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Derivative Works from Daniel X. O'Neil

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The Ultimate Wide Right Turn

  The Ultimate Wide Right Turn 
  Originally uploaded by juggernautco.

One of my many content obsessions has been capturing

wide right turn signs on the backs of trucks. The other day I was downtown and caught my ultimate.

Apparently the concept of a wide right turn has passed into the collective conscious that a truck company feels secure enough to make a joke about the warning.

Sign says:

This truck makes wide turns www.wideturns.duh

Highwood Public Library

  Highwood Public Library 
  Originally uploaded by juggernautco.

Yesterday was a bright & sunny day in Chicago. Temperature in the 40s/ low 30s. Crisp and fresh.

So it was a great day to get out and take some photos for a friend of mine who runs a

tuckpointing business. I am doing a website for him and I wanted to get pics of his work.

He tuckpointed the Bahai Temple, which was beautiful today. The kids got a kick out of the place because it is so grand.

Next up we had to got to the Highwood Fire Department. At first we couldn't find it and we had to go to the bathroom, so we went to the Public Library.

Highwood is an odd boxy little town right in the middle of Highland Park, which is an extremely rich place. Highwood doesn't seem so rich. Here's a snip from the Highwood entry in the Encyclopedia of Chicago:

The 1886 Haymarket Riot led to the development of Fort Sheridan as a massing point for federal troops that could be used to put down urban disturbances. Employment on palatial North Shore estates and at Fort Sheridan became the primary source of income for Highwood residents.

The development of the fort affected Highwood's business district, which was soon filled with bars and taverns. Highwood's reputation led President Theodore Roosevelt to call it “the toughest town in America.” Highwood set such an example that the federal government required legislation prohibiting new liquor establishments near military installations before they would consider enlarging Great Lakes Naval Training Station in North Chicago. While Fort Sheridan helped introduce the liquor industry to Highwood, the fort alone could not sustain the area taverns. From Evanston to Kenosha, Highwood was the North Shore's only wet community. Patrons came from all North Shore communities to have a drink and find a home away from home.

In fact, the library was happily rambling and off-kilter. Orange 70s chairs placed awfully close to the stacks. Bookshelves arranged as walls for admin work. Low-slung one-story jobby with a few stair-step levels and ADA-compliant ramps inside. Closet-size bathrooms and brown/orange color pallette.

Being around too much money gives me the skeeves, and I started feeling that way driving up Sheridan Road for miles and miles. Right in the midst of such wealth and new construction and an architectural affinity for perfection, it was great to spend a little time reading about rainbows and skydiving at a table pushed up against a broken printer in the corner. Shows that good content can be consumed in all sorts of places.

CTA Alerts & The Redeye

So Kyra Kyles of the Chicago Tribune recounts the Year that Was for the

CTA and saw fit to mention CTA Alerts.

Wireless updates available ... but not from CTA

Rider Daniel X. O'Neil steps up to the plate to offer peer-to-peer wireless updates for the "L" and bus. Riders can sign up on www.ctatattler.com to get informal, but effective updates on CTA delays and problems. The CTA even subscribes and sends the occasional message.

CALL: Bad. The CTA should be ashamed that a rider beat them to the punch. This is a needed technology that improves the riding experience.

User-generated content that helps people make decisions at the moment they need to make them.

International Communications Data Mining by the NSA: Sounds Good to Me

Today's New York Times has a long story about how the NSA is monitoring all international electronic communication. They also have a news story that shows what the agency actually does:

25bamford75The agency has traced and analyzed the traffic flow - looking at who is calling whom, where calls originate and end, and other patterns - to gather clues on possible terrorist activities. In cases where security agency supervisors believe they can show a link to Al Qaeda, President Bush has authorized eavesdropping on calls without a warrant within the United States, so long as one end of the phone or e-mail conversation takes place outside the country.

It would be better if they got warrants. But it's great that the government is using

pattern recognition to help capture people who want to kill us and knock our buildings down. I am not a fan of our president, in fact I think he is the spawn of the jackal, but this one is a non-issue for me. Information in the aggregate is used to make Google searches better, why can't we use them to help protect us?

Yes, let's keep an eye on these creeps in office. But let's not be "shocked, shocked" to learn stuff like this.

Internet Art: Post Secret

The third-most popular weblog on Technorati right now is Post Secret, "an ongoing community art project where people mail-in their

secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard".

Post_secretBeautiful hand-made postcards that are in turn heatbreaking, poignant, and crack-up finny. There's a book, too. The curator, Frank Warren, is all about giving money to the National Hopeline Network for suicide prevention. Good stuff.

Here's what he says about mailing your secrets:

You are invited to anonymously contribute your secrets to PostSecret. Each secret can be a regret, hope, funny experience, unseen kindness, fantasy, belief, fear, betrayal, erotic desire, feeling, confession, or childhood humiliation. Reveal anything - as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before.

Create your 4-by-6-inch postcards out of any mailable material. If you want to share two or more secrets, use multiple postcards. Put your complete secret and image on one side of the postcard.

If your secret is posted, please consider mailing in a follow-up postcard, letter or email describing the effect, if any, the experience had on your life.

Be brief - the fewer words used the better.
Be legible - use big, clear and bold lettering.
Be creative - let the postcard be your canvas.

I recommend Basecamp for project management and collaboration

The people over at

37 Signals , the makers of Basecamp, have started an affiliate program. I recommend them. They certainly don't need any more buzz than they already have, but here's my take:

  • Not fussy. Nothing is that big of a deal on Basecamp. Everything is just sort of another thing to do. Lots of other project management or productivity software goes nuts with alarms, warnings, exceptions, etc.
  • Focus-Collaborative. It allows people to store and share and collaborate with a goal in mind (as opposed to just a weblog or wiki or message board)
  • Email-alicious. This is the killer app-- email and thread-storage are the same thing. No mind-melting trope-changing copy/paste needed

I use Basecamp for managing all of my side projects, for keeping key info I need later (directions for hosting account, domain name details, etc. I also use it for storing documentation on what the hell it is that I did when I made that TypePad template that delivers just headlines on the  Category Page, for instance.

Basecamp project management and collaboration

Go get.

No More John F. Burns Archive

So I've decided to stop updating the John F. Burns Archive. There are 180 posts in there-- many of them are the complete text of his articles, mostly from the beginning of this second

Montage_overview Gulf War we find ourselves in. I then decided to go to an "excerpts plus permalinks to free version on nyt.com" format. Now I am abandoning the project altogether. Here's why:

  • Technology and policy has passed it by. In September, the NYT launched TimesSelect, which gives anyone with a home subscription (or anyone who wants to pay an extra fee) access to 1,200 articles in their archive. Each article used to cost $2 each.
  • Lots of people whined. But the fact is that the NYT fashioned a policy that tore away my rationale for the archive. And it was the second time they did it
  • The first time was when they configured RSS permalinks that never required a login. And this is the second

The New York Times is providing tools to us internet artists. When I was putting together my Flickr photoset of images from my trip to China, I went in to the archive and read all of the Nicholas D. Kristof articles from the beginning of the Tiananmen Square protests. It was amazing. reading fresh daily news articles of an unfolding disaster. For free. Articles that sparked new art.

So that's it for archive. Onward and forward to newer art.

About This Site

Derivative Works is a weblog about content on the internet.

Content? What do you mean?

Published things. Everything on

Flickr , pushed through

, appropriated from

. Our instant message

. The stuff we post on Ebay. Everything on craigslist. The stuff that starts offline and wends its way online. Everything.

Isn't that a little broad?

Yes, and that's the point. I think that the millions of people who publish content on the internet are really just artists. And the amazing emerging tools that are being launched to serve them are art implements. And that there are precious few people calling this out.

There are lots of sites that do a great job of informing us about the business of technology, sites that meme us on the new applications and widgets, and sites that show us how to use the stuff.

There's also a robust press centered on the art world covering art created by artists. What I'm interested in is documenting what's happening with the rest of us, the ones just making stuff without naming it or naming it inadaquently. Blogs are really collage, and when we quote other blogs and newspaper clippings and mix them with our thoughts we're creating new art. When we collect images and mix them together with images from people all over the world, we're making art. Wireless communities are salons. et cetera.

Me, too.

This site is also personal. I want to name this stuff, and document it, in part so that I can make sense of what I've been doing for the past four years with my own art. Here's more.

The Enemy of an Idiot Must Be Cool

Over the years of my grand obsession with obituaries, I've learned that you can tell an awful lot about someone by the people who don't like them. A whole lot of creeps didn't like Jack Anderson.

  • J. Edgar Hoover
    called him "lower than the regurgitated filth of vultures"
  • Richard Nixon considered him an enemy
  • G. Gordon Liddy plotted to kill him

His obituary in the NYT is accompanied by one of the most uncomfortably weird photos I've ever seen of three men on a couch:


Jack Anderson was a pain in the ass. Jack Anderson must have been one hell of a guy. All hail Jack Anderson.

Derivative Works Art Manifesto

Users of the world are presented with fresh, owned content every day. We have the technology, the precedents, and the duty to make new art out of this owned content—the stuff of our lives.

Here's what we need now:

  • A universal acknowledgment of this right to create derivative works from our experience of owned content without regard to the wishes of the original content owner
  • A set of guidelines that inject mutual respect, recognition, and accountability into the process of creating derivative works
  • An automatic compensation system that ensures payment to reward original creators while inducing new artists

Derivative Works Art

Collections, collage, juxtaposition, and other acts of isolation & elevation have a long and respectful history in art. An example that we’re all familiar with is Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup series. Found poetry has a long history in American art. Marcel Duchamp's Fountain is considered the most influential modern art work of all time. It is a derivative work.

Some Principles

Humans own their experience of copyrighted content.
It is beyond cliche to say that people in capitalist cultures are exposed to thousands of advertising messages and other owned content per day. These messages become an integral, irremovable part of our lives. And people have a fundamental right to own our biographies, their experience of the world. We are allowed to make art out of it.

The original owner is not relevant.
No one would suggest that it’s OK for someone else to limit a painter to certain colors of her palette. And it’s not OK to stand at the shoulder of a photographer, stopping him from taking certain shots. And it’s not OK for anyone to tell anyone else that certain parts of their experience of the world (the text, images, and other owned matter that they consume all day) is not OK to make new art with.

Stimulating new works from the lower levels of the content foodchain is worthwhile.
It's better for someone with little money to make a derivative work from a company that has lots of it than the other way around. Not Time Magazine stealing from Newseek, either.

It's good to make derivative works without malice.
We're here to make new art, not to be mean. It would be easy for jerks to hijack Derivative Works principles for jerkism. A self-policing community or a set of serious usage guidelines would be in order here.

Creative Commons has its head on straight.
"Some Rights Reserved": Building a Layer of Reasonable Copyright is what Creative Commons is all about. They are creating a community of the willing—those who look at the existing copyright law and decide to advertise to derivators their terms. The remaining issue is that if those at the higher end of the content foodchain don't seem willing to participate. If everyone can actually get paid, that may go a long way toward grudging acceptance.

Acknowledgment is nice, but cash wins.
Derivators should ackowledge the original content and the content owner should get paid if and when revenue is generated by the derivative work. Basically, a technical system that coupled the blog TrackBack feature with PayPal would cut it. Instead of just letting someone know you wrote about them, you can also give them cuts from anything you make from their stuff. There are other “compensation” issues that are not yet accounted for here—non-revenue increases in adoration, respect, reputation, etc.

What do you think?


Daniel X. O'Neil: Chicago-based writer and internet developer. I am a co-founder of and the People Person for EveryBlock, a site that pulls together local news and public information. I run dozens of personal projects and websites for clients, and also own half of a poetry book company.


EveryBlock: A news feed for your block.
CTA Tweet: Unofficial Twitter tracker for the Chicago Transit Authority.
CityPayments: Database of all vendors, contracts, and payments that have been posted by the municipal government of the City of Chicago
Wesley Willis Art: Site dedicated to the fact that Wesley Willis was an artist.
Wide Right Turn: An incomplete look at the role of variation in a capitalist society.


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    • Wesley Willis Art
      Site dedicated to the fact that Wesley Willis was an artist.
    • CTA Alerts
      Wireless notifications about service on the Chicago Transit Authority.
    • Wide Right Turn

      An incomplete look at the role of variation in a capitalist society.
    • Derivative Works Art Manifesto
      Humans own their experience of copyrighted content.
    • Y!Q Link Generator
      Simple form for creating Y!Q links to add relevance, annotate text, and provide more sophisticated layers of meaning to web content.