what the hell is orkut?

Admiring this great infographic on Le Monde depicting the various national social networking website hegemonies, my first reaction was “What the hell is Orkut?” According to the graphic, this is a website with as many users as Facebook! More bizarrely, the first link I visited after a quick search led to a Google sign in page that asked me if I wanted to start an account. OMG! WTF?!?!

Orkut is, as might be presumed from above, a Myspace competitor started by Google, not some secret Soviet space weapon. It was named after the programmer that created it, named (I am not kidding) Orkut Büyükkökten. Orkut never took off in the US, but has done fantastically well in both Brazil and India. The Wikipedia site reads like an abridged thriller, with renegade hackers, government censorship, and secret Nazi webcircles.

I’m amazed that even the internet has such great social and economic hedges raised that I could avoid hearing about something this huge and interesting. This is a website owned by one of the largest companies in the world that has been totally outlawed by Iran. It’s a huge social force in two of the largest countries in the Southern Hemisphere. And it was created by a guy with THREE FREAKING UMLOUTS IN HIS NAME. And I get nothing. Apparently Google doesn’t think it’s a big deal, either, because it’s now putting it’s efforts into standardizing the architecture of social networking sites, making the host of one’s social network less important.

Orkut just makes me think about all of the globally important internet news and technology that must be pouring out of China right now, but that I don’t know about, because our country is too proud and the language is too hard.

what the hell is orkut?

LCAC: Kindle vs. Pulp Army

Designers, environment-wonks, anyone remotely interested in global economies or material reality, take note: IDC has left you a wonderful, free Life Cycle Analysis Calculator on the internets. This little beauty will take into account material extraction, manufacture, transport, use and disposal, and give you the damage in MJs and kg of trusty CO2.

I took this baby out for a little spin, and attempted to figure out exactly how many paperback books it might take to equal the embodied energy in an Amazon Kindle. Amazon has yet to really push the green angle, but I feel it’s just a matter of time, so I got some rough numbers and had at it.

As don’t own a Kindle I had to make do with some internet data and assumptions. Amazon kindly provided the dimensions and weight, and I made some rough assumptions on packaging and material makeup. Insider business posts let me in on the location of manufacture (China, natch), and transport was pretty damn easy (delivery to the door). Power consumption was a little more tricky– I ended up giving a generous estimate to the amount of charging time and necessary wattage (30 minutes, 3 days a week @40W). I gave it a lifetime of 8 years (about the same as a well-cared for iPod), and assumed none of it would be recycled. Here’s what we ended up with:
**note: I don’t know why these huge spaces are occurring, so just bear with me and scroll down…***

Extraction/Manufacture 500 290
Transport 6 3.4
Use 100 35
Disposal .74 .3
Totals ~600 ~315

I have more books than Kindles in my house so that calculation was a little easier. I assumed a .5 kg average paperback with 50% recycled content. Most of my books were (surprisingly) printed in the US so I went with domestic shipping. Given the results (see below) I calculated both the cost of picking up the book at a bookstore and having it shipped to my house. Books don’t have plugs, so use energy was pretty simple. I assumed, that half of my books would end up in the recycling bin. Here are my numbers:

Extraction/Manufacture 9.3 3.7
Transport (Pick Up/Delivery) 51/6 20/3.4
Use 0 0
Disposal 5.7 2.3
Totals ~65/20 ~25/10

Before I compare results, a little disclaimer: yes, I know I made a lot of assumptions. This LCA doesn’t take into account lots of other factors like toxicity, warehousing, material origins, and the joy of turning a page. Likewise it doesn’t consider the juice powering the server towers comprising the internet and my reading lamp, or the fact that the majority of books produced are not sold but end up in musty warehouses or authors’ basements. But wasn’t this fun anyway?

Biggest surprise: picking up a paperback all by my lonesome TRIPLES the environmental impact. Internet shopping now takes on a whole new dimension. But with the most efficient books I can muster, 30 paperbacks = 1 Kindle. Does this make it worth it? I think it would depend on the user. If you’re using this thing to read magazines or newspapers that you usually get delivered weekly or daily, than it probably will save some carbon. If you read two books a year, it’s probably not helping the environment any more than your 8000sf green vacation home.

I’m hoping to make this a series of posts just to show you how awesome this kind of calculation can be. But don’t just take my word for it– what in your house are you curious about? Get a screwdriver and a scale and figure out exactly what it took to get that product through your door!

LCAC: Kindle vs. Pulp Army

digital controller hotness

Yes, yes, the Tenori-on is very fancy. But it’s made by Yamaha, the GloboChemCorp of music companies, and it looks a bit too much like a medical device. In the world of abstract digital grid controllers, Monome is what has my heart all a-flutter. Grids of 32, 64, 128 or 256 (!) light up buttons, and an accelerometer, all wrapped in sexy walnut and water jet cut metal.

Pack that up with some awesome open-source software action and you have something much more than a gridded keyboard– you have a controller, game, feedback device, and light show built into one.

If one of these happened to show up at my door someday I wouldn’t mid it at all. That is, if you can order one in the two minutes before it sells out…

(Via Coudal Partners. Thanks guys!)

digital controller hotness

Such A Rare Bird

I was not a punk in high school. However, since in my era and locale (late 90’s, Midwest) my only other mainstream adolescent choices of association were emo, rap-rock, or fourth-wave ska, and my favorite bands were They Might Be Giants and the Violent Femmes, I kind of got lumped in. I went to my share of hardcore shows in my teens, sometimes opening as keyboard player in a decidedly goofy hodgepodge of a band, but somehow it never really rubbed off. I didn’t even own a Clash record until I went to college (and even now my favorite song of theirs is The Magnificent Seven). I switch to Morning Edition when the Ramones come on 103.1 during my commute. And don’t tell anyone, but I don’t really like the Stooges.

This all being said, when asked recently who my favorite punk band was, I could answer without thinking. I even have the album. Wire. Pink Flag. And, listening to the album this morning while doing the dishes, I know why.

First off, I started loving this album as one of the great road trip records of all time. It starts off slowly and ends quickly, few songs are over two minutes long, it works equally well as the background to conversation and as maximum volume screaming accompaniment. I burned the CD off of a friend at a point where I was listening lots of Olivia Tremor Control and Flaming Lips. I was judging songs based on obsessive layering of sound and drawn-out, slowly changing structure. So, naturally, by the time I had gotten through “Field Day For the Sundays,” clocking in at 0:28 with about one chord change, my ass was thoroughly kicked.

But the real reason I’m putting Pink Flag up on a pedestal is because it taught me how to understand what those fifteen-year-old punks couldn’t teach. My generation is so far removed from the seventies (like kids now are from the eighties), that at the time I couldn’t really wrap my head around the difference between, say, the Sex Pistols and the Rolling Stones. After all, they were both rock bands with old british guys that played loud music. The difference between them and between what my friends were listening to– gangster rap, rave music, Oasis,the Mr. T Experience — seemed miniscule. The problem was that all of the punk kids defined their status non-musically, as some strange combination of attitude, politics and style. The music seemed to be as much of an accoutrement as their patches.

And that’s pretty much where I left it. Every time I heard the punk movement discussed it was as a cultural event, with the music as only part of the range of expression. This suited my high school friends perfectly, as teenagers exist pretty much only to socialize — day-to-day identity switching is not only easy but kind of expected. Everything started to fall apart, however, as discussed this kind of stuff with older people. At my tiny college radio station I started talking to people about the music alone, front and center, without context. And I suddenly had a way into the music.

The problem was that I’d never really bought into the idea that punk was about anything but music in the first place. All genres make artist membership based somewhat on credibility, but few besides gangster rap make such a big deal about it as punk. The kids I’d grown up with believed that the music had somehow been generated spontaneously out of sheer attitude, but the hours I spent trying to coax a melody out of my sequencer and drum machine at home told me something else. No matter how stripped down or lobotomized the music was, these bands had to be listening to something, and working hard to replicate it.

Or to destroy it. What struck me as I stood by the sink was how sheerly unfunky Pink Flag is. Once I got past that fact, I could clearly see what punks were reacting against in the 70’s. Nothing political or social. What they were out to destroy was the entire fabricated rock and roll lineage of Delta blues->Memphis rockabilly->drug addled Brit that had been handed up to them as children. These guys had grown up along with the initial peaking of rock and roll, in the late Sixties and early Seventies. And what do you do at the self-declared peak of a genre? Burn it to the ground. Wire’s music recalls a lot of things – Can, Kraftwerk, Broadway Musicals, radio jingles – but only rarely does it make me think of The Stones, or Elvis, or Leadbelly. When it does quote from that sound – the hyperactive vocals on “Start to Move” and “Feeling Called Love,” or the zombie “doo doos” on “Strange,” it’s in a mocking apelike way, sneering at heritage.

All of this is probably old hat to anyone at all familiar with pop history. But I don’t really read those kinds of books or hold those kinds of conversations. I own maybe three hundred CDs, no vinyl. I love Pink Flag because it taught me all of this in the amount of time it took me to clean a dozen plates. And I got to dance a little during the lesson.

Such A Rare Bird

welcome eric harvey

I’m sorry to say that Pitchfork is and has been pretty much the only source of music journalism and opinion I give any time to. I started reading it daily about a decade ago and as teenage fanaticism slowly transitioned into adult scatteredness, I just never bothered to develop a backup source (beyond several friends with fantastic taste.) As the writers have slowly grown up with me (maintaining a constantly superior knowledge of esoterica and theory), it’s always felt like the perfect match for nerdy and uppity musical flaneurs such as myself.

They have a new feature writer this week. Erik Harvey’s post on fandom and sampling is alternately touching, edifying, and revealing. Good for him.

welcome eric harvey

prefab nostalgia tour

A couple of blog posts in the last month have reminded me that prefabrication has not only been around for a long time, but that we haven’t even regained any of the midcentury awesomeness that used to exist. Tropolism just posed a small eulogy on Bertrand Goldberg, including this house in Long Island Sound made with a combination of modular and panelized elements with a huge pier-to-nowhere, that most certainly wouldn’t be allowed in this day and age.

Treehugger also has a nice bit on this Swedish prefab vacation home by Matti Suuronen, a pretty ingenious (and lightweight) fiberglass scheme that hasn’t been revisited in the last few decades.

And then, of course, there’s the blockbuster Maison Tropicale by Prouve, which I find to be charmingly graceless and techy.

Anybody doing serious research on prefabrication eventually comes to the conclusion that it’s heyday has past, mostly due to projects like these. There’s a daring and experimental quality in them that you don’t get looking at Res4 or Living Homes products (or even those of my employer.) I feel like that’s kind of melodramatic and immature. The kind of code advances that require better energy performance and safety do make this kind of work harder, and people/goverments do seem a bit more wary of handing over their home and pocketbook to experimentation. But if this kind of work is going to gain a toehold in the general consciousness, solutions have to work, first and foremost, as homes. So, in the absence of exuberance, I say it’s high time we shoot for a mature, sustainable set of solutions that not only look good in a magazine but can be used and misused, day in and day out, without exception.

And I do mean misused. I’d like to see testing that unleashes a few dozen eight year olds into a house for a week and distills values like “fun quotient” and “irreparable parti damage.”

prefab nostalgia tour