View from Chicago Tribune Tower, 3:08 PM

View from Chicago Tribune Tower, 3:08 PM

We are moving the company’s downtown Chicago offices to a larger space closer to Union Station; both good things. We invited Eastlake Studio to help make the new location awesome and I recently visited their offices in the Chicago Tribune Tower. I’ve walked and driven past the 1920s landmark countless times before but never had the opportunity to go inside.

Arkansas

Arkansas

It only took six years, but I am pleased to report I am one state away from visiting all fifty United States, a long-standing box to be checked on the bucket list. 

Again, SG came through and arranged for a weekend excursion to nearby Little Rock, Arkansas. Unlike our surprise getaway to Omaha, Nebraska eight years ago, we had a couple of extra travelers in tow this time, which definitely put a different spin on things (note to self: next time, fly). We all agreed the River Rail Streetcar was a highlight. Other recommended destinations include the William J. Clinton Presidential Library, Little Rock Central High School and National Historic Site, and the Arkansas State Capitol Building. While the boys were a bit young to fully appreciate the significance of LRCHS in the history of African-American civil rights, the visit was a good learning opportunity for all of us. 

With tornadoes forecasted, we decided to head back home early on Sunday. Waking Monday morning, I was surprised to hear how much damage had occurred; my thoughts are with those who lost loved ones to the storms.

Game 7

Game 7

The Cubs led the 2003 NLCS three games to one [sic]. In Game 6, they led the Marlins 3-0 going into the top of the 8th at Wrigley Field. With one out and a runner on second, the Marlins’ Luis Castillo lofted a foul ball destined for infamy. Left fielder Moises Alou chased it to the stands. He leaped for the ball that was directly over the wall. A fan attempting to catch the ball himself knocked it away from Alou. Castillo ended up walking, and the Marlins then scored eight runs in the inning to eventually win the game.

In Game 7, the Cubs led 5-3 after two, thanks to home runs from Kerry Wood and Alou before the pitching gave up six runs to lose it.


Photo: Game 7 / Chicago / October 2003

Steven Soderbergh on Cinema

Steven Soderbergh on Cinema

Speaking at this year's San Francisco International Film Festival, for its State of Cinema address (transcribed here and here), Steven Soderbergh offered the following definition of cinema (emphasis mine) as part of his general assessment of today's Hollywood film industry:

The simplest way that I can describe it is that a movie is something you see, and cinema is something that’s made. It has nothing to do with the captured medium, it doesn’t have anything to do with where the screen is, if it’s in your bedroom, your iPad, it doesn’t even really have to be a movie. It could be a commercial, it could be something on YouTube. Cinema is a specificity of vision. It’s an approach in which everything matters. It’s the polar opposite of generic or arbitrary and the result is as unique as a signature or a fingerprint. It isn’t made by a committee, and it isn’t made by a company, and it isn’t made by the audience. It means that if this filmmaker didn’t do it, it either wouldn’t exist at all, or it wouldn’t exist in anything like this form.

He later adds . . . 

But the problem is that cinema as I define it, and as something that inspired me, is under assault by the studios and, from what I can tell, with the full support of the audience.

Writing for the New York Times, A.O. Scott suggests that Soderbergh's self-described rant is more about the realization of his much-publicized retirement from traditional filmmaking and embrace of other modes of cinematic production (e.g., television and even Twitter) in order to express one's "vision" than a fully baked notion of cinema with a capital C. His embrace of new technologies, especially in terms of where and how cinema might be encountered (say, in contrast to David Lynch's colorful and unambiguous contempt for watching movies on mobile phones) is open-minded and provocative, though risks too broad a stroke; as Scott points out, Soderbergh uses the term [cinema] "more or less as a synonym for art".

Yet, I find it curious, along with a casual dismissal of generic conventions and the accidental ("arbitrary") aspects of the creative process, he is quick to implicate those who would feed him, his audience, to adopt a seemingly old school auteurist view, where movies attain the status of cinematic endeavor at the hands of their director-author, especially because of his or her (not necessarily literal) struggle with an indifferent, even hostile studio system. Soderbergh further contends the narrowing of options for filmmakers today goes beyond the studio executive's stereotypical intolerance for ambiguity and narrative complexity, and is symptomatic of an American appetite for escapism in response to 9/11, the trauma of which still haunts the box office, if not our everyday lives. 

 

 

When the Lumières first exhibited their new invention the cinématographe and accompanying short films, including La Sortie des usines Lumière à Lyon (1895), in Paris on December 28, 1895, the idea of cinema (as the intersection of a paying audience watching moving images projected on a screen) was born. Since then, I'm not sure there has ever been a time when its identity, especially in terms of how films should be presented and truly experienced, hasn't been in some sort of crisis; for example in response to the emergence of television and the "domestication" of cinema during the 1950s and 1960s or the advent of cable television, VCRs and laser discs in the early 1980s, to name just two of the better known threats. Today, cinema is experiencing redefinition through the lens of the Internet, tablet computers and iPhones, and digital projection. I am thankful for Soderbergh's candid and obviously passionate observations concerning the economic realities of contemporary Hollywood but I also think it is important not to discount the role of the audience as we contemplate what makes cinema (beyond aesthetics, tools, and authorship). As with new methods for the signature production and mass distribution of something that might be considered cinematic  (per Soderbergh's qualifications), new audiences also emerge and are equally relevant to cinema's continuing evolution and transformation.

Cross-posted to Medium on July 3, 2013.

Roger Ebert (1942 - 2013)

Roger Ebert (1942 - 2013)

I never met Roger Ebert and I doubt he knew of me directly. Yet he played an important if brief role in my graduate education that I'd like to share in his memory.

During my stint at the U of C, I volunteered in various roles at Doc Films. For me, to spend evenings threading a projector or dreaming up (and sometimes programming) film series with fellow movie buffs was a welcomed antidote to the removed, sometimes too abstract, relationship one has with cinema as a student of critical theory and cultural studies. In 1998, for a series I co-curated comprised of films by foreign directors with the idea of America and American culture as central themes, a fellow Doc volunteer, who also worked as a projectionist for Roger's continuing ed course at the Graham School, asked Roger one night for his advice on movies we should consider including. His response surprised me: W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (Dušan Makavejev, 1971), not the kind of film I would have ever expected from the critic whom I had dismissed over the years as too mainstream and forgiving in his tastes, responsible for reducing film criticism to thumbs pointed in one direction or another. The obscurity and uniqueness of the suggestion and (I'm told) the alacrity with which it was offered opened my eyes to better appreciate and understand the breath of Ebert's knowledge of film history and his unpretentious approach to and appreciation of movies, in all forms. For him, it may very well have been a passing thought at the end of a long day or week, one of countless recommendations made over a brilliant, sustained, and unprecedented career (even then) but in my mind's eye, I felt squarely put in my place knowing there was much still to learn and to see. 

No doubt my story will be joined by many other, perhaps similar, remembrances in the coming days and weeks, of the small yet profound way Roger Ebert touched our lives. It has always been reassuring to know he was there to turn to — whether through his movie reviews, books, blog, interviews, or in casual conversation wrapping up a course screening — ready to share his passion for movies and his love of life.

Timed Comments and a Call for Blog Side Notes

Timed Comments and a Call for Blog Side Notes

The most impressive thing about social media site SoundCloud is its signature feature: to graphically represent in spatial terms what is usually experienced non-graphically in time, the waveform1 of an uploaded audio clip. By laying out the amplitude of the audio recording, SoundCloud emphasizes duration of experience, pointing to its peaks and valleys, and, most important for my purposes here, allows for the insertion of time-coded feedback.

As consumption of web-based media has evolved over the past decade+, we’ve grown accustomed to eating whole this or that bit and then, when offered the opportunity, provide feedback at the end and participate in a comment thread. Granted, one can excerpt the relevant content (or time stamp in the case of audio or video) for which the comment is addressed but this localization is still displaced temporally. With SoundCloud, we are given the opportunity to attach one’s commentary to a specific moment within the audio stream so that it can be part of the initial experience, as one is “reading” the audio stream. The site provides a visual representation of the referenced clip time stamp, a feature called “timed comments”2. It seems pretty simple and obvious in hindsight but I haven’t encountered a precedent.

One risk of this approach is fragmentation, a letting go of the way in which a comment thread as it exists today coheres disparate voices into a kind of dialogue. Perhaps localizing commentary also runs the risk of losing context, of misinterpreting an argument by pressing too hard at the sentence or word level. It also isn’t immediately obvious how best to encapsulate visually a myriad of localized comments within the current blogging paradigm. A blog post could easily be overwhelmed with side notes demanding equal attention. Perhaps for this reason especially, we’ve not yet seen its adoption, SoundCloud notwithstanding. Still, I find the prospect compelling, a means to engage web writing with greater specificity and intimacy.

 

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Day has Come

Day has Come

Photo: Lea Suzuki for The Chronicle

Photo: Lea Suzuki for The Chronicle

First, let me say, I hope that Steve Jobs’s no doubt difficult decision to resign as CEO of Apple allows him to focus his energy and strength on a speedy recovery from illness and return to good health. That is job number one. Yesterday’s announcement, delivered by personal letter to the Apple Board and Apple community at large, has generated considerable reaction in the tech and media communities, for good reason I think. Even though we’ve all known about Jobs’s health issues,  I think we’ve held out hope that it wouldn’t have to come to this, that it was something that could be willed and managed into permanent remission, part-time. Acknowledging this is not the case, that Steve is human, we all are, is difficult but also liberating. 

Much of the talk has circulated around the fate of Apple. After the initial flutter, I think most folks are concluding that the company has a “deep bench” and with Tim Cook at the helm in particular, there is little risk of execution flagging in the wake of Jobs’s transition to Chairman. Cook appears to be cut from the same cloth when it comes to restraint, quality, and attention to detail. We will have to wait and see how cultivated a sense of whimsy and invention he has, the “hacker” pedigree which has also been an important strand of Apple’s DNA under Jobs.

Apple Macintosh (1984)

Apple Macintosh (1984)

I basically grew up with Apple gear: Apple II in high school, original Mac 128K in college (nicknamed the MacMelt due to a faulty power supply), my first laptop the Powerbook 140, a Performa(!) desktop during my (lean) days in graduate school, and of course numerous devices over the incredible run during the past decade after a brief Apple-free stint in the late 90s. These things have helped shape my thinking, have helped me express who I am. And for most of that history, Jobs has been a significant part of the buy-in, especially when Macs were dismissed as toys at best. There has been a trust in his vision, his passion, his origins, and a reassurance in knowing that he is dreaming in California of the next thing and sweating the details too. I can try to convince myself that nothing changes much with this announcement, and maybe that is largely true in the immediate day-to-day, but, naturally, I will also have to adjust my attitude about Apple. It isn’t business as usual on a gut level.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. There is no question that Apple is in the best position it has ever been, and it is a testament to Jobs on down the line that they’ve created a nice cushion to weather this transition. And it just might be a wonderful opportunity, a time to double down on the team that Jobs has assembled and now trusts with his baby. Those same reasons that have kept me loyal, the memories of wonder and amazement when first using Apple computers, have also framed my expectations to some extent. Those are big shoes to fill and a tremendous responsibility, no doubt, but what a prize Cook has been handed! I welcome getting to know him better and seeing where he and the rest of the management team take the company next.

And in the meantime, get well Steve and keep us posted.

Happy Birthday Miriam

Happy Birthday Miriam

Miriam Hansen would have celebrated her 62nd birthday today. It was a happy coincidence that we shared birthdays, which served as a reminder each year to stay in touch long after I left graduate school. News of her death this past February, despite her long struggle with cancer, came as a shock. She was an incredible force of a person — so much so that you expected if anyone could beat this, she would. She was tirelessly driven and unfailingly generous, of her time, her intellect and throw-what-you-thought-you-knew-out-the-window unique insights, and her disarming sense of humor. We all relied on Miriam. . . to provide guidance and unblinking but fair critique and to courageously, especially in the face of serious illness, set the standard for academic rigor among her colleagues and lay the groundwork for the next generation of scholars, not least with the founding of the Cinema and Media Studies program at the University of Chicago, of which I know she was very proud and I am personally thankful to have played a part in its early days. Yes, a rare, beautiful force. One of those people that truly inspire others to achieve their best. I feel very fortunate to have known her and I miss her, especially today.

Launch

Launch

Hello world! I’ve decided to return joecarey.com to its roots as a personal website, a place to share and promote my photography, recommend articles and other items of interest, and sketch ideas.

It’s been an interesting journey since I shuttered the site three years ago. I tried various hosted, sometimes social, venues (e.g., Facebook notes, MobileMe, Flickr, Posterous, and, most recently, Tumblr) to publish my photos and infrequent notes. In each case, over time these services fell a bit short of my particular requirements, which is not to say they all don’t excel at what they do for their target audience(s). So, I’ve turned to a relative newcomer, Squarespace, in hopes that their approach will strike the right balance between convenience and flexibility. So far, I’ve been impressed with the features and speed of the platform, the company’s close attention to detail, and the obvious thought that has gone into the design of their UI/dashboard. All good stuff.

In migrating the blog archive from previous incarnations (for a good stretch, managed using Movable Type), I’ve spent some time tidying things up (not least, link rot), excising a few entries, and adding or updating supporting material where it seemed useful. The availability of new software tools and APIs, the mass of content available online, and the pervasiveness of the web now in the guise of social media and mobile devices have changed the landscape of options available to experiment with here. Happy to be back.

Alan Moore, Big Numbers (1990)

Alan Moore, Big Numbers (1990)

Find me a dead cloud
and a sharp piece of science
I want to see the skeleton /of weather
And let me map
all maps we have mistaken for the world
And learn by heart the time table of dice
And in our clutching self-invented dance steps see
An accidental grace
A choreography.

Make Way for Tomorrow Release

Make Way for Tomorrow Release

Taking a little break from photography, I wanted to alert everyone about a new Criterion DVD release of Make Way for Tomorrow. If you are into Depression-era classic Hollywood masterpieces (and who isn’t!), you might want to pick it up, or add to your Netflix queue. Special bonus is cover art by the very talented Seth.

Paolo Ventura's Winter Stories

Paolo Ventura's Winter Stories

Paolo Ventura’s much-anticipated Winter Stories has arrived. A departure from what I am typically drawn to in photography, it is Ventura’s depiction of the details of the everyday that really wins me over. The gun metal bed frame and smoky mirror, the muddy puddles, the smudged window panes, all give his imaginary tableaux a rumpled yet vibrant lived in-ness. The artist discusses his process here. And if you are in NYC, his work is at Hasted Hunt Kraeutler through January 23, 2010.

Terra Incognita

Terra Incognita

For as long as I’ve known Rod Coover, his web-based media projects have regularly gone against the grain of convention and often, almost by definition, pushed the limits of modern browsers. With his latest publication, Voyage Into The Unknown, it seems he is still pushing those limits, as he warns on the landing page:

Voyage Into The Unknown is designed for 1024X768 or greater. If you have a small screen please go into FULL SCREEN viewing mode in your browser. You are entering a very wide landscape; if you have a smaller screen size you will need to scroll more to travel into the landscape–use all the space you can get!

Rod’s project got me thinking about how landscapes stand in for a kind of knowledge of place and one’s brief time in it–as Rod points out, we might name anew a bend in a river, but how many names may have gone prior, or after? We think of unknown territories as somehow a thing of the past in the age of Google Maps and GPS positioning and we can easily forget that today’s maps are not the territories to which they point and can only, at best, approximate (even with street-level photographic evidence).

Two Minutes and 42 Seconds in Heaven

Two Minutes and 42 Seconds in Heaven

How many horn solos does it take to kill a perfect pop song? Joshua Allen applies science and taste to determine the exact best length — down to the second — for the platonic song, including a full mix tape of samples.

Make sure you click through to the 2:42 “mix tape".

Friendly Neighborhood Psychotherapist

Friendly Neighborhood Psychotherapist

Dave Kehr reviews a new box set of German Expressionist films issued by Kino International and name drops so-called naïve realist Siegfried Kracauer and his 1947 study From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film.

It’s good to see Robert Wiene’s iconic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari given some historical and stylistic context and, moreover, to see this period in film history brought into the light of mainstream, non-academic attention. Now if only I could convince SG to “revisit” these classics.

 

Image: Robert Wiene / The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari / 1919

What Makes a Great Portrait?

What Makes a Great Portrait?

With the recent arrival of my now 2 1/2 month old son, I’ve been struggling with this very question, especially a “portrait” of someone that is just figuring out who he is, at best, and who is changing so dramatically from week to week. It’s as if the metamorphosis itself is what I am trying to capture when I press the shutter. It’s really made me rethink my approach to taking pictures, and the results thus far have been more the product of sheer chance than any kind of skill. The experience has led me to appreciate portraiture all the more.

Timothy Archibald:

Trying to really pinpoint what makes a great portrait is almost like trying to figure out why it feels good when someone smiles at you or why it is disturbing when someone yells at you.

Jörg Colberg posed the question to various photographers, curators and bloggers. Their responses, including example portraits, are definitely worth a read (via JK).

 

Photo: Ansel Adams / Dorothy and Cole Weston at home / ca. 1940

Leica Legacy

Leica Legacy

Anthony Lane on the cult of Leica cameras for The New Yorker.

 

Photo: Alexander Rodchenko / Girl with a Leica / 1934

If You Ask It, Pass It

If You Ask It, Pass It

It’s not fair — all the United bashing going on around here — but the recent post titled “Don’t Make Me Scream” over at SvN struck a chord, especially since designing and writing speech applications for large enterprises like United is what we do at Versay

I couldn’t agree more with Matt’s rant. Many speech IVR applications out there are terrible, not just United. Too often I find myself walking down a street on my mobile phone trying to get information, only to be greeted by a cheerful voice asking way too many questions and getting seriously confused by the sounds of trucks and cars and other random background noise. Knowing how these systems are designed makes me an even more demanding user. I know they can do better and it is frustrating that best practices are so infrequently used.

A particular pet peeve is the situation where I navigate through an application, patiently providing things like account information, reservation information, and the like… and then when I am transferred to an agent. . . yep. . . I am asked the same questions all over again. Unacceptable. As a client of ours once remarked (when describing our shared golden rule about the hand-off between automated and live customer service): “If you ask it, pass it”. Granted it’s not always the easiest feature to implement, but for my money it is essential.

So, Matt, I hear you loud and clear and I can assure you that we are working with our clients every day to improve their UIs and to re-think high-quality, yet cost-effective customer service.

House of the Sun

House of the Sun

SG and I recently returned from a trip to Hawaii. It turned out to be one of the best vacations we’ve ever had. We spent time relaxing on the beach and swimming in the ocean, exploring up country and Haleakala Crater (at 10,000+ feet), and driving the north coast along the famous road to Hana. The food was great too (I enjoyed plenty of Wahoo/Ono, a long-time favorite since spending summers on Cape Hattaras as a kid) and we met some interesting people too.

If only booking the flight had been as pleasant. Readers take note: after years of flying with United Airlines, I’ve pretty much given up on them. Customer service was off-the-chart bad, mostly because company policies were never communicated consistently and no one was empowered to make amends for the difficulties these miscommunications caused. It is a lesson for all businesses: keep your policies simple, easy to understand, and make sure that all of your employees are talking from the same page. It will save you money and keep your customers loyal.

There is a silver lining though. Early during the flight between SFO and Maui, the attendants announced “Halfway to Hawaii.” With this contest, passengers are asked to calculate (or guess, as in our case) when the plane will pass over the exact half-way distance to their Hawaiian destination based on important data like take-off time, estimated time of arrival, headwind speed, etc. SG shrugged, did a few guesstimations in her head and scribbled 5:07PM Pacific Time on her ballot. She was exactly 5 seconds off and received first prize!

 

Photo: Thin Air / Haleakala Crater, Maui / Summer 2007

Cara Barer's Ephemeral Evolution

Cara Barer's Ephemeral Evolution

Houston-based Cara Barer makes striking photographs of books altered by exposure to water (via JK). For me, the photographs evoke both a sense of natural beauty and transformation and also prick my hard-to-shake belief in books as sacred, immovable objects, despite all my training and evidence to the contrary.

From her site:

My photographs are primarily a documentation of a physical evolution. I have changed a common object into sculpture in a state of flux. The way we choose to research and find information is also in an evolution. I hope to raise questions about these changes, the ephemeral and fragile nature in witch[sic] we now obtain knowledge, and the future of books.


Photo: Cara Barer / New Century / 2006