Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The 1939 New York World's Fair Had An AMAZING Poster

The 1939 New York World's Fair is perhaps the World's Fair.

Oh sure, there were others. The very first fair, the 1851 London Great Exhibition was the start of it all and images from that fair continue to percolate in pop culture, most recently in the animated Japanese movie Steamboy. Perhaps the grandaddy of all pre-modern World's Fairs, the 1893 Chicago World's Fair outshone them all in sheer scope and grandeur. It and the 1933 Chicago fair were significant enough events to represent two of the four stars on the Chicago flag. More recently, the 1967 Montreal Fair saw fifty million people visit... when Canada's population was barely over twenty million.

The 1939 Fair, though, is the image that comes to mind when almost everyone thinks of the World's Fair. This was perhaps unavoidable since it straddled the line between the industrial age and the modern age. Gears and steam would give way to transistors and nuclear reactors. Telephones and electricity were becoming increasingly common, and the age of international travel was just getting off the ground. The old world became the new world; a large world became small; and this gives the NY fair an air of modernity that still rings true. More so than any event previous, this was the birth of the modern age — the baby's first breath.

The 1933 Chicago Fair had the Graf Zeppelin announcing the recent ascension of Hitler, much to the citiy's consternation. Then the 1936 Olympics happened under Hitler's watch in Berlin and featured the first live telecast.

They were all but previews — the quickening of a new world soon to be born.

The 1939 fair would open in peacetime, and close in the shadow of World War II, ushering in six years of utter destruction — the most cataclysmic redistribution of power and influence to ever happen. In that half decade, we gave birth to the future. A twisted, malformed baby, that has perhaps never grown terribly pretty, but birth it we did, and in grand fashion.

Aiding the NY Fair in its immortality was drama inherent in its creation. Perhaps the organizers saw history being made around them, or perhaps they just got lucky, because the NY Fair's entire theme was The Future-ture-ture-ture. Modern design, grand architecture bordering on caricature, impossible science, powerful nations butting heads, all seemingly jockeying for positions in history itself. Even the marketing of consumer products — an integral part of the fair's philosophy — that caused so much hand-wringing on the part of the scientists who were involved, predicts the era of extreme commercialism that would rise after the war and in which we live today. One can almost imagine the Apple pavilion.

Precisely because the fair was such a specific statement, it has a romance that lives to this day. The personality of the fair, as opposed to just concomitant events like the war, defined an era in a way that only the 1851 London Exhibition previously did. It was about aspiration, dreams, and pushing humanity to its limit. Happening as it did during a time of unprecedented social, political, and economic upheaval, it was always destined for greatness. It was epic.

It seems entirely apt that an epic fair would have an equally epic poster. Modern. Angular. Bold and visionary. The poster was 100% modern. There wasn't a hint of classical theory or perspective in its creation — just as with the fair itself. I have printed this poster and recreated this poster. Altered it, analyzed it, and augmented it. I love it.

And to wrap this whole thing up nicely, a video of film made during the fair, and then a video of modern activity at the remains of the fair, set to Aimee Mann's Fifty Years After The Fair, which is conveniently about New York fifty years after the 1939 fair.

Monday, July 16, 2012

An Ad So Good That It Defies Description

This is one of the very best ads that I've ever seen. It is also a powerful reminder of the importance of real, quality journalism in an age of "article factory" websites that work for the sole aim of generating clicks. This is a case study in advertising with a purpose.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

AMD Radius Brand & Product Exploration

Awhile ago, I wrote out a lengthy proposal for AMD to make a video game system. I only included a rough logo in that post and thought that it was worth doing a deeper exploration of the idea.

The basic logo is toy-like and playful. It’s meant to NOT be “edgy” and “hard-core” because those repel the average consumer. This logo is appealing to all demographics. The offset circle still communicates the "circle" and "radius" concepts, but is more immediately interesting to the eye because of broken lines of flow and contour.

All boxes would initially feature games since we are trying to focus on the experience and not the technology underlying it. The image from the game Crysis is just a placeholder, and AMD-produced games, included for free with the system, would be pictured on the box cover. Boxes would not be uniform. Instead, a variety of boxes would produce an interesting mix of images, projecting dynamic entertainment while on the store shelf, all with the trademark Radius circles apparent on every box.

Using games as the primary packaging graphics further allows AMD to control the impression of Radius' personality to the market. Systems with certain box art could be sent to targeted stores. Gamestop's and local video game stores would get boxes with first-person shooters and RPG's on them. Wal-Mart's and other big-box retailers would get box art with cartoonish graphics, exercise games, and more otherwise casual games.

Eventually, as Radius expands, boxes would begin to feature more non-game material. The Radius would then become an entertainment box, which is precisely what Microsoft is so gracefully trying to do with their Xbox at this very moment. Microsoft's intransigence in this regard leaves AMD with a large opening.

Various icons would represent the technology that would be implementable by games. The headset is exactly that, a headset for communication. Accelerometers can be both included in controllers but also as standalone items in things like wristbands for exercise games.

The home game server is one of Radius' killer "apps." It is a plug'n'play box that wirelessly connects with any Radius enabled hardware in the area and automatically hosts games. It provides extensive networking and communication capabilities similar to Xbox Live, but locally. This will prevent the need for a specific Radius system to "host" the games being played. The hardware will include powerful antennas, providing far-reaching radio coverage for apartment buildings, dorms, and even areas of neighborhoods. The Game Server will double as an ordinary router for all local network applications. All of this provides greater control, and thus value, to the customer and raises the value of the hardware as opposed to the service.

The second feature is called Gamestream. This is when the Radius system connects with light "dumb" terminal game devices and stream full games to the user. The rendering takes place on the system. It depends on the game as to how many Gamestream devices can be connected at one time. The standard system will be able to connect only a few Gamestream devices at once, but when paired with the Home Server, the number of simultaneous clients jumps up. The end result is similar in network design to both the new Wii U and the Gaikai streaming game service.

Radius has an advantage over both of those alternatives. The Wii U will be a limited-use device. It will pale in comparison to the capabilities of the Radius. Gaikai, since all rendering of the games is done on a server in a galaxy far, far away, suffers unavoidably from lag. There must always be a delay between player input and what is seen on the screen. With the distance between the renderer (the system) and the user so much shorter in Radius, lag will be minimized to the point of being nearly unnoticeable.

The system can act like a virtual server, allowing people on multiple devices to play in the same game. Truly, the entire point of this is to shift the server away from the Internet, bringing gamers back into the same room as one another. Xbox Live shifted gamers away, with many games supporting multiplayer only over Xbox Live. The games actually prevent gamers from playing together. Radius will still have a significant online "cloud" that powers a number of services, but unlike its competitors, much of it will be dedicated to local groups and services.

Home theater PC’s are bulky and problematic. AMD can make one that is compact and easily integrates in with other bits of technology. AMD can also use the compact template to allow “stacking” of other Radius products, like the home server, file server, and Gamestream clients. This allows people to build Radius set ups, which is exactly what we want. The hardware is what we are selling, so get people to buy as much as possible. The game server and media server will succeed where things like Windows Home Server failed because it will be a “turn it on” solution. No set-up. Wireless communications detect all other Radius hardware in the area and automatically hook up.

The system itself would take advantage of every piece of technology at AMD's disposal. Their line of APU integrated processors practically cries out for this sort of application. The system would initially implement a physical drive, but this would eventually be eliminated from the standard. In general, to lower the price, increase reliability, and stay within AMD's zone of expertise, solid-state will be chosen over mechanical at every step.

The system designs will be neutral yet high-tech. Cases will be plastic, polycarbonate, and acrylic since radio communication is the critical element of the system. A beautiful but neutral design avoids the system being classified as a "video game" system exclusively or as a "toy." Multiple colors will also make integration into larger home theater arrangements easy.

Does the game box immitate other game box designs? Damn right it does. We want to put a great deal if distance between Radius and tradtional PC gaming. We want to give an impression of “it just works.” We can do that by copying the aesthetic of game companies.

A complete gaming and entertainment system, loaded with cheap and free content, with AMD hardware as the key to access it all.

A note on OUYA.

As I was writing this, the OUYA launched on Kickstarter to immediate success. Within days, it had raised five million dollars. OUYA sets out to do exactly what the Radius would do. There are some key differences though that make the OUYA a non-contender.

First, the OUYA is low-power. It relies on cell phone hardware, namely the Nvidia Tegra 3, and does not avail itself of the fact that it will be plugged in. The Radius will use full-power desktop hardware, giving it a massive performance advantage. This places the Radius in competition with dedicated gaming systems. The Tegra 3's performance lines up well with gaming hardware from ten years ago. Whereas AMD's line of APU's are in line with gaming hardware from five years ago or less. If AMD moves up the ladder to their more expensive processors, the graphics power of the Radius would be an order of magnitude greater than the OUYA.

The OUYA folks chose their cellphone hardware very much on purpose, even though it meant less power. They had to, because the OUYA runs on Android. This allows games to be sold through the Android marketplace. This is great for many Android gamers, not so great for the hilariously-fragmented Android ecosystem. Radius will be easy and unified.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Nexus Q Represents All That Is Wrong With Tech

Google announced two new Nexus products a few days ago: the Nexus Q media sphere and the Nexus tablet. The Nexus tablet redefines the tablet space and price structure in the same way that the Galaxy Nexus for $399 did for cell phones. It is a disruptive product at that price. It is brilliant.

The Nexus Q, though, is a nightmare of everything that is wrong in the tech world today. It is a product of a a team/company that never asked "how can we make this product the best it can be?" They only asked "how can we create something that links into our system?" Ever since Apple conquered the world on the strength of iTunes, every tech company on Earth has been trying to do the same thing.

The Nexus Q is not getting good reviews. The most common adjective that I can find is "confusing." One of the biggest complaints is the incredibly bizarre way that you have to get media onto the sphere. You can only  stream it from Google's services. You cannot put in a USB stick. No memory cards. You cannot connect to Hulu or Amazon Prime. And even that only applies to music. If you want video, it will only play video that can be rented or purchased from Google's Play store. Whatever you currently own is datata non grata as far as the Q is concerned.

Why the hell would Google do something so absurd? Because they don't care about it being a good product. As I said, they wanted something that connected with their services. If that just so happened to render the device awful, well, that's not their concern. It's the concern of the idiots stupid enough to buy it.

Google is not alone in this. Microsoft has been trying this shit for nearly a decade. Samsung, Nokia, Yahoo!: they're all guilty of this. It's because, somehow, they have forgotten how Apple succeeded. The iPod did not sell on the strength of iTunes. At the beginning, iTunes was nothing more than a bloated Winamp-wannabe. The iPod sold because Steve Jobs and his Apple horde famously said "MP3 players all suck. Let's make one that doesn't."

They specifically asked "how can we make the best product." And whether you think that they did or not, it's undeniable that they made a vastly superior product to the competition. If Google had asked this question, the Q would magically have all of the features that everyone thinks that it should have. Instead, it is vastly inferior to Boxee, Apple TV, Google TV, and Roku.

Many people are arguing that the product is in fact so bad, that it must presage grander plans on Google's part. That's fine. Perhaps that's true. But the product as it currently is, sucks. No one in their right mind would buy one. No sane company who asked the questions they should ask would release it as is. And even if they hadn't. Even if they did have grand plans, and even if the Q was better, it still wouldn't matter. The best product would have a USB port, a memory card port, and greater non-stream connectivity. Those aren't there, and no software upgrade will ever bring them. That is fundamentally broken.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Nearly Perfect TV Ad For Cracker Barrel.

One rarely sees a perfect television advertisement. Much like movies, the number of cooks who want to get involved with the broth almost universally causes failure. This is one ad where that did not happen. I don't like the voice of the narrator — she should be older — and there are a few too many words, but other than that, it is absolutely spot on. It's artistic, simple, textured, and loaded with visual imagery that evokes a sense of home, America, and nostalgia.

Too bad it's for a company that is both religiously-founded, anti-gay, and doing more than its fair part to make America fat. But still. The ad is great.