Andy Warhol’s Amiga Art: Wait, What’s an Amiga?

Almost six months ago, I sported a white wig to class. It was Halloween, and we were covering Andy Warhol, among other New York–based experimental filmmakers. When I wrote about my “costume” I said that Andy Warhol was an “was an artist who didn’t actually make any art.” To illustrate that point, I embedded a video of Warhol “painting” a portrait of Debbie Harry using a Commodore Amiga, a personal computer that was ahead of its time in graphics processing.

Aside from painting the Blondie lead singer and star, Warhol made many more images using the Amiga. Although not common, it’s not unusual for a technology company to supply artists with equipment to make art. For example, video artist Bill Viola received early video equipment from Sony in the 1970s as part of a residency with the Japanese electronics maker.

Commodore Amiga computer equipment used by Andy Warhol 1985-86, courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum.

Commodore Amiga computer equipment used by Andy Warhol 1985-86, courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum.

Because Warhol had created these works using an obsolete computer system and saved them on deterriorating storage media, his digital art was thought to be irretreivably lost. Over the last two years, a very determined and resourceful “team of new-media artists, computer experts, and museum professionals” rescued these works from their digital tomb, including this image of a Campbell Soup can.

Andy Warhol, Campbell’s, 1985, ©The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visuals Arts, Inc., courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum.

Andy Warhol, Campbell’s, 1985, ©The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visuals Arts, Inc., courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum.

The problem with a lot of digital art is that it requires the original equipment to retrieve it. The Commodore Amiga was state of the art in 1985, but it is almost forgotten today. Moreover, the media used to store those files are nearly thirty years old, and have become brittle with age. Even trying to read those disks with a fully functioning Amiga computer and disk drive set up could irreversibly damage those disks, making those files lost forever.

It was not known in advance whether any of Warhol’s imagery existed on the floppy disks-nearly all of which were system and application diskettes onto which, the team later discovered, Warhol had saved his own data. Reviewing the disks’ directory listings, the team’s initial excitement on seeing promising filenames like “campbells.pic” and “marilyn1.pic” quickly turned to dismay, when it emerged that the files were stored in a completely unknown file format, unrecognized by any utility. Soon afterwards, however, the [Carnegie Mellon University's Computer] Club’s forensics experts had reverse-engineered the unfamiliar format, unveiling 28 never-before-seen digital images that were judged to be in Warhol’s style by the [Andy Warhol Museum] experts. At least eleven of these images featured Warhol’s signature.

Warhol is an important artist, and it’s great to see a preservation effort succeed in recovering his digital art. But for every successful recovery of a high-profile artists, I wonder how many more artists‘ works are lost to digital rot.

Paintings and Films by Nick Zedd at Brooklyn Fire Proof Gallery

Nick Zedd, a seminal figure in a New York filmmaking movement he called “The Cinema of Transgression,” will be in Brooklyn’s Fire Proof Gallery for the opening of The Return of the End of New York: Paintings by Nick Zedd with works by John O’Grodnick. The opening reception is at the Brooklyn Fire Proof Gallery on Friday, April 25, 6:00 to 9:00 PM, and the show continues for one day only on April 26, noon to 6:00 PM, with a screening to start at 7:00 PM.

If you’re a film scholar and want to teach your students the films of Nick Zedd, please send them to this event because you might not be able to screen his films in class without being someone asking for money. In 2012, Zedd, or someone claiming to be him, wrote me to ask that I pay him for screening some of his films in a class I taught in 2006.

Dear Sir,

I was flattered to see that my films were included in your course New York Independents.

I was wondering if I might be monetarily compensated for the screening of my work to the students.

Best Wishes,

Nick Zedd

This remains the only time a filmmaker ever asked me to pay for screening his or her films in class. That’s probaly because instructors are allowed to screen audiovisual works in face-to-face classroom teaching without securing public performance rights, and copyright holders asking for payment is a futile exercise.

But because his request was so courteous, I might go to the show this weekend after all.

Sign up for the Ride to Montauk

Sign up for one of my favorite organized bike rides, Glen’s annual Ride to Montauk. This is the ride that is famous for its pie at the Water Mill rest stop.

Riding to Montauk just for pie!

I have it on good authority that despite some administrative hiccups and rumors that it was cancelled, the ride is unofficially officially confirmed and will proceed on Saturday, May 31, the Saturday after Memorial Day.

Admittedly, this is not a cheap ride. Registration starts around $150, but it is very well organized, and it’s one of the few rides that usually doesn’t run out of food. And they also don’t run out of beer!

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As I’ve done in the past, I’ll be helping with marking the route in exchange for a free registration, and as I did last year, I’ll be aiming to ride the entire 150-mile course, from one end of Long Island to the other.

Silicon Valley: Satire and Solutionism

Late to the party yet again, I finally watched the first two episodes of the new Mike Judge–helmed comedy series, Silicon Valley. If you haven’t yet traded for someone’s HBO Go credentials, you can watch the first episode, legally, of course, on YouTube.

The series traffics in some of the most well-worn stereotypes of software engineers and Internet entrepreneurs that are familiar to even the most casual observers of the tech-business world. The series centers on three budding software engineers living in an incubator started by a veteran of the Valley. Played by T.J. Miller, Erlich cashed in on his start-up years ago. Housing these engineers is his way of giving back, but not without taking a ten-percent stake in any product they develop while in residence.

The first two episodes of the series portray some of the more ludicrous aspects of Silicon Valley. As I watched it, I kept thinking of Evgeny Morozov’s latest book, To Save Everything Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism. Morozov argues that the titans of tech are guilty of two hubristic sins. Solutionism is the relentless need to solve problems, including those than might not even need solving, and to strive for perfection. The second, Internet Centrism, is the fervent belief that the Internet and digital technologies are the tools to solve every problem. As I am yet to finish the book, it appears that these two function as rhetorical justifications for creating new digital industries that enrich those developing these solutions. In short, it’s about getting paid.

We see the vapid speeches given at a TED Talk where audiences listen in awe of rhetorically flashy speeches on changing the world without much substance. We see an anti-intellectual venture capitalist who, like Peter Thiel, advocates that young people take $100,000 of his money to drop out of college to pursue their entrepreneurial ideas. We learn that an algorithm, properly deployed, can do something as mundane as search through a compressed data stream or something as important as curing cancer, the ultimate human miracle. We also see how spiritual advisors coddle super-rich CEOs are hell-bent on disrupting everything and are out to change the world, provided they make a ton of money doing so. Real money, too, not Bitcoin.

Read the book and watch the series for two contemporary and poignant critiques of an industry that is inflated in just about every sense of the word.

  1. Evegeny Morozov, To Save Everything Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism, New York: Public Affairs, 2013, 129.  ↩

Longest Winter Ever

Slush on the Queensboro Bridge

I’ve been complaining about the cold since Thanksgiving Day, when I took a Turkey Day bike ride to Piermont to turbocharge my metabolism. (It didn’t work, by the way.) That was a long time ago, which means that this has been the longest winter ever.

Since I started bike riding again in March, we’ve had some respite from the cold with some days warming up to 50°, 60°, and even 70°. This past weekend was no exception as it was almost hot outside. However, any hint of warm weather gave way to a cold snap that dropped rain, ice, and then snow on us Tuesday night. By Wednesday morning, there was a thin but visible layer of snow on parked cars. Watching drivers scraping snow and ice off their windshields seemed unimaginable on Sunday, when the temperature hovered around 70°, and I got my first sunburn of the year.

If mid-April seems a bit late for a snowfall in New York City, it is. Tuesday night’s snow was the latest day for measurable spring snowfall in Central Park.

By Wednesday morning, after the snowfall had stopped, the morning air was cold but not bitter enough to stop me from riding to work. That was too bad because riding over the Queensboro Bridge to Manhattan was nearly impossible: the bike-and-pedestrian path was covered in slush.

I ended up walking across the bridge because my tires are as thin and slick as they come, and I didn’t dare to slip and slide en route to 9:00 AM class, especially when I had my MacBook Pro in my backpack. That computer has been through enough, as have we all over this winter.

Where Your Tax Money Goes

Yes, folks, it’s Tax Day in America. Some taxpayers might have received refunds and are spending them on vacation homes, boats, or funding some silly Internet start-up. Some, like me, have put off until today to pay the government treasuries in Washington and Albany. Either way, unless you filed for an extension, the tax year known as 2013 is over. Congratulations, you made it!

Now that the tax year is finished, let’s reflect on what we’re going to do with all that money.

To get in the Tax Day spirit, the White House set up a web widget to show you how your money is spent. Enter some of your tax data and the tool will show you where your Social security, Medicare, and income taxes go. 

Take a minute to fill it out. I’ll wait right here until you’re done.

I bet you most of your income tax money goes to war. How did I know? Lucky guess…

I bet you most of your income tax money goes to war. How did I know? Lucky guess…

In my case, defense and health care each get about $1,700 of my taxes. However, only $112 of it went to elementary, secondary and vocation education, and a little more than $75 went to science, space, and technology programs. For whatever reason, a negative amount of my federal tax money, $-1.35, went to financial aid for college students. This must be my share of any tax credits or deductions that I’ve been milking for almost of my entire adult life, which is why I get it back.

This breakdown seemed especially poignant after finding a U-Matic tape of an independent news-documentary television series from the 1990s, titled The ’90s. In trying to identify the tape, I searched the web for the series and came across an especially timely segment about persons who refuse to pay taxes that fund war. The segment has been digitized and available on YouTube.

One person in the segment says that half of tax revenue goes to war. Do you think they would feel differently if I told them it was only a quarter? Probably not.

Apple Figures Out How To Price the Final Season of Mad Men

Do you remember how everyone who bought Season 5 of Breaking Bad on iTunes in 2012 was angry to learn they also had to buy the second-half of Season 5 in 2013? A litany of complaints and a class-action lawsuit forced Apple and AMC to give away the last eight episodes of the series to those customers. At the time, I had predicted that this might pose a similar issue for the final season of Mad Men, which is also scheduled to air over two years in 2014 and in 2015.

On Monday morning, I bought the season pass for the final season of Mad Men on iTunes, and I noticed the price was $35, based on fourteen episodes, not seven for this year and seven for next. Apple figured it out and even included an explanatory note: “Mad Men, The Final Season is expected to include 14 episodes (actual number of episodes may vary).”

The price is a little steep because of the upfront cost of buying fourteen episodes. It’s not as nice as getting the early adopter credit of buying the first eight episodes and getting the back eight free. However, come next year, I’ll be relieved to find seven episodes appearing each week in my queue, ready to stream.

And streaming at home is still way better than watching it at a bar.

Last-Minute Tax Preparation

With the Paschal moon hanging above us, thus signaling the beginning of Passover, the US tax filing deadline also hangs above us.

Like I’ve done for the last few years, I procrastinated until the last minute to file because I regularly have to send checks to both the federal and state governments. One of the many inequities of the American tax system is that someone who cobbles together a living from multiple sources usually has to pay when he or she files. When I start collecting a stack of W2s and the occasional 1099 in February, I start dreading preparing my tax return because I know I’m writing some big checks in April.

The Bostonian’s Paying the Excise-Man, or Tarring & Feathering, 1774

The Bostonian’s Paying the Excise-Man, or Tarring & Feathering, 1774. Image via New York Historical Society, Image # 27307.

In years past, I usually either do my taxes on paper by hand or send them to an accountant. This year, I was short on time and money so I resorted to tax software.

Based on the recommendation from The Wirecutter’s Kevin Purdy, I went with the horribly named FreeTaxUSA. When I told one friend what I used to prepare my taxes, she joking asked, “Do they also offer check cashing and pay-day loans?”

Purdy’s article recommended three software packages: TurboTax for most everyone, TaxACT for people with more time and more complex situations, and FreeTaxUSA for experienced tax filers. Since I started working multiple jobs, I have learned as much as I can to optimize my tax situation, and I really didn’t need to answer questions about specific “life events.” I simply needed to report a bunch of numbers and calculate the allowable deductions. This was also very cheap: $13 for filing both a federal and state return, regardless of income.

Try it if this sounds like your approach to preparing your income tax returns.

Openings and Closings in Long Island City


In the last two weeks, Long Island City has hosted at least two events attesting to the changes in the neighborhood.

The first was the April 5th opening at the Jeffrey Leder Gallery for Whitewashed, a show featuring the artists of the 5Pointz Aerosol Arts Center. In the middle of the night late last year, the owner of the property famously painted over the graffiti with white paint. The graffiti that adorned the building for years made 5Pointz a regular stop for visitors to Long Island City, but the owner feared that preservationists might make it impossible to tear down the building and block a pending residential development on the property.


The opening for Whitewashed was much more festive event than most other openings at Leder’s gallery. Visitors so packed the two-story brownstone building that about twenty people had to leave before I could squeeze into the gallery space. A good number of the artists were also selling some prints of their work, and the gallery staff were busy processing sale after sale of those works, affordably priced between $20 and $50. Adding to the dynamic energy of the evening were about a half-dozen of the featured artists making drawings on-the-spot. By the time I left, the room had an noticeable smell of paint, all coming from those ubiquitous paint pens.


On Friday night, the Center for Holographic Arts threw a farewell party in the bottom two floors of the Clock Tower Building at Queens Plaza. The space had been remarkably transformed from their previous show last month, which had to close early to make way for this farewell party and exhibition. Both the ground floor and the basement were packed with holographic and stereoscopic works, ranging from small postcard-sized still photographs to fifty-foot–long wall projections. The amount of work needed to stage this show was even more remarkable when you consider that this exhibition was for one night only. The “Holocenter,” as most of us have come to call it, has to vacate this space by the end of this month because, according to the Center’s staff, the space was sold to developers.


The two shows represent the changes in Long Island City that everyone with a stake in the neighborhood has anticipated for years. The abandoned industrial buildings had once allowed upstart artists to establish studios and gallery spaces. When I first moved to New York in 2001, I had heard of Long Island City emerging as an arts center. Although part of that was due to the Museum of Modern Art moving its primary gallery space to Queens in 2002[1], it was the artists who occupied the buildings that gave the neighborhood its excitement.

Name that High Rise?

Today, the situation is different. The financial crisis of 2008 is a fading memory for real estate developers and well-heeled buyers. There are apartment buildings everywhere, and those apartments are fetching stratospherically crazy prices. At one time, I was able to name the high-rise apartment buildings on Center Boulevard: City Lights, the East Coast, and the Avalon. But now, I can’t do that anymore. There’s too many of them. After three decades of false starts as the “next big place,” the value of the land for residential development is forcing a fundamental change to the neighborhood. Over the course of a generation, Long Island City has evolved from industrial district to post-industrial desert to residential neighborhood.

At least it was nice to say good-bye.

  1. If I recall correctly, MoMA QNS was to remain as a secondary gallery space after the midtown Manhattan location reopened. Today, it houses a research center.  ↩

Wood Cover Field Notes Books in Time for Baseball Season

The fine folks at Field Notes, who produce some very simple and elegant notebooks, have released a limited, seasonal run of notebooks with actual wood covers.

FNC22 ShelterwoodA800

Although the wood cover is supposed to evoke wood as the source of all modern papers, they also evoke the material and grain of a baseball bat.

New Yorkers can get these books locally at Bergino Baseball Clubhouse, at 67 East 11th St, in Manhattan. For everyone else, the Internet is your friend.

(Via @berginobaseball.)