Viewing the Internet in Transit

This is just the sort of thing that panders to my basest instincts. And hopefully yours. Voyeur serves up 12 randomly selected web searches people are trying to make, and gives you the chance to click and see the results. Frankly, I don’t care about the results: the fun is reading what questions people are asking. so think twice the next time you hunt for +amputee +goat +fellatio, ‘cuz someone might be noticing.

The Mego Years

Made-Over Megos

None of these guys are in my collection anymore. This is a historical photo from the Rhatigan family archives.

It’s all about Mego, baby. As I’ve been putting more stuff up for my big auction on eBay, I realized that I should do a little research about some of the more obscure Mego items I had floating around.

Please tell me you know about the Mego superhero dolls. They were the cornerstone of my childhood, my favorite toys throughout elementary school. Being cursed with an overactive imagination, I refused to play with any of my toys as they characers they were sold as, so I made up all new characters for every onbe of them. What was great about the Mego dolls, aside from their excellent flexibility, was the fact that you could swap around all their costumes and accessories to form exciting new combinations.

Well, when I went hunting around for some background on the Mego dolls, I stumbled onto the motherlode of all Mego sites. I spent hours and hours poking around there, not just looking at the almost complete picture archive of all the dolls, but also checking out the incredible galleries of customized Mego dolls made to look like almost every other comic and sci-fi character around.

Another exciting, one much closer to my own Mego experience was SmallNet, a group of people who’ve transformed their Mego figures onto whole universes of their own characters. “You are big, but we are small!” The photo-documentary of the Rocket to the Roof mission was particularly fun. It produced many smiles here in the Rumpus Room.

Excuses, Excuses

I’m sorry, Joe, I know I’ve been delinquent with the updates lately, but my latest incarnation as a professional technical writer has been making it very hard for me to come home and type some more. Or at least type anything I have to think about first. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it to anyone, but for the last two months or so at work I’ve been editing, writing, and typesetting a manual for a pretty elaborate piece of software for publishing directories and yellow pages. It’s difficult, to say the least, when only part of the package has a GUI, and the GUI it has needs help. The rest of the system tends to skip the “G” and often dismiss the the comfort level of the “U”. so, at 230 pages and counting, I’m trying to minimize the chaos and actually explain what’s going on. Of course, I’m trying to learn the damn stuff at the same time, which keeps causing minor delays. Sigh…

So that’s starting to sap my energy, but at least it keeps me from griping too much about the latest round of unsuccessful attempts to capture the interest of interesting guys.

Scholarly Data

Overachiever fails out of grad school! Yes, it’s true. I got my report card from Pratt today, the one with all the classes I decided to blow off as a means of effectively quitting grad school. In a way, it was very cathartic to just let those grades go. I’ve never failed a class before — I’ve never allowed myself to fail a class before. (Considering where I am today, it’s a little funny that my only low grades in high school were for Computer science and Algebra II. so much for my nerd credentials.) It was a good feeling when I realized that a bad transcript wasn’t going to haunt me the rest of my life, not when I’m actually more than capable of learning and doing well on my own. What a revelation: Grades actually ARE just numbers!

For the record:

spring 1999 Courses



Typography II



Visual Communications I



Communications Technology I



Corporate Image Planning



Fall 1999 Courses



Communications seminar



History of Communications Design



Cumulative Grade Point Average: 2.0

If you’re familiar with the GradCommD program at Pratt, you’ll notice that I failed my basic requirements but aced all my upper-level courses. Basically, this is because when push came to shove and I still had to work full-time while going to school, I devoted my energy to the more challenging, more interesting stuff and blew off the irritating stuff they made me take. Oops, my bad.

I think I may take a stab at finishing the work for the history class. The professor was a fun old queen who I liked a lot, and who wants me to submit the one paper I finished (on Piet Zwart) to the Pratt library since they don’t have any good reference materials on him. I wouldn’t kill me to write a couple of other small papers over the course of the next few months. After all, I certainly like reading up on designers and whatnot. Maybe I’ll finally write that essay about Art Chantry that I’ve been meaning to for years now. Art Chantry totally saved my life as a designer, but that’s a story for another day…

No More Pontificating

As of last night, I am no longer a college teacher. Technically, of course, I was an instructor of a basic computer skills class at Pratt‘s school of Professional studies, but it was basically teaching college. I loved teaching, and I’m glad that I’ll be doing a lot of training as part of the new job at Miles 33, so I’ll still be able to scratch the itch.

One nice thing about teaching a class in basic Mac skills is that I get a chance to start people off on the right foot, and explain to them early on my whole philosophy about how computers are still just tools, not creative solutions. And that once you get the idea of how a system works basically, you’re armed with the ability to make educated guesses and teach yourself more, rather than just operating like some kind of trained monkey doomed to a lifetime of crappy production jobs.

Having never taken a computer class in my life, and just figured all this crap out for myself over the years, it’s nice to try and save someone else from wasting just as much time as I did being mystified by the glowing box with keyboard in front of it.

Old School

I don’t mind being 29. In fact, I was speaking with Gina today about how I think I may have been born in time to enter the design field at just the right moment. My education and experience as a designer started the old-fashioned way: I drew type by hand as a regular homework exercise, I used gouache and Letraset and colored paper to make comps, and my first job involved specifying type for professionally set galleys that I pasted down by hand for a 180-page book which I planned out on a Mac. And when I started working as a typesetter for B.U., I learned how to use a serious, complex typesetting system on which no assumptions could be made. Every decision about typography and page layout had to be considered, so I learned discipline and craftsmanship which served me through the dark times of the desktop publishing revolution. But at the same time, I was right there working with Macs and the Web as they exploded, and I was in a great position to learn as they developed.

So I am old enough to have learned the craft that preceded me, and young enough to be open to — and a part of — the possibilities that are swirling around us now. And lucky enough to have been able to learn how to use the best elements of both approaches. I love me!

The Good vs. The Bad and the Ugly

Good Lo-Tech

Bad Hi-Tech

Datebooks, Address Books, etc.
Immediate access as long as you have the presence of
mind to keep them with you

Databases and Electronic Calendars
Vulnerable to power outages and and disk crashes; it
takes a long time for your computer to start up just to get a friend’s
number for a thirty-second call to an answering machine

Nice, Solid Wood Furniture
Easily repaired and looks better with age

Any Furniture from Ikea
Sure it looks sleek, but it’s often wobbly after a while,
and that formica-covered pressed wood is awful to the touch

Stationery and a Nice Pen
Nothing says “I care” like a handwritten letter

Word Processors
A note to a friend should never look like a memo from
the boss

A Screwdriver, a Pair of Pliers,
and Gaffer’s Tape

Can be used to fix almost anything with a little imagination

Telephone Tech Support
Punching buttons to get through a complex maze only to wait
and then have someone condescend to second-guess everything you’ve already

Incandescent Lamps and Candles
Warm and soothing

Flourescent Light Fixtures
“My, what an attractive complexion you have;” Flickers just
enough to be annoying

SLR Cameras
The crappiest 35mm camera from the Salvation Army can
still produce a picture with rich color and good detail as long as you
hold it pretty steady

Any Affordable Digital Camera
One-tenth the quality at four times the price. Don’t
even get me started

Leather, Silk, Cotton

Naugahyde, Acetate, Nylon



Touch it, smell it, taste it, do it now

Virtual reality
Wait for it, pay for it

I’m a Bad Geek

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a big nerd. I was a little slow
to give myself over to the world of electronics — I never played video
games very much, and I never used a word processor until I was a sophomore
in college — but I sure as hell made up for lost time. At this point I
can work a computer like it’s an extension of my hands. Technical glitches
are generally little more than a series of logically connected hurdles
to me, and I’ve got good intuition for technical matters that helps me
make a few bold leaps along the way. Software makes sense to me, and I
love the speedy efficiency of digital technology. I have no fear of it.

This level of comfort with modern technology extends far beyond the
workaday world of computers. Let’s be realistic: even though I may take
to computers more easily than others, if I didn’t have some degree of comfort
with them I wouldn’t really be able to hold down a job at this point, would
I? No, I really like almost all things electronic. I like having an alarm
clock that I can set by pushing a couple of buttons while I’m half asleep.
I like having voice-mail and managing it without the use of clunky machines
and crappy Radio Shack
tapes. My six-disk CD player is like having a shrine to music inside my
apartment. I pride myself on having not spoken to a bank teller in six
years except to open an account or purchase foreign currency. And don’t
even get me started on how much e-mail has kept my family
and friends together as we’ve scattered across the globe.

A friend once told me that he thought I’d be happiest if I could manage
my life while strapped to my computer all day being fed Skittles through a pneumatic tube. This is not true, and not just because the Skittles would send my blood sugar level soaring out of control.

I’m very critical of the media trend —spearheaded by technology pundits,
the advertising efforts of hi-tech companies, and everyone connected to
magazine —that would have us believe that a better world awaits us in
which we can fuse the Internet to our television programming, solve problems
at work from the beach, and satisfy all our consumer needs without ever
leaving home. I like leaving home and think people should get out more
often. You don’t have to live in a cramped New York studio to know that
there’s plenty more going on in the outside world to amuse people.

I worry about the death of printed matter that techno-doomsayers keep
threatening. I worry about becoming more isolated from people on a daily
basis than I already am. I worry about homogenization of the things I touch
and the things I see and the things I read. While I support technology
and the convenience, efficiency, and new opportunities it can offer our
culture, I worry about what it’s doing to our critical standards and our

I’m a bad geek, because I also believe in lo-tech.

This attachment to the world of the analog and the physical is not such
a mystery to me. For all my enthusiasm for technology, I’ve still learned
to view the world around me from the perspective of a craftsman. I’ve spent
my whole life trying to understand how things work, how they look, and
how they feel. And I’ve tried to understand how to use my eyes, my head,
and my own two hands to make things. In the process, I’ve learned how to
appreciate the simple efficiency of a sturdy mechanical device, and the
appeal of an object that shows the signs of the wear and tear from its
past, or simply the process of how it was made.

Don’t Be Afraid!

When I was just a tyke, I followed in the footsteps of generations of children
before me and took apart anything I could once I learned how to use a screwdriver.
No appliance, toy, or device was safe from my nimble hand and my inquisitive
eye. Of course, the natural consequence to all this was that I also had
to figure out how to put everything back together before Mom got home.
I grew to love the way things moved and fit together, too, not just the
ways in which I could take them apart. Take a good look at the inner workings
of a mechanical clock sometime: that’s some pretty cool stuff. Yes, it’s
true that these experiences in covering up my tracks taught me certain
means of methodical problem-solving that help me deal with computer problems,
but they also taught me that most stuff isn’t as hard to fix as most people

If you approach it from this angle, you can see that understanding lo-tech
is about self-sufficiency. You don’t need to call a plumber because your
showerhead is leaking. You don’t need to pay for a new bookcase when you
can hang some shelves on the wall. You don’t need to pass up that fabulous
thrift store table because it has a bum leg. Hell, you don’t even need
to hire a contractor to renovate your house or apartment!

Any man or woman armed with a few tools, a healthy appreciation of lo-tech,
and a little knack for investigation can take charge of their lives and
take care of common household or automotive problems. It’s not beneath
you. Self-sufficiency doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve built a bunker
and are still waiting for a nuclear winter. It doesn’t mean that you’re
living like a subsistence farmer. It just means that you can have the satisfaction
of knowing why something does what it does, and the satisfaction of knowing
that you can make sure it keeps doing it. No need to find a plumber at
2 a.m. or a mechanic open on Labor Day. You probably have already realized
that it makes sense to cook at home once in a while instead of paying a
fortune in restaurant checks and delivery tips: why not take the same approach
to other areas of your life?

Lo-tech self-sufficiency requires a little common sense, a little more
elbow grease, and usually a few tools. It can
give you a mighty good feeling about yourself, however. (I’m really trying
not to say “it’s empowering,” but it’s hard to ignore.) I can’t impress
upon you enough the satisfaction that can be derived from accomplishing
something with your own two hands. You don’t need to fancy yourself an
ìartistî to take a little pride in what you can create or
fix or assemble.

You Are Not Alone!

A crucial aspect of my penchant for lo-tech is the physicality of so much
of it: the bulk, the noises of the inner workings, the textures, the flaws,
and the fingerprints. You get a sense of idiosyncratic personality from
old appliances and other objects, and you can also get a sense of their

When you buy a used book, for example, you can see all the evidence
of how the people who read it before you moved through it — the cracks
in the spine, the pages folded as bookmarks, maybe some underlined passages
or margin notes — that you’ll never get from a CD-ROM. If you look in
your toolbox, you can find scratches on your hammerhead and chips of paint
on your pliers and assorted nails and tacks from certain old projects that
all remind you of what has been accomplished with those tools in the past.
You leave indelible marks on the lo-tech that you use after a while, marks
that give you or other users a more visceral sense of history than you’ll
get out of a preferences or log file on your computer.

And lo-tech is often beautiful — sculptural, texturally rich, perhaps
sophisticated and elegant or perhaps crude and immediate. There can be
a sense of lost or forgotten magic in an old appliance with a faded wood
finish or opalescent Bakelite dials. Believe it or not, there was a time
when mass-production involved a greater sense of aesthetics than now, when
sleek line and matte black finish alone are supposed to suggest sophistication.
And even with objects that are purely utilitarian — what many might just
dismiss as junk — I often see as miracles of solid workmanship, or great
examples of objects made to last. It’s not such a cliché to say
that they don’t make them like they used to, because frankly — for good
or bad — they really don’t.

So don’t believe the hype. Don’t assume that new and electronic is the
shit. Take a look in your basement, attic, or local thrift store and open
yourself up to the simple pleasures of life, and learn how to be a more
tangible part of it.