Art and music

It’s amazing how much time you can sink watching videos online:

Robot Chicken is a satirical stop-motion animation show on Cartoon Network. For example, take a look at how the Emperor reacts when he finds out the Death Star was destroyed. (Thanks to Brian.)

Line Rider is a Flash-based game where a little guy goes sledding down the lines you draw on the screen. There are dozens of Line Rider videos online — some of the drawings get really elaborate. (Thanks to Bill Buxton.)

Here’s a “kinetic art movement” project by Tim Fort. It’s way more than dominos. (Thanks to Clemens.) Reminds me of the Honda “Cog” commercial.

See Sacha Baron Cohen (of Ali G and Borat fame) like you’ve never seen him before: normal.

I was intrigued by the music in the TV commercial for “Gears of War,” an Xbox 360 game. The song is “Mad World,” sung by Gary Jules for the movie Donnie Darko. And it turns out that the song is originally by Tears for Fears.

Another melancholy song: “Missing” by Everything but the Girl is one of my favorite songs from the 90s.


Maybe it’s because I’ve watched Time-Life’s Classic Soft Rock Collection infomercial one too many times, but when I was leaving for work today, Christopher Cross‘s “Ride Like the Wind” popped into my head, complete with backing vocals by Michael McDonald (“what a fool believes…).

So I got curious and did a Google search on “ride like the wind michael mcdonald”. And the third hit was an SCTV parody of Michael McDonald singing those lyrics (“such a long way to goooooooooooo…”) posted on YouTube. Really funny, and absolutely hilarious if you know who Christopher Cross and Michael McDonald are. If you don’t, well, you didn’t listen to enough yacht rock as a kid, did you?

And then to top it off, this week VH1 is counting down the 100 Greatest Songs of the ’80s. Take my breath away…

Weird Al’s lyrics for “White and Nerdy” [MTV music video] touches upon so many geeky characteristics, it’s uncanny. So I’ve created the White and Nerdy quiz so that you can see how you measure up.

[ ] Went to MIT
[ ] Played Dungeons and Dragons
[ ] Likes Escher
[ ] Drinks tea
[ ] Does not have spinning rims

When I was in elementary and middle school, I listened to mostly adult contemporary songs (i.e., “soft rock”), mostly because I didn’t know any better. So watching the infomercial for Time-Life’s Classic Soft Rock collection was particularly trippy, because they showed that these songs were sung by real people! With bad hair and funny clothes! I recognized almost every song, but less than half the singers. I also learned some surprising facts (Lotta Love was originally by Neil Young?).

Every once in a while, I’ll hear a song that catches my attention, and then I can’t resist going online to do some research. Like when I first heard Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” [MTV music video] and then finding out a few weeks later it was built around a sample of the 1971 hit “Are You My Woman?”[Windows Media audio clip from Amazon] by the Chi-Lites. Or when I heard the background music to a Lincoln car commercial about 4 years ago and discovered it was a song called “Get A Move On” [QuickTime music video] by Mr. Scruff, who sampled “Bird’s Lament (In Memory of Charlie Parker)” [song provided by Rhapsody] by Moondog. Or just recently, when I dug into Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” [QuickTime music video] and read that they sampled a song from the soundtrack of a 1968 Italian cowboy movie [MP3 audio]!

But of course, no one can beat Weird Al. His latest triumph: turning Chamillionaire’s “Ridin'” [MTV music video] into “White and Nerdy” [MTV music video] — if you don’t click on any other icon, click on this one! After more than two decades, he has not lost his touch.

Last week San Jose hosted a huge digital art conference and exhibition called ZeroOne, held in association with the International Symposium of Electronic Art. I went on Tuesday with Francis and Simona to check out an art piece created by their friends called Acclair, a provocative piece on the intersection of profiling, security, and advertising. We also got to see massive images get projected onto San Jose City Hall the result was quite spectacular. I also wanted to see the Survival Research Labs show on Friday, but it was long sold out.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen people from San Francisco come to San Jose to see art. I hope it’s not the last.

Time to plow through my backlog of stuff to post. Last month I went to the BayCHI meeting on Beyond Search: Social and Personal Ways of Finding Information, which was about social search and recommender systems. I got a few things out of that meeting.

How do you recommend to someone that they'll like obscure song B if they like popular song A? How does the connection between those two songs get made in the first place? The speakers from Netflix, Live365, and Pandora agreed that you need experts to make that connection, since the public at large doesn't know enough to make that connection on its own.

Also, if a person likes a popular song, you can't recommend a completely obscure song that appears unrelated even if it is. The user must be gently led down the long tail.

Finally, I started using Pandora for listening to music. I gave it one song, "Venus de Milo" by Miles Davis, and it set up a station that played that song and about 100 other songs that are similar. An instant instrumental jazz station, perfect for listening to at work.

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