15 February 2011

Nokia is explaining that they're doomed

I rarely feel compelled to comment on business news, but Nokia's recent announcement that it was adopting Windows Mobile 7 contained an item that's breathtaking.

As reported in a number of places including here, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop acknowledged that Nokia looked at adopting Android, but concluded Nokia "couldn't differentiate products" from other Android manufacturers. They decided to go with Windows Mobile 7, where they obviously feel they can do a better job differentiating themselves from other Windows Mobile devices.

Wow, this is classic. Uh, differentiating yourself from other Windows Mobile 7 devices isn't the point. Smartphone consumers are madly buying iPhones and Android phones now. Your job is to convince us your products is better than an Android phone or iPhone, not that it's better than the current Windows Mobile 7 phones that we don't care about and aren't buying.

To put it another way, if you can't compete with HTC or Samsung by selling a phone that runs Android, you're really screwed, because you certainly won't be able to compete with those same phones when you don't run a competitive operating system.

Elop has a reputation for being honest (and I certainly give him credit for being able to acknowledge that Symbian and MeeGo weren't awesome options). But if he really wanted to face up to the new world he should have chosen Android and admitted that to thrive Nokia needs to be a competitive hardware maker to HTC or Samsung.

06 February 2011

Nihonga Avant-Garde at National Museum of Modern Art

I went to the "Nihonga Avant Garde 1938-1949" exhibition at the National Museum of Modern Art (東京国立近代美術館)today. In Japanese, nihonga refers to "traditional Japanese painting", which really, by the era covered in this exhibition, could only be distinguished from "youga" or western-style painting being done in Japan by the formulation of the pigments used (earlier on, the styles were somewhat more distinct).

Really, not the greatest art exhibit ever. Very few of the paintings spoke to me in any way or contained much that I felt was noteworthy; indeed, were it not for an academic need to study and classify art, and thus be able to focus on a ten-year-period of "nihonga", I don't really think many of these paintings would be exhibited a lot.

As always, there were a few paintings really worth seeing. Toyoshiro Fukuda's "Scenery of a Mine" stood out for capturing a little bit of the spirit of 1930s muralism. The most powerful piece was 山崎隆 / Takashi Yamaziki's "Impression of Battlefield / 戦地の印象", a completely abstract room-panel-sized piece which contains absolutely fascinating details that suggest rather than state what's going on, and only when viewed close-up (for the exact reason, seeing a scan of "Impression of Battlefield" is pretty pointless).

On the way out I ran into the book "The Hiroshima Panels" in the bookstore. A husband-wife team spent thirty years painting a series of panels about the horror of Hiroshima and eventually other events; again high-quality scans are critical, the versions available on the web don't capture what was shown in the printed book I saw. The artists had an unblinking eye for documenting tragedy: in addition to the deaths directly from the bomb, the fate of the American POWs in Hiroshima (tortured to death by enraged captors) and the Korean forced-labor workers (bodies never buried) are both included in the series, and later they painted a panel about the Rape of Nanking. Apparently the gallery for their work (they're both deceased) is out in Saitama, I'll need to make a point to get out there.

05 February 2011

Japan Media Arts Festival 2011

I went to the Japan Media Arts Festival today. More so than in previous years, there was a lot of stuff I hadn't seen before. Here's a few things I thought were particularly awesome.

The Eye Writer

Inspired by an artist friend of their falling prey to ALS, and put off by the U$10,000 price for commercal eye-tracking devices, an international group of artists came together to develop a super low-cost eye-tracking system and develop a suite of software around it to allow their ALS-stricken friend TEMPT1 to continue to create. They had two stations set up where you could actually use the system yourself (it requires a MacBook and a tiny amount of camera hardware) and it actually worked pretty well, although freeform drawing is probably the outer limit of what it can accomplish -- basic UI control was actually quite straightforward, with none of the "my head hurts" aspects of a lot of gaze-driven UIs; but drawing a little tougher.

The Men in Grey

A great bit of agitprop about the meaning (or lack thereof) of "privacy" in the digital age. The moment you click on the above link, information about you will be recorded.

Succubus by Peter Tilg

This sonic sculpture, controlled by electromagnetic forces, doesn't come across in pictures all that well, but live it truly conveys the sensation of being a living being. Unfortunately, in the JMAF venue I couldn't really hear the faint sounds it allegedly emits.

100 Years Sea

Every time I go to a festival like this there's at least a couple artworks I react to as being ludicrously pretentious and under-executed. This video-cave-like projection of simplistic wave graphics intended to gradually swallow up the audience and eventually produce a space where "reality and unreality and inseperable" was clearly one of the qualifiers in that group this year. Other qualifiers including "Edge of Love 3" and "Rugged Timescapes".

Nuit Blanche

I've seen this several times not least at the SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival, but if you haven't seen this amazing indie visual effects short yet, go watch it now.

The Johnny Cash Project

A crowdsourced music video for the song "There Ain't No Grave" from Johnny Cash's American VI album. This is totally worth checking out to see bot the potential and the limits of crowdsourcing a creative endeavor. Personally I don't think Mark Romanek's career is threatened but it truly is an interesting experiment.

Crowbot Jenny

Awesome. Robot crow attempts to interact with real crows.

The Faddist

Reconstruction of famous western art with, uh, stuff.

Arukuaround / Sakanaction

One-take music videos rule. Especially when packed full of Japanese typography. The great thing about music videos is that they're all on the web.

iPad Magic

It turns out, you can do magic tricks with iPads. Even on the first day they're released! Destined for YouTube greatness worldwide, it has already achieved that in Japan FYI, when he holds the iPad up to reveal his brain scan, the Kanji characters are the ones for "woman" and "money".

Kamikara Papercraft Dinosaurs

Kamikara makes all sorts of really cool Japanese papercraft (cut out and tab-slot together paper sculptures), but the new dinosaur collection has an unbelievable number of action features. Yes, action features. To see them in motion, search for this phrase on YouTube: カミカラ恐竜編. The egg is probably the coolest but a lot of them are neat.

If you want to make them youself, you need to buy the book (go to this page and scroll down to see the image with the dinosaurs) , but unfortunately it's only published in Japan so far.

Fumiko's Confession

This is not earth-shaking, but man it's funny. By the way, the setup is that at the beginning the girl does a classic Japanese-schoolgirl "declaration of love" to the guy and is rebuffed. It was produced by a third-year college student -- thank goodness there are some Japanese art schools finally loosening up enough to have anime programs. Some other anime mentioned at the show I haven't seen yet but want to check out include "Colorful", the latest from the director of "Summer Vacation with Koo" and "Mai Mai Miracle", which was directed by the assistant director of "Kiki's Delivery Service" and looks more like a Miyazaki movie than most recent Ghibli films.