Universe, by Jonathan Harris and the world
July 25, 2007 2:23 AM   Subscribe

Universe is the newest project from Jonathan Harris, who was also behind the amazing WeFeelFine, and the Yahoo Time Capsule. Here's a talk he gave about his projects at TED 2007.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken (20 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
We can imagine that people first made constellations to humanize the sky, to make the infinite darkness seem less foreboding.

To humanize the sky? Aren't most constellations, like say Orion, associated with Gods or mythical figures?
posted by three blind mice at 2:48 AM on July 25, 2007

Your perspicacity in penetrating directly to the point of the whole endeavour by nitpicking the text description has left me breathless!

To respond, little as I want to: the gods have always been humanity writ large, I'd say. Seeing figures from mythology or gods (or animals or...) in the scatterings of lights are most assuredly ways to humanize the cosmos.

Watch the lecture for some background on what's going on in these applications. Me, I think it's pretty amazing stuff.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:20 AM on July 25, 2007

We can imagine that people first made gods to humanize the universe.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 4:26 AM on July 25, 2007

Or that the universe made us to humanize itself.

Very interesting, stavro. Thanks for sharing..
posted by Avenger at 4:28 AM on July 25, 2007

People made this universe to boondoggle investors. Yes, amazing stuff goes on inside the application, but on the outside it's a little familiar, things float, rescale, draw lines of affiliation, compress into an illegible icon, evade your cursor, reveal scant information upon a click, but at least respond by moving, drawing more lines, rescaling, etc.

Etsy, digg, and now daylife have the right idea. Create something that works first, then slap on something pretty to look at that people will rarely use, but that has entertainment value as well as info-parsing value. At least etsy and digg can present it without a shell of theoretical hucksterism to justify the form. . .

As humans, we have a long history of projecting our great stories into the night sky. This leads us to wonder: if we were to make new constellations today, what would they be? If we were to paint new pictures in the sky, what would they depict? These questions form the inspiration for Universe, which explores the notions of modern mythology and contemporary constellations.

How about a revision along the lines of "Since the beginning of time, man has yearned to . . . [make floaty representations of data and skin it with something that looks like a night sky]"

I have nothing against playing around with the presentation of information. Just, well, lighten up.
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 5:02 AM on July 25, 2007

Sure, but I'm not certain that the Universe app is meant to be something that 'works'.

In the same way as the WeFeelFine app, I think it's more about contemplative play and a certain pleasurable synaptic fusillade that comes from pattern recognition than about being useful and executive-dashboard-key-performance-indicator-y. But that might just be me.

I would further suggest that the mythological bafflegab is consonant with that aim and suggestive that lightly is actually the way you're meant to approach it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:23 AM on July 25, 2007

I wonder if this will fare as well as Harris's justcurio.us
posted by rottytooth at 6:26 AM on July 25, 2007

Very nice. Thanks for posting this.

I am curious though, as to how this can be used in a different iteration. Any thoughts?
posted by zerobyproxy at 6:30 AM on July 25, 2007

Yeah, these toys all look nice, but what do they do? Not much, so they're not really tools.

What do they say? Not much, so (by one standard) they're not really art.

Give a hippy a laptop and he'll start gazing at our collective belly button instead of his own. I'm guessing the skinning-up before the project was at least as good as the skin on the data.
posted by Jakey at 8:02 AM on July 25, 2007

I loved Jonathan Harris in Lost in Space and am happy to hear that he's moved on to new projects after that show was canceled.
posted by Slothrup at 9:46 AM on July 25, 2007

I'm not installing Java just to see this.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:53 AM on July 25, 2007

This was excellent -- thanks, stavros.

Jakey -- what about wefeelfine? Do you really think that doesn't say anything either?
posted by suedehead at 10:59 AM on July 25, 2007

Sometimes you want to make a thing because of the thing-in-itself. This way wisdom lies, no matter how many jokes about stoned hippies people might want to make. [NOT HIPPYIST]
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:32 PM on July 25, 2007

suedehead- no I don't think wefeelfine says anything at all. It's just a blog scraper with a fancy skin.

As for making something just for the sake of it - fine, I think that's a healthy thing. Just be honest about it. "I was fucking around, and I made this, and I think it looks cool." Don't go all Deepak Chopra and babble on about the wisdom this will bestow upon us all.
posted by Jakey at 2:37 AM on July 26, 2007

Don't go all Deepak Chopra and babble on about the wisdom this will bestow upon us all.

Bite me.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:52 AM on July 26, 2007

Or, to be less pithy: I wasn't talking about anybody bestowing wisdom on anybody, for fuck sakes. It's not possible.

But doing something because you think it's cool, for its own sake: that's what life's about, I reckon.

And Deepak fucking Chopra can bite me, too.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:55 AM on July 26, 2007

Sometimes you want to make a thing because of the thing-in-itself. This way wisdom lies

Oh sorry, I feel much better now that I realise you were just showing me the path to my own enlightenment, rather than having wisdom bestowed upon me.

I already said that I don't disagree with the idea of doing something for the sake of it. Just don't make it out to be more than what it is. That seems to be what Harris and you are doing.
posted by Jakey at 3:46 AM on July 26, 2007

No, dumdum: for the second time, I wasn't pointing you or anyone else towards anything, much as your dogged determination to misread makes it seem that you might need a bit of pointing.

I will admit that I did sound like a bit of a twat with the whole '...this way wisdom lies...' bit, but I actually do believe that what I said is true for me: that it doesn't matter what you do, it's good if do it for the sake of the thing itself. But (again, for the third time, so maybe it'll sink in) I don't know or give a shit where wisdom or anything else lies for you, nor would I presume to try and tell you.

Now go look up 'descriptive' and 'prescriptive' and give me a 500 word essay on the difference.

No, on second thought, don't bother.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:26 AM on July 26, 2007

I'm not sure whether it would do you more good to get the stick out of your ass or your gaze out of your navel, but either would be a start.

What a lot of fuss for a couple of pieces of candyfloss.
posted by Jakey at 7:41 AM on July 26, 2007


Wrong again -- the only fuss is over you accusing me of doing and saying something I didn't, whether or not Harris is also guilty of it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:57 PM on July 26, 2007

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