Simon Kuo »

Food

Castelvetrano Olives

Food. An innocuous word. Four letters and one syllable. The word sounds a little funny. Say it slowly. It’s not grandiose or evocative like other short words like “seek,” or “fear.” It is four letters but cannot be profane. It’s not even as connotative as the word that describes its subset: meat. And yet….one can associate rapturous things to its blandness. Like a shiny, salt-crusted, bright green olive, marinated in luxurious, first press oil and infused with fragrant herbs that provide a complex counterplay to the firm, tangy interior one tastes when it is slowly chewed. It seems almost a shame to spit out the hard seed inside when teeth and tongue encounter it.

And then think about a plate of fresh, grilled sardines. Redolent with a meaty sweetness that is tempered by the faintly briny taste of sea and char from the fire upon which it was seared. Place one on a crisp, homemade saltine and feel the mixture of textures, meaty and crunchy; then chase it with a quick bite from a brightly flavored, dill-infused, pickle spear.

Images can be powerful complements to words and memories even with a thing routinely described as lifelessly as with the label “food.”

Crossroads Sojourn

Approach

On an unseasonably cool Wednesday in the middle of summer, we decided to explore the neighborhood. Heading west from 17th and Washington Street, we climbed the hill toward The Westside Local, a new, stylish restaurant filled with oddly shaped tables that are fashioned from salvaged wood. It had opened a few weeks earlier and since had become a favorite. Though we were tempted to stop and visit with Troy and Kim, we passed it by this time.

Lill’s is a quaint place located on the side of a hill on 17th Street and unlike many other days when we had walked by, it happened to be open. We opened the iron gate, went up some narrow stairs that led to the front door and walked into coolness. With a bar and register shoehorned into what was once the foyer of a pleasant house and narrow tables in what perhaps used to be a living room, the restaurant is a refreshing oasis of serenity seemingly designed to help you while away an afternoon drinking icy and well-mixed sangrias.

The temperatures in the Crossroads were a cause for celebration because the norm for deep summer in Kansas City is a sweltering 95 degrees. We weren’t the only ones who felt that way, as we passed an ebullient couple crossing the street for lunch. Despite the breeze we were still pleased to see the red and white snow cone sign on the corner of 17th and Summit. We were disappointed, however that they were only sold on Saturdays; and their lure was not enough to spur us to return on the weekend for them.

For the past year, nights in the Power & Light district in the downtown area have been brightened considerably by thousands of neon lights adorning new buildings that give the area its name. Of particular note is the ultramodern AMC Mainstreet theater, originally built in the 1920′s and named the Mainstreet Missouri. On the outside it is a reminder of visits to theaters in years past, while inside, it is a plush, high-tech wonder of digital projection that has quickly become a local favorite.

AMC Mainstreet Theater

AMC Mainstreet Theater

Heuristics

78146060v6_350x350_frontjpgUnfortunately few people are receptive to the notion that they’ll benefit from your foresight. In other words it’s hard for someone else to learn from your mistakes. That’s why empowerment is such a powerful learning tool in the workplace. It allows relative novices to learn how to succeed through a trial and error-based decision process, but under the tutelage of someone more experienced. On the other hand, those who can learn from history or the past have the option of avoiding some of the most painful mistakes.

On Self-Promotion

The brilliant screenwriter Larry Gross wrote this to me recently as a result of a couple of e-mails I sent to him on art mashups and self-promotion in Hollywood:

Larry Gross

Larry Gross

“The French philosopher, (recently deceased) Jacques Derrida, in a very complex discourse on Rousseau in an early book called OF GRAMMATOLOGY theorized about writing as a “supplement” to identity. What is more and more true in our culture, is that these technologies are becoming essential supplements to identity. They are devices compensating for something missing in our existences, of which, I would argue we are unaware of to begin with–there’s nothing wrong with any of this–except for our radical not-being-conscious of it. All cultural practices are supplements in Derrida’s sense, and to some degree always have been–this is a transposition of a very old idea of Freud’s, that “higher” cultural activities attempt to satisfy needs, impulses cravings that aren’t being satisfied on a more immediate experiential-instinctual level–ANYWAY–there are a million issues here— the distinction between self-presentation and self-invention being one juicy issue, the distinction between some presumably a “real” self, and a self as a brand. And of course in this war of all against all for people’s attention, there is the question, what do we want to get people’s attention FOR beyond the statistical accomplishment of having gotten it.

Jacques Derrida

Jacques Derrida

If one wanted to be heedlessly optimistic one would celebrate the way in which everyone becomes the screenwriter-film-maker of one’s own life in this world of audio-visual technologies replicating and expanding at such insane speed. Stephen Mallarme’s visionary hypothesis in the 1870′s, “The entire world is exists in order to be part of a book” which pointed in the direction of results that Joyce and Proust would later achieve–now seems to be part of the currency of everyday cultural discourse. BUT there are seem to be a lot of unintended consequences (not to mention causes) for this that are not quite so constructive.

And beyond that, it doesn’t seem that very many of us are conscious of what it is we’re doing.”

I think he hits on many interesting points, not the least of which is our own lack of awareness of what we are doing, even as we take advantage of the multitude of self-marketing methods now available to us. Are our attempts to achieve fame simply fulfilling the need to extend our identity? Do we think this accomplishment will increase our chances for success with the various ventures we pursue even as the lines between business and personal identity blur? What is the balance between self-invention and self-presentation? I’ve tweeted about the large numbers of social media aficionados who seem intent only on promoting themselves or their products and it’s unclear to me in many cases why they even have a need to attract thousands of followers.

Finally what is the “real” value of these activities, or have we become so abstracted from what is useful to existence that self-promotion is simply a kneejerk reaction when communication is easy?

The Evolution of the Mashup

Ophir Kutiel aka "Kutiman"

Ophir Kutiel aka Kutiman

Most technologists are familiar with the term “mashup” as it is used to describe the collision of capabilities across applications. But like any other term that originated in technology this can also be applied to other domains, whether art, music or even food. I really loved this example in music. It is pure genius.

Ophir Kutiel or Kutiman, as he is known on YouTube.com, is an Israeli musician who has harvested videos of music and other sounds and has reassembled them into new tunes. Sampling and mixing is nothing new. It is the basis for DAW software like ProTools, the music industry standard, or Apple’s Logic Pro. However, finding the source of digitized sounds in the videos that others have made is a new twist that one might liken to the “found art” that was fashioned into assemblages by the Dadaists.

The Fountain by R Mutt aka Marchel Duchamp

The Fountain by R Mutt

The fact that this recycling of a concept from visual art is in itself a mashup between art and music and that parallels might exist between the vast wasteland of user generated video on YouTube.com and the discarded object that R Mutt (aka Marcel Duchamp) labeled “The Fountain” (figuratively and literally both might be considered by some to be from the same room in the house) adds to the cleverness of this approach. There is an aspect of self-awareness in the disdain for convention in the work of the Dadaists that distinguishes it from Kutiman’s ouevre, though the latter does not suffer at all from this. Kutiman’s sincerity is apparent in his introduction to his music and that this isn’t conveyed as a sort of inside joke makes it a more genuine work of musical art.

The Pitfalls of Inorganic Growth on Twitter

With the rise in Twitter usage and the publication of a plenitude of stories on influential news sources, there has been lots of guidance provided recently on how to get thousands of followers using “follower-pumping” practices. These usually recommend using “pyramid-scheme-” type tools, following people with similar interests who will follow you back, writing press releases, among other approaches. The more followers you amass, the greater the likelihood that the new people that you follow will follow you also. The use of Twitter-related rating services like Twitter Grader can also work in tandem with having a large number of followers to attract even more people, since numbers of followers is one method such tools use to calculate influence scores.

So what is the downside to such approaches compared to getting followers organically? Getting lots of followers increases your influence, right?

These tactics can be likened to startup companies that obtain venture capital funding early in their existence but don’t have a compelling value proposition. Just like VC funding can speed the development of promising platforms, rapidly increase a company’s market share due to spending on advertising and help a company grow rapidly in size, tactics to increase followers using schemes do work well enough to guarantee that one builds a large following.

But what happens after that? What do you do after you get a few thousand followers? Are your tweets interesting enough or valuable enough to sustain that number? Have you interacted directly with enough of your followers that they’ll remain with you even as you focus on gaining more followers? Are you producing enough content on other channels to sustain the number of followers you’ve amassed?

If your answer to these questions is “no” then you run the same risk as a promising startup that has created initial market momentum through outside funding, but doesn’t have a good enough product or management team to continue building profitable growth. Inevitably the funding runs out and since the company doesn’t generate enough revenue to remain profitable with a less-than-compelling product, it goes out of business. Likewise, on Twitter your followers will eventually leave you if you cannot sustain your follower count with authentic and useful interactions and you’ll be left with little credibility. Building a new audience when your reputation has been compromised is even more difficult than building that audience organically, one person at a time, through authentic and direct interaction.

Social Media Bombs

Most social media articles cover the marketing side of social media. How marketshare can be gained, products sold, reputations built on the savvy use of web 2.0 tools. But as with any compelling new technology, this medium can also be used for other purposes. One of these is the social media bomb. Defined as a series of coordinated acts on social media networks, the social media bomb is intended to attract attention through a viral dissemination of a specific message. Recently, Amnesty International asked it’s supporters to send out a message at 1:10 p.m. on Friday, March 6 on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. The message: “Each year, 1 in 10 women in Britain experience rape or other violence,” was intended to raise public awareness of this issue. The results of this social media bomb are not yet known, but one can see a difference in impact between Twitter, where pages of retweets still appear and MySpace and Facebook, where nary any evidence of the message exists. Nonetheless with the profusion of social networks, and the ability to communicate on them ubiquitously, one can imagine more such awareness raising efforts in the future.