Tire T-Shirts

I took a fun workshop over the weekend where we painted tire treads and then rolled them around as stamps to print patterns onto t-shirts. I really dig tessellating patterns, so I think the tire stamp aesthetic is really cool. I made up a matching pair of one-of-a-kind shirts and handed one off to a friend for his birthday. The pink blob is the stamped headgasket of a 2-cylinder engine, which I thought looked kindof like a heart.

I’d like to do some more of this – I’ll have to keep my eyes open for chunks of old tractor trailer tires.  I’m sure Natasha would love if I started squirrelling away highway debris in our basement. 🙂

Why I’m Not on Facebook Anymore

So I dumped Facebook a few months ago, which probably caught a few people by surprise. I’m a pretty social person, and a pretty public person, and by golly I think I was pretty “good” at Facebooking. I have an exciting circle of friends and I really liked catching up with all their cool projects and writing encouraging notes on their walls.

I don’t have a problem with sharing personal information, but I have a problem with the way Facebook acquires that information.

It’s a common misconception that Facebook only knows what you tell it. I’d probably still be on, if that were the case. But in slow measures Facebook keep pushing privacy limits, increasing their capabilities to do surreptitious data gathering. Just a few:

  • Any non-facebook website you visit that has a “Like” button on it (most newspapers, popular blogs, sports sites, etc), whether you hit it or not, relays info back to Facebook without your permission. They keep a history of everything with a like button that you read on the internet, attached to your profile.
    What’s extra creepy about this one is that they record your visit information by IP, so it works even when you’re logged out of Facebook.
  • Facebook have been acquiring facial recognition companies and using the technology to automatically tag photos of you and the stuff you own. They passed it off as “helping you tag your photos more easily”, but this one’s hugely creepy to me. Knowing that they’re tagging my friends, examining background details, and snooping around in my photos even when I don’t want them to creeps me out.
  • They recently (what precipitated my bailing) swapped out everyone’s public-facing e-mail address with an @facebook address. This is called a man-in-the-middle attack – when people mail you at that address, Facebook parses the mail for keywords to know even more about you, before passing it on to you.

To be clear – none of these methods of acquiring information about you are voluntary. They’re being really sneaky.

The Man/Machine Creepiness Test

In “The Age of Spiritual Machines”, Ray Kurzweil asks us to prepare for our future with super-intelligent computers by contrasting automated processes to a person. A computer recording your info to a database sounds pretty ho-hum. But if, for instance, Facebook employed a person to go through all your photos making notes, reading your personal e-mails, and browsing your internet history, all without telling you, you’d probably be freaked out. A computer can do this a million times faster and has an infallible memory.

The Government Creepiness Test

Another fun test is to swap in “The Government” instead of Facebook. If the Government were secretly collecting information, looking at your photos and snooping through your mail and watching your browsing history, would you have a problem with it? Ontario citizens threw a fit a few years ago when they added photos to driver’s licenses. So why should we trust a private for-profit organization with a million times as much data?

All of this to say that I’m not cool with the sneakyness.

Someone at Facebook can order up a report from your profile and know everything about you, your friends, and your surfing habits in intricate detail with a history going back years. You and I are probably not that interesting, but what about notable public figures? Future politicians? That guy who’s babysitting your kids? Wouldn’t it be interesting to peek? Wouldn’t it be the responsible thing to do?

To give Facebook the benefit of the doubt, they probably don’t have any secret evil motives, the data’s pretty much only used for advertising (which is often hilariously off-target) and even in my most sinister science-fiction imagination there’s not much someone’s going to be able to do with a picture of you drunk, throwing gang signs at a party, no matter how intelligent their supercomputer is.

But the fact is that this heap of information is being collected from you, without your permission, and there’s no way to turn it off, clear the cache, or delete that entry in the database besides dumping Facebook for good. I regret losing touch with a bunch of my extended friends and family, and I’d have even contemplated staying if they’d just given me the option to wipe out everything older than three months, or a page I could use to manage and delete the information they’d been collecting. But the only way to opt out is to kill your account.

(PS: If you want to wander into paranoid delusion territory, I’ve read enough science fiction to probably concoct some interesting scenarios by which that super computer could in fact use that drunken photo for evil. History is full of precedents of governments turning on their own citizens, corrupt politicians blackmailing eachother, assassinations of opposing government parties, and people integral to various scientific advancements mysteriously driving off cliffs –  if you were involved in that kind of business, having an enormous, shareholder-owned database of excruciatingly detailed info about important people would be pretty useful.)

(PPS: There’s an argument that you can make regarding Google doing much of the same data-collection, which I won’t dispute. But that doesn’t dismiss Facebook from criticism. Google have definitely got the creepiness thing mastered, and I’ll write about that sometime in the future. They are considerably more difficult to avoid if you try to do anything productive online.)

Review: Botany for the Artist

I borrowed “Botany for the Artist” by Sarah Simblet from the library, and I had to renew it so I could hang onto it for a little longer. It’s a gorgeous piece of work, with heaps of reference photos, notes about observing plants and understanding plant forms, and scientific concepts described in laypeople’s terms. Every page features practical drawing advice drawn from Ms Simblet’s first-hand experience, as well as from a thorough analysis of the works of great masters. Her study of Leonardo’s blackberry drawing is particularly noteworthy – she picks up subtle cues from his technique and points out places he corrected himself as he worked, it’s fascinating to feel like you’re watching over his shoulder as he constructs his stems and leaves.

Crack the book open to any page to see how incredible it is – take a look at these layouts. Flowers take up a part of the book, but she’s left plenty of room for talking about roots, stems, leaves, ferns, seeds – it’s a treasure-chest of botanical reference material. Definitely going to pick this up for myself, because there’s just too much to absorb in a borrowing.

Air of Affinity

I have a weird superpower – something about the way I look or compose myself seems to make people mistake me for someone who belongs. I might be misreading it – maybe it’s just that I’m approachable; I smile a lot, I don’t look very intimidating. But I get asked for directions wherever I travel, on the street, in subway tunnels, in museums, on trains, in galleries. I guess this is a kind of success – I make an effort to look casual when I’m roaming around strange places, and that ends up earning me the attention I’m trying to avoid. 🙂

It got really weird at the Eyeo Festival this summer in Minneapolis, where everyone seemed to think I was a speaker. More than a dozen people thanked me for my speech, or asked when I was presenting. “Hey nice to meet you – didn’t you do a talk about the Austrian census?” Eventually it was easier to just nod and return the fistbumps than explain they had the wrong guy. I think they may have mostly had me mistaken for Jake Porway, below, who did a very awesome Ignite talk. But you couldn’t really throw a stick at the conference without hitting a skinny white dude with glasses presenting, so I could have been confabulated with a number of clever people.

Primordial Fire

We haven’t been bbqing very much this summer because our burner was in bad shape and the heat was all uneven, so I finally got around to replacing it. I don’t know what the deal is but lately, even though the sun still sets after 8:00, I still end up only being able to find the time to do this stuff long after dark. At least a bonus of working late is that the cool blue flames looked extra rad when I gave it a test burn. The caveman in me is very excited to see fire. 🙂

Obey Shirts

I took a peek in an urban streetwear place the other day to see what the kids are wearing, and ran across a bunch of Obey shirts that opened up a can of worms for me. The whole “Obey” thing is a Shepard Fairey creation, originally a series of stencils he used to go around doing street art. He shows up prominently in the Bansky movie, although I’ve followed his work for a long time – he’s the guy who came up with the red/blue Obama “Hope” poster, among other things.

So I have a really conflicted worldview surrounding graffiti – I’ve seen a lot of it I like, and I buy books full of it, I’ve commissioned it, and I’ve worked on a video game centred around it. But at the same time I have a ton of respect for other people’s property, particularly the sanctity of public space, and I think graffiti has its place in the hidden spots in the urban geography, where you’re not forcing it on people. (And where you have time to do a proper job of it.)

There’s a world of difference between the super annoying tags that kids leave on bus seats and monuments and fences and well thought-out graffiti murals as a legitimate form of artistic expression, but you have to respect that the whole spectrum of street art is ultimately illegal because you’re throwing your paint up all over someone else’s property, no matter how good it is.

Which is why I think it’s hilarious that Fairey’s shirts have become a “legitimized” trendy clothing line despite being a product of his illegal activity – do you think Fairey’s design agency makes contributions to his local graffiti cleanup fund? It’s kindof meta to celebrate sticking it to the man by buying an overpriced t-shirt from a rich guy’s design company.

The same store sells fancy “high-end” graffiti paint, in a hilariously locked-off black cage… so much pomp and ceremony to support the culture of feeling glamorous at the same time you’re sneaky and badass. Rich street artists! The whole thing is absurd.