Friday, February 19, 2016

Staff Picks: Shel Silverstein, Max B, the history of emojis and more

Posted By , , , , and on Fri, Feb 19, 2016 at 3:17 PM

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Arkansas Times Recommends is a weekly series in which Times staff members (or whoever happens to be around at the time) highlight things we've been enjoying this week.

I don't understand Tumblr, and its very existence makes me feel insecure and prematurely aged in only the way that a social media platform you don't understand can do, but today I found a wonderful Tumblr called "70s Sci-Fi Art." (I'm using that word the wrong way, aren't I? Is that how you refer to it, as "a Tumblr"? I'm done for.)

The mix includes the odd tidbit from cultural behemoths like "Star Wars" and "Alien — promo posters, behind-the-scenes shots — but it's mostly far more obscure material, a bygone pulpy world of drugged-out planetary vistas, decaying space stations, assemblages of hallucinogenic automatons. Sword-and-sorcery tropes swirled in with space opera, comic book panels spliced in with Surrealist canvasses, all devoid of context, or maybe creating its own context. (Is that what Tumblr is for? Can somebody help me?) Robert Zelazny stuff, Philip Jose Farmer stuff, H.R. Giger stuff. Trashy, delicate jewels. It's beautiful. — Benji Hardy

Find and enjoy the art of Little Rock artist Sally Nixon. Her Instagram is a great place to start. — Bryan Moats

Recently Kanye West came very close to naming his new album "Waves." He didn't, but even the announcement of his intention to do so was enough to spark an extremely small-scale controversy, particularly among huge fans of the Harlem rapper Max B, who pioneered the use of the term "wavy" and has been in prison since 2009. Do you care about this? Anyway, Kanye named his album something else and released it — kind of. He made it available exclusively on the streaming service Tidal, which I don't have and insist on continuing not to have. So instead of listening to the new Kanye West album, which isn't titled "Waves," my recommendation this week is that you listen to Max B. — Will Stephenson

I've always loved the Shel Silverstein book "The Giving Tree," but I've never quite understood how one apple tree could produce enough wood for a house and a boat both. Maybe you all can tell me how that works? Maybe the next thing the tree should give is a few answers, don't you think? In any case, my recommendation is to keep your childlike sense of wonder and embrace the suspension of disbelief. And read more kids books. — Michael Roberts

We recently started using a new messaging platform, Slack, here at the Times. I highly recommend it! But that's pretty boring. Less boring: Slack allows you to insert emojis in communication. Designer Bryan Moats uses the dusty stick emoji (sort of like a witches broom) to mean "OK." I used a squirrel detective to mean the same. Today, Leslie Peacock insulted Will Stephenson on Slack and he responded with the fried shrimp. Naturally, all this has left some people (Leslie) flummoxed.

Thinking about all that while browsing the Internet led me to this amazing article from Fast Company, "The oral history of the poop emoji." It's about the process for how Google, seeking to expand its presence in Japan (where emojis were first developed) and elsewhere in Asia, introduced emojis into Gmail. Highlights:

Katsuhiko "Kat" Momoi, Google test engineer and internationalization expert: I’ve looked at some studies about how people [in Japan] feel about emoji and one of the things that they said is that it’s the easiest way to apologize — words can’t express enough. Or there’s another typical thing that female users say that if they receive mail that’s just letters and no symbols or emoji it feels like dry, dry, dry mail. If you include a few emojis suddenly it becomes personal. It brings a smile to your eyes. It softens the mood. It makes you feel like you received something with some emotional content.

Darren Lewis, Google Software engineer: I went over to Japan right around the time Takeshi was deciding which emoji were going to make it into the first cut of Gmail emoji. The poop was absolutely one of the necessary emoji that Takeshi said we have to have. There was actually conflict because there were people back at headquarters who had no idea what emoji were, and thought that having an animated poop in their Gmail was offensive.

Darick Tong, Google software engineer and American lead of the emoji project: There were a lot of purists who felt like emoji was invading the purity of email. We pushed hard for the poop emoji.

Ryan Germick, lead of Google Doodle team: I would reject the notion that it has one meaning. It’s a symbol in context, sort of like memes. You can do all kinds of funny things with it and use it with skill, but I guess the most common use is probably "that’s unfortunate, and I would like to punctuate my comment with a reiteration that I am displeased at what has just been expressed." It’s the anti-like.

Takeshi: It says "I don’t like that," but softly. 

— Lindsey Millar

If you are about to turn 64, I will recommend that you do not become addicted to the game Candy Crush Jelly Saga. See, what you have to do is free these disgusting pink and white worms call pufflers from behind the icing. Just try to follow me here. You blow up the icing by lining up candies in particular patterns. If you blow things up right, the detestable worms float up and away. But you only have 25 chances to rid yourself of four worms.

Talk about time sucks. But especially if you have an old brain, because you are never ever going to figure out how to get these revolting pink creatures — what a splat they would make if you could step on one! — out from behind the goddamn icing. But you keep trying. Late into the night. Ignoring your children, your spouse, your cat, which, having tried distracting you with a close-up of its nether parts in your face, is now knocking your glass of whatever from the bedside table to the floor in extreme irritation. Just don't do it. Read Moby Dick instead. Time's a wasting, old bean. — Leslie Newell Peacock

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