Thursday, December 5, 2002

Holiday Gift Picks

This holiday season we took a look at three of the hottest gift picks on our wish lists. Take gander before heading out to the mall:

Patrick Greer – Nintendo Gamecube

There are an amazing number of fun, new and interesting toys that would make ideal gifts. My thoughts went out to these items for Christmas – from PDA’s to computer games to a few books I would just love. The thing that I kept falling back to, though, isn't new at all. It's actually a throwback to the youth I remember so fondly. The Nintendo Gamecube adds the great characters I adventured with as a child to a new world of animation and graphics.

They have created a wonderful game console that amazes the eye with its sharp look and small size – the controllers are actually larger and more cumbersome then the box itself! The size of the Gamecube is no reflection of its power; it can hold its own compared to Microsoft's Xbox or Sony's Playstation 2 (and for a good bit less on the price). Then, of course, you get the wide variety of new games that Nintendo has released and their ability to reuse some of their trademark characters and stories in fun new ways to entertain all ages.

J.D. Jordan – The Apple iPod
Perhaps this is an extremely biased pick, but the Apple iPod is just about the coolest thing on the planet for the tech-savy person on your holiday shopping list – Mac-user or not. The iPod, a harddrive MP3 player, comes in 5mb, 10mb, and 20mb models (the 20mb model can hold 4,000 songs...who dosen't need that?) for Mac and PC. The biggest perks go, of course, to the Mac users who can sync thier desktop Macs to their iPods through Apple's own MP3 software, iTunes.

The iPod interface is truly a delight to use – browse your song list either with a rolling navigation wheel or with the earphone remote. All models also come with digital address and phone books, an integrated day planner, fast-charge batteries, and 20 minutes of skip buffer. The 10mb model has recently been upgraded to be thinner (less than three-quarters of an inch thick), lighter (6.5 oz), and more resistant to dust and debris. You can even get it engraved. And it's only $299, $399, or $499 (only...)

Fleming Patterson – BlackBerry Internet Edition
Now this is a product that is portable and has the functionality for just about all your business needs in the palm of your hand. The BlackBerry Internet Edition is a wireless solution that provides access to your existing email anytime, anywhere. It’s a personal organizer that is fully synchronized with your desktop computer. There's a peace of mind that comes from knowing you are always connected. It is like having your office in your pocket.

The BlackBerry has a good nationwide wireless data network and also has an Internet browser that can obtain important information while you are on the go. EarthLink is currently offering the Blackberry at around $349.00-$399.00 with a monthly service of $39.95 per month with optional web access at $9.95. More information can be found at EarthLink’s BlackBerry site. fb

When Did We All Become the Griswolds?

What to do with the extra 100,000 lights in the atticTake note of the candy canes in the tree canopyHow many good-taste violations can you find on this house?There are two Christmas movies that we watch every year, without fail. A Christmas Story and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

Of course, for the purposes of this discussion, the story of Ralphie and his quest for a Red Rider bee-bee gun really avails us little. The Griswold family Christmas, on the other hand, serves us perfectly. Anyone who has seen the film must remember how, when Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) finally illuminated the outside of the house – every square inch of the house – he blew the local power grid. He even sent his neighbors reeling away from their windows, shielding their burned eyes from the light. One also cannot forget how, in the tumultuous familial climax, Clark's plastic Santa Claus and reindeer were launched from the roof by an explosion of pent-up sewer gasses.

Good times. Good times.

Exploding sewer gas or no, this makes me think (and how many Chevy Chase movies do that, I ask you). Is the current state of outdoor holiday decoration the real culprit for the west-coast power crises? Is string-light proliferations a threat to our communal sense of decency?

You only have to drive through any neighborhood in any American community to see what I mean. Christmas lights climbing every light pole and tree, hanging from every awning and lintel. The pale of these lights is enough to examine jewelry by. Down in Chastain Park, for instance, the difference between night and day is more a factor of household voltage than ambient light.

But don't get me wrong. I like the tacky light tours as much as anyone else. My family has long practiced the slow Christmas Eve drive through Sandy Springs and Dunwoody – jaws agape, chuckles frequent – just to see this year's batch of offensive holiday dedications.

I just wonder when it was, exactly, that we lost our good taste and humility. Is this another case of technology running amuck? Has holiday light progress outpaced the moral sense of right and wrong for icicle lighting?

Let's take a look at some of the worst offenders:
  • The illuminated Santa. You see him every year. Climbing into a chimney, waving from the front yard, or leading his sleigh skyward behind his team of reindeer (usually one...the whole team would be prohibitively expensive for any but the most terrifyingly Christmas obsessed light enthusiast).
  • Writing. "Noel" is the most common text, with "peace" and "merry Christmas" falling is just behind. I keep waiting for one to just say "Look at me!"
  • Outlined reindeer. At least they don't come in multi-color blinking versions. Yet.
  • Lighted manger scenes. Nothing honors the birth of the Christian savior quite like his birth done in three-color running lights. Those flashing light behind the manger? A keno board.
  • Giant menorahs. The Christians don't have all the fun, though. More common than the lighted crosses or stars are the lighted menorahs that come out to the front yards every Hanukkah.
  • Christmas villages. The most awful holiday light configuration – outside of amusement parks and community centers, of course. What prompts the casual citizen to wake up one Thanksgiving and say, "You know what my holiday decor could use this year? An entire Christmas village on the front yard!"
  • Out of season displays. There is no excuse, whatever the reason, for having "Happy Christmas" written across the roof of your house in July. None. That's all we need to say about that.
Of course, we're exaggerating. It's just that when I remember decorating the house as a kid, we didn't have all these terrible options. The biggest dilemma was white lights or colored? Small lights or big fat ones? Blinking or static? Icicle lights didn't even exist yet! For the record, we used to decorate the house with small, white, static lights – inside and out. They're what we still use. The only stings of colored lights I've ever used were dorm-room decor. Frankly, that's where they belong.
But not all advances in yard illumination science are bad. I could kiss the person who developed the white-light net. Lighting the bushes takes a tenth of the time it used to. The innovation I really long for, though, is the light string that can be conveniently stored in the box it came in. I'm a pretty meticulous person, but, I swear, the lights grow after they come out of the way they'll ever fit in there again.

We're critical. It's what we're paid to do. But we love the holidays and all the bad taste that comes with it. I suppose the greatest paradox isn't how a sophisticated civilization like ours sinks, once a year, to such decadent lawn lighting. It's how we can listen to "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" while doing it.

Happy Holidays. fb

Critical Issues in Print Series, 2: Paper & Ink

Fight.Boredom recently sat down with local print guru Jeff Herndon, president and founder of the print brokerage firm Aurora Print Services. Jeff has over 20 years experience in the print industry and often works Cloudjammer on print projects.

Fight.Boredom: Paper and Inks. Where do we get started?

Jeff Herndon: Let's start with a recent issue I had on press. A client wanted a PMS metallic ink printed on uncoated paper. PMS only recently started making Metallic inks for uncoated papers, so we had to use a coated swatch to match colors. The front of the business card matched perfectly, but the back, which had solid ink coverage, was way too silver. See, the metallic inks use pigment and silver metal to create their distinct look. On the uncoated paper the green pigment was absorbed and the silver was left floating. We thought it might be a problem with the press, so we ran a print with coated paper – it matched perfectly. The metallic inks interact totally differently with uncoated papers than with coated. This is just an example of how paper and ink specifics can drastically affect your project. You don't always get what you expect when you experiment.

FB: Why do coated and uncoated papers behave so differently?

JH: They're made totally differently, to start with. Coated papers all tend to be made the same way: With basic inexpensive fibers, white colors, and a clay coating – Georgia white clay, incidentally. Uncoated papers have far more issues. Their colors and textures run the gamut. Each uncoated paper will use different pulp and fiber combinations and be tested for different reactions to folding, embossing, and perforation. Each paper might use a different embossing wheel to create texture. And each time you change the paper being made in a paper machine, you have to completely recalibrate the machine. These machines usually run 24-hours a day, so stopping them to reconfigure is no small order. Just look at the prices: the cheapest papers are basic white offset and coated sheets. The higher quality uncoated papers, like Monadnock, which has great paper formation and hardness, are uncoated. Of course, you benefit from using uncoated – your printed materials look better on the premium papers

FB: Can a designer really tell how their printed materials are going to look on coated or uncoated papers, though? Like in the situation you mentioned before...that was a surprise, wasn't it?

JH: All designers should compare sheets on a press inspection…to see how the different papers react to the printing. Some things you can expect, though. Uncoated papers, for instance, absorb ink as it dries. On coated sheets, the ink dries on top of the clay finish. You can test this yourself. Take a sheet of uncoated, coated, and newsprint and touch a magic marker to each. The dot will gain about 5% on the coated and maybe as much as 10% on the uncoated. On the newsprint you'll really see it spread. Some mills, like Mohawk, treat their uncoated paper to absorb less ink, so this absorption rule isn't always true. Paper issues are critical to print design. Designers need to educate themselves on paper and ink issues in order the get the best quality product.

FB: Well, we're all professionals here.

JH: Of course you are.

FB: How many Paper Mills are out there?

JH: There are probably 20 or 30 major mills in the US. Most of the paper varieties have become consolidated. International Papers own Strathmore, Beckett, and Via (formerly Hammermill). Fox River owns Howard and several others, about 20 different brands. Mohawk has six or seven papers, Classic has seven or eight. It's a lot to consider. And that's just regular papers. There are also six or seven mills making synthetic papers like UV Ultra – which makes great untearable envelopes – and UV translucents that look like vellums. You've also got specialty papers with suspended materials in them. That could be a whole other article for us.

FB: Sounds like it. What about inks?

JH: Pantone Matching System (PMS) inks are the industry standard, especially here in the South. 4-color process can come close to matching these colors, but they're never are exact. PMS are true colors, not screened composites. 4-color can't match the PMS metallics or florescents at all. The orange that Cloudjammer uses on its business card couldn't be matched at all in 4-color process, remember.

FB: It was a nasty brown, wasn't it? But there are other ink systems than PMS, aren't there?

JH: There's Toyo and a few others. PMS is the standard, though. it's practically a monopoly. Toyo has some unique and different inks that PMS doesn't have, but most printers are reluctant to reformulate the chemistry in their presses to accommodate – especially here in the South where there are fewer and younger printing companies. The presses need to be configured to use different amounts of water, alcohol, and other chemicals used in printing – it's a lot of work. Toyo and PMS are kind of like Macs and PCs: Toyo is the only company that makes Toyo inks, but PMS inks are made by lots of companies and printers like to stick by their regular ink vendors.

FB: If you're comparing the Toyo inks to Macs, I might just have a new favorite ink.

JH: If you really need a Toyo or other non-PMS color for a print job than contact the ink company, PMS or otherwise, to do an Ink pull-down for you before you ever go to press. They can match colors just like Home Depot can. It's better to spend a little money up front than a lot of money making a drastic change on press.

FB: Any closing thoughts?

JH: Uncoated papers may need heavier ink runs to get the same color intensity as their coated counterparts. Papers all have different needs. Mohawk, for instance, requires less water in the press chemistry than most other uncoated sheets. Some small presses can't handle that.

FB: Really like the Mohawk paper, eh?

JH: I really love the way Mohawk prints. But I also know the paper well – its benefits and its problems. That where the designer's education comes in.

FB: Or the print broker's?

JH: Couldn't have said it better myself. fb

Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Online animation at its finest

To some, the Internet is known as a great gathering of information for everyone to use and share. Of course, the rest of the world knows it's a way to kill an otherwise boring day. Well, I have found a new website to help us carry the fight: is the newest weapon in the battle to stave off boredom.

When I first went there, I was amazed by the sheer amount of imagination and creativity inside. Behind the neat, but slightly annoying, Flash intro there seemed to be no end to the variety of entertaining material...from short movies and interactive cartoons to games and an animated home page with over a dozen themed variations. The site features a rich cast of hilarious characters – including the site's namesake, an armless simpleton named Homestarrunner – put in seemingly normal situations that, of course, go horribly awry.

I was surprised by how much the site had to offer. The cartoons vary across an amazing number of topics: holiday cartoons, an “old” silent movie, and an answering machine. There is a Halloween cartoon where the characters dress up in costumes from my childhood – the laughter caused internal bleeding. One series of cartoons, updated every Monday, is devoted to Strong Bad, one of the more sinister characters on the site, checking and replying to his email from fans. There's even a Halloween movie where you give the characters the worst possible treats and then listen to their commentary.

When thinking of what to write about this site, I jotted down a series of phrases to help me organize my thoughts. The only one I havn't used yet, and the one applies most, is “ingenious waste of time.” I have seen a lot of websites attempt to do what does, but they pale in comparison. From design to story and execution, this site has so much going for it. I look forward to see what they do with it in the future. fb

Critical Issues in Print Series, 1: Digital vs. Offset Printing

Fight.Boredom recently sat down with local print guru Jeff Herndon, president and founder of the print brokerage firm Aurora Print Services. Jeff has over 20 years experience in the print industry and often works Cloudjammer on print projects.

Fight.Boredom: So let's get started with the big one...what is the big difference between an offset printer and your local copy shop?

Jeff Herndon: Digital printing is the difference. Copy shops, like Kinkos, use laser printers, large format inkjets, and color copiers (some of them high end, like the Docutext or the Indigo) and print straight from the computer. The print quality is good, but not great, and they are very limited on the selection of papers and weights. They're great for short run prints, but high-volume jobs are very expensive.

Offset printing is a whole other animal – and has come a long way in the last several years. Most offset printers now use direct to plate technology, instead of making and burning negative film and then processing the plate. The printing process uses a separate impression cylinder for each plate, or color, where the digital printers only use one. The quality so much surpasses digital printing I can’t imagine why anyone running a sufficient quantity uses anything else.

FB: The difference is really quite huge, then?

JH: It's like the difference between regular TV and HDTV – If you look at offset and digital prints separately the untrained eye probably won't see much of a difference, but if you look at them right next to each other than the difference is obvious. People don’t know and don’t see it until it's pointed out to them. They need to see it side by side…the difference is subtle, but enormous in quality. Digital can't touch that.

FB: I like where this is going. Down with Kinkos! Are there any other big differences between most offset and digital printers?

JH: The people running the equipment. Anyone can run a Xerox machine. The people who work in offset printing, though, apprentice for 3-4 years before they can become journeymen. There are special printing colleges and paper science schools, like the one at Georgia Tech. They learn how paper and printing works together and can tell you what problems will likely arise before you even get on press. Kinkos can't give you that. Their people are just trained to know a little bit about everything ...quality and fulfillment are not a big deal at most copy shops.

FB: So why would anyone take their project to a copy shop?

Cost, for one. Consider what goes into a 4-color brochure – full color. On a digital press, the first sheet through the press is just as good as the last sheet. And the color isn't terrible.

On an offset press, however, it's not as simple. Files need to be positioned on plates to print in a larger press format. it can take you up to an hour to pull good proofs for 4-color matching. Then you have to burn four separate color plates through the imagesetter and get them on press. You then use 14-15 feet of paper to make ready on press and another 300 sheets to set register, one color at a time. Colors have to be adjusted. You'll use a minimum of 500-600 sheets of paper to get a 100 copies of your brochure. The technology has come a long way, but you still need to have realistic expectations.

FB: Oh. I guess I have to take back my "Down with Kinkos." Is there anything a digital printer can't do that an offset printer can?

JH: They can't match PMS colors, for one, and they can't print metallic inks. No aqueous or varnish coatings to protect your paper. They normally can't print on coated sheets, either. And don't go to them for pocket folders. They'll tell you they can do them. Instead of die-cutting and folding a single sheet to create the pocket folder, though, they just tape prefab pockets to the inside of a 9" by 12" color copy. The biggest laser printers they have are just too small to run pocket folders as they should be done.

Offset printers can do all of these things. Foil-stamping, engraving, embossing, thermography. They can use aqueous to speed up the offset process by removing the drying time between runs. You can run varnishes as spot colors.

FB: Can the digital presses do anything an offset can't?

JH: Copy shops have their unique benefits, sure. They can run individual pieces, like a mailing, through an indigo or docutext with a database supplying unique information to each print. You can change your piece with each impress, with no additional setup. They can also run large format banners and electrostatic prints that can be ironed on or laminated for outdoor use.

FB: But you did say that digital printers were limited by their paper choices, right?

JH: They don't have nearly the variety to choose from that an offset printer has. Most digital printers can't run anything heavier than 65 pound stock – a very moderate card weight. Offset can run much heavier stuff. Your business cards, for instance, are 135 pound double ply. Some paper mills are now supplying 180 pound stock! And digital presses are limited in their bindery techniques on these papers, too – usually just saddle-stitch and tape binds in a lightly equipped finishing department. Offset jobs and conventional binderies can do a wide variety of binds. You can even make elaborate pieces that use many kinds of binding.

FB: Wow. That's a lot to digest. Any closing thoughts, Jeff?

JH: Digital and offset – they each have their advantages and disadvantages. For small run projects, digital can do great work, but if you're going to run anything over 100-200 copies, you probably need to go offset. And don't take pocket folders or presentation brochures to Kinkos. The quality just isn't there. It's the difference between going to Quik Trip and the grocery store. You have to weigh speed against quality and selection.

FB: Like those analogies, don't ya?

JH: Sorry about that….one of those things I inherited. fb

A Brand Battle Smack Down

I'll be honest...I don't really like wrestling. Gladiator combat, I could enjoy, but professional wrestling isn't my thing. But I do appreciate design, drama, and irony. For once, wrestling has served up all three.

It's the story of a wrestling organization called Titan Sports, Inc. They slowly made a name for themselves, and some of their superstar leotard-clad warriors, as the Worldwide Wrestling Federation, better known to you and me as the WWF.

And while Hulk Hogan and the Undertaker were promoting an increasingly popular WWF to legions of followers, another WWF was watching from ringside – The World Wildlife Fund.

The stage was set for a classic grudge-match.

The two organizations began fighting over the name "WWF" in 1989, ten years after the wrestlers adopted the moniker, almost thirty years after the environmentalists had. By 1993 the wildlife fund sued the wrestlers in Swiss court. A year later the parties came to a mutually amicable agreement: The wrestlers would cancel pending WWF trademark applications – they already controlled the US trademark – and restrict the use of the "WWF" mark in broadcast and print materials outside the United States.

For eight years the two groups settled. Then, like so often, the Internet came along and screwed up everything.

In 2001 the wildlife fund renewed the fray, claiming that the wrestlers had violated the 1994 agreement by continuing to use the "WWF" mark outside the United States and that their website internationally dominated the fund website,

This time there could be no compromise agreement – it was going to be an all-out trademark smack-down.

Tried in British courts, the wrestlers were found guilty of violating the existing agreement – the abbreviated logo violated the wildlife fund's trademark rights. Despite a temporary stay granted by the United Kingdom’s Court of Appeal, the High Court of Justice Chancery Division upheld the original decision.

Now the wrestlers faced a dilemma. "WWF" had enormous brand equity and recognition. How could they change their name, conforming with the court-ruling, and still hold on to their hard-built identity?

First, they set up with a redirect from (a little Web development company, World Wide Express, made a killing selling off their URL to the wrestlers). Second, they changed their name to World Wrestling Entertainment Inc, debuting the new logo on the May 6, 2002 episode of "Raw".

They then set about a five month plan to change their name. The WWE supplied new logo art to business partners, licensees and vendors. They also gradually changed the logo on broadcast media. Over two months their signature "scratch" logo – the contested letters "WWF" – metamorphosized. The "W's" nestled closer and closer together, the "F" becoming less and less prominent. Their slogan during the transition: "Get The 'F' Out." Classy.

Like good wrestlers, though, they've taken the fall and have turned it around to their advantage. The new WWE applauds its new name, bragging that it "provides us with a global identity that is distinct and unencumbered, which is critical to our U.S. and international growth plans."

It seems likely that the change would have been inevitable. With WWE stars like the Rock appearing more and more frequently in print and film media (as in the WWE-produced "The Scorpion King" and related History Channel programming) and with the company's foreign markets growing aggressively, it seems likely that a face-off with the WWF would have occured sooner-or-later. fb

Saturday, October 5, 2002

Crack TV

24's first season is available on DVDAbout a year ago we got TiVo. Without exception, it is the greatest thing to ever happen to TV. The most immediate result was that we were no longer homebound Sundays nights between 9:00 and 10:00pm. We were free to watch, in crystal clear digital quality, the adventures of Mulder and Scully regardless of Fox's schedule. Life was good.

And then the end came. Our little televised world ended and the X-Files was no more. A good friend of ours asked, "Without X-Files, is there a reason left to own a TV?"

24 of them, in fact.

At first glance, "24" is just a concept show. Each episode is one hour, shown in real time – 24 episodes in a season combine to form one whole day. But it's the writing that really makes the show. "24" oozed suspense and tension. The episodes started with us sitting on the edge of the couch and ended with us screaming at the TV as it faded to black. They were so engaging, we forsaked TiVo and watched them live. We had to. We couldn't wait.

Now, some have called us obsessed. I prefer to think of us as enthusiastically addicted.

First season cast: Elisha Cuthbert, Leslie Hope, Kiefer Sutherland, Dennis Haysbert, and Sarah ClarkeThe first season dealt with several parallel and intertwining plots. Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), head of the LA Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU), has to wrestle with a plot to kill the first African-American presidential candidate, Senator Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), while trying to free his family (Elisha Cuthbert and Leslie Hope) from Serbian terrorists commanded by Victor Drasen (Dennis Hopper). In the course of the show, Mrs. Bauer gets amnesia, a naked lesbian blows up a jetliner, Lou Diamond Phillips gets killed, first one, then two moles compromise CTU, and an intricate power struggle is fought in the Palmer campaign between the Senator, his wife, and their spin doctor.

All through the first season we encouraged our friends and family to start watching the show TV Guide called "the best new show on TV." Fox even helped those late-comers by re-airing episodes a week behind schedule on FX. Alas, given the nature of the show, many people would start watching episode "11:00 to 12:00" and find themselves hopelessly lost.

So we're telling you now...before the second season starts. Watch "24" from the start and we'll be hooked.

Ford will be sponsoring the season premier, commercial free, on Fox, Tuesday, October 29 at 9:00pm Eastern. fb

Democracy in Action

Let's be honest. The Florida election system for the last two years has been a joke (or a nightmare, depending on how you spin it). First, hanging chads in 2000. Then the disaster of the 2002 mid-term primaries. It's enough to send Florida packing off to Cuba.

But at least it's not Iraq. While the issues of war, sanctions, and weapons inspections are debated from one corner of the nation to another, we can at least all take solace and agree: Their election system is a joke. Florida, by comparison, is a democratic and electoral model.

It was announced Wednesday, October 16, that Saddam Hussein won another seven-year term in office by an overwhelming – and we're not making this up – 100% of Iraq's 11,445,638 eligible voters.

Let's be clear about this. There were no butterfly ballots or optical recognition tabulators. Not a chad in sight. The ballots were simply a "Yes" or "No" referendum on the Iraqi president's return to office. Many Iraqi voters went so far as to mark their ballots in blood. Nazi elections never garnered this kind of margin.

These sort of results just aren't possible in democratic society. Not even if one party rounded up the other and shot them all – then did the same to inter-party dissenters – could results ever come close in the US. I wonder how many Republican Guard are standing outside the polling stations, guns trained on the "enthusiastic" electorate. I wonder if the election commission even bothered to count the returns.

At a news conference in Baghdad, Izzat Ibrahim, vice chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, Iraq's supreme decision-making body, defended the results. "This is a unique manifestation of democracy which is superior to all other forms of democracies even in these countries which are besieging Iraq and trying to suffocate it."

Oooooh. A subtle little jab there.

When a reporter remarked on the ridiculousness of the election results, Ibrahim responded, "Someone who does not know the Iraqi people, he will not believe this percentage, but it is real. Whether it looks that way to someone or not. We don't have opposition in Iraq."

Of course, the referendum is supposed to send the United States and Great Britain a message: The Iraqi people support their president. Instead, the message we're getting is: Iraq's democratic process is a joke...Saddam autocracy is absolute.

I really think Saddam and Ibrahim are missing the point of democratic elections. If they are going to fake it, at least fake it well. Have 35% vote "No", for good measure. Make it look like there is a dialogue or – God forbid – a choice. fb

A New Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta diskUntil the nineteenth century, the hieroglyphs of Egypt were a linguistic mystery. Egyptians, Arabic-speakers for nearly 1,200 years, had lost the knowledge of their own ancient tongue. British and French linguists, anxious to solve the riddle, scoured Egypt and the reaches of the Nile for some clue to the dead language. Their searches were all in vain.

The Rosetta Stone was found by accident. Napoleon's army, fortifying themselves in Egypt to resist a British attack, found the 2,000-year-old basalt slab in a pile of rubble blown apart by cannon fire. Etched in the black stone was a text translated into three languages: Greek, demotic, and hieroglyphic Egyptian. It was the key to breaking the hieroglyphic code. Within a few years, the language was cracked. Within a decade, French and British linguists were able to read hieroglyphic inscriptions that had stood silent for over a thousand years.

Chance saved the Rosetta Stone: Arab conquers had built it into the walls of a fortress at Rosetta – cannon exposed it to French adventurers who immediately recognized its significance. But the ancient Egyptian language is just one of the legion of languages the world had lost to the past. Indeed, of the myriad languages still spoken today – an estimated 7,000 – many linguists agree that 50 to 60% of them will be dead before the end of the 21st century.

Inspired by Egypt's Rosetta Stone, a team of engineers, linguists, and scientists are building a new artifact to stand the test of time: The Rosetta disk.

A detail of the Rosetta disk design and information structureThe Rosetta Project is building an online database of all the languages it can codify, to preserve them for the duration of human existence. But digital media, while long lasting, is limited by the obsolescence of software. An optical disk might last a thousand years, but will Microsoft Word 98? So the project is also developing the disk, an analog artifact which, mass-produced and distributed, will hopefully survive to the distant future as a standing record of human language and culture.

But the Rosetta Stone carried only three languages of one text. The disk will hold much more.

The design of the disk – both in aesthetics and information – is impressive. Each disk features a globe surrounded by radiating spokes. Within the spokes are 27,000 inscribed data pages – 27 pages for each included language. Like the Rosetta Stone, each language is translated, or transliterated if the language has no native script, into one parallel text (Chapters 1-3 of Genesis, the most widely and carefully translated writing on Earth). Additionally, each language features a glossed vernacular text, and English description, maps, the number system, grammar, and a basic vocabulary. Each language is grouped by continent and identified by a number that corresponds to a number on the central map. Surrounding the spoked ring of languages is a tapering spiral of Genesis translated into 8 major world languages (English, Russian, Hindi, Spanish, Hebrew, Mandarin, Arabic, and Swahili) begins at eye-readable scale and diminished to nano-scale. This reducing ring of text intuitively instructs uninitiated readers of the disk to get a microscope to see more.

All of this data fits nicely onto one disk. 3 inches across.

The technology used to create the disk was developed by Los Alamos National laboratories and Norsam technologies. Each nickel disk is protected by a 4-inch stainless steel and glass sphere – this glass magnifies the tapering text by a factor of 6x. In the base of each sphere is a steel ribbon that individual owners can use to mark their names, locations, and dates for posterity.

When mass-produced, the disk will be distributed to interested parties, institutions, and individuals. Currently, however, version 1 of the disk goes for $25,000 a piece. As of this writing, they have only sold two.

Though the final object is little larger than a paperweight and we'll need a 1000x microscope to read the inscribed texts (or, I suppose, we could buy the planned book) the Rosetta disk is an information architect's dream come true. And we desperately want one. Let others pass down watches and books to their children – I'll give mine the corpus of all human language. fb

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

It Wasn't a Joke

To commemorate the first anniversary of September 11, 2001, Cloudjammer's principals each relate, in their own way, where they were and what they felt that morning.

I had been in New York three weeks before September 11th visiting friends and site seeing. We had gone to the tops of as many sky scrapers as we could and, sure enough, on our last day went to the World Trade Center. I was so excited to be on top of the free world. You could see 45 miles in each direction. The sky was bright blue and clear. I was with my good friends Bryan and Jason. We thought we were on the most indestructible piece of architecture in the world. Little did we know what would happen.

I woke up from a restful sleep and was ready to attack a beautiful day. I was off to work with no traffic yet an awkward feeling was rumbling in my stomach. I entered work at Earthlink, the second largest ISP in the nation, and found the calling center in a bewildering silence. Usually the call center is full of laughs and talking people ready to catch the next customer. But for some reason the calls were few and far between. Around 9:00 the technical age halted.

I came in to the office and started up my computer. I usually check CNN or the Atlanta Journal Constitution to see what went on the day before, but to my surprise I was not able to get to these sites or any other up to date news site. I was puzzled… I then asked my good friend Gill what was going on. He asked if I had heard that a plane had just flown into the World Trade Center. I had no idea. I franticly searched for a website and even kept taking calls to see if anyone customers knew of the incident. I thought Gill was kidding and went on with my daily grind. Gill always jokes around and, being as gullible as I can be sometimes, I thought that he was trying to trick me. He came back and told me again to stop working and come check out the news report that he had gotten from BBC news. This was one of the few sites that was still accessible. I was astonished, scared and, sad. I didn't know what to feel. Eventually the floor manager rolled in a 56 inch TV that barely could get reception. Sure enough, someone had captured the most gruesome footage I have ever seen — we thought we were watching a trailer to a new Hollywood movie. We were watching live footage of the worst act on American soil since Pearl Harbor.

The report on TV, September 11, 2001, will never be erased form my mind. I called a couple of friends over to watch and just be together. We just sat quiet and confused. The web of American life, and life as we knew it, had been hit and taken advantage of. I wanted to find out how this could happen and why. I remember the whole city of Atlanta seemed to shut down. People were frantic – buying as much food as they could stock up on , assuming the worst as if a snow storm was coming to cover Atlanta’s streets for weeks.

Our little utopia had been stuck hard. Yet, within those moments of inhumanity, humanity reigned and people of all nationalities came together and helped each other get though the devastation.

I called my grandfather, a Navy veteran of World War II, and asked his opinion of such a thing. All he could say was to get ready, be fit, and learn all you can. I took that advice remembering that war America had won. I was confident we would win this war, too.

It has been a year, now. My grandfather has passed away and the strong castle of our country has done everything it could to hold on to every value and belief that we have while living under the threat of something that may come and try to hurt our outer walls.

I am writing this article to share my thoughts on the confusion, the peace, the war, and the love I I have for this country. I have traveled all over the world and have seen the happy, the sick, the depressed, the war torn, and the stable. As a small community we can uphold our values and beliefs. As a county, filled with many communities large and small believing in one country under God, we will defeat anything that comes our way and threatens those beliefs. My father said that with every punch from a bully makes you stronger. You learn from your mistakes and you move on to out smart your antagonists.

The United Sates is a young county with ancient ideas. We are finally able to have a government that respects it people the best way it can while still up holding its values and beliefs. Terrorism will not beat us. We have fought too long and too hard to become a country that welcomes all races, religions and nationalities. fb

Whatever Tomorrow Brings

To commemorate the first anniversary of September 11, 2001, Cloudjammer's principals each relate, in their own way, where they were and what they felt that morning.

I got to work that morning an hour before any of my coworkers. On my drive into the city, I listened to the new Incubus CD, specifically their single Drive. In retrospect, I've found the stanza ironic:
Whatever tomorrow brings, I'll be there
with open arms and open eyes.
I had my usual morning routine: respond to email, surf the web, check the news. At 8:30, the lead story on was something unmemorable – a missing intern, a comment by the Fed chairman, a critique of Powell's invisibility in the cabinet. I checked back two or three times before my coworkers started dragging in for our 9:00am staff meeting. I remember how, at about a quarter until 9, CNN's site wouldn't load.

Our office manager had just returned from London and one of the designers was preparing for an overseas flight later in the month. We joked about the incidence of plane crashes — we believed they always happened in threes. It had been a long while since a plane crash.

A freelance designer came in and stood in the hallway about ten yards away from our meeting area. He had a radio pressed against his ear but said nothing. One of the account managers came in late and told us that two planes had been in an accident at the World Trade Center. Must have been a Cessna or some other small plane.

All I remember about the meeting itself was that it was interrupted twice. The boss' cell phone rang the first time at about 9:15. It was his mother in Pittsburgh calling about the second plane crash at New York. She didn't have any details. She called again at 9:45. A plane had hit the Pentagon. We didn't need any details.

We scrambled to find a working TV. I ran back to the stereo system and got the radio on. The freelancer told me to put it on Star94.

Over the office stereo we heard frantic talk and a chilling statement: "The top of the tower just collapsed." It didn't make any sense.

We got a small TV working in the main conference room. I ran in and saw one tower standing amidst a fog of dust.

Just a minute ago I was laughing in the staff meeting. Just a minute ago I was shooting the breeze on another lazy workday morning. Where the hell did this come from? What the hell was going on?

We all just stood there and watched. By the time the other tower collapsed some people were crying, some numb. All the while our cell-phones rang. My girlfriend, Ann, had heard nothing of the attack on her car — NPR didn't carry the story. One of her coworkers was getting calls from friends in the military about missing planes. By the time the last plane crashed in Shanksville we were certain every city was under attack.

I called my father just before he was forced to evacuate the Inforum. I called a friend we were supposed to meet for lunch. I called Ann every ten minutes just to do something.

We rigged the projector and TV together, casting the news coverage five feet tall at the end of the conference room. Horrific. By lunch I couldn't take it any more. My family was home. I wanted to be there, too.

On the way home I listened to the same CD. I listened to radio coverage. All the way to Sandy Springs I drove under the same traffic alert sign. It's the most memorable image I have of Atlanta, that day. In yellow electric letters, every sign read the same: "National Emergency - ATL airport closed." Flags were hung over the Glenridge overpass.

I watched the news all evening with my small family. My grandfather, stricken by a stroke and limited in speech, just shook his head. Ann and I, both history majors, tried to absorb everything. This was our Pearl Harbor. The defining moment of our time.

That night, back at our apartment, we both talked about enlistment. We'd just closed on a house and were trying to start Cloudjammer, but that seemed so much less important , now. Everything did. We just wanted revenge — to kill every single person whose hand had guided this terror. fb

I Want Today to Have Never Begun

To commemorate the first anniversary of September 11, 2001, Cloudjammer's principals each relate, in their own way, where they were and what they felt that morning.

Driving sleepy, barely awake
Wondering already when today would end
Radio crash accident poor people
How could this be?
Please God take care of them

Listening awake sorrow
Again crash two?
How could this be?
It could not be!
Something wrong

Anger bastards
Another crash pentagon
Oh God not again
How many more?

Plane fell from the sky
At least there are a few.

Planes landing
Plane missing
Fighters shoot it down
What am I saying?
Not real
What is?

Confusion anger sorrow terror
I am scared
I am too angry to be scared
Must be strong

Death toll rises
As buildings fade
So angry
So very angry
Blood spilt and blood spilt again

I now think things
I have never thought before
I just want today to end

No, I want today
To have never begun.

- Patrick Greer, September 11, 2001 fb

Monday, August 5, 2002

The Funniest Distraction Online

When you think of great film critics you think of Shallot, Siskle, Ebert, Roper (whoever he is). Add Mr. Cranky to your list.

By means of an introduction, the best we can offer is a window into this critic's mind. Where many critics review by a system of thumbs or stars, Mr. Cranky measures films on a totally different scale – bombs:

Almost tolerable

Consistently annoying

Will require therapy after viewing

As good as a poke in the eye with a sharp stick

So godawful that it ruptured the very fabric of space and time with the sheer overpowering force of its mediocrity.

Proof that Jesus died in vain.

Since 1995, Shadow Culture has been producing Mr. Cranky (who, it seems, is actually three men writing under one pseudonym). Each week their site, features scathing reviews of current theatrical and rental releases.

The real pleasure of Mr. Cranky, though, isn't his opinion, per se. It's the writing. Each review is so bitter and smart that you'll be hard pressed not to email every one you come across to your email clique. When Mr. Cranky is in top form, when his reviews are so side-splitting that they just have to be read aloud to your co-workers or loved-ones down the hall, than the reviewed film actually becomes irrelevant. In many reviews, the description of the movie-going experience, not the film itself, is the real editorial subject.

There are priceless gems in Mr. Cranky's archived reviews. "The Tigger Movie," "I Am Sam," and "Battlefield Earth" are Cloudjammer's favorites (the latter of these two reviews is responsible for converting me into a Mr. Cranky devotee), but his review of "Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows" is not to be missed. This movie-goers tragedy stretched Mr. Cranky's rating system past it's former limit and created the "nuke" rating.

So go check out – we hit his site at least once a week and everyone we've ever directed to it has become an immediate fan. fb

They're Cooking with Flags

You can hardly go a day without seeing a news report showing someone, somewhere, putting the stars and stripes to the torch. It's become so mundane a spectacle that we're desensitized to the act —we forget that the incineration of a US flag is supposed to be a mournful ceremonial act. Instead, it's a protest. A dam breaks in Syria, out come the flags and matches. Germany places a tariff on cornmeal or jobless rates rise in Korea, Old Glory goes to the flame.

But why do they do it? Why is our red, white, and blue an object of worldwide incendiary hatred?

In our pseudo-ally Saudi Arabia, activists (of the non-terrorist persuasion), burn our flag and effigies of our president in protest of the ten-thousand American soldiers stationed in their country. What they fail to protest is the Monarchical government that invited those soldiers within the borders and built the multi-million dollar complexes they inhabit. Do they burn the green standard of the Saudi kingdom? Of course not. Our Saudi allies welcome us in English and defame us in Arabic. We are the menace, the intruders, the meddlers.

Worse still are the occasions of hatred inspired by our lack of intervention. Palestinian nationalists, frustrated with the Clinton-administration's progress toward the realization of peace in the Levant, burned our flag in protest. When the Bush-administration took a hands-off policy in the region, they burned the flag in protest of our absence. Damned if we do, damned if we don't

Notice the flags themselves. Certainly ours is not the only national standard put to the flame; Britain and Israel have their fair share of bonfires to their credit. But our flag must be hard to come by — often the flags being burned are home-made replicas fashioned from bed-sheets and paint. They're easy to spot: the stripes will be in the wrong alternating order, the canton will be the wrong color or filled with Stars of David. But every now and them you see a demonstration setting fire to an authentic American flag, colors crisp and sewn edges clean and straight.

Where are these people getting these flags?

Someone must be making a tremendous amount of money selling these flags to Hamas rally coordinators and Oregon anarchists. Perhaps we should put indestructible VIN numbers in the stitching, like we do with cars, so that government investigators can track the burned flag back to it's vendor. Perhaps we should make the flags out of something that burns noxious just to mess with the protestors.

I don't mean to tout the jingoist trumpet. Does the US meddle too much in the affairs of nations? Absolutely. Do we give them cause to hate us? Likely. But the reasons for our tampering are much simpler than I think most political scientists realize. The US isn't, fundamentally, a bully or a tyrant. We just want everyone to get along. Live in peace and make money — that might as well be the State Department's foreign policy creed. If there is instability or unrest in your nation how can we make money together? How can we all live in consumer bliss? Malls just don't last against the backdrop of war.

Those ten-thousand soldiers in Saudi Arabia are there, ostensibly, to prevent invasion. The peace process in the Levant is working to create two safe, stable prosperous countries — Israel and Palestine. The war against terror is meant to quiet a ring of global criminals. Are these really causes for such animosity?

Depends on where you're sitting, I suppose.

I say let them burn the flags. Each time I see them setting alight an Old Glory I see the strength and influence our country — something we should be proud of. We can't even go to our local polls without foreign governments and interest groups watching with baited breath. fb

An Online Army of One

Before you can compete online, you must master basic marksmanshipAmerica's Army requires players to work together to complete missionsClose quarters combat in America's ArmyRemember the movie "The Last Starfighter?" It was a mid-eighties sci-fi flick notable for only two things: It was the first feature film to use computer generated special effects and it introduced the comical idea of military recruitment through video games. The premise involved an alien race, desperate for starfighter pilots, distributing Atari-like arcade games to various planets and recruiting the highest-scoring players for service in their interstellar war. (Advanced aliens? Pah! The game wasn't even 16-bit!).

But as is too often the case, life has imitated fiction (I can't bring myself to refer to "Starfighter" as art). The United States Army, in its infinite wisdom and budget, has recently unveiled a video game of it's own – America's Army.

Based on the popular Unreal engine, America's Army is an online video game that allows players to slip into the role of an American soldier. You proceed through basic training and, depending on how well you do, have the opportunity to advance to sniper school (modules for Ranger and Airborne schools will be released soon, according to

Cool? Definitely. A practical use of taxpayer money? Well, that depends on how you look at it.

The military is a notorious big spender. Even before the recent controversies involving rampant credit abuse among the officer corps, our uniformed services were well known for their thousand-dollar toilets and multi-million-dollar aircraft. And they love to spend our taxpayer dollars on advertising. The Army and Air Force have spent millions promoting their new identities; all five military branches have invested in enormous recruitment campaigns. The mere fact that we can recite their slogans – "An Army of one," "The few, the proud, the Marines," "Cross into the blue" – is testament to their collective marketing machine.

America's Army took three years to build and has, to date, cost taxpayers 6.3 million dollars. That may sound like a lot, but compared to all the "Army of one" commercials running prime time it's small change. What's more, America's Army has two distinct features in its favor: it targets a specific market of people very successfully and it's fun as hell.

Lieutenant Colonel Casey Wardynski, the originator and director of America's Army, saw a niche into which the military could easily slip. Online multiplayer war games are extremely popular and, under the Army's subtle direction, could be an extremely effective way to present the values of what it takes to be a solider.

The U.S. Army is using America's Army to recruit people through video games. Sounds like the premise to a movie.

The game is amazing, though. Working with a team of other online players, you fight a variety of missions against ethnically-ambiguous terrorists. The scenery and graphics are stunning – the game play fast and compelling.

Perhaps the neatest interface innovation America's Army brings to the table is that everyone is the hero. In the conventional online model, one group of players would act as soldiers and another would act as terrorists. In America's Army, however, every online player is a US soldier. While two competing teams of players would see themselves as the good guy in green fatigues, the opposing team is always rendered as the terrorists. It's all a matter of perspective– one I'm sure wouldn't be lost on Lt. Col. Wardynski or Donald Rumsfeld. Post 9/11, America's Army would have had their funding cut if they had been encouraging online terrorism.

America's Army is just the vanguard of a wave of military video games coming our way. Over the next five years the Army is planning a series of games, from interpersonal role-playing games like their "Soldier" project to developments that would allow career America's Army players to rise in rank and command platoons of lower ranking e-recruits online. Whether or not the Navy or Air Force follow suit is anyone's guess (the Navy website is practically a video game already).

"The Last Starfighter" these games are not. America's Army rocks. Only time will tell if it actually drives online gamers to their local recruiter. fb

Friday, July 5, 2002

The Defoor Centre

The Defoor Centre Mall showroomAn autographed Helen Keller and letter, for sale by Henry Ramsey Old BooksAn example of fore-edge painting, for sale by Books & Cases & PrintsWe were trying to find a good used book store. We hit all the usual suspects: small shops downstairs from furniture showrooms, dusty dingy chain shops reeking of paperback glue. Then, almost by accident, we stumbled into the coolest little-known book shop in Atlanta. Only, it isn't a regular book shop and it sure isn't little. It's the Defoor Centre Mall, a showroom with over 15 used and rare book dealers all under one roof.

The Defoor Centre Mall opened on April 19, 2002 and was the brainchild of Virginia Velleca, owner of Books & Cases & Prints, and Debby Eason, the former owner of Creative Loafing and current owner of The Story. The Centre's raison d'etre: to keep the struggling small bookseller alive while also providing a venue for group meetings, literary events, and signings. The Centre also hosts an art gallery,The Story, and will soon expand to include theatre.

The Centre can cater to any book-hound's desires, whether you want to spend $1 or $30,000 (albeit, most of their customers are of the first variety). They have Megandorfer pop-ups, autographed Helen Keller and Jimmy Carters, first edition Poes, rare sport and fishing books, African-American and Southern studies, antiquaria such as bindings and plate books, fore-edge paintings, maps and charts, and enough used and rare books to satisfy even the most finicky tastes. You could spend hours trolling over it all. We did.

Glass cases protect the most valuable works from decay and Atlanta's 10 serious book thieves, but you'll still get to handle some impressive pieces. We were thrilled to handle a huge $1,000 two-volume leather bound edition of Imperial Shakespeare printed in 1844.

So take a trip over to the Defoor's worth the visit even if you're just there to look around. The Centre is located just west of I-75 off Howell Mill.
Defoor Centre Mall
1710 Defoor Avenue
Atlanta, Georgia 30318
Open 10:00am to 5:30pm, Monday through Saturday
The Centre is having a back room book sale July 20 to 27 where no book will price above $5. We'll be there for sure. fb

What the...

In the months following September 11, we have been told that America slept. We have listened, at least in MSNBC and CNN edited sound-bites, as FBI and CIA big-wigs winced under the biting criticism and perfect hindsight of congressional subcommittees and media experts.

But more than the intelligence community lay asleep before last September. Indeed, by October 2001 we learned that another menace had snuck up undetected on our busy and happy pre-attack nation. Enron.

Before last October I would have challenged almost anyone to explain stock options, Bermuda tax-shelters, and energy trading. Now, of course, we are all arm-chair experts. And with Worldcom and an investor crisis now driving the market south, the small-time investors, like us at Cloudjammer, have to ask: How did it get like this? What can we do to fix it?

Dubya revealed his suggestions last week when he addressed corporate responsibility to Wall Street. The solutions he suggest illustrate – painfully – the inequities of our corporate system. Some highlights:
  • Double prison terms from five to 10 years for corporate executives convicted of fraud.
  • Executives who benefit from false accounting must forfeit their fraudulent earnings.
  • CEOs much vouch for their companies' financial reports.
  • Convicted corporate leaders are barred from ever serving on publicly-held companies again.
  • Accounting firms must submit to an independent board to oversee the industry and prevent self-compromise (as in Anderson's case).
What the...

John Stewart called it last week: "Did Wall Street have any rules before this? Could you just shoot a guy for looking at you wrong?"

Seriously. How were initiatives like these never implemented before our current market crisis. Did no one at Anderson ever suggest, "Hey, maybe stock options should appear on corporate financial statements...I mean, that would be a more honest projection of profit, right?" Certainly we're all out to make money, but come on. Cheaters always get caught. Always. Right?

Not if they're actively undermining the SEC. Enter the political parties.

What we find truly unsettling is that suggestions like Bush's have been made before. As recent as 1994, the Financial Accounting Standards Board, a non-profit accounting-industry watchdog group, proposed that employee stock options appear on corporate balance sheets. A Senate resolution – authored by former vice-presidential nominee Joe Lieberman, no less – crushed the proposal 88 to 9.

Ah. So here's the problem. We have a transparent corporate campaign finance system in which large business, driven by sometimes-fudged profits, put members of both parties in office. The politicians, at least until this recent outrage, protected their benefactors and their own shares and count on the accounting industry to police itself. In fact, they resisted federal policing of any kind. Makes you wonder just who knew what when, eh?

But who among us can blame them? Certainly we all grieve for the millions who've lost some or most of the 401K and stock holdings. Certainly we despise the obvious and unapologetic abuse of trust, confidence, and investment. But who among us wasn't excited during the 90's boom-bubble? Our jobs and our portfolios paid well...damn well. Meanwhile Washington and Wall Street fudged a little here, changed a smidgen there, and we all came out richer.

But times change and now we're pissed.

It makes me think of a billboard that briefly hung over 85-South this past April. It was a Maker's Mark sign that showed a bottle of the liquor alone on a black field and presented the following tag line: "Disappears faster than a big-5 accounting firm." Within days the text was backed out – no doubt by Anderson apologists. As if erasing the remark would make its memory any less potent. If only Arthur Anderson had time to prepare a financial statement on the federal deficit before it's final death rattle last month. If only we'd all looked down, once in a while, and realized that the streets of our new America were not necessarily paved in gold but lined with options. fb

The Benefit of Hindsight

Accenture. It doesn't mean anything, really. It's just another made up, Latin-sounding word – all the rage with branding consultants and marketing gurus these last few years. A rash of big businesses have changed their names and become decidedly hard to remember. I like to think of them in the same vein as recording artist Prince: The company formerly known as Philip Morris, the company formerly known as Bellsouth Mobility, the company formerly known as Anderson...

Ah...Anderson. Almost two years ago my Cloudjamming comrades and I were having a winter meal at the Three-dollar Cafe in Buckhead when a brand new commercial for Accenture came on the bar-side TV. We joked and laughed about it. Here was a company, with one of the most respected names in business – Anderson – throwing great branding away. Of course, the truth of the decision is more complicated than a simple name change. And, in the end, no matter how much we might have laughed at the new name, no matter how much Anderson Consulting's marketing professionals chagrined their fate, a more auspicious and well timed identity crisis I can not recall.

In August of 2000 an international arbitrator ruled that Anderson Consulting could separate from it's parent company – the doomed accounting firm Arthur Anderson – without having to make payments to it. The caveat: Anderson Consulting would have to change it's name by the end of the year.

So began the great branding quest. 5,000 names were suggested. 3,000 trademarks and internet addresses were checked by over 70 lawyers from 24 firms. 60 languages were cross-referenced for alternate and obscene meanings. 2,000 possible names made it past this branding vanguard. The winner? A submission by Kim Petersen, a consultant in a Norwegian office.

Accenture. It is a hybrid for the words "accent" and "future."

The global managing director for Marketing & Communications at Anderson...ehem...Accenture described the move thus: ‘’We intend to make Accenture one of the most recognized business-to-business brands in the world - just as we did previously with the Andersen Consulting brand. This is an exhilarating challenge. No other firm the size of Andersen Consulting has ever attempted such a comprehensive rebranding campaign in such a short period of time.’’

It was a big challenge, indeed. Anderson...sorry...Accenture spent close to $200 million on the rebranding campaign. TV, radio, web, print. They hit it all. They were trying to drive Anderson Consulting from our minds. And it worked. And they seem to know it, too.

A recent check of the Accenture website revealed a curious development in the company's press release archives. Look back to November of 2000, the month the identity change was announced and finalized. Look back to the months before, when the then-called Anderson Consulting broke away from its rotting parent corporation. There is no mention of Arthur Anderson or Anderson Consulting, for that matter. Like some Orwellian revisionist, the marketing gurus at Accenture have succeeded where a dozen Anderson paper shredders could not. They have erased their past.

And with great timing, to boot. Late last year, when we first drafted a sketch for this article, we looked into Accenture's press releases and found great reference to their distinguishing name change and their proud Anderson heritage. Now, a few Enron/Wordcoms later, you'd never guess the company's parentage unless you knew better.

Now that's good branding. fb

Wednesday, June 5, 2002

A Blueprint for Innovation

The cover of The Art of Innovation, by Tom KelleyIt can be argued that IDEO is the world's second leading design firm (do we really need to tell you who's first?). Their contributions to design include the the Palm V, a self sealing water bottle for bikers, improved medical equipment interfaces, and the Apple mouse.

I first discovered IDEO while working on my senior thesis late at night. On Nightline, Ted Koppel gave the firm a unique assignment: Design a better shopping one week. I was so intrigued and impressed by the wide variety of people, the encouragement, the atmosphere, and the raw creativity that I prepped my resume and portfolio before I went to bed. Obviously, I founded Cloudjammer instead, so I won't go into my rant about how irritating it is when people don't call back...

A sample spread from chapter 1, A sample spread from chapter 2, The Art of Innovation: Lesson's in Creativity from Ideo, America's Leading Design Firm, by Tom Kelley, an IDEO Partner, give us a much anticipated window into the thinking and methodology behind this creative powerhouse. With the same simple and thoughtful approach IDEO pursues in their final products, they deliver a book that is both delightful and simple. The book shows us how to build Hot Teams, how to create great products, and (in a chapter which should be posted on the bulletin board of every would-be innovative firm in the country) how to guide a successful and productive brainstorm.

This isn't a how-to or Dummies book. It's short on the much despised bullet lists and is thankfully absent of business-speak. What it does feature is great stories about how problems were tackled and creatively conquered. It's really quite inspiring. I wonder how much of a coincidence it is that only a few months after I read this book Cloudjammer opened it's full-time doors. fb

When I Grow Up I Want to be a Dark Lord of the Sith

Bounty Hunter Jango FettJedi Master YodaThe logo of the Republic, and eventual symbol of the evil EmpireSo let's go ahead and get one thing out of the way. Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was a pretty good, fun film. Jar Jar aside, the film simply couldn't live up to 25 years of eager anticipation. Likewise, is has been said that Episode 2: Attack of the Clones features flat acting and uninspired dialogue. In fact, some have been so bold as to claim the film is all about the special effects!

Well, the acting was a little flat and the dialogue was a little uninspired. Take Harrison Ford out of any of the previous trilogy and you'd get the same result (an acting prodigy Mark Hamill was not). And, well, it is all about the special effects. It always has been. Giant space slugs, Imperial walkers, and lightsabres...oh yeah.

What Episode 2 – the second prequel and fifth Star Wars film to date – gives us is a fun and delightful space epic describing the height of Anakin Skywalker's Jedi career and his first missteps down the path of the Dark Side. What the film also delivers is a most unexpected reaction: We root for the bad guys.

I was born two months before the release of Star Wars (now commonly called, Episode IV: A New Hope). My father and I raced all over Charlotte and Atlanta to collect the complete trilogy once we got a VCR. Now that I have a DVD player, I suffer the greatest frustration at Lucasfilm's hesitation to release the original trilogy on disc. Through it all, we rooted for the Rebels and their fight against Darth Vader, the Emperor and his evil Galactic Empire. The thrill of watching the Deathstar explode, twice, still hits me every time I watch the films.

Now the very same Darth Vader and those very same stormtroopers are...heros? With delight, I watched young Darth Vader – Anakin Skywalker – fight the evil Count Dooku. I watched an army of stormtroopers save the Jedi from certain slaughter. It was awesome.

Certainly some genuine bad guys remain for us to revile. Boba Fett, and his father, Janga, remain squarely fixed on the side of evil (however cool they might be). This father-son duo were one of the most anticipated features of Episode II. Unfortunately, father-like-son, certain doom was predetermined for both of them by their faulty jet-packs.

Regardless of what you think of the film, whether you've seen it or not, the two-and-a-half hour special effects bonanza is worth if for a mere minute or two of precious screen time at the finale. You've probably heard of it. Yoda kicks butt. A lightsabre wielding two-foot green computer-generated muppet versus the six-foot Count Dooku is one of the best and most unexpected action scenes to grace the silver screen in years (and, of course, we're not biased in any way).

As designers, we could hardly let this editorial slip through the censors without pointing out an item of special delight. There is a branding element to Star Wars not often commented upon: Imperial logo design. It's true – the evil Empire of the original trilogy had a logo. Look on the sides of the walkers and Tie'll see it. The delight comes in Episode 2's revelation that the very same logo, a symbol which stands for the greatest wickedness and dread, is the very same logo of the Republic. Like the Roman eagle changed from republican symbol to imperial standard, the Empire of Star Wars rides high on the branding of it's preceding Republic. We loved it. It's more sinister than Enron.

So get out there and watch Episode 2. it really is a fun film. It may not compare to Casablanca or Citizen Kane, but it certain does justice to Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Besides, it's worth it just to see that little green guy fly. fb

The Perfect Fusion of Audio and Video

Music is a big part of the everyday environment at Cloudjammer Studio. It's the constant background noise you hear when we're on the phone – it's the loud pounding rhythm's we're jumping around to when we get a new client or finish a website. Lately, we've been enthralled with some new Internet radio stations (Beethoven Radio and XTC, in particular) and the sounds of Simon and Garfunkle's "The Boxer".

In this day and age music is not simply about sound. MTV took care of that more than a dozen years ago. The truth of the video phenomenon is that most music videos fail to either capture the spirit or quality of their associated audio tracks.

Enter The Chemical Brother's single "Star Guitar" from their newest album Come With Us.

For those not familiar with the electronica artists, The Chemical Brothers are another fine example of history majors changing the world. Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons have been making music for a dozen years, releasing albums since 1995, and they even won the Grammy for their instrumental dance track "Block Rockin' Beats." But the British duo may have finally played the audible part of the best music video of all time.

Video director Michael Gondry, a man who has worked wonders in the past for Daft Punk and recently did some amazing work with LEGOs for White Stripes, worked visual magic for the video "Star Guitar."

"I was on a train trip with my girlfriend and I had shot some video and played this track and it went so well together. The idea is of a journey, escaping something and always moving was in the track. The beat is strong and each element corresponds to a different note in the song," says Gondry.

The video illustrates a journey as seen from inside a moving train. The 4/4 time layered techno track is reinforced by the passing scenery. "Every sound from the track will be illustrated by an element of the landscape that appears each time that sound is heard. As the song becomes more elaborate, we will create a more and more complex landscape."

To create the elaborate visuals in the video, and to sync them exactly with the audio track, Gondry took 20 hours of DV footage at various times of day over the course of 10 train trips through rural and urban France. The video was then processed and matched with the music over a two month period at the director's brother studio, Oliver's Twisted Laboratories.

The end result is a masterpiece of visual and audio fusion. Smoke stacks appear in time with keyboard trills, the railroad tracks narrow to convergence as the audio winds down, the sky changes from day to night with changing octaves, and individually computer generated townspeople represent different musical notes.

You can watch it over and over again and see something new. Of course, we're perfectionists at Cloudjammer so we took special delight in the detail given to the visual work. Watch the reflection in the train's a perfect match for the scenery. In fact, the final product is so convincing that an associate of ours watched the video and asked how they could have possibly recorded the music before making the video. fb

Sunday, May 5, 2002

Jakob Nielsen Breaks It Down

Hompage Usability's coverA sample spread showing a study of the use of space on About.comA sample spread showing a breakdown of's layoutJacob Nielsen, the unofficial web usability guru, has his fans and his critics. While I do sympathize with Nielsen's love of rules and order, I'll be the first to admit that I disagree with his almost draconian insistence on their universal application. That being said, his and Marie Tahir's recent book Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed, gives us a whopping 113 usability rules to consider as they break down 50 of our most popular and oft-visited website homepages.

No site is safe. Favorites of mine, such as and Yahoo found their homepages under Nielsen's notorious scrutiny (and not always flatteringly). For each site's homepage the authors provide fascinating breakdowns and pie charts detailing the use of screen space. They mark just about every feature of the site, no matter how small, and explain in general terms how it could be improved or – rarely – why it exemplifies good web usability.

Why homepages in particular? To paraphrase Nielsen and Tahir, your homepage is your face to the word, your office lobby, your magazine cover, your brochure, table of contents, storefront, and receptionist. It's the page where you either make it or break it with site visitors.

It's a fascinating read, for web-heads and the Internet-laity alike. We devoured it here at Cloudjammer. Our only criticism lies in the author's blanket application of "the rules". For instance, the authors insist that every homepage needs a tagline to tell uninformed visitors what the site, or the company behind the site, does. 95% percent of the time, I'm right there with them. Flipping through Homepage Usability, however, I couldn't help but grimace when GM and Victoria's Secret's sites were condemned for failing on this rule. fb

Invader Zim!

Invader Zim's rise to powerGir impersonating a squirrelInvader Lard on the planet Blortch, home of the slaughtering rat peopleThere are fewer and fewer television programs out there that I will watch. It seems that the world is constantly bombarded by hundreds of channels of nothing but junk. Every once in a while I find a show that I simply cannot miss. Unfortunately, I have already missed this one.

Invader Zim was canceled last year by Nickelodeon. I only ever found out about it because it has become something of a cult phenomenon on the Internet. After downloading a few of the episodes I was hooked. It was hilarious; I could not stop laughing after I saw it.

Invader Zim is about an overlydramatic alien that has been sent away to keep him out of his race's plan to take over the universe (Operation Impending Doom II). After causing a complete disaster in the first operation, and subsequent banishment, Zim is sent to conquer an out of the way planet by the alien leadership. They send him to “a planet so mysterious that no one knows its name. And those that do, dare not speak it.” They send him to Earth. Zim, convinced of his self-importance, goes off with pride to complete his secret mission.

The show has a shockingly funny attitude that is reminiscent to Ren and Stimpy and, to a lesser degree, the Simpsons and the Family Guy. We laugh at Zim's vain attempt to be human in a world that never really notices him. This gives rise of his rivalry with Dib – the only boy in class that can see through Zim's disguise ( “OK, am I the only one here that can see the alien in class?”). We also laugh as Zim’s little helper Gir, a defective robot, walks through the show with a very simple mindset. Gir's inability to perform even simple functions (at least without removing his guidance chip to make room for cupcakes) infuriates Zim and makes the robot hilarious and a much loved character.

There is a growing petition to bring the show back and a rumor that it has worked. Then I can finally add this cartoon back to the handful of shows that are worth watching so that I can spend a little more of my life wasting away in front of the tube. fb