Tag Archives: business

Just Because It’s Commercial Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Art

“Art,” said Modeste Mussorgsky, 19th century Russian composer, “is not an end in itself, but a means of addressing humanity.”

If you are an art student drawing close to graduation, and you balk at the prospect of selling out to corporate America, you have options. If you are independently wealthy, you never have to please anyone but yourself and can build your own museum. If you’re not rich, and still wish to retain your “artistic purity,” you can cajole wealthy patrons (the 21st century versions of the Medicis) or apply for government grants.

Frankly, if you wish to keep the taint of money, what the Bible calls “filthy lucre,” from your art, then your best bet is to have as little as possible. A vow of poverty, from either a Marxist political perspective or a Christian monastic one, may be indicated.

The eternal tension

Seriously, there is an eternal tension between art as “an end in itself” and art that addresses and connects with people. The latter includes art that connects with a marketing director because she thinks it will help sell her product. Whether you are an illustrator, sculptor, painter or filmmaker, you will have to confront the issue of “commercial art vs. fine art” and draw the appropriate lines in your own life. You should begin by challenging your preconceptions. In fact, you might want to make a lifelong habit of this.

Richard Rothstein, a photographer and writer living in Manhattan, brings the historical perspective. “I find it extremely amusing that commercial art of past civilizations and ages is now held in very high regard as fine art. Murals and carvings that promoted products and services in ancient Greece and Rome are now standing as fine art in great museums.”

The commercial/fine art dichotomy is false, says Rothstein. “Bad art is common, bad in composition, emotion, passion. But to divide art into ‘commercial’ versus ‘fine’ strikes me as arrogant and pompous.” One of the towering figures of modern art helps to prove his point. “Picasso churned out art like Ford churned out Model Ts. He was a genius at commercial art, building a brand that would make him very rich. Was he a commercial or a fine artist?”

Starvation vs. survival?

“The difference between commercial art and fine art,” says Joe Nyaggah, “is the difference between survival and starvation.” A 2008 graduate of the renowned arts program at California State University, Fullerton, Nyaggah is a designer who roams widely across the Web engaging in discussions on the social and professional roles of artists. He believes that what most people mean by “fine artist” is someone who creates works “that are only appreciated by a select, eccentric few.” Commercial artists, on the other hand, “execute on demand” rather than “on a whim,” and learn to make a living with their talent.

Nyaggah has little patience for talented people who posture as “starving artists” with moral superiority. “Hunger builds character, yes,” he says, “but money builds so much more. Houses, for instance, that you and your family can live in.”

From Hot Air to Second Wind (Part 2)

We begin Part 2 of ‘From Hot Air to Second Wind’ with the final paragraph of Part 1, but we encourage you to read the introduction in full before starting the conclusion, mainly because it is not the conclusion, and doesn’t come after it, either. That is one reason that it is called something with a “1” in the name. Go ahead, read it, we’ll wait for you… Okay, then, here we go:

I was becoming one guy on the job, another guy everywhere else. After about a month of looking at meeting rooms full of unhappy harried faces, I stumbled upon a realization that would make me a congruent person for the home stretch of the contest: I recognized that I had better relationships off the job, when I was uniquely, solely “me,” than on the job, when I was a group member, one of “us.” I seized on this revelation like a stick shift and slammed it into overdrive.

To this point, I had been holding meetings and occasionally passing out some memos with sales figures, contest updates, bumpersticker boosterisms. The standard corporate fare. Armed with my new, enlightened outlook, I decided to make the sales-contest memos more entertaining, more “me.”

In the final five weeks of the contest, I cranked out about 150 “entertaining” memos; that’s right, four or five a day. Now, calling these productions “memos” is both too little and too much definition; some were undisguised, unadorned comic strips or short stories. What made them memos in any Websterian sense was that they had the words “Date,” “To,” and “From” on them, and “Subject” somewhere close by, usually near the top of the first page. 

And so I distributed my parodies, plays, and perorations; fraudulent celebrity interviews and fake book reviews; drawings, clippings, and doodles; jokes, insults, rumors, and limericks. Within days I had the happiest team in the contest. They contributed ideas, took copies home for friends, showered me with compliments; I was getting to know them, and they were getting to know me.

But by the end of the sales contest, I had learned another important lesson: Stay balanced. You see, I was too busy making people laugh to concentrate on sales goals and contest rules. I forgot that the idea was for me to motivate the team to better results. The pendulum had swung too far in the other direction, and got stuck.

We lost the contest.

The Big Lesson for me was that balance is essential to a successful life. I knew enough to try to spice up the dreary, empty-hype grind of a branch sales contest; but I didn’t know when to stop with the seasoning, already. I couldn’t seem to find a balance between steady sweaty effort and stress-relieving humor. 

The Big Lesson sank in. I left the computer supply biz; within a year I was writing and publishing an agonizingly precious humor mag called “Pedantic Monthly”; a couple of years after that, having joined the new Macintosh “desktop publishing revolution,” I was flying back to Boston to help some folks bring their national political bi-weekly to that new platform; and then, for another decade after that, I had my hands full running production for a magazine publisher, consulting, composing and performing original music, and writing essays, rants, and raves just for people like you.

There is a direct line from those silly sales-contest memos to the recollection of them that you are reading now. They changed my life. Writing was too serious an undertaking for me to squander my talent on corporate memoranda.

Still, being a philologic pack-rat does have its advantages, especially when it’s close to deadline and I need even more verbiage than I’ve already crammed into whatever weighty piece I’m producing. Having produced about a pound of quixotic and querulous memos way back when, writer’s block is a non-issue. I can reach into that bulging (and forever non-digitized) Pendaflex folder of fustian and flippancy, and transform yesterday’s hot air into today’s second wind.

Ah, the benefits of recycling.

From Hot Air to Second Wind (Part 1)

I hear it all the time: “How did you get into writing these crazy columns, anyway?”

Truth be told, I used to hear it only once in a great while when I started my own weekly commentaries in 1998, emailed essays that through creative accretion morphed into my webzine, What Next?, cyberheir to my 1987-1990 print magazine, Pedantic Monthly: The Journal of Contentious Persiflage. Let’s just leave that all aside for a moment, shall we?

writers write

Writers write, right?

Okay, then, so I started hearing it a bit more when a few of the larger, louder web journals began carrying some of my flammable and inflammatory musings to a larger, louder audience; and then, having reached a crescendo with a regular “Culture Shock” feature at a big-time slam-bang web event known as The American Partisan, I heard it all the time. “Where do you get this stuff? How did your brain come to work like this?” And they still weren’t called blogs.

Like most writers, I’ve been writing since, well, since I could write. And I was raised in let’s-call-it a patriotic household, where Flag Day meant something (or other) and July 4th really meant something or other. So, from an early age, I was both writing and thinking right in lockstep. Something turned me from that conformist path, back to my (everyone’s) exclusive and eclectic one, took me out of the Silicon Valley biz world right when everything was turning to gold, and set me back on my proper journey—artist, not merchant. And I’m good with that.

Okay, then. Take a deep breath. (Not you. The guy in Schenectady.)

By the early 1980s, after thrashing about in a few different careers—insurance agent, financial planner, struggling musician, permanent student, part-time deadbeat—I found myself working for a Silicon Valley computer supplies distributor while recording original jazz in my basement on the “latest” four-track cassette multitrack recorders. On the Day Job, the company branch I worked at was supposedly the flagship of a $100 million fleet, which led me to conclude that the other tubs were probably not even seaworthy.

The general manager was a balding yuppie adulterer with the absolute worst taste in co-defendants, who never convinced anyone to respect him, though he tried long and hard. He was a shallow snot-nose punk kid pushing 40 begging for a fat lip. I figured he’d read a Tom Peters book or some other in-search-of-superlatives management manifesto that succeeded only in making him even more insufferable than he was born.

Bill was my first management role model.

During one holiday stretch, I became a “team captain” charged with exhorting my cross-departmental squad to more phone orders, cash collections, same-day shipping, etc. I tried to get into the spirit of the event. I followed my starchy boss’s directives, and played it fairly straight the first few weeks, until I realized that the contest itself was insignificant compared to what I was discovering about myself and my relations with others.

What I was learning about human beings I had either missed or ignored before. I discovered that exhortation was not motivation; that pride and enthusiasm are instilled, not inserted, into people; that all the one-minute maxims in the world don’t make a manager, mentor, or leader; and that the stress of competition must be relieved by a little fun.

People are bundles of balancing acts, emotional and rational, ephemeral and material. I learned this, as I learned all my lessons about how to lead and motivate, the way any effective learning is done: by making mistakes. My initial mistake was following someone who didn’t know where he was going; in doing so, I committed a second grievous error, which was taking on someone else’s demeanor. I had removed from my team captain persona the gregariousness and joy that make me who I am, as if those traits were inappropriate in leadership.

I was becoming one guy on the job, another guy everywhere else. After about a month of looking at meeting rooms full of unhappy harried faces, I stumbled upon a realization that would make me a congruent person for the home stretch of the contest: I recognized that I had better relationships off the job, when I was uniquely, solely “me,” than on the job, when I was a group member, one of “us.” I seized on this revelation like a stick shift and slammed it into overdrive.

Come back soon for Part 2 of ‘From Hot Air to Second Wind.’

Porn Drove Tech Boom, Part 2 of 3

If you missed Part 1, read it first, because that’s why I made it the first part.

The first haptics-based sex simulator with a 21st-century pedigree, Real Touch, was a product of Internet video technology leader AEBN, one of the pioneers of Video on Demand (VoD). The device itself is a cross between a football and a rocket model, somehow appropriate as it was developed and tested by a former NASA scientist. Its array of heating elements, moving parts, belts, and assorted gadgets work together to mimic authentic sexual acts—fellatio, vaginal and anal intercourse, manual stimulation, and more.

Realtouch#2

The device can be used as a standalone sex toy, albeit a costly one at $199 retail. Its signature purpose, however, is to synchronize over a USB cable with online, streaming media that is available exclusively at a Real Touch web page. As users watch the screen, signals are sent from the site to the Real Touch unit, putting the viewer literally in the middle (or top or bottom) of the action.

Just in time for “twerking”

At 2008’s 30th Exotic Erotic Ball in San Francisco, ScottCoffman, CEO of AEBN, was already lamenting that “people could only experience movies through two senses, sight and sound.”Coffman’s answer was to have his firm “bring the sense of touch, arguably the most important element to human intimacy, into the equation.” Within two years it was on the market.

Studios and independent content producers continue to work with Real Touch to expand the list of available titles, both “retrofitting” existing titles and encoding new productions for the device. It is still not a Vulcan mind-meld, or “holographic” virtual sex, but it is another step closer. Holographic images, of course, may get a real tryout within a few years—beyond the resurrection of dead rappers on stage—but the first such monitors will be very expensive.

Bring it on home

The proliferation of streaming media to the full range of consumer devices (phone, computer, TV), and the continuing convergence of the television with the PC (PCTV? IPTV? TVIPPC?), will make for a very interesting near future. “This is a transitional period for porn,” Graham Travis of Elegant Angel said when haptics first hit the headlines, “and I don’t think it’s possible to know exactly where we’re heading.” Echoing the view of several other industry veterans, Travis believes that a return to “quality adult brands” and an emphasis on excellence are required no matter where the technology leads.

At the same time, of course, there are real business challenges to confront. Travis thinks there are a few Internet maneuvers that can make the next few years ones of “opportunity”for the industry. From online media that is “free at the point of use” but incorporates in-player advertising, to “live adult chat”and other interactive technologies, he sees nothing but ongoing change—some proactive, some reactive.

Watch for Part 3, the conclusion of this magical mystery tour through puritanical culture!

Off the Grid but On the Job

It’s exciting when unpredictable mixes and mashups of today’s various technology trends converge into something new or, as often happens, new againTelecommuting is presently enjoying a resurgence of interest, a second wind, you might say.

As high-performing media and tech professionals seek lower-impact lifestyles, enlightened firms are attempting to integrate them into a workforce of both diversity and flexibility. But will companies be able to accommodate telecommuters working off the grid, in so-called tiny houses or other alternative structures?

off-grid solar-powered home

Living Large in a Small Way

The new generation of high-tech pros includes a sizable fraction of folks that are ready to commit to a lower-impact lifestyle. The formula has three ingredients that can be combined in various ways to make it all happen:

  • Smaller, more affordable, greener, smarter home designs have made it possible for today’s professionals to lessen their total “eco-impact”;
  • the proliferation of WiFi and the ubiquity of the Internet mean that distance workers can log in remotely with computers or what-have-you; and

Fork in the Country Road: Which Way for You?

Is a simpler, halfway-back-to-nature lifestyle right for you? There are many variables, but the number one priority is picking your piece of paradise. If you have land, or the means to get some, but have no patience, you can buy a Tumbleweed house-to-go and drive it right onto the property. In many states you need no building permits, because little houses on wheeled platforms are, ahem, trailers.

If you’re the kind of nature lover that needs to upload files while watering the vegetables, you’ll be glad to know there are a variety of ways to power your lifestyle in a sustainable, suitably eco-safe and -sane manner.

Power Sources of the Future… Now

For years, the only way to get sufficient power living off the grid was to use gas-guzzling, smoke-spewing generators, essentially little car engines running to charge batteries of some kind (12v DC railroad systems, battery and bulb, were a popular choice, and still are).

Today, we not only have more options, we have clean and consistent ones. We’ve been hearing it for years, but it just may be true this time around that solar is poised for a big breakthrough. As the cost of sun power continues to drop, there are other alternative sources maturing into cost-effectiveness, such as wind power.

Power requirements for a laptop and a few tech devices are not difficult to achieve with small solar arrays, but you need to evaluate your situation carefully. It may be better to get small, individual chargers (solar, hand cranks, stationary bikes, etc.) for your small devices. Your main power generator needs to support the computer and satellite Internet.

A Few Limitations, but Worth It to Some

Assuming you’re not too far into the wilderness, you may also be able to establish a WiFi connection over 3G/4G with your smartphone or mobile hot spot doohickey. Of course, Verizon and other telecoms have 3G/4G netbooks and laptops on the same kinds of monthly plans as phones.

You can probably forget the big flat-panel TV, though, and may only be able to use a few devices at a time on your “main,” although you can run some on their built-in batteries and schedule recharging. (How much simultaneous power slurping do you really need to do?) Try minimizing your power use, even as you balance your career/work obligations with your new lifestyle.

Yes, you can have your cake and eat it, too, but perhaps we should tweak that metaphor a bit. Try this: We can live and work in nature, without devouring it.

Apple: From ‘Insanely Great’ to Greatly Insane

When Apple puts on one of its press extravaganzas, as it did this week on Tuesday, the entire world expects “insanely great” product introductions, every time. Fact is, Apple needs another of its occasional “boosts” as the phone biz is getting saturated, the iPad is getting some good competition, computer sales are tanking, and Apple seems to be flailing around a bit. So what did the world get from the Cupertino brain trust on Tuesday?

We will continue to monitor the reactions, but it is doubtful that the “insanely great” level was achieved (one pundit called it “half-awesome at best”). This was especially so at Wednesday’s Beijing follow-up non-event, where it was thought Apple would announce a big phone deal with China’s #1 carrier. Instead, Apple just rebroadcast its Tuesday presentations.

The day before, in Cupertino, Apple had killed the iPhone 5 in favor of the new, multicolored iPhone 5C low-end model and the metallic-hued, twice-as-potent iPhone 5S; announced the release date for iOS 7; promised free iWork apps to new iOS device buyers; and introduced the Touch ID sensor, a fingerprint reader built into the Home button. Some good stuff, sure—but is it enough?

Let’s Break It Down

iPhone 5C — With phones half of Apple’s profits it’s no longer the iconic iMac that represents Apple to the world. The iPhone 5C is now Apple’s entry-level phone dressed up in bright hues: blue, white, green, yellow, and pink. With two-year contracts, a 16GB model is $100 and a 32GB model is $200. The specs are mid-range today, or consider it a high-end model from 2012. It carries over the iPhone 5’s 8-megapixel rear camera and A6 processor, and has a 4-inch version of the incredible Retina Display. Pre-orders for the iPhone 5C begin September 13, and in-store sales on September 20.

iPhone 5S — The iPhone 5S is nearly identical to its predecessor in size, shape, look, and heft. Visual changes are few, with important upgrades inside: the new 64-bit A7 processor and M7 motion co-processor. The M7 offloads work from the A7—continuously monitoring the device’s compass, gyroscope, and accelerometer—for greater power efficiency, even as it invites new fitness and health apps to leverage the technology. Camera, flash, and battery life are all somewhat improved, too. On a two-year contract, the 16GB iPhone 5S is $200, the 32GB model $300, and 64GB will be $400. The phone goes on sale September 20.

Touch ID sensor — Apple built a touch-capacitive fingerprint scanner into the Home button, so forget poking in passwords. Simply run your finger over the button, and it will positively read your fingerprint in any direction. Apple says all fingerprints will be encrypted and secure, and won’t be uploaded to Apple servers or backed up to iCloud. You can use it to unlock the phone or okay iTunes purchases.

iOS 7 — Apple announced the next iteration of its mobile operating system at this past summer’s WWDC event. Its completely new look features more color, flatter graphics, simpler fonts—and something like 200 new features, from Control Center and improved multitasking to a refreshed Notification Center and AirDrop (near-field file sharing). Apple announced a release date of Sept. 18 for iOS 7, which will run on iPhone 4 and up, iPad 2 and up, iPad mini, and the 5th generation iPod touch.

WWST? (What Would Steve Think?)

So, what kind of reaction did the event receive? Yawns, for the most part, as Apple has continued to eschew excitement and creative disruption for the safer play of incrementalism. That approach will not work for a company built on insanely great ideas. In fact, it’s greatly insane to think it will.

Clouds in the Forecast

Gartner predicts that the worldwide public cloud services market will top $131 billion for 2013, an 18.5% increase over 2012′s $111 billion. The largest segment is cloud advertising at 48% of the total market (2012), but infrastructure as a service (Iaas) is the fastest growing.

Cloud apps

In 2012, IaaS—cloud storage, computing, and printing services—grew 42.4%, reaching $6.1 billion, and is expected to hit $9 billion in 2013. Here’s the complete breakdown of cloud services and their share of 2012 revenues:

  • Cloud advertising; 48%
  • (BPaas) business process services, second-largest market segment after advertising; 28%
  • (Saas, Software as a Service) application services; 14.7%
  • (IaaS) system infrastructure services; 5.5%
  • Management and security services; 2.8%
  • (PaaS, Platform as a Service) application infrastructure services; 1%

The various cloud services segments are separated by large gaps and are growing at different rates, so it is actually a bit early to tell what the relative sizes will be in a mature industry. Despite this uncertainty, there is clearly strong and growing demand for every kind of cloud service. Part of this is because the business decision to use cloud services is as clear as the one that leads companies to lease or rent equipment for conferences and temporary projects—it lets them avoid the expense of hardware purchases and the hassle of repairs, maintain at least 99% uptime, and watch everything just work. Cloud service providers make some of the very same arguments.

Global market growing

When Gartner looks at the global cloud services market, it finds that emerging regions—North Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, etc.—have high growth, but smaller markets. (The exception is China, which is both large and growing.) Conversely, more mature regions—Europe, North America, Japan, the mature Asian/Pacific economies—have larger markets, but low growth. When entering a new foreign market, Apple, like many successful firms, uses cross-cultural marketing techniques to reach the particular nations and cultures involved. Viewing each country or region with regard to its unique cultures, languages, and traditions is just good business, which is why Apple does it for everything from the Mac to the iPhone. Generally speaking, cloud service providers entering a foreign market will succeed to the degree that they succeed at this.

First, of course, cloud service providers must recognize the opportunity that isbeyond the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Of the total world spending on new cloud services from now through the end of 2016, Gartner expects the North American market to account for 59%, Europe 24%. Smaller markets—led by “Greater China,” Indonesia, India, Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil—may account for fewer dollars in spending, but will achieve higher growth rates. Gartner’s chief of research, Ed Anderson, advises the many cloud service providers to serve the mature markets while reaching out to the emerging ones “to capitalize on the high growth of these regions, particularly Latin America and Greater China.”