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Seven things…

9 August, 2009

A few days ago, I was tagged by the lovely Raiha Buchanan, fellow Twitterer and blogger based in Stockholm, in a chain-letter style challenge to write seven facts about myself that I have not already revealed here — then I, in turn, get to choose seven others to do the same. Seeing as I seldom disclose anything more than basic personal specs and general unsensationalized opinion on-site, it comes as the perfect excuse to do something a bit different, especially seeing as I’m now very much obliged… And so, after two months of not having posted despite the initial plan promising otherwise, what follows below is a deviation from the usual — which I hope helps to shed a little light behind the anonymity that so easily surrounds us online.

1 I’ve moved house seventeen times, eight times of which were overseas. I moved to Cairo three months after I was born in Hampstead, London — then came Manama, London, New York, Cairo again, London again, and back to Cairo until I finally landed here in London once more. Contrary to popular belief, neither of my parents are diplomats, but the moves were due to my dad’s work throughout my childhood. The recent bout of chronic relocation, however, is entirely my own fault. And as much as I’d like to settle down in one place and feel what it is to have real roots in one place instead of a dozen, I certainly wouldn’t rule out moving again in the foreseeable future (and might already have a place in mind)…

2 Conventionality is not my forte, although that’s more general consensus than it is fact. The fact is I’ve never been through second grade in elementary school because I was mistakenly put in third grade a year early. I did tenth grade twice,  left high school twice, finished secondary education without having officially graduated, and left university two times over. I originally wanted to be an architect but studied for degrees in Law and International Relations. And after setting out in web design when I was fifteen, starting work as a graphic designer at eighteen and taking a couple of gap years since, it seems it’s taken me forever to realize that what I’ve loved to do part-time is precisely what I should be doing full-time.

3 I’m missing a ligament in my left knee. My anterior cruciate ligament, to be exact, which I tore during a school basketball game when I was fifteen. Because I couldn’t warm up to the prospect of sticking in reallocated tendons with metal screws, I decided not to have the routine reconstructive surgery and opted for physical therapy and life-long conditioning instead. So for a few months I had to wear a brace that looked a lot like this, only mine had tiny flecks of silver on it because at the time I thought it would make an otherwise embarrassing clunk of aircraft aluminium look slightly cooler. A year later, I returned to basketball and started long-distance running at my new school after I moved again to Cairo.

4 I shaved my head when I was eighteen. The reason I did it would require another post of its own, so I’ll spare you the tale of teenage angst. Suffice it to say it involved long hair, a pair of scissors, and a leg razor (until I remembered there was an electric clipper in the bathroom cupboard). I also have seven piercings, none of which would require indecent exposure to view in public. I’ve thought about tattoos, but have too big a fear of commitment to get something done that would require a laser (and more than £100) to remove — which pretty much sums up my personal character when it comes to taking risks with seemingly permanent consequences.

5 I’ve been a vegetarian for ten years, with the exception of seafood. I’ve also been (involuntarily) wheat-free for five. Admittedly I am one of those home-grown, pro-organic, green-thumbed, animal-loving, unprocessed, canvas-bag-toting types who dislikes parabens and will happily wash out and separate all recyclables. But I much rather practice without preaching, and also tend to avoid other associated stereotypes such as meat substitutes and communal living.

6 I often unintentionally collect things. Books, teas, magazine cut-outs, old photographs, photographs of nothing in particular, Chuck Taylors, hard drives, Moleskines, cardboard, tableware, JPEGs in duplicate, more links than I can realistically sift through before we colonize Mars. Things I used to collect: mixtapes, wine, magazines, old ticket stubs, unused SIM cards, PDFs I’d never get around to, domain names, foreign currency before the credit crunch became an entry on Wikipedia. And for the sake of conveniently moving house, at no point may the sum of all things exceed the interior dimensions of a 6-seater van (two suitcases, four medium boxes, a backpack and 10TB).

7 My favourite place is at the summit of Mt Sinai. I’ve done the night climb to watch the sunrise at least once every year (or whenever the available time-to-money ratio has permitted), and the sheer overpowering magnitude of absolute silence whilst up there is worth every effort. In general, I love places without the frills that turn every location into a five-star destination brochure. Other places that I love and enjoy include Hampstead Heath, Djurgården, Massanutten Mt, Jardin des Tuileries, the coral reefs of Dahab, and any place where there’s an evening spent in good company with memorable conversation and great music.

So there you have it, the minutiae of an otherwise ordinary existence. And now next in line for the public dissection challenge, I’ve chosen three people whose posts on design, music, and other cultural miscellany continue to intrigue me on a daily basis: they are @inahill, @Goreki, and @H_C (in whose case a run-down of top 7 albums in a journal entry on Last.fm would be fine as well!). The rules of the challenge are written out here more clearly than how I described them above… I look forward to reading, and good luck!

Related Posts

Paint by numbers

Love thy neighbour

Sarah Badr © MMIX

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Wikipedia bound

5 June, 2009

Wikipedia by Rob Matthews, 2009
5000 pages, fully printed

The wonderful world of the interweb is evermore glorious when reminded of the sheer vastness of information that it contains. Even more impressive is the notion that it’s  all held together by a seemingly haphazard yet infinitesimally detailed overlapping of data that spans across networks in an ordered fashion. What better example of this than in the pages of Wikipedia, the massively successful partner of the now defunct encyclopedic project Nupedia, which too was based on collaborative user contribution (experts exclusively on the latter) for reference content published and available freely under copyleft license. Long gone are those days of Encyclopædia Britannica infomercials with special offers on gold-embossed A-Z volumes requiring a sturdy new bookcase of their own. Not even the online version of the classic American public school library mainstay has been able to compete with Wikipedia and its magnitude of documentation that (despite its increasingly sophisticated system of editing and global moderation) is seldom permitted for citation in academic research due to much whinging by the establishment over its accuracy and lack of official review.

But of course much has changed since Wikipedia was launched formally in 2001, today with a tally of wikis (‘quick’ in Hawaiian or ‘what I know is’ in backronym) spanning 262 languages at a grand total of 2.9 billion articles in English alone. And thanks to the brilliance of Brighton-based artist/designer Rob Matthews, his 2009 project rightly titled ‘Wikipedia‘ demonstrates its immense scale through the actual printing and binding of roughly 2,529 articles comprising the niche featured articles section. According to Matthews’ mission statement for the project, his aim is to ‘question its use as an internet resource’ by ‘reproducing [it] in a dysfunctional physical form’. This single volume (photo above) equates to 5000 pages literally standing at a fraction of around 1/1,140th of all existing (English) articles. And aside from the obvious fantastical sight of seeing a book that is so much taller lying down than when sitting upright, the dimensional challenge it poses visually whilst in print is one that truly reaches the core of what Matthews hopes to achieve through this bizarrely tangible display of the virtual web.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Great unveiling (pieces at random)

Typographer’s bible (pieces at random)

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Underground evolved

3 June, 2009

As a consequence of not having had the chance to post over the last couple of months, I’ve missed out on announcing news just as it was breaking out on the aggregated feed circuit. But that’s not to say that any of the initial excitement or relevance has waned at all since then, especially when the headlining content added another unique dimension to the way in which we surf and enjoy the web — precisely the reason why the new site launch of R.fm still deserves a much coveted honourable mention as the site to watch closely in the upcoming months as it continues to reshape the frontier that exists between interactive blogging and dynamic multimedia. Taking off on 15th April and flying high ever since, the redesign of the online music channel/magazine/library/gallery dubbed ‘Acid Squaredance‘ was one that was much anticipated not least due to knowing how well the dynamic team of curators, designers and music-lovers over at R.fm Headquarters have managed to provide the much-needed answer to what was once music-based television programming in the past, but is now streaming on-demand in today’s digital and mobile age.

I have myself lamented on more than one occasion here previously over both the scattered nature of genuinely good music video content and the (lack of) comprehensive accuracy with which it’s reported (it’s precisely for these reasons that I began compiling my own finds onto Ampersound, so as to not lose track  of the bookmarks whilst doing the daily browse-through on YouTube, Vimeo, Dailymotion and countless others that are often not M[usic?]TV). Fortunately for the genuine music fans out there, the Acid Squaredance ethic is obviously one that serves to remedy this gap in the market by not only putting great videos into correct context, but by also allowing viewers to explore the artists/musicians/directors behind them — plus an added bonus of live sets, recommendations, and news at the fore in the world of art, design and culture. What’s more is that the new site layout is incredibly attractive, with its sleek monochrome interface punctuated by accents of colour and seamless navigation inspired by the Grid-A-Licious theme.

Pre-relaunch, my first experience of R.fm had been on the net-TV hub Joost a long while back, by then already a popular music gateway featuring a finely curated selection of recordings and video clips showcasing some of the finest specimens that the club scene has had to offer in recent years. With a solid following locally on the video/premier mobile platforms as well as spinning off into the Last.fm community and across the Facebook grapevine, the Stockholm-based network is deeply embedded within the culture it aims to curate as they work ‘in close co-operation with artists, directors, creative studios and imprints’. Post-relaunch, R.fm has come to aptly demonstrate the great potential of how well music-based content found across the web and in the hottest clubs worldwide can be compiled to form a single online hub through intelligent design. And the credit is owed to the creative team led by founder/creative director Joel Brosjö and design partner Suprb — the studio founded by Andreas Pihlström, who himself has recently relaunched his own site on the Cargo Collective platform where you can browse through his brilliant portfolio.

Alongside co-founder Ebrahim Isaacs, channel manager Gustav Bagge, and ambassador Lucho Ojeda (also running the dB night in Stockholm) on-board, you can rely on their channel for daily servings of visually stunning, high-resolution videos featuring equally impressive tracks ranging between techno, house and minimal to IDM, dubstep, and the more experimental variants of electronic music. You can sign up to the monthly newsletter, and also keep track of the regular stream of R.fm conversation, updates and current trendspotting news on Twitter @acidsquaredance and via the site’s Twitterfeed @rfmupdate. And after you check out R.fm’s must-see interactive section titled ‘Lookbook‘, you’ll have no doubt that the underground has truly evolved.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: R.fm – Underground Evolved

Freeloading limit (pieces at random)

Ampersound (pieces at random)

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Restoration

1 June, 2009

Today, a new month begins along with what appears to be a veritable (20°C and sunny) summer in London, and I realize that two months have flown by since I last wrote let alone logged into what now appears to be a newly upgraded WordPress. April and May’s seemingly perpetual state of silence on-site marks the move to my seventeenth new home — nearly as many homes as I am old — and there hasn’t been enough time to unpack the boxes let alone post here properly with work, travel, interviews and portfolio reviews looming around the corner.  Internet access has also been touch and go for the most part of the last two volatile months, but I’ve been trying as best I can to supplement the gaps left here by posting links on Twitter instead for convenient and mobile reading — all of which can be followed @shbadr. But things are gradually settling down again as the spring season overdrive shifts gears for a while and I take a break to catch up on news, reviews and opinion pieces (one in particular about the reason I moved) that have been sitting in the draft box for far too long whilst I browse furniture catalogues and try to track down items in the massive upheaval of unopened cardboard…

I have also just turned twenty-four — a ripe three days since, in fact — and though arguably not marking any significant transformation overnight, I increasingly contemplate the long-coming advent of my ‘quarterlife crisis‘ and all it implies in the flurry of my changing circumstance and sobering aims and ambitions as life’s momentum necessitates that I grow old. To give you a little preview of what’s to come in what hopefully will not be an exhausted series of essays about adult disillusionment and lifestyle management for the Web 3.0-savvy, I must now declare that I have come to despise London as much as I did Cairo some five years ago, and it is very much a people-rooted sentiment rather than that of the presiding urban locale and its somewhat ancient façades. Having been forced to endure six months of torture in my previous abode (suffice it to say a handbook titled How to Deal with London Landlords and other Satanic Creatures from Hell is shortly forthcoming), I have learnt many things that I’d like to share with future unsuspecting London tenants, city-dwellers and twenty-somethings alike.

But I’ll save those lessons for what’s to come as  the hiatus is officially broken and regular posting resumes. Until then, many thanks to those who have continued to visit throughout this period of unbecoming muted activity, and I look forward to repaying the favour throughout the upcoming summer months and beyond.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Parallel posting (pieces at random)

Typographer’s bible (pieces at random)

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Arvikafestivalen

28 March, 2009

Click here for poster at higher resolution

Now that March has seemingly flown by without a trace, little obvious sign of the winter workload relenting has brought on the desire to fast-forward to the summer and some semblance of a real vacation. After thoroughly browsing through the summer festival pickings up for grabs, the selection has finally been narrowed down by the help of a friend who knows exactly which musicians to whom I’m most likely to fork over my hard-earned cash for three memorable days of performances and crowd revelry in celebration of some of the most talented acts on the festival circuit. And in this case it’ll be 1195,00 kronor (roughly £100) channelled for the Arvikafestivalen 2009 line-up that is massively (if not absolutely) unparalleled. Of course others such as Hultsfred, Roskilde, The Big Chill and Glade festivals are all fantastically enticing alternatives in and around the UK. But with this one being in Arvika — not to mention the inclusion of Nine Inch Nails on their ‘last tour‘ alongside new material featured by Fever Ray, Depeche Mode, Röyksopp, Jenny Wilson, KoRn, The Mars Volta and the eclectic list goes on — it’s almost impossible to pass up on the opportunity. Having said that, it might also be worth applying for a press pass prior to the 31st May deadline for some exclusive insights if you’re a photographer or journalist.

So if you’re reading this and already planning on going, feel free to get in touch for some fun camping coordination in July. And don’t forget to switch off your lights tonight at 8.30pm local time for Earth Hour!

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Fever ray (pieces at random)

Beginning the end (pieces at random)

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Freeloading limit

25 March, 2009

As far as predictions go, this is likely to be the beginning of a series of features on the sustainability of various net-based business models experiencing the expository glory of the Web 2.0 surge over the last few years. And conveniently helping to kick-start this debate, revolutionary social music network Last.fm very briefly announced on the Last.HQ blog yesterday that they are to begin charging a non-optional subscription rate (should you choose to continue using the service) to users living outside the United Kingdom, United States and Germany. This €3.00-a-month decision is suggested to come as a result of the international licensing fees that have restricted the likes of Pandora from fully tapping into markets beyond their conventional core user-base back in 2007. Understandably, this creates a veritable dilemma once considering how it is precisely the regions beyond the UK, US and Germany in which such multimedia platforms have been seeing unbridled interest, use and support amongst a diverse forum of users and music listeners as they become increasingly connected and integrated with one another through technology and word-of-mouth. Of course this wouldn’t be the first instance of a move towards charging a premium for content, seeing as online news publications and Google (TBC) are already foraying into a world where free content is yielding to the need to compensate for falling advertising revenue in face of the economic downturn.

But before I grind my axe about YouTube and others, it is important to highlight the fact that the current state of free content simply cannot be sustained forever if one is to also expect product innovation, service differentiation and the expansion of  services offered online. I have written numerous times about Last.fm, very much in praise of what it has done to shape the media landscape in terms of enriching the music listener’s experience whilst facilitating interaction with enthusiastic and perhaps like-minded individuals on an international scale unparalleled despite the recent flood of new music-oriented web platforms. Slightly less obviously so, it has additionally helped to cultivate one’s passion for a variety of musical stylings that may have ordinarily taken a lifetime to explore, furthermore helping to dispel the notions of bad science linking music to the twisted world of profit-based corporate initiatives and targeted advertising (although when examining the nature of the press release, that latter point can easily be disputed). It is for these reasons and many others that the current model would undeniably need to be modified to sustain the company after the CBS acquisition and, sadly, the subsequent laying-off of staff here in East London this past December.

Now Last.fm states that the ‘business decision’ was needed ‘in order to keep providing the best radio service on the web’ and ‘support all the other free services’, promising to provide ‘unlimited access’ alongside improvements ‘for years to come’. One should emphasize, however, that user communications support, scrobbling, charts, recommendations, the events calendar, etc., will remain free for access worldwide. They optimistically state that there will also be a ’30 track free trial, and we hope this will convince people to subscribe and keep listening to the radio’. But despite that all seeming to be in the user’s best interest, the expected backlash will perhaps supersede that which took place following the major interface overhaul last summer. The flood of comments and forum dialogue already provides a fair amount of indication of such, with statements ranging between a series of disapproving expletives and those highlighting the increased attractiveness of alternatives such as Grooveshark, Deezer, RadioVeRVe and Spotify (especially in France). People have also enquired about the precise geographic determinants of the charge (IP address, postal address, nationality?), whilst expressing that the service should either be free for all or free for none.

It is that final note that directs attention to the notion of freeloading and the future of content consumption in a world where not only licensing varies extensively, but also purchasing power parity of currency differs between countries in a manner which makes a move such as Last.fm’s seem highly discriminatory. And it may be the case that the lack of consistent pricing across the board in member countries may prove to be at odds with EU law. But there does seem to be a general view that loyal users who may already be subscribed will go unaffected regardless of location; meanwhile, freeloaders will switch to the alternatives mentioned above, therefore increasing the cost of competition throughout the entire marketplace for everyone (including the competitors). In theory, Last.fm can take this risk now, especially if there is concern as regards to how the recent spike in the popularity of Spotify’s free on-demand service will cut into the Last.fm radio-listening user-base — that is until the two applications become more complementarily integrated. Whether the move will lead users to turn to Spotify or revert back to illegal filesharing is yet to be seen, though I suspect a younger audience located outside the G3 nations who are without the convenience of credit card access will resume (if not doing so already) the use of P2P and mirrors without any trouble at all.

According to Last.fm’s Matthew Ogle, the UK, US and Germany ‘are the countries in which we have the most resources to support an ad sales organization, which is how we earn money to pay artists and labels for their music. We are focused on the US, UK, and Germany as key markets, with the help of the CBS Interactive salesforce and our own sales team here in London. Our headquarters are in the UK and we’ve always had a strong presence in [Germany]. And so we’ve made the decision to focus on these markets for free streaming radio.’ But it would be naive to think that this only impacts specific markets, because web developers will be affected as well. As Steven Bengtson, a creator of the application Songbird, has pointed out, ‘this is also a big pain [because] we are releasing an update to our Last.fm add-on that allows streaming [and now] too bad for those other countries’. In addition, the same goes for labels whose main operating base lies outside of the G3, as a representative from a Brazilian label mentioned in discussion, making Last.fm less prominent of a feature in terms of marketing the music of a label to a home audience facing a price barrier under the proposed scheme.

Out of all the Last.fm user comments, perhaps this one best sums up the current situation: ‘It’s been a pleasure building up a global database for you so you can turn it into gold and then screw people over.’ A successful business strategy is, after all, extremely difficult to fine-tune and maintain whilst adapting to market forces fluctuating in a volatile global economic climate — not to mention the difficulty in appeasing everyone involved, especially when everyone is the massively infinite online community. Evolution is absolutely necessary in order to stay afloat and survive in the longrun, and a good demonstration of prospective monetization of web-based applications to build up the coffers in ways surpassing the potential of advertising was the spoof article in recent circulation on Twitter, itself about Twitter and the creation of premium accounts. Already Twitter has begun to test its own advertising model, bringing it closer in line with Facebook’s Beacon. But whereas content on networks such as Twitter and Facebook is user-generated rather than licensed by media industries (music, mainstream news and ‘premium’ video content) long struggling in the advent of piracy and online technologies, advertising no longer seems to be helping to balance the books.

To be honest, as I am currently in London and already a Last.fm subscriber, I am not particularly affected. However had I been in either Stockholm or Cairo at he moment, I would have to reconsider the burden of my subscription (probably dropping it for the latter city in question due to the exchange rate). Having written my IB dissertation on socio-economic disparity rooted in exchange rates and purchasing power parity in relation to the Third World some years ago, €3.oo will never seem to me to be a ‘mere’ €3.oo to be spent on something in a country where bootlegs are no more taboo than breathing the polluted air is. But for the time being, I will have to ask fellow neighbours and Last.fm users about whether or not they would be willing to pay the premium — especially if they are Spotify users as well. And I’m sure that the general outlook will change once Spotify becomes available worldwide, though considering the headache of all the licensing red tape it’s currently up against, part of me thinks global domination will be very unlikely for some time yet. But until then, perhaps Last.fm would be best advised to adopt Facebook’s recent approach of democratization if it is to maintain its popularity — and hopefully then it will take into serious consideration the feedback it has received from its users thus far after such a significant proposal of change.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Spotify v Last.fm (pieces at random)

Love thy neighbour (pieces at random)

Site overhaul (pieces at random)

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Corner piece

11 March, 2009

Dan Flavin - Corner Piece

Dan FlavinUntitled (Corner Piece), 1987 4 neon tubes ed.3/5

I.

Vision

underwhelmed
by the image
not there,
we resign
to inequity
in fear

alone in our existence
we cannot be justified

and onward we walk
from ashes to dust,
time casts her shadow
as life slowly unravels.

II.

Trick Mirror

So we met one night
right here as we do
immersed in the darkness
of the search-and-conquer,
And you sat on a bench
with eyes unfocused
as your blankness gazed
expressionless and small

You turned to me then
as you turn to me now
with head held in hands
sizing-up whilst smiling,
Beneath shadows cast
by a deception drawn
you affirm the void within
your meaningless defense.

– Sarah Badr

© 2009.  S.H.Badr, All Rights Reserved.

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