sings like Rex Harrison, which is rather like not singing at all.

Click on the "Copacabana (Live)" link

Edit: It seems the video has been taken down.

But pitchless or not, he's still packing them in apparently.

I think the first time I ever heard someone talk through a song was Raymond Burr doing "Eleanor Rigby" on the Sonny and Cher show in the 70's, if you can imagine such. I'm surprised that video has not surfaced on the web. But it couldn't compare with William Shatner's Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds