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What a streaming pile of crap!

April 13, 2011 Leave a comment

The best kind of stream.

This is a stream. Yw.

As much as I appreciate streaming services, I think the limitations on mobile data bandwidth (as well as the threat of this in the world of wired services) and people’s familiarity with downloading translates into the death of the mp3 being much, much farther off than some are saying it is. I know when I see things like “the new ___ track STREAM is out!!”, I typically just click away. It almost makes me angry. Why tie up all that bandwidth EVERY time you want to hear a song? And why would someone hosting a file want to stream it over and over when they could just as easily send it once and then the listener can listen anytime she or he wants? Why pay for that bandwidth as a distributor, over and over instead of just once? Control? Oh come on, we know you’ll never get that again. At least not like it used to be. Besides, it’s not like streams can’t be captured. It all seems so wasteful. Especially with storage as cheap as it is now and bandwidth under constant threat of being more expensive/metered/capped for consumers.

As long as streaming is one of many options rather than the ONLY option, I’m fine with it. And please do not misunderstand, I realize the benefits of streaming music. I listen to Pandora here and there, at least until its cold, mechanized nature rears its ugly head. That usually takes about an hour or so.  Spotify seems like a great service, and yes I know there’s more human interaction and curation there.  I still prefer pure, absolute human curation, but they’ll do in a pinch and I have actually discovered some things using Pandora. It has its place. But for the most part it makes some really wild, inaccurate assumptions about my tastes that just end up frustrating me far too easily. (aren’t you all proud of me for not taking another cheap shot at Coldplay and bands that sound like them here?)

I realize there are streaming services that have social aspects to them, but I’ve honestly never found very much that’s compelling about any of them. Not even the most popular services. Its probably just me.

You can be sure, downloads are here to stay for quite a while. Many, myself included, will always prefer having the option to be offline and listen. Besides, do you really trust a few larger companies and services with archiving what will one day, without question, be obscure or even lost? Individuals are just as, if not more important for preservation. Collectors often consider themselves archivists, and rightly so.  Many works thought to be lost have been rediscovered either on purpose or accidentally in the collections on sale at swap meets, estate sales and garage sales. It warms my heart to know that there are people out there digitizing their vinyl (and CD) collections. Eventually, most of the vinyl out there will simply disappear and to be honest the CDs will deteriorate even faster. I have CDs that are just a few years old that are falling apart, even in protective cases and after being treated with kid gloves. The losses will be gradual, and most people will react in the same way a frog reacts to a slow boiling ( I know..eww ). But what of works created after the mp3 revolution? I remember naively thinking back in the days of Napster that very soon there would no longer be such a thing as a “lost work”. Now with this whole “have everything, own nothing” movement, that bright future is fading away again.

We luckily have that growing movement of people taking great care and pains to “rip” lossless copies of older and more obscure works (and the relatively obscure ones too). The copyright police will no doubt be wringing their hands and sweating over this, but even they will someday appreciate these people’s efforts. The way things are going with copyright, chances are “orphaned” works (music at least) will never reach the public domain. In a post-physical-media world, it will be profitable for lawyers to “haunt” our culture to watch for revivals of certain works for the chance to license or re-claim ownership to works they didn’t care enough about to preserve themselves. In a way, our love for the music itself will be turned into a sort of crowdsourced monetization game. We as a culture do the work, they reap the rewards through insanely long-living copyright, repeatedly extending it until no-one ever sees any works they grew up with fall into the public domain in their lifetimes. If they lighten up about fair use, I’ll take that trade. But we must value ownership, as consumers, if we are forced to live in a world of perpetual, infinite copyright. It’s only fair. Don’t buy into the whole “have everything, own nothing” concept so easily. Really think about the impact of that before embracing it.

We have to say loud and proud… I want my data where I want it and when I want it. And not just when I’m connected. ( yeah it’s a mouthful and it’s not quite as catchy as.. say “we’re mad as hell and we’re not gonna take it anymore”, but we still need to say it ) Sites and companies go down all the time. While I think cloud services by Google and Amazon will be around for a very, very long time, even they could someday just decide to stop. We need services that help us get legal, downloadable files in addition to streaming services. It’s not like solid state drives are going to have less capacity at higher prices in the future. Quite the opposite. And they will take up less physical space as time goes on. To stream everything will make less and less sense rather than more and more. And those cloud services will be used for what they should be used for primarily anyway, BACKUP!  Streaming is a nice, convenient, secondary use. The people who want to monetize your metered and limited bandwidth love the idea of going back to markets with limitations again, no matter if the limitations are bandwidth (that they meter and charge you for) or the concentrated, corporate-controlled curation, ultra-limited scope of selection and minimized diversity this will bring about. Probably both. Fewer choices coupled with concentrated media ownership that also profits from metered bandwidth equals endless, focused profit guarantees.

For a while.

Because all good things come to an end. Even when they’re evil.

But I’m just an optimist.

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Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/31805863@N00/372687525/

Image and this document: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic  (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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Best 100 of SXSW 2011 (unofficial) Released

March 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Cover Art (unofficial) Best 100 of SXSW 2011

(unofficial) Best 100 of SXSW 2011

Well, after weeks of hard listening and extreme ear fatigue, I finally sifted through the thousands of tracks available in the Unofficial SXSW torrents and selected/curated what I feel are the best 100 tracks of the bunch. Now, of course, my opinion will vary from many others. But my selection process weeded out only what I felt were either sound-alikes or not representative of musical ideas that captured the independent spirit (as nebulous an idea as that is) or just simply sounded like crap, and not in a lo-fi way. I also assumed that listeners would want variety, which would include tracks that sounded good but were not my “cup of tea”.  I narrowed it down to 134 tracks from the 1154 tracks in the two unofficial  torrents representing the promotional tracks made available on the official SXSW site for this year. Then I went back over that 134 and narrowed it down to a very difficult 100 tracks. That was tough, dropping tracks that I thought were great but not as great as others. But I finally did it and here it is…

Best 100 of SXSW 2011 (unofficial) *tpb link*

Grab it if you want a decent cross-section of the good stuff this year but don’t want to download 6 and a half GIGS of music to do so.  I did this because I figured that most people wouldn’t want to devote that much space to something that would probably only yield about 100 tracks they’d want to keep anyway. (for most, probably much, much fewer) I found as of yesterday I’ve kept about 20 tracks. I did have a few duplicates in there. If you download my playlists and other’s, chances are you will find a few duplicates as well. I really hope this is something people will want and if they end up downloading it in droves, I’ll do it again next year. (unless I’m actually there… in which case I’ll most likely do it many days after it’s all over due to being worn the hell out)

Indie69’s April Playlist is coming, hopefully early this time instead of the usual lateness. Enjoy this in the meantime.

Image Credit –  http://www.flickr.com/photos/saintmurse/129213267/

Image and this document licensed using a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License.

Top 13 ways to bring Radio back from the Dead

September 16, 2010 2 comments

Radio Towers

Towers of Love

I’ve probably made my love for radio fairly clear on this blog. But I’ve never really explained it in detail, given my reasons and my hopes. Your imaginary curiosity combined with my lack of mp3s to easily and quickly post this week means my chance has arrived. This will be a long read. But the rewards will be many.

My love for radio started when I was very, very young. (yes, it’s going to be THAT kind of blog post,sorry) It all began with AM, oddly enough. Those weird stations you could pull in across the country on just the right night, with just the right weather conditions. UFOs, weird religious shows, oddballs, really old music, all of it.  Then I found my first truly independent AM station, which was probably a pirate radio station considering most nights they played noise music and strange stuff like the joyous Residents and a bit of the old Throbbing Gristle. I remember thinking “you can do this on the radio?”. Turns out you can. Then I found left of the dial FM and I was hooked.  There were a couple of years there when so-called “alternative radio” kept my attention, until they became the Limp Bizkit/Korn/Sublime networks.

Can we just come to a mutual understanding that Sublime (or at least its surviving members) doesn’t practice Santeria and leave it at that? It’s pretty clear and they’ll be getting no argument from me anymore. And we are all clear on how many joints you smoke in the morning as well as at night. It’s 2. Perhaps a total of 4 per day or more.

In my region, radio died a few years ago. We still have two truly independent stations in the area, but they are usually just out of range. In the city itself, you have to tune to obscure cable radio to find independent radio that is not the local NPR outlet or a jazz/classical only station. Pretty sad for a major area.  I can think of at least 3 religious stations. Only one of them AM. I’m sure there are more. Then we have your usual 2 country stations, 2 classic rock stations and countless pop nostalgia stations focusing on the 80s and now even the 90s and 2000s. And those aren’t even over yet. One top 40-ish station (even if something that is not your typical top 40 fair crosses over and makes it to the top 40, they still won’t play it) and one rap station that honestly sounds more like the top 40 station than a real rap station. Your average normal will say that’s diversity. It’s not. Many of these stations are pre-programmed and identical no matter where you go in the country. Anyone who has taken a road trip recently can testify to this. Once you leave an area, you can count on another area having a station with different call letters and not much else. There’s a “The BUZZ” in every major area. (I just made that name up.. I think..) And their playlists are identical, as are their on the air personalities, if they even have any.

Living in southern California for a short period of time at the end of good commercial radio, I witnessed those last few years of radio personalities. DJs that still chose content to play, participated in playlists and actually had an interest in the artists being played. And they even expressed opinions. Those days are also over. The only place you’ll find DJs still talking about the music between songs is on geezer rock stations. And these classic rock stations are only doing it because they know it’s a proven formula for their audience.

Now I find out the radio industry would like mandatory FM receivers in every mobile phone. Some say this is a way for them to “save radio”.

WTF??

You want to save radio? How about you actually bring radio BACK from it’s coma. I’m going to do the industry a favor and hand this over for free. You can even pretend it was your idea. I know some of you will be surprised at how money-focused some of this is. But the reality is that you cannot operate a commercial station in a major market and reach a large audience without considering the money side of things. Things just do NOT have to be the way they are. You need to bring the new audiences back to radio. And music needs radio back in order to bring back large-audience curation.

Here are the top 13 ways you can save radio and bring it back from the dead….

13. Start doing better research into your potential audiences. Yeah, numbers suck. Marketing sucks. Polls and estimations suck. But it’s a game none of us are going to be able to avoid now. Embrace it. But do it the right way. Listen! A lot of your radio audience is not part of the crowd that hangs at the mall or regularly frequents Starbucks, or even the local retail stores. I can guarantee you, whatever method you’re using to figure out what the radio audience wants is grossly inaccurate. That’s part of why no-one listens to radio anymore. You just got it wrong for far too long and delivered crap because you thought it was what we wanted. The truth is, probably a good 50% of the people you made contact with regarding listening habits wouldn’t know what they wanted to hear unless someone told them what it was. So what do you do? You ask those people. And what do they tell you they want? More of the same. Ungh! Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want you to go out and find a bunch of indie hipsters and only listen to what they want. That would probably be a worse disaster. But you need to find SOME of those people. And people who actually love radio.

12. Get rid of the anti-DJ creep that’s been going on for over a decade now. It all started with “less talk… more rock” BS. Radio programming by computer is worse. I don’t need to prove that to you now, do I? It’s obvious at this point because radio is dying or in some places dead already. It’s a nostalgia fest catered to state workers and soccer moms that love Coldplay. People whose lives ended with high school. Harsh? Yeah. But it doesn’t make it less true. The only way to get past this crap is to put actual people in charge of deciding what gets on the radio. AND let them TALK about the music they pick. And give them some time. Which brings us to the next thing…

11. Give new formats time to build a loving, loyal audience base. Like I mentioned above, many of these people don’t know what they want until they’ve had it for a few years and miss it when it’s been taken away from them.  They will tell you NOW that what they have is fine. But the truth is, it takes time for people to warm up to any kind of new ideas or diversity they’re not used to. Arrogant? A little. But again, not any less true. When those first numbers come through, don’t drop the ball. And you MUST continually mix things up. Don’t over-play one genre, but focus on the NEW.

10. Once the programming feels like it’s found it’s sweet spot, don’t freeze playlists. I know it’s a temptation. But that’s how it starts. A year later when your audience is telling you they want to hear the same STP and Nirvana tracks over and over (of course now the bands would be different), you’ll listen. And then gradually your audience numbers will drop. See, that’s a great way to not gain a NEW audience. It can be a hard balance, and difficult to do when your audience die-hards are asking why “you’re playing all that new crap.. that’s ghey”. But you have to not listen at that point. That’s the bad advice that will spell your doom. That new song that pisses off 50 of your old fans (vocal ones) may be the ONLY reason 500 NEW listeners (quiet ones that do not give you feedback yet) are listening at all.

Read more…

Top 15 Podcasts to prevent Geek Withdrawal

August 12, 2010 5 comments

If it wasn’t clear before just how much of a geek I really am, you’ll be convinced now.  Although I do listen to more music than your average person, I also like to do other things of a slightly more geeky nature such as building my own computers, building speaker enclosures and various other things I could only classify as occasional hobbies. I’m even giving programming a try now(LOL..well..).  Since I’ve been keeping very busy lately, I need a way to keep up with areas of technology and geekdom. My way is by listening to podcasts. Most of them from Leo Laporte’s TWIT network, with areas of interest varying as widely as Law, audio production, general technology and movies/tv shows. Here are my top 15 (yes.. 15.. and I listen to more than 15 a week on the job) podcasts, ending with my favorite so far. So start laughing at me now as I present to you…

My Top 15 Favorite Podcasts, what they cover and why I love them:

15. Tell ’em Steve-Dave – This one keeps getting better and better. Not very geeky, except for the occasional comics talk. But funny.

14. This Week in Google – This isn’t just about Google. It covers “the cloud” and “cloud services/computing”. Great podcast with great, knowledgeable hosts.

13. net@night – Leo Laporte and Amber MacArthur chatting about what’s going on in these Internets we keep hearing about.

12. This Week in Computer Hardware – Yeah, I know. But this is one serious show.  And I like to keep up with what’s going on. It’s important to me. Stop poking me with that stick. Seriously. I’ll tell.

11. Inside Home Recording – Just what it sounds like it’s about. A show about home recording. Hardware reviews, tips, tricks, discussion.

10. This Week In Law (TWIL) – This covers law with an emphasis on law that relates to technology and the Internet. As even Leo has said, it can be hard to have a truly rousing conversation with lawyers because they tend to word their opinions almost TOO carefully. And although this can be a bit dry from time to time, I guarantee you will not find a more entertaining law-related podcast. This is as good and as exciting as it gets.

09. Windows Weekly – The interplay between Leo and host Paul Thurrott can be VERY entertaining, with Leo in a way being an Apple guy and Paul obviously (and I’m saying this very generally) being a Windows/PC guy.

08. NSFW – Yeah, not really a tech show. But it’s funny and it’s ON a tech network. Wish they’d come up with a name that was a little more original(similarly named podcast in the early days of podcasting existed long before them,but the vetting process must have been pretty fast). Still, very funny show with great guests. But Cuba. In spite of the name, it is pretty safe for work. Unless you work in a church.

07. Tummelvision – Not on the TWIT Network anymore, sadly. I’ve written about it previously on this blog, which you can read HERE.

06. Cinefantastique Podcast(s) – The best genre movie podcasts out there. Wonderful geeks with a lot of serious knowledge.

05. Tech News Today – A daily (Mon-Fri) show hosted by Tom Merritt, Becky Worley, Sarah Lane and many guest co-hosts. Short, sweet, to the point and covering the daily tech related news.

04. Smodcast – Ever since Kevin Smith started smoking out, this show has become a weekly source of great comedy entertainment. And not because he’s become stupid or something. Because he’s become more relaxed, funnier and in a lot of ways actually sharper. This is not the common result of a pot habit, kids.

03. Radio Free Burrito – This is writer/actor Wil Wheaton’s podcast. Not reliably monthly, but almost always worth the wait. This guy is the real thing. Real geek.Real writer.Real actor. In that order, in fact. I just wish he’d do it more often. It’s a fantastic podcast full of surprises. Shut up, Wesley(haters)! But really… 3 months without a show? No pressure.. just… bummer.

02. FLOSS Weekly – This podcast focuses on Free and Open Source software. It can get DEEPLY geeky at times, but that’s why I love it. It’s willing to go there.  A great service to the open source community. And a great show.

(midi trigger pad roll please)

01. TWIT – The granddaddy of all tech podcasts. Hosted by Leo Laporte, former host and co-host of The Screen Savers and Call For Help on the old Tech TV. His various guest co-hosts are the who’s who of the tech world and this is a fantastic show with great discussions. Sometimes even heated ones. This show can make me pump my fist in the air in agreement OR make me want to throw my Zune out of the car window. But it’s never boring. At least not for me. But then again you have to consider that I’m The Guy that pumps his fists in the air when listening to a tech podcast. So.. there ya go.

Enjoy. And stop laughing at me, I can’t hear it anyway. 😉

Persona vs. Accountability (the Facebook* cultural black hole)

July 17, 2010 1 comment

Profile of The Emperor of America (and protector of Mexico)

Emperor of America, Protector of Mexico in profile.

The Emperor of America walks into his favorite local haunt. Wearing his crown and carrying his staff, he approaches the bar and sits down. Carrying no money of course, being Emperor, he asks the bartender for a vodka and soda. The bartender, seeing the mandatory name tag on his shirt that immediately identifies him not as the Emperor but instead as “Joshua” , pours the drink and asks him for 50 cents. The waitress, recognizing the Emperor from a distance across the bar, reminds the bartender of his greater than royal presence. “Nah, that’s just Joshua. I went to the same school as him. Everyone thought he was a nutter back then, too. No money, no drink.”,  he replies and moves on to the next customer before taking the drink from the Emperor’s hand.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Facebook and Google would like to call this “accountability”, but for the most part it’s purely (in my humble opinion****)  and simply  “party-pooperism”. And if you examine it even closer, it begins to take on a very sinister tone. Google in particular has made it fairly clear that it values what it’s calling accountability over anonymity, persona and ultimately privacy. If you go to the 21 minute mark in this ***DiggDialog interview with Marissa Myer (VP of Search and user experience at Google) from July, 2009, you’ll get an idea of what I’m talking about. She says:

“I think the trend that concerns me most, now, on the Internet, is the concept of anonymity. Right? (Kevin nods and smiles, phht! I mean, I get it man, it’s an interview and you’re doing the ‘right thing’, but ..WOW..it felt out of character for you to not address this properly.. it felt like you dropped the ball ) And I think that it’s, you know, I really feel that, the virtual world follows the physical world. Physical world has been around a lot longer, it’s gotten more of the kinks out, the virtual world is very young. And I think when you look at some of the systems, the closer it sort of parodies and follows that.. the memes that you see in the physical world the better off you are. And there’s very few things you can do anonymously in the physical world and I think that over time on the Internet, there will be less anonymity and I actually think that’s good, I actually think that’s good. I think it creates you know, more accountability, people acting more responsibly. And you know I really, I think that overall we all want the web to be great. Umm, and. Uhh, and I think that that’s something we really need to work on.”  !!??!!

WORK on? The intentions are obviously good, but my experience with reading and hearing the words of corporate representatives and spokespersons has tended to lean toward “carefully worded” and intentional rather than “off the cuff”. Make no mistake. Google may enrich your life like no other company ever has. It may have .. strike that.. it HAS improved the world in ways no-one could have imagined even 7 years ago. But they are not your friend. Their policies will be shaped internally and ultimately serve the largest portion of their user base over the individual. Always. Unless the user base lets them know otherwise. Examples of this can be seen in the now years-long battles on YouTube to silence the atheist community(and others) using the tools made available (and far too easy) to employ by any user with the balance of action leaning heavily toward the users who complain, report and file legal notices, false or otherwise.  In the case of YouTube, it is far easier to remove a user or a video that you want silenced than it is to counter that user’s video or point of view with your own content. (this principle produces another finding, of course.. that when you are unable to counter with a reasonable argument of your own.. file a complaint or a false legal claim and you win, brain power and reason not required) The algorithms in place to automagically deal with complaints have no counter-algorithm in place to protect speech. Of course, this is true in almost all Internet communities. It’s unfair to set apart and criticize Google/YouTube alone for this while the rest of the Internet behaves in mostly the same way. But the one concept I want you to take away from this is “balance of action“, since the Internet is brimming with “action” while most attempts or calls for balance are met with cries of  “it’s just the Internet, get over it” (tell that to the RIAA/MPAA and we’ll talk) and “get used to it, that’s the way it works”. Well, while it’s certainly true in what we like to label the “real world” that fairness is elusive if not a waste of time to pursue, the Internet is one place left in our known universe where the rules are still not entirely written. We have an opportunity, like the forefathers of the American experiment did, to slip a little reason into those rules for once to balance at least some of said rules over to the side of fairness and freedom of speech over comfort and fear. And let’s face it, comfort is truly what most of this boils down to. Internet anti-bullying laws will not prevent bullying any more than anti-murder laws have prevented or even slowed murders of passion or revenge. In the “real world”, laws are created in most cases to sustain a certain level of comfort. And the “justice” system claims to strike a balance between our freedoms and our pursuit of happiness in that comfort. The ability to walk out the door every day and expect not to encounter a neighbor who has decided you will pay with your life for mowing your lawn 4 inches over his property line. The ability to assume the person you love and married will not come to an emotional conclusion that you’re cheating on him or her and kill you in your sleep. These are reasonable expectations even in a state of anarchy. Everything else is nuance, interpretation and “moral authority” (not available in some states, your results may vary, no C.O.D.).

Read more…

Avoiding or preventing the next big thing.

June 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Dismantled Mp3 Player

Dismantled, an object's natural state.

The minute the thing everyone wants to do requires circumvention or any kind of subversion, if a circumvention and subversion-free option is not made available promptly by the mainstream, the circumvention wins.

This has remained true since the dawn of.. well… actually before the dawn of the public Internet. And I believe in the absence of absolute authoritarian control, it will remain true. Many companies and individuals have spent money, power, reputation and most of all precious time trying to convince the public, legislators and their business partners otherwise. None of these actions will change this truth. Companies like Google, Microsoft and Apple continually fail to realize the power they wield and consistently cower before these backward-looking control-freaks. And as brave as standing up to China is, it’s too little too late as far as I’m concerned. Credit due or not.

These days, Apple has more in common with a place like China than it does with its own history and roots. The walled city of iTunes and the app store claims to be protecting it’s users when all that’s really happening is protection of old media.(with the exception of the Flash issue, which I think Jobs is right about) Combine that with a lack of respect for users and especially content creators not associated with existing major media creators and distributors.

Google’s recent changes to YouTube further convict them of similar crimes against the commons. This so-called upgrade is anti-conversational and anti-user-created-content. Try having a conversation using the new comment system. Best of luck to you. It’s been a mess since the last time it was “upgraded”, and this latest change makes it even worse. Try holding the attention of your subscribers with the subscriptions home page module now removed. When I noticed some users had their subscriptions module removed, I noticed my own, while still there for now, was unusable. It became impossible to remove videos I wanted to skip and videos I had already watched kept popping back up.  It’s only a matter of time before it’s gone completely as it is for others. What possible reason was used to remove that module? Too many people were using it? Was it cutting into the profits of partners by spreading the money/eyeballs around too much? I want to assume the best, but I’ve run out of logical reasons and I am left only with sinister ones. And Google should know better, considering its homely origin. So how could Google/YouTube benefit from preventing users from easily finding content newly released by channels/people they’ve subscribed to? Well, if you sit there and watch videos like “World of Warcraft Account Hacked” (who is actually a partner) and ignore things like VEVO, YouTube and it’s real , big partners will not make as much money. What we are given as a replacement for a module that lets us know when someone we subscribe to posts a new video is a new module called “The Feed”, which instead of doing what you want it to.. also displays any video your friends or people you subscribe to FAVORITE. My subscriptions module was already cramped, with a very conservative number of subscriptions. Now it’ll be nearly unusable and more filled with content I’m not interested in. This, like the last new channel design “upgrade” takes things away and adds nothing useful. We already had an activity module. It worked. Fine.

But as usual, I digress. Let’s just focus on music for now. Try to recall or read about certain moments in culture’s history. Certain moments when movements took hold or either threatened or right-out replaced the mainstream. The 60s is a good example of a time when this was successful beyond any previous attempts for the culture to be driven by artists and audiences rather than self-appointed, controlling and limiting filters in the form of large companies or organizations of companies. Again in the 90s, and now with indie, Internet-specific and DIY culture. The reasons for these moments of change vary from the companies being asleep at the wheel for too long to temporary lack of control over the ways people hear or consume music. Things like radio DJs being given freedom to play what they want or in some cases taking that freedom by force or when no-one was paying attention. In each of these periods, you can point directly to another moment toward the end, a moment when control was seized from people and handed over to other people whose primary interest was to continue their winning streak as long as possible and to continue to maintain a bottom line. In each case this was the moment of death. The moment of staleness, blandness and same-old-same-old. The comfort zone. The risk-free zone. Part of it can be blamed of course on the audiences themselves, embracing nostalgia at earlier and earlier stages in their lives as the years progressed, in larger numbers. You know the type, the ones whose best years were in high school, defining their maturity based on how little they continue to feel passionate about. As if maturity were impossible without completely turning off passion and a sense of risk or adventure.  They move quickly through the years they have left, never noticing that the happiest people they see and look up to have acted in precisely the opposite ways they’ve chosen to. Embracing mediocrity as if it were impossible to conduct a decent life without doing so. “THESE ARE THE RULES! Follow them and you are a good person, living a clean and decent, productive life. And when it’s all over, there will be rewards! Trust us!”

Well, at least for those of you willing to listen and buy into it. Regardless of the logic or reason this way of looking at life consistently lacks.

These cultural movements all share a similar trait. That of encouraging a sense that the audience is a participant on at least some level. Whether it’s as an audience member at a show, the “cool kid” spreading the word and living the lifestyle in spite of how it affects his or her ability to “fit in”, or the ones that realize they too can tap into the creative revolution and make the next great album, the next creative leap forward. But mainstream media has even found a way to tap into this effect with the usual dead-eyed but criminally genius techniques they are famous for. Yes, you too can be famous for 15 minutes. The difference now is that you can be mediocre as long as you’re willing to not be boring, no matter the cost. If you cannot be creative, at least you can be aggressive or unreasonable and stir conflict. Watch any reality TV show. Hell, it all started on MTV with “The Real World”, where it replaced alternative culture almost immediately after it took root. Did it seem calculated to you? If you smelled smoke, chances are…

Then we have now. Look around big culture for a moment. Is there ANYONE other than Lady Gaga that is even remotely interesting right now? In mainstream, big money music culture? I would argue no, there isn’t. Not one. Everything else even remotely interesting, original or groundbreaking is back in the once-again severely marginalized underground. But that stranglehold on big culture is weakening. So what is the response? A direct attack on the way in which we seek out, find and consume indie and underground artists. They will tell you they don’t care that we’re downloading the latest Phoenix or Dirty Projectors album, it’s their own artists they’re worried about. But the fact remains, the big artists don’t need our way of doing things to succeed. They actually don’t give a crap if you download the latest Coldplay or U2 album. What they want is to stop the competition which has created several means by which new and great artists can be discovered and consumed. Free or otherwise. If they can stop that, they win. Three strikes laws are being implemented in certain places in the world where it is easily allowed by government through pay-offs, back-room deals and other forms of corruption. It’s only a matter of time before they get their grubby little paws on enough of our representatives (or yours) to make laws such as these happen here (by here, I mean the US. Apologies to the rest of the world. I TRY not to be just another arrogant, center of the universe American).  And we also have the anti-net-neutrality gang, convinced by some of their smarter but still ill-informed, imaginary-pie-in-the-sky-pollyanna-free-market peers that if we would allow our government to ensure net neutrality, censorship and government control of the Internet is the next logical step. (in spite of the fact that the FCC is not the only means by which we can have limited, logical regulation) This way of thinking, if applied to all of society, would imply that allowing the USDA to oversee the safety of meat would logically lead to farmers being enslaved by the government and chained to tractors without pay.  Or that rent control logically leads to 100% government housing. These people need to find a way to get back in touch with a sense of ownership. And a tad bit of reality.

Anyone remember long distance charges and how we just accepted them as if they made sense? Distance equals cost, extra effort..money. ..Right? The idea that a phone call 100 miles away costs significantly more than a phone call 25 miles away. Poppycock. Once the lines are in place and you make allowances even for maintenance, repair and operation.. even upgrades, the cost should be evenly spread. By metering, something the major telcos and isps once again want to do with literal metering or less obviously with tiering, they convinced us of a false value. Simply by saying so, we accepted it as a reality. Are we smarter than that this time out? It remains to be seen, as even some of the sharpest people I’ve ever followed in the area of technology, the Internet, Internet policy and law seem to be convinced that net neutrality is worse than letting corporations start shaping traffic to suit their personal needs and the death-knell fears of media companies.  Believe me, I understand this libertarian way of looking at it all. But these people must take a moment and put it all in context. “Let the free market solve the problem through competition”. Right? Well, for the most part it worked in the early days of the web and widespread tcp/ip,  non-shell-account Internet access adoption. AOL and others were either implementing some kind of metered access OR considering it. The competition realized people were going to want to “surf the web” without constantly worrying about that 300 dollar Internet bill in the mail as a little surprise at the end of the month. And they also realized people didn’t quite know just yet how many hours they would be using the net every month. It turns out they quickly realized it was a lot more than they imagined and that AOL and others were going to be attempting to rip them off with “shock and awe” Internet charges. I guess maybe they hoped everyone else would do the same. Turns out the ISPs who offered unlimited access, no matter the price (usually cheap), were getting a LOT of ex-AOL users. AOL (and to be fair, others) quickly changed policy and offered unlimited accounts. Go.Figure. So it should work out that way this time around, right?

Wrong. See, the landscape has changed dramatically. No-one is satisfied with dialup, not even your grandma. High speed Internet is widespread now and there’s no turning back. However, in many parts of the country, there’s only one game in town. Or in some cases 1 and a half games in the form of whatever cable provider you have and satellite, which is an absolute nightmare in my humble opinion(and the not-so-humble opinions of many, many others). Ever try Skype on satellite? Don’t. Pointless. These are what I call “soft monopolies”. Sure, some people close enough to the CO can get fast DSL, but the rest cannot. Cable companies are not forced to open up and share their infrastructure with potential competitors as phone companies are. Forced? What you say? Is this Soviet Russia? Well, no. See, that ground the cable is laid in? You own it or it’s laid in ground taken by force. In most cases “their” infrastructure was built using tax dollars and tax dollar subsidies. Same as the phone companies, with only that one big difference. They don’t have to share. But the important thing to remember here is that for the most part, that infrastructure that “they” keep claiming to own is in fact YOURS. Yet, if they are allowed to, they would like to slow down your Skype calls if THEY offer a competing PAY service like Skype. Don’t think they want to? Wrong again. They’ve been doing it and are STILL doing it in Canada and other places. Comcast had their wrist slapped for trying the same thing but with bittorrent traffic. They sued the FCC and WON. Although they say they have now stopped throttling customers, I firmly believe that’s a temporary state. They know that in many parts of the nation, they do have that soft monopoly. And don’t think for a minute that they will not take advantage of that position whenever and where-ever they can if it means they will make more money or if not doing so means they will lose money. As I’ve said elsewhere, these companies are not your friends and they never will be. EVERY decision will be made considering first and foremost their financial bottom line. If at any time it SEEMS as though they’ve done something that is “not evil”, you can bet it was in their best interest. Companies simply do not do things that are good for the consumer and bad for the company anymore. The corporate environment has assured us that those days are over. Much like the phone companies and apartment management companies know almost precisely how much money they can take every month without causing the average customer enough financial distress to be forced to stop paying for their services, the big ISPs know exactly how far they can go without causing a customer revolt.  And they WILL test you. I believe they’ve already started. They also know that your representatives, in some cases, are cheaper than the ultimate cost of being forced to compete with TRUE competitors.

(since writing this article almost to completion a few weeks ago, it has come to my attention that Australia’s government has made a power grab for the country’s Internet backbone, disguised as an “upgrade”. You thought censorship was bad before, wait until the government runs the backbone. You “aint seen nothin’ yet”.)

Once again, sure, I’m presenting you with a criticism without a solution. Consider it a heads-up. I do believe we should be FOR Net Neutrality. And not because I’m against the free market or for censorship. Just as I don’t believe we can ever have a society free of crime without significant loss of freedoms. Unacceptable losses. In that same way I do not believe we can have a truly free market, without unacceptable abuses. Both of those scenarios are pipe dreams.  We are in a do nothing and lose situation. And the FCC is not the only solution. Net Neutrality could be.  Regulation with limits is possible. Even in a situation where the FCC suddenly thought it was their job to regulate content on the Internet, I believe the Internet would deal with it as it always has, by essentially routing around it as damage.

I recall a few years ago, when I was running a web server (and a file server through an IRC bot) out of my house, back when it was still somewhat possible to do so.  I was using Earthlink as my ISP. At the time their slogan (trademarked, by the way) was “It’s YOUR Internet”. Turned out it was actually more theirs. Turned out I needed to turn off my servers since according to their rules, I was running a business. And that was a no-no. The only thing was… I was NOT running a business. But they told me in no uncertain terms that I was, in spite of the reality that I was not. Turn off the servers, or we turn you off. Instead, I chose to move to another ISP whose policy did not prevent me from running any kind of server I wanted, with the exception of course being spam. Just a few years ago, this was an immediate and obvious option for me. At this point, not so much. Most ISPs will force you into a business level account to do such things, business or no business. And that’s fine for now. I don’t currently have the need to run bandwidth or processor intensive servers. But I pay for the ability to do so if I should feel the need or desire. Not everyone can do this. And that’s sad. Because it truly IS YOUR Internet. Your taxes paid for it’s development, your land and taxes paid for at least a large portion of its infrastructure. It’s time that more people remember this. So although I may not have any big solutions, I can remind as many people as I can that they have a say. Even if you disagree with me and others on how to proceed. I’ll shut up now and give you some basic resources.

Save The Internet

EFF – Electronic Frontier Foundation (read its concerns about Net Neutrality carefully… they love it, but voice some valid concerns over how it’s implemented)

There are hundreds of sites out there against Net Neutrality, most of them of dubious origin. Some of them are based on genuine concerns over regulation and an even larger number simply have never been exposed to the information they would need to come to an informed conclusion. People who makes “stands” without being informed deserve the scorn they receive. And I’ll be damned if I’ll take part in exposing people to their misinformation.

Photo Credit – http://www.flickr.com/photos/wilt/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

3D Cinema/Gaming and the Cynical Generation.

June 25, 2010 Leave a comment

3d image

View with those old red-cyan glasses.

Hello, everything sucks generation. You know who you are. Nothing is good enough until you’re alone with yourself, watching that Voltron DVD again. Everything was “fakey” when you were a kid and you hate CGI. Not because it doesn’t look good, but simply because it’s CGI. No matter how it’s perfected, no matter how realistic it is, you hate it and you think it looks “plastic” and “fake”. But you like miniatures, stop-motion and physical makeup effects. In spite of the fact that they mostly look like garbage. You get a certain kind of special joy out of raining on anyone’s enthusiasm over anything. When someone you admired as a kid makes a crappy movie or album, you equate it to the “raping of your childhood”. Nonsense. It’s just a bad movie or album.

If you lived in the late 1920s, you would have called synchronized sound a “fad” or a “gimmick”.  If you lived in the early to mid 1900s, you would have called color film a “gimmick” or a “fad”, sure to fade away after the shock value stopped having an effect on audiences.

But you see, this is how the world is viewed and experienced by our senses. The world is in color for most of us, filled with sound and yes.. dimensional as experienced by our TWO eyes. None of these ways of perceiving the world have ever nor will ever be a “fad” or a “gimmick”. Our way of telling stories, like it or not, will always strive to re-create the full experience of perception. Now, 3D films of the past tended to give people headaches and didn’t work very well, consistently. But instead of perfecting the technology over a short period of time as we did with sound and color, the technology was relegated to only genre films and therefore not taken seriously and seen by people all over, even the people creating films, as something that was a fad… something that would fade away. Remember, however, that if this were true we would not be seeing a resurgence on this scale.

But “what about smell-o-vision?”, you may ask. That’s part of our perception of the world, but not everyone wants to experience smells in a movie theater. This is because our sense of smell is not associated with our perception of the world, on a massive scale, on a constant basis. With the exception of those who work at a city dump. Unless you walk around with one eye closed half of the time, 2 eye, dimensional vision IS the way you experience the world around you constantly. You do, however, regularly ignore your sense of smell until it is triggered by an intensity or “peak” odor experience(some pleasant, some not). Even if that intensity is as insignificant as the smell of bread baking in an oven or an incoming rainstorm. (both perhaps insignificant from a certain point of view, but still wonderful) But with stereoscopic vision, the way people with two eyes experience the world, no cue is necessary. No peak experience, no trigger. Dimension is simply there and that is all. We use it to judge the distance of objects. Those objects can be, as an example, a flaming arrow or a window onto a garden during a sunrise. And there lies the key to elevating 3D cinema to the next level.

In the times of the first sound movies, it was still new and each outing into the world of synchronized sound film was a kind of celebration of the technology itself. Why bother with say, a drama featuring people talking to each other, when it can be a MUSICAL? Same with color. Bold, garish color spread across the screens with technicolor. Back then, in the beginnings, it was as if sound and color were characters of the films themselves. The same thing is happening, for the most part, in 3d cinema right now. Pixar’s “UP” was a fairly good example of a film that did not exploit its 3d presentation. Instead, the film is presented as if it were shot in 2D. Rather than having objects fly out of the screen toward the audience, the experience gives the viewer the sense that he or she is looking “into” a world or a real space through a virtual window. In my experience, I was drawn into the story and after a while forgot I was watching a 3D film at all. So, some might say, why bother? Immersion is the real reason for bothering with stereoscopic presentation. The 3D of “UP” appeared to be used in order to enhance the sense of immersion without drawing attention to itself every few moments. Avatar came close to this same effect, but in my opinion less so. There were a handful of “in your face” 3D moments, but for the most part James Cameron seemed to be going for the same immersive rather than flamboyant experience that Pixar appeared to have strived for. It is my hope that we see more of this and less of the more gaudy presentations present in most of the genre films presented in 3D. Of course it can be fun to have things thrown at you in an action, sci-fi or horror film. But the real future destination of 3D presentation, if it hopes to survive and develop over the next few years, is ubiquity and unobtrusive, subdued modesty. 3D will have arrived finally when it’s used for a film that does not need it or would not have any outward, beneficial enhancement from applying the technology. For instance a film like “My Dinner With Andre”. Most would ask “what’s the point of presenting a film like that in 3D”? The point is and would be immersion. The same people who would accuse 3D of being a gimmick will usually be the same people who would oppose its use in a non-gimmicky way. Why? Because their desire is not to see the technology used in a better, less vulgar fashion. Their desire is to see it fail. Pretty bold statement. But considering approximately 5 percent of the population cannot experience the 3D effect because they lack depth perception for various reasons, it’s not really that surprising. Why would they want to pay an extra 3 to 5 dollars to see a film presented with a technology they cannot perceive?

More importantly, and less obviously, is the effect this negativity can have on the development of new technologies. Much like the massive money and research into artificial intelligence was halted by the perception of the public that little to no progress had been made, a similar thing occurred when Virtual Reality advancements in the consumer sphere were virtually abandoned.  What we had was an experience that could not be conveyed in words and was represented in the biggest public way by a company that charged too much, delivered too little and never innovated. When thy died, they were used as the singular example that the public simply didn’t “want” VR, was not interested in it and didn’t care if it went away. Except, see, they never got a chance to realize its potential.  Having visited one of these mall-based VR centers back when they were still around, I can say that although the graphics were far, far behind even the cheapest home gaming console of the time, it still conveyed a palpable sense of being “in a place”. And then it went away. Cheap, badly designed attempts at what they were “calling” VR such as the “Virtual Boy” by Nintendo (which featured games that looked like Pong and Battlezone) made it even worse for the reputation of VR. It was seen by the general public and in turn by the people who fund the research and development of consumer hardware as CRAP. So the research and development left the consumer sphere and quietly kept developing for military, educational and medical use. Now, with the resurgence of true 3D in the world of film, gaming(in a small, tentative way when it comes to expectations and perceptions) and now home theater, VR has a possible second chance.  I’d hate to see this second chance squandered away by a public that is expecting it to fail and jumping on the bandwagon in advance in order to not be wrong. Or wrong again. You see this a lot in tech journalism right now. Some of these guys have been burned in the past for being enthusiastic about 3D and they don’t want to be the one guy everyone laughs at in 5 years because he predicted it’d be the next great thing when in reality it failed miserably. Few of these people will admit it, but this is a huge part of why their opinions vary from unenthusiastic to downright hostile.

So I say to you all, have some guts and get behind this while you can. Because if the perception of 3D shifts in just the right amount, at just the right time, negatively, it’ll go away. Again.  Even though it’s nearly perfect this time and could lead to experiences with 3D like you’ve never imagined. New places, new universes, new perceptions. Communities with real depth and new emotional engagements. New treatments for medical conditions such as phobias.  A real sense of presence when communicating with people far away. Games that make you feel like you’re in a real place rather than just observing a flat, simulated “video” of a place. People who are physically unable to travel to certain places in the world will be able to virtually, with a sense of actually being there. How about we check our cynicism at the door just this once and take a step into the future with some enthusiasm this time? Just to see how it goes this once. (Antisthenes always seemed like a bit of an ass anyway)

I mean, really. Do you want to have to wait ANOTHER 20 years for VR? I’m sick of waiting.

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Image credit:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/dabiri/4430286434/

Not originally written as a response to the WSJ article, which was published today. But I think it works as a bit of a response.

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