The Arts

Art and Tech Pt. 1: Known Knowns and Known Unknowns…

We live these days in a weird era where art and tech are linked in ways which I don’t believe we understand very well and don’t think about enough. Maybe we are in some transition to a culture in which tech is believed to be art and art is believed to be -I don’t know – tech…? Whatever the artist says it is…? Obsolete…?

This started out, as sometimes things do, with a conversation:

Claude Monet, technology freak (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Lea, my wife, and I were coming home from one of her art exhibition openings last night and somehow we got on the subject of Claude Monet.  The art opening was part of a series of events in which artists, writers, and craftsmen and women had simultaneously occurring book fest, art exhibition opening, and crafts fair.  This is the sort of event that arts groups hold more and more often in these same days of this our life. Artists hoped that book lovers would stop by the art exhibition, writers that art lovers would stop by the book fest, crafts people – well, people still buy crafts, kinda sorta (more than they buy fine art and books, at least), so the crafts people were likely simply being helpful.

I don’t know how well the whole series of events went off (I didn’t even go to the crafts fair because I – I don’t know – well yes I do: at least half the tables at the “book fest” were selling – crafts – yeah, I know). I hope that the artist and writer friends I ran into at the two events I attended made some sales. But at one point last evening Lea looked at me and noted, “I think everyone at this exhibit is an artist.”

Yeah. I know. This is all too common these days.

And yes, I’m rambling, but I’ll get to something in a minute. Bear with me.  Continue reading

Business

Bob Garfield takes Jane Seymour and Kay Jewelers to the woodshed

I rarely post recommendations encouraging you to go check out a business writer. And by rarely I mean never. Today I’m making an exception, though, because it turns out that one of my favorites, MediaPost’s Bob Garfield, hates those motherfucking Jane Seymour Kay Jewelers ads as bad as I do.

Awww. Every kitsch begins with Kay.

But wait. Open your heart? No, unless by “heart” they mean “wallet.” Ladies and gentlemen, I give you open-heart sorcery: the black art of combining celebrity, cheap sentimentality, self-delusion, greed and borderline consumer fraud.

The practice exploits consumers’ emotions and invites them to delude themselves into thinking a product purchase is an act of charity. But it is not charity. Continue reading

Energy

Open letter to America: the endless war for oil

What if I told you that all wars were waged over resources, that at the moment the most important resource in the world is oil, and that the war in the middle east and the trade war over the Alberta tar sands, seemingly different conflicts involving different parties, are actually the same war, waged by the same economic force and subject to the same economic necessities, one of which is within your control? Continue reading

Wheel of Fortune

What President Obama didn’t mention in his immigration address

There’s a sequence of 6 letters that appears nowhere in the transcript

President Obama finally addressed the nation today regarding the executive actions he’s taking in regard to our broken immigration system. If you’re looking for a strident pro or con piece, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a call to see him impeached, yeah, good luck with that. If you’re acting like this is the first time a sitting president has ever had the temerity to go it alone on the issue, maybe you might want to bone up on the administrations of Ronnie “Golf? I NAP!” Reagan and creepy ex-chief of the secret police George “I Threw Up on Helmut Kohl and All I Got Was this Lousy T-Shirt” Bush, the Elder. Even so, I’m here to throw our friends on the right a bone. Continue reading

Ethics

Rev. Al Sharpton, his fans, and Boolean operators

Apparently it’s not okay to take on one of our own

This was originally going to be a comment at Democratic Underground. The more I typed, the more I thought I should just go ahead and stir the pot far more broadly, but I’ll still do my left-leaning compatriots there the courtesy of linking back to this for their consideration.

See, I don’t understand why some folks there are taking issue with a NYT article as though it were a hit piece. The article? As Sharpton Rose, So Did His Unpaid Tax Bills. Continue reading

plus-size

Retailers to plus-size women: fuck you – a disgusting insight from Big Data

Plus-size fashion? Sure, as long as you don’t care about color.

plus-sizeI had kind of a WTF? moment at work today, that turned into a moment that made me think, and finally into a full-blown depressing moment.

We’re working on a project for a retailer that sells a wide range of clothing to women. We were examining the strategic keyword analysis workbook looking for patterns and insights in the search data for an upcoming presentation, when we tripped across this disheartening realization.

In every category – Dresses, Blouses, Skirts, Prom, Formal, Homecoming, etc. – there’s a huge volume of search for color: [blue prom dress], [red skirt], [green top], etc. Every category except one, that is: Plus Size. When you look at the search data for plus size queries, there’s almost no volume for color. The only term that shows any life at all is [white]. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Funny

Breaking Bad toy fiasco

Irwin Mainway would be proud. Even he would have a hard time topping this headline: “Toys R Us pulls meth-toting ‘Breaking Bad’ action figures from shelves after Florida mom’s protest.”

The dolls, based on the recently concluded AMC series, featured characters based on White, a meth-cooking high school science teacher, and his sidekick, Jesse Pinkman. Along with the action figures, the toys came with fake bags of meth, sacks of cash and gas masks.

For those of you not old enough to remember, Irwin Mainway was a sleazy toy salesman who was perennially grilled about his dangerous toys (such as “Bag of Glass”) by Jane Curtin on the “Consumer Probe” skit. The toys were over-the-top ridiculous. Continue reading

Solar Home

Solar Home Inc engages in online sockpuppetry

In addition to its comment spam, domain speculation, and cybersquatting, Solar Home Inc also engages in sockpuppetry

Solar Home

Solar Home

Click here to see all the posts in this series.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines “sock puppet” as “a false online identity used for deceptive purposes.” Wikipedia’s entry describes a sock puppet as “an online identity used for purposes of deception” including but not limited to using the extra identity to talk to/about the original, praising/defending/supporting people or organizations, and bypassing site bans.

As part of my investigation into the online practices of Solar Home Inc, I have read dozens of comments on blog posts, news articles, online solar tech articles, and investor notices written by Solar Home’s founder and CEO, Ray Boggs, and a Solar Home employee named Ron Winton. In only two cases did I find either acknowledging that they work together. This makes Winton a Solar Home sockpuppet himself. In one case, a mistake by Winton in Motley Fool comments revealed that at least one of the three usernames affiliated with Solar Home was a sockpuppet. And I found several additional usernames that are also supporting Solar Home’s resale business, but no indication that any of them acknowledge their connection to Solar Home. Continue reading

Book-Review

The Song or the Singer? Trying to Understand the Success of Nicholas Sparks

In the case of a writer like Nicholas Sparks, perhaps it’s that he gives readers a familiar story arc time after time that explains his success…

A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks (image courtesy Goodreads)

After reading a couple of superb pieces of literary fiction by J.F. Powers and Shelby Foote, I detoured from the 2014 reading list to take a look at the work of a writer whose success I’ve wondered about for some time.

Yep. That’s right. Literary fiction snob and crusty old professor Jim read him some Nicholas Sparks.

It happened accidentally. Lea and I were doing some book rearranging a few days ago and, as we shifted books from one bookcase to another, we came across a copy of Nicholas Sparks’s third novel, A Walk to Remember, a book Lea received from an aunt several years ago that had languished on our shelves. She moved to toss it into our donation box for the local library, but I stopped her. My words were something to the effect of “I’ve abused this guy’s work without having read it. I am going to read this novel and write about it.”

And so we proceed. Continue reading

nospam

Solar Home Inc uses domain speculation and cybersquatting to support its business

Solar Home Inc has not only supported its business with four years of comment spam, it also engages in domain speculation and cybersquatting on other companies’ trademarks.

Solar Home

Solar Home

Click here to see all the posts in this series.

In the process of investigating Solar Home Inc’s comment spamming, I came across dozens of websites that were all linked to Solar Home, either in the copyright notices on individual pages or on the About/Contact Us pages. Since most businesses don’t bother to maintain more than a handful of websites, the fact that Solar Home seemed to have dozens caught my attention. When I broadened my investigation into Solar Home’s websites, I found that Ron Winton (as “Ronwiserinvestor”), an acknowledged employee of Solar Home, admitted in a Motley Fool comment that Solar Home controlled “800 active websites” as of April 2014.

I also found that the 800 acknowledged websites actually represented a small fraction of the nearly 6,300 solar-related websites registered by Solar Home. Of those 6,300 websites I personally verified that over a hundred of them were explicitly tied to Solar Home and that, by offering several of those websites for sale, Solar Home is engaged in domain speculation. I also identified a few websites that contained the trademarks of other companies, including one that could be a Solar Home competitor, indicating that Solar Home also engages in cybersquatting. Continue reading

Solar Home

Solar Home Inc’s business supported by comment spam, domain speculation, and sockpuppetry

Solar Home Inc controls over 6000 websites, cybersquats on other companies’ trademarks, posts hundreds of cut-and-paste comments on news, technology, and investing sites, and posts those comments using at least eight separate usernames.

Solar Home

Solar Home

Click here to see all the posts in this series.

On my first Renewable Journal post, a commenter by the name of Ray Boggs dropped a list of reasons not to go with a solar energy lease like the one I have with SolarCity. I briefly looked into his points and found that some were valid while others were not. In addition, I discovered that Boggs is the founder of Solar Home Inc, a Victorville California solar system reseller. This makes SolarCity and other solar lease providers Boggs’ competitors. So I responded in the comment thread, pointed out that Boggs was a biased commenter, and left it at that.

On July 16, National Public Radio (NPR) ran a story about solar leases and how they might not be all they’re cracked up to be, and when I glanced at the comments on NPR’s website, I noticed that the very same Ray Boggs had posted another comment attacking solar leases. But the fact that his comment at NPR was nearly identical to the comment he posted at S&R got me wondering if Boggs was more than just a businessman trying to undercut his competition. It got me wondering whether or not Boggs was essentially a spammer. So I did some digging.

What I discovered is that there are hundreds of nearly identical comments posted on solar articles and websites going back to September 2010. I discovered nine distinct usernames and/or individuals responsible for posting those comments, usually without acknowledging their connection to Solar Home. And I discovered a network of literally thousands of nearly identical websites controlled by Solar Home that serve the dual purpose of attacking solar leasing companies while also promoting Solar Home’s products. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Ben Ames Williams’s The Strange Woman and Art as Commerce….

Almost forgotten as a writer now, Ben Ames Williams’s novels and stories represent the most interesting of American literary legacies – market driven art….

The Strange Woman by Ben Ames Williams (image courtesy Goodreads)

This essay concerns one of the novels of Ben Ames Williams. If you’re asking yourself “Who?” be assured that you’re not alone. A very successful “popular fiction” writer of the first half of the 20th century, Williams is almost forgotten now.  The novel we’ll be discussing shortly is called The Strange Woman and was published when Williams was at the height of his popularity.  The novel itself is…okay. The writer who produced it is fascinating as an example of a writer who made his creative decisions with a watchful eye to the market and whose oeuvre, as a result reflects that watchfulness – and whose literary reputation also reflects that watchfulness.

I have written on multiple occasions about the American reading public’s interests, partly because I have wanted to understand the literary marketplace better myself, partly because as a writer who now lives in the purgatory assigned to the vast majority of those who write “literary fiction,” I have often looked with envy at those who have been able to navigate the labyrinth of American publishing in ways that have given them great success – both popular and financial (let me note here that no artist is averse to making money, no matter how much he/she may protest that art should be an act of illumination for humanity and money be damned). Continue reading

Ello

Say Ello: six observations about the world’s newest social network

elloA month ago most of you had probably never heard of Ello. By now a lot of you have. And at the pace the news has been getting around in the past few days, this time next week even hermits will know about it.

The short version is that Ello is the brainchild of a team of designers and developers who are committed to preserving user privacy. Sort of an anti-Facebook, if you will. As you can imagine, there’s going to be interest in something predicated on that kind of philosophy, and interest this past week got so intense that they had to throttle new user add/invites briefly to make sure the system could handle the load.

I was one of the early adopters – I heard about it and went to the site to request an invite months ago, and I was in the door quickly when they opened it up to beta last month.

Here are some observations, in no particular order.

1: The creative factor is through the roof. Continue reading

Business

CVS announces it will stop beating its wife

CVS HEALTH today.

Perhaps you heard: CVS has announced that it will stop selling cigarettes.

I know what you’re thinking – this is awesome! But before we all break out the kneepads and chapstick, let’s ask ourselves a question: why the fuck was a HEALTHCARE COMPANY selling GODDAMNED CIGARETTES in the first place?!

Here’s a fun question. How many people who bought cigarettes at CVS are now dead from cancer? Continue reading

CATEGORY: BusinessFinance2

What do Nestle and Zyklon B have in common?

Nestle sells you chocolate farmed by child slaves and is okay with that, because profit

As San Francisco Chronicle reports: U.S. court rules OK to sue chocolate firms over child slave labor

The companies, which also included Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, were well aware – from their own frequent visits and independent studies – that they were selling the products of child slavery, but insisted on “finding the cheapest sources of cocoa,” said the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Continue reading

CATEGORY: BusinessFinance2

How do you know the collector you’re paying really owns your debt?

You don’t.

Just in case you don’t have enough to worry about already, here’s just one more thing: debt collectors and the twisted games they play. Trust me, you’ll want to invest the few minutes it takes to read this article from The New York Times Magazine. Odds are good the plot twist will surprise you, maybe even leave you a bit more sleepless than you already are. And for good reason.

Sure, those of us who have mastered the art of living within our means *ahemcoughsplutter* will never know the joys of being contacted by debt collectors. More power to you. May you never have an unplanned misfortune that changes that state of affairs. For the rest of us, debt collectors are a reality. An ugly one.

Continue reading

CATEGORY: BusinessFinance

Zuckerberg donates $10K to anti-gay politician: time for a billionaire lesson

Somebody needs to teach Facebook’s CEO how to wield wealth and influence.

This started out as a brief comment on Frank’s post about leaving Facebook. If you haven’t read it yet, go do so now. It’s an important piece of writing and gods would America be better off if we all followed his lead. Ello, you can’t arrive soon enough (and you better not suck when you do get here).

My first thought on the Zuckerberg/Reyes donation controversy was that it reminded me of the Target/Minnesota Forward debacle back in 2011, which I wrote about in some detail at the time. In both cases, you have biz folks ponying up to support “pro-business” candidates who also happen to not believe in things like basic social justice, fairness, equality, etc. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

The state of literary art I: who is an artist?

American literary fiction over the last 50 years has been, it seems, in a struggle to find an audience…

Literary Luxuries: American Writing at the End of the Millennium by Joe David Bellamy (image courtesy University of Missouri Press)

Another book from the 2014 reading list composed of essays. This one, Literary Luxuries: American Writing at the End of the Millenium, is a collection of essays by writer, writing teacher, and litfic cheerleader Joe David Bellamy. Since this is a book of essays that range over a number of issues confronting the literary community, it seems logical to look at Bellamy’s book in sections. So, as I’ve done with a book of scholarly essays on popular music as protest, I’ll be looking at this work over a number of weeks. This will allow me to share Bellamy’s wide ranging discussions of issues such as  of support for the arts (particularly literature), writers’ conferences, creative writing programs, and styles of literary fiction.

Bellamy has a lot to say about each of these areas (and others) and his opinions are – interesting might be the best word. I agree with some of his assessment of the state of litfic, some of it I would say probably needs updating, and some of it smacks of his personal biases. That last is not necessarily a bad thing – except when he resorts to trying to make literature style an object of political analysis. Continue reading