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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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Indie Rock Playlist Database (new site/service)

April 11, 2011 3 comments

Old school database

Old school database

I discovered this service/site when its creator, Javier Fernandez, e-mailed me for permission to include my playlists in his database. I of course said yes and was immediately curious about the whole thing. Well, it turns out it’s a great service. If you’re looking for a song based on title or artist or even just want to see what was on the playlists in a particular month or year, this could be a convenient way of doing it. And the potential is there for it to become even more. It’s also nice in the sense that this is another sign of these playlist things becoming more like a larger community, with associated and related services, aggregators and forums (which BIRP is the best at IMHO, great site).

Check the database out HERE and try a search.

I’d been meaning to write about this for a while but somehow set it aside and forgot to get back to it.

Currently the database uses Criznittle’s original Indie Rock Playlist, BIRP, Jimdo, The IndieRockPlaylists.com site, Indie69, last.fm and myspace, although I’m not sure how the database uses data from last.fm or myspace. Perhaps this is a future addition or feature. Hopefully the site will eventually include Samy’s, Cut The Crap, SaG’s, Shankly and PlayIndie. The database interface is simple, clean and to the point. No bells and whistles. I like that, a lot. I can just imagine how useful something like this would be if it could also get an unlimited “firehose” of data from a site like Hypem. Wondrous! Or perhaps even bypass the use of another aggregator/curator like Hypem and just seek out the direct rss feeds of particular blogs that feature artist and label submitted promotional tracks. You could have the future of free legal music search encompassing the best of both music blog curation and the playlist community. The database could be useful to artists as well, as a way to track their exposure.

The only bug I noticed was with bands that have “and” in their names, which is quite a few. If you use the word “and” , some bands won’t show up.  Eliminate the “and” part of the band name and they DO show up, with some of them using “&” instead of “and”. (*another reason why I avoid using characters like “&” in filenames) Once you have results you can sort them by artist, song title, file size, length of the track, the month of the playlist, the year and the playlist (IRP, BIRP, Jimdo, etc etc). This is a great service to both music fans and the playlist community, and I hope Javier continues to work on it in the future. Fantastic work. It’s even available en Espanol !

Image Credit:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/adesigna/3237575990/

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

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* I have come under fire for my “weird” file naming structure in the past, but this is just another example of why I’m right and this criticism is based on a lack of understanding. (OOOH, arrogance!!)The way I name files is standard based on being the most compatible with things such as databases, alternative operating systems and file systems.  But the way I do it balances between being human-readable and machine-readable quite nicely. I certainly didn’t come up with it myself. This is why I avoid empty spaces/special characters. The rest is just logical. The dash represents a division in the file name clearly pointing out when the band name stops and the song name begins. The underscores are used because using a dash would be confusing. Duh. 😉  And seeing as how many don’t even include the name of the band in the filenames when they create mp3s lately (hrmph) , my way is at least an improvement in that regard. Having learned to use computers on a machine that was not running windows, (not linux) a filename with empty spaces within it seems alien to me and always will. Endrant.

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.

Apple, Comcast and the slow death of the push-pull Internet

May 16, 2010 3 comments

Balancing

Finding a balance.

Some of you may already have your iPads. You may have pre-ordered early enough to have it in your hands. You may have already had a chance to play with it and marvel at its unique interface. Perhaps less unique if you’ve seen a sci-fi film in the last 20 years, but still unique and elegant to most(and to me). I wouldn’t want to (or suggest that I have the power) to take anything away from your happiness. But any apology I provide will not change the reality we now face as these commonly-called “walled gardens” starting to become the norm rather than the exception. Apple, Comcast and many of their ilk are slowly, quietly destroying the foundation of computing and the Internet. Some are even going as far as allowing no access to file systems or even the hardware itself. (hmm. who could that be?)

“Oh, we don’t want to complicate your experience with things like dirty old file systems, and if you open it up it gets your fingers all ewwwey and dirty anyway. That would ookey. Here. Watch this, it’s shiny!”

In other words, “hey, 10 to 30 percent of our users, go f^(k yourselves” followed by that laugh we all know. The laugh you hear from someone who just said something awful to you and gets away with it because they “didn’t really mean it at all”, right? Something like…

“hahaha.. yeah, I’m not sure anyone is going to read a blog post written by YOU that goes on THAT long..hahahahah! Silly.. so silly.. you’re so funny..isn’t he the funniest? that’s kinda refreshing, that kind of hopeless,charming faith in the patience of readers…hahahaha.. how long have you been doing this blogging thing now? yeah.. that’s a LONG time, huh? oh.. gosh.. so serious.. hahaha.. oh you know I’m just teasing you.. jeeze.. hahahaha”

And then you have to go to a shrink to have him help you build and discover the “internal tools” necessary to prevent you from waiting outside such people’s houses at night to inject them with a sedative so that you can tie them up in your basement, skin them alive and pour rubbing alcohol on their exposed musculatures. Or.. something.**

See, from the beginning of those tcp/ip stack early days of dial-up, there has been a sort of sense that someone, somewhere, would like to take the open, free Internet and turn it into TV.  A magical land where mysterious, hidden and magically powered creators toil away in the dark and produce the images, stories and places you’ve always wanted to see.  A place where only a select few, who knew the right people, went to the right parties and graduated from the right southern California universities were allowed to create these images.  Because to let just anyone have potential access to millions of other human beings at a moment’s notice, on the same level as these vaunted few, would be a travesty. While we sat in our comfy chairs and grumbled about the onset of the “spam” problem and the “commercialization” of the Internet, something far more sinister than over-zealous small business was happening slowly. An awareness grew. The moment a user did anything beyond downloading, chatting and surfing (say, like a server of some kind), even back then, ISPs were quick to fire off an e-mail to you explaining that you either had to shut down or pay a higher fee for what was clearly “business-level” access. In other words, even if you were clearly NOT a business, if they noticed that you were serving more traffic than you were consuming, regardless of the strain or lack of strain on their infrastructure, you got shut down. These problems sometimes resolved themselves through competition, but not always. Back then, it all depended on how much competition was in your region. Usually, in most places in the US, not much.

Luckily for the Internet so far, it’s taken many, many years for the people in charge of old media to take us seriously. I think the moment when it all became interesting to them was the moment the news media started talking about how all these “Internet” people (said using the same tone they would use to describe your common aol chatroom trolling  kiddie fiddler of old) were getting all these songs and eventually movies for free. Oh sure, there were dot-coms.  We even had a boom and bust. But it was fear that really got their attention. Up until, say, the threat to and eventual murder of Napster, we were not taken seriously. Only when we became a credible threat to their bottom line did they finally truly notice exactly what was going on behind the curtain. We were dismantling their empire while they were busy trying to create “marketing buzz”, “tie-ins” and “viral campaigns”. Right.Under.Their.Noses. Oh, I may hate nostalgia, but part of me misses the late 90’s underground optimism. Your (print) BoingBoings and Mondo2000s, that sort.

As we found new ways to manipulate and mash-up their “properties”, perhaps making a subconscious, collective statement, they fought back with the DMCA, the RIAA and the MPAA.  Instead of competing and winning back lost customers, they lashed out. Instead of taking responsibility and fixing what was broken, acknowledging missed opportunities and moving forward, they pointed fingers and manipulated numbers to gain sympathy. They “re-educated” young people into believing that making a copy was the same as physical theft. In much the same way as the new right has spent countless years and money perpetuating the myth of the “liberal media”, pushing the already conservative at the core for broad appeal media even further right, garnering sympathy from those of us less informed or educated about the history of such things. Now you can’t watch the news without .0002 percent of an ill-informed, barely-veiled racist and borderline-fascist-while-calling-everyone-else-fascists minority screaming its manufactured, impotent outrage while getting 28% of the media coverage. Using some of these same methods, they have nearly convinced a new generation that they need a mandatory middle-man between them and their culture. And it’s a powerful, angry, jealous middle-man. One who is prone to temper-tantrums and random financial violence toward old ladies and children. Do not tempt the righteous fury of this corporate-man-beast-god. It will devour your parent’s college savings like a pack of hyenas on the rotting carrion of a lost kill. See, they never really tapped that hippie thing, so it’s a little personal. And don’t think for a second that the people behind these two successful, sleeper-cell like causes are not one and the same.  The very same people who buy up radio and TV stations/networks while funding new laws to make it easier to do so are also the people who own 80% or more of what you watch, read and listen to. And they DO want to control the methods of distribution, the most important of which is the Internet. As you see partnerships grow in places like, say, YouTube, ask yourself if the changes you see happening make it easier or harder for you to be exposed to new media being produced by PEOPLE rather than corporations. And how easy do you think it would be to accuse, say, Universal Music Group of violating a rule or copyright as opposed to them accusing little old you of the same? Are you in “good standing”? Are they? Chances are, they’ve spent millions of man-hours removing content created by fans of their artist’s(the ones they OWN) work. Usually to fill a void they’ve abandoned or ignored in their catalog. Or in some cases, tributes to long dead artists. Even songs playing in the background at parties or in a (shudder) criminal act of accidental ambiance. So who, in reality, is truly in “good standing”? Not UMG, not by any standard other than the one required by the YouTube legal department. You know the one. The department that makes the real decisions. The department that calls the shots at Google.* (all while small towns across America are doing everything short of public sex acts to make Google their new ISP)

All while raking in record profits and sobbing in public about their “losses”.

And let’s examine the role of ISPs a little closer. Recently, Comcast won a court battle with the FCC in DC Circuit Court. The battle was over whether or not the FCC had the power to prevent Comcast from throttling users based on what protocol they were using. Comcast claims it was simply a matter of traffic shaping to deal with high demand and certain users “hogging” bandwidth to the extreme and had nothing to do with the protocol at all. In spite of the fact that bittorrent was the protocol in question. What people quickly forget is that bittorrent is not the only protocol ISPs have been blocking and interfering with. It’s well-known, common knowledge that in Canada, for instance, ISPs throttle Skype calls. You can count on it like clockwork. After a certain number of minutes, you’ll have to re-connect or will be unable to establish a stable connection again for some time. That’s not about bandwidth hogging, it’s about trying to make your competition look bad. It’s pure and simple anti-competitive behavior. And if it were happening in any context outside the Internet, people would either lose huge amounts of money over it or in some extreme cases, go to jail.

and.they.won.

See, it may not seem like a big deal. Especially if you’ve never created anything and tried to distribute it over the Internet. There are a lot of free “services” that will host your content. Most of them will want to wrap your content with ads for other content*** or make users jump through hoops to get at it in various ways. Then you have the paid services. And if you suddenly find out an audience larger than your family and friends  actually wants what you’ve made, watch the hell out. Here come the bandwidth bills and mandatory account upgrades. Essentially, most likely without fully realizing it, what this circuit court judge has done is make it easy and legal for Comcast to shut down the little guy (or the medium guy in the case of Skype). Sure, most of the time bittorrent is used for downloading content backed by large media owners and distributors, against their wishes. But it’s not the only use for bittorrent. Period. There’s no getting past this point and truth. It’s essentially like making mom and pop CD stores illegal because MOST of them illegally re-sell promo CDs that were never meant to be sold.  It’s not just unfair, it’s illegal. You cannot do that in most countries. And in the ones you CAN do it in, you can just as easily pay the local police enough cash to burn your competitor’s store down or shoot and kill him in his driveway as he arrives home from work. Some would want you to believe this has something to do with suppression of the free market and over-regulation. But this just simply is not the case. Anti-competitive behavior and it’s prevention through regulation is the absolute foundation of a truly free and fair market. And the keyword here is not fair, it’s free. As the proponents of what they call a free market will claim from time to time, free speech has limits. You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater, right? Well, anti-competitive behavior is the “yell fire” of the free market. If it is not prevented, a truly free market cannot survive. Everyone must play by the same set of rules, period. Right now, you have the people who you should be most wary of doing their damndest to be the ones re-writing the rules. (following the lead of Banks perhaps?) They would love it if it were illegal to have a marketplace that essentially doesn’t charge to rent a metaphorical table space to sell or promote your goods or services. What the rest of the reasoning world would call a FREE MARKET. And that IS what bittorrent is. It’s like a virtual free table space. Or close to it. Beyond the act of initially “seeding” a torrent, as long as there is demand for what you have on display, the downloaders take care of the rest of the bandwidth needs. No excessive bandwidth overage charges, no inquiring calls from your ISP, no hosting account, no “business account” (another term for what is commonly known as a protection scheme).

The.Way.It.Should.Be. Many would like to take this thing we call bandwidth and convince us all that it needs to be watched like a hawk, treated and charged as if it were at a premium and regulated so the “pipes don’t clog”.

These people know that the word is spreading. Artists left and right are jumping the middle-man ship and going it alone or with partners that serve them primarily or only them. This new DIY spirit is spreading amongst big, established acts now as much and as often as it is with new, younger, indie acts. The early signs of it happening in film are there as well, with big name directors as well as small, experimenting with new ways of funding and distributing/monetizing their films. If you don’t think this scares the steaming crap out of stale, middle-man curators of old, you’re… well.. wrong. Knowing this and coupling it with the fact that there is NO larger, better-known and used protocol that virtually removes the cost of mass distribution than bittorrent, you can see the big picture start to come into focus. Of course they want to block or slow it. Sure, they’ll tell you it’s piracy they want to stop. SURE.. sure. Suresuresure. They also know that it costs FAR less to bribe politicians and use money to influence lawmakers than it does to actually try to compete with the larger, hard-to-tap-into emerging culture. And unfortunately for them, it’s a “free culture”.

Now that I’ve written all this, it really feels like I could have summed it up with just a few simple ideas. Don’t believe the hype and educate others. Spread the word. Contact congresscritters. When you hear people talk about the “free market” right out of college after reading Atlas Shrugged 30 minutes before your conversation, put what they say in context. Nudge them toward the concept of taking those ideas out of the “similar to the liberal pollyanna utopian vision” realm and into the real world, where it counts. Isms are always great (and seductive) living in a conceptual bubble. They tend to deconstruct themselves predictably in potentially disastrous ways when applied without reasonable adjustments. Like rock star boyfriends. It’s all fun and games until you’re pregnant and the rent is due.

And MOST of all, get out there and PUSH. If you create things, USE the Internet in smart ways to distribute. Because if we don’t in greater numbers real fast, we’ll look insignificant and the control goes right back where it was before, to the people with the most money to pay for unneccessary services and middlemen. Remember, you already pay for the Internet. And last time I checked, it was 2-way by design.

*Fair? Probably not on a certain level. But do you think it’s possible for one of the world’s largest corporations to take a stand once in a while against what can only be described as a dying business community in order to fight for what they know is right, once and for all? Does anyone honestly believe that with the right set of brains and the money to get the job done, Google could LOSE in a fight for say, fair use? If they became the aggressor for once instead of reacting against threats only, maybe they’d have a fighting chance. We’ve certainly done our part to turn Google from a garage project into what it is today. And if you think it was the seed money, investments or “good bidness sense” that did it, do us all a favor and just find a new cave to live in. Because without its users, Google was and IS nothing. Period. No matter how fancy, how perfect or how improved it’s been over the years, nothing any one or two people did in that company made as much of a difference as DEMAND did. We needed Google back then, and they were there giving us what we demanded. No demand, no users, no Google.  Part of what made them into what they are today was right place, right time. And you need look no further than the practical admission of this in their motto.. “don’t be evil”. That’s not the motto of someone who thinks they ONLY worked for what they have(keyword:only). It’s the motto of a young Arthur who just pulled Excalibur out of a f^(#|4g stone!!!

**Never actually happened. Honest.And I wouldn’t even know how to start when it comes to skinning people. I wouldn’t know, for instance not to corkscrew the legs or start up the middle of the leg. Or to skin UP to the head and Grab the lumps where the ears are, underneath and separate them carefully by cutting them off as close to the skull as possible. Nope. No idea.

***Torrent sites display ads just as much if not more than the so-called free distributors. But would they ALL if they didn’t always have to feel like they were taking such a HUGE risk? Think drug war for a second.  The moment the risk factor is removed, free, open torrent sites that are ad-free or ad-light would pop up in the hundreds. In the first week. Of course people always want to make money, but there are also ALWAYS people who want to do something else.

Image Credit – http://www.flickr.com/photos/cyanocorax/2207816424/

Creative Commons – Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

The Madness of Old Media and the Delusion of the Obscure (NYT, GFY)

January 14, 2010 7 comments

Jaron Lanier demos new VS(virtual stupidity)technology

Jaron Lanier demos new VS(virtual stupidity)technology

The New York Times has done it again, this time just a little more than a week after indulging the out-of-touch but well-intentioned Bono, creating what appears to be a bandwagon of sorts. This bandwagon is filled with oily-faced people in suits, nearly out of jobs or recently fired/made obsolete, scrambling for self-worth and value while their status as middlemen continues to be rightly marginalized. But there’s a new hope in their pinched, angry faces. A false smile of satisfaction and “I told you so” smarminess. But trust me, folks, it’s as temporary a state as it was when Napster was taken down. Beyond the tired, old, inaccurate, dusty analogies with car theft and insane assertations of decrease in quality “content”, Jaron Lanier is quoted in the NYT proclaiming that the “illegal” sharing of files with one another “undermine(s) the artificial scarcities that allow the economy to function” .. quite boldly, without even a hint of sarcasm, wit or acknowledgment of the stupidity inherent in the statement. How he can say this without explaining why such economies even DESERVE to be preserved is far beyond my pay grade and status.  He states this without a mention of how well the mainstream entertainment economies are functioning quite well, thank you, while the very foreground digital underground thrives as well as it ever has. In some cases , far better than it has in a very long time. But recognizing this will not sell your books or make friends with the old media masters you so clearly wish to kiss the asses of. Either that, or you are simply being contrarian to spark debate. You seem far too intelligent to throw yourself under that bus though. I think this might just be sincere, and that makes me terribly sad. Read more…

Hey.. Bono? A few words. (or many.. in any case you’ll probably never see them)

January 3, 2010 3 comments

In your “10 for the next 10 “article, I found a lot I agreed with(and was inspired by), but I think your assessment of the entertainment (and news, lumped in there) industry was terribly far off the mark as well as reality. Perhaps the lack of insight from such an obviously sharp, passionate and compassionate mind is  a matter of information not read, heard?  You say that the people downloading is hurting are the people who are essentially unknown. People who cannot make a living off tickets and t-shirt sales. First of all, who? You get my point there? The reason we have no idea who you’re speaking of is because no-one KNOWS WHO these people are because they’re not famous. Of COURSE they cannot expect to make a living off t-shirt sales! How can or could they if their fan-base is 400 people on myspace spread out over the entire PLANET? (most of which cannot afford, as you are aware, clean drinking water, let alone t-shirts with unknown bands emblazoned upon them) But that’s always been the case. The only difference now is that they can actually HAVE 400 fans worldwide, unlike before when they would have trouble even reaching the people in their home-towns.

I do agree that we in the US should give more credit where it’s due when it comes to the entertainment industry. In California we are want to say “it’s the cheese”. Well, I don’t know about you, but when was the last time a hunk of medium cheddar made people want to snog in the back seat of a car, or inspire someone to write a novel? And when was the last time a gruyere was alphabetized, shelved and consumed 100 times in a year? Then again and again over a 50 year period? Not once. The entertainment economy of California (and the US) is a gift that keeps on giving. Take that, cows. Why don’t you try licensing some pepper jack for the end credits of a film sometime. I didn’t think so. Read more…

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