iStock Photo’s Slow Customer Service

I have been using iStock quite frequently lately and I am quite pleased with the cost vs. quality that their catalogue provides. It’s not only a good source of stock but it’s a great place to find talent who are usually willing to take undemanding bits of work within my limited budgets. It’s a real boon to independent publishers as a way to supplement custom art. All in all the experience of using this part of the service has been fine with the added bonus of a strong user community.
But iStock begins to fail miserably when you actually have to interact with a real person who works with the company.
I sent by email a support request to their support address over a month ago without so much as an acknowledgment. A few days later thinking that perhaps that my mail got ‘lost’ I used their support form on their site. Luckily I got an automated reply but 30 days later I have yet to get my question answered by a human. And I must say it was a pertinent question not covered in their FAQ or contained within their forums. Snail mail would be faster than this. Actually, I ended giving up on using the service that I had the question about entirely.
Seeing as their is a dearth of Asian stock in their catalogue I thought it would be an interesting challenge to join the community as a contributor. Part of the strength of their catalogue comes from a seemingly vigorous human approvals process for each and every image submitted to the site. I submitted 3 images as they request in order for my application to be approved (you also have to pass a minor exam as well). 2 weeks later I heard back that one of my photos had ‘artifacts’ and such was rejected while another was rejected with no reason given. I submitted 2 new images for the application. It’s been over 2 weeks since. Obviously as valuable as this process is they need help.
iStock is a very successful company, largely as a result of their great user community, and despite the pitfalls I have mentioned I still use parts of the service. Their approvals process is painfully slow, which precludes using their interesting BuyRequest service for anything but the most untimely projects, and they never seem to answer support questions. As long as you don’t interact with people that work there than you will be fine. But is this any way to run a company?
[edit: November 4] I have since been contacted by both a volunteer and an official iStock customer service rep. – I am quite impressed with how they have handled my public comments. It would seem that my support question was responded to, the one with which was submitted by the contact form, and somehow it either never arrived at my inbox or got labeled as spam.
So it was all a mix-up and I think the way they handled it was superb.

The Problem with Telecommuting

This past Monday I had problems with my wireless network which prevented me from having access to the internet. I thought at the time it was a problem with my isp, as I had thought many times before, but playing with the settings created a voila moment, miraculously allowing network access.
Yesterday for some inexplicable reason I could not access a site that I use to run a web app.. In fact half of the sites I use, all on the same server, are unreachable – the other half are fine. All of these use the same block of IP addresses. I can’t continue with the work I was doing 5 minutes before the outage.
Is this the 21st century equivalent of my car won’t start?
Our increasing dependence on complex magical systems like the internet for our livelyhood makes me wonder what would happen if there were extended outages or increased unreliability at just the worst possible moment. I can’t get to work and there is no ‘internet bus’ to take me there.

Shift Mobile Art Competition

The aim of the competition is to discover fresh creators and support them, Shift provides a platform to show works using a mobilephone as a medium
The works will functioned as a mobile phone clock, and the submissions are available in 2 forms; analog and digital. Selected works will be broadly distributed within Japan. Deadline: December 20.
More Info.

Anniversary past

It was eight years ago, August 23rd 1998, when I first arrived in Taiwan. I forgot this auspicious date this past August, perhaps in an attempt to keep the length of my internment as vague as possible. Everyone always asks how long I have been here and being unsure if being apart of this long term foreigner click is good or bad, I never really give a definite answer. Time is a blur anyway – it still seems like yesterday when I was playing on shag carpet with my then ballerina friend to the tune of “Like a Virgin” by Madonna. Didn’t I just meet Sheryl on the streets of Antigonish, her holding a stack of books, me trying to look cool but failing (as always)? I still remember the smells of Taipei, the heat, it wasn’t the smell of sewer, the dominant fragrance of Hsinchu, but of eucalyptus (perhaps). It was pungount and nice and new. Memories of events are always stronger than the events themselves.
I swear that on August 23rd, 2008 I will fly out of CKS airport, or whatever name they will call by then, for the last time.

Issue 8: The Loop as a Temporal Form

Looks like some good reading for a few idle moments this weekend. Nice early 90’s web aesthetic!

As a form, the loop contradicts the linear structure we typically associate with time. The common-sense formulation understands time as a progression forward from moment to moment to moment, with a clear division of past, present and future. Yet many theories contradict this apparent truism. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, for example, organize time into chronos and aeon. Greg Hainge, a contributor to this issue, writes that the latter continually and simultaneously divides the event into the already-there and the not-yet here, while failing to settle on either. This describes a loop folding back on itself, while not returning to its place of origin. Elsewhere, Jacques Derrida uses this failure of origins to structure a system of ethics grounded in an attempt to elude the eternal return of the same. While Deleuze, Guattari and Derrida insist on this failure in their use of the loop as a temporal form, Sigmund Freud understands time in terms of telos and its failure. In other words, absent a forward progression through, for example, mourning, the individual is doomed to circle back repeatedly to the lost object. Both formulations of the loop, one that either returns or does not return to its origins, are at work in this issue’s articles.

Issue 8: The Loop as a Temporal Form.

December Exhibition

“To present the musical soul of the masses, of the great factories, of the railways, of the transatlantic liners, of the battleships, of the automobiles and aeroplanes. To add to the great central themes of the musical poem the domain of the machines and the victorious kingdom of Electricity.”
“I unfurl to the freedom of air and sun the red flag of Futurism, calling to its flaming symbol such young composers as have hearts to love and fight, minds to conceive, and brows free of cowardice.”
A few years ago I became enamoured with the audio environment around me. Through my photoblog at that time I had already been noticing and sharing small bits of visual artifacts but noticing interesting signals through all the noise that is present here was something new. When you take the time to listen you may find yourself surprised at the remarkabley diverse array of delightful noise. Your cityscape transforms itself into futuristic noise orchestra that constantly changes, a never ending performance, which in turn completely changes you and your relationship with your city.
And I started to record and think of ways to share what I heard. I decided I wanted to be a sound artist.
A year and a half ago I finished a body of work, well mostly just prototypes and concepts given form, of sound art and tangible UI/interactive art. It was a tremendous learning experience – an education in product development rolled up in less than a year. We exhibited in an entirely appropriate old railway house to some acclaim. Since then I have been lucky to show various pieces at other venues throughout Taiwan. But until now I haven’t had the oportunity to focus entirely on sound art.
This December I will exhibit my traffic series of installations in Puli Taiwan. I wanted to show more, including my ambient room, but budgets would not allow. I’m looking forward to it as a source of inspiration and a break from the doldrums of freelancing.
All the pieces are reltively similar but with different execution. Here are brief descriptions of the pieces:
Traffic 1
“Now we are satiated and we find far more enjoyment in the combination of the noises of trams, backfiring motors, carriages and bawling crowd.
To excite and exalt our sensibilities, music developed towards the most complex polyphony and the maximum variety, seeking the most complicated successions of dissonant chords and vaguely preparing the creation of musical noise.” -The Art of Noises- Luigi Russolo
Traffic 1 is a series of sound vignettes played through custom built enclosures. It communcates through sound various emotions felt during the daily commute through Hsinchu’s streets. Using the simplest tools possible I set out to recreate the sounds I hear when driving in traffic in Hsinchu.
Traffic 2
Traffic 2 attempts to create spontaneous real time auditory compositions or improvisations using data gained from network traffic. A secondary aim is to test our understanding of the usage of network data in the public and private sphere.
We treat the network as an unseen life form – a body in constant change – born from the usage patterns of the users of the system. By using network traffic as a tool for creating music we in effect illustrate this unseen form.
Unlike traditional musical performances, Traffic 2 does not exist over a set period of time. It is in effect never ending and never the same at any given point in time.
Traffic 3
Over a period of time we gathered sound samples from various locations throughout the city of Hsinchu. We edited these samples and tuned them to a specific harmonic structure. We then fed these sounds, over a 100 in total, into our software agent which communicates with our server. The result is a cacophony of sound which could be understood as the city of Hsinchu acting as a Futurist Noise orchestra driven by network traffic.

Adium the memory hog

I’ve been experiencing some severe slowdowns on my Powerbook lately, actions seem to take an age to complete. I have to free up some disc space it seems for the incredible amount of virtual memory that both the OS and applications in general gobble up. But a surprising culprit for eating up the finite amount of real memory was Adium. 140 meg of real plus 350 meg of virtual memory. This is more than Photoshop! Can’t programmers create lightweight apps anymore?
I don’t know how much the memory hungry Adium contributes to my Powerbook woes but I don’t need to keep in touch that much to not try alternatives. Like email.
msn: 21 meg (rm) 160 (vm)
skype: 44 meg (rm) 248 (vm)
yahoo: 45 meg (rm) 200 (vm)
ichat: 19 meg (rm) 178 (vm), ichat agent 5 meg(rm) 108meg (vm)

Designing the Mobile User Experience

“People use their mobile phones in environments in which there are hundreds of distractions competing for their attention. In such environments, services that require complex interactions fail.”
“Achieving simplicity and speed of access is the key to expanding people’s perceptions of the mobile Web to include information, entertainment, and commerce services.”
“Your first step is to determine the contexts in which people will be using your mobile service.”
“What you can’t overcome is choosing the wrong technology for a particular context of use.”
Designing the Mobile User Experience – Richard F. Cecil

The Taiwan Name Thing

I have been having some problems with my name lately. At my bank my account name uses my full name while my visa with the same bank uses just my first and last. Mail arriving to my house uses either my first and last, my Chinese name, or my first and last with an initial.
I get cheques from the US monthly and if you know Taiwan at all you know it’s an absolute miracle to be able to cash these. This enthusiasm tends to be tempered with the realization of all the forms you have to fill out. 30-40 minutes later you leave unscathed.
If there is any slight difference between what appears on the cheque and your name, hassles ensue. No amount of identification or proof will make a difference if the cheque does not match visually with what they have on file. Rules are rules that only they can break when it’s convenient for them. So, I change the way my name appears on the cheque. Now unfortunately the post office doesn’t recognize my name and returns all the cheques.
That useless middle name of mine. Prince had the right idea.

Artifacts as Urban Art

Many of my friends think it’s funny when I proclaim that the ad. stickers, posters, and notices I see plastered over the walls in Taiwan, Bangkok, and Hong Kong are a form of ‘urban art’. I love the random nature of the paper and characters and how over time the elements transform this form into something entirely new. It changes just like the environment around it.
I have an sound art installation whereby we tried to recreate what I saw (and heard) on the street. Though I spent a great deal of time culling the city for bits and pieces of what is seen in these photos here, it was never ‘ugly’ enough. It was too planned and had too much attention to detail. But it was one of my most popular installations.
This is a cross-post from my new web blog on Vox. Just what I need another web blog! I consider Vox to be a more restrained and slightly more mature MySpace.
More images like above can be found by browsing the archives on 35togo.

The Long Tail from IHT

An explanation of the jargon phrase that I keep wanting to explain but always fail.

Want to buy an out-of-print book, a folk song recorded on a 78-rpm disc or some 18th century ceramics from Lunéville? You know already that the Internet can connect you with such esoteric purchases.
What you may not know is that these products help make up “the long tail,” a phrase that describes the never-ending shelf life of products that are not mass-market, top-40 favorites.

The End User: Of tails and walls

Marijuana Café

When I first saw this sign for a new café in Hsinchu a number of weeks ago I did a double take as I thought for an instance that I had been transported through the continuum to lovely Amsterdam. Unfortunately I was just witnessing yet another creative use of the English language in Taiwan and was still expertly dodging scooters on the sidewalk in Hsinchu.

Woofer Speaker


Design: Sander Mulder & Dave Keune, Buro Vormkrijgers
This is functional kitsch; the wrong becomes the new right. By adding a function to an otherwise grotesque object, it acquires new aesthetic values, becoming an object of desire. Pun intended, this woofer holds the mids between an addition to your sound system and your loyal 4 footed companion.

Maybe this would be better suited to the office as I am sure it would scare the heck out of my daughter. Available at POAA for €599.
Found via SwissMiss.

Illusions of simplicity

My internet connection here at kelake world hq has been crapping out regularly lately. It’s like a tap where someone is controlling the regular flow of bits and bytes to my wireless network. One second we are blazing full speed ahead, the next nothing. In practice this means incomplete page loads and a constant refreshing of the browser. Not the most efficient use of my time.
This illustrates one thing I hate about technology. Everything in my office, except the printer, has been designed to be easy to use. The technology has been hidden from view behind a gui and elegant hardware screen. But this ease of use is an illusion. The technology hidden from view is immensely complicated and prone to all kinds of errors. It isn’t as easy as trouble shooting a leaky facet (though in Taiwan even that can be difficult). Where do I start and how much time will I waste trying to solve this problem?
Like many I will sit here, curse, and hope that this magical tool will somehow rid itself of all the problems that affect it.

Fotofalls photo holder

I’ve bought a few of these when I used to visit the design shops in Bangkok. I still like them and think they make great center pieces for tables. This version is sold at cb2 for $55.00US but I am sure you can get similar designs in Taipei and elsewhere.

Taiwanease Issue2

In the heads down mind fog of “bus(y)iness” of last week I forgot that Issue 2 of Taiwanease is out and available in limited (hurry get one before they are gone) quantities at key locations throughout English speaking Taiwan.
An interesting observation is that it seems that a front cover illustration of a stretched and tortured dead pig is far more acceptable to distributors than a cover featuring an illustration of a couple of Mormons.
I am starting to believe that there is more art in finding art than the actually process of creating art itself. Finding and directing good illustrators who are willing to follow a brief for free is a task I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. Though attractive in theory, stock companies that have an escrow service of sorts have proven to be useless. Who can wait 2 weeks for an email reply?
Here is an illustration from my friend 林授昌, who did the cover for this issue, that didn’t work out for the editorial.

Twelve days to a positive user experience

From the hesketh site and possibly written by Steve Champion. A bit early for an article with a festive theme but here in Hsinchu the Christmas lights stay up all year round. A few brief points:

  • It’s not the number of clicks to complete a task it’s the amount of thought that goes into these clicks(but reducing clicks is not a bad metric either)
  • Don’t produce a diarrhea of wordage … cut cut cut … think Miles Davis not John Coltrane
  • formal testing is not as important as testing (and iterate) if it means not testing at all

“So how do we create a positive user experience? Remember this mantra: User experience should be useful, usable, and satisfying. As you assess, architect, and measure the real experience of your users, you will craft better user experience…which leads to more value…which leads to increased profitability”.
In the words of my daughter, you can read the article if you like.