Archive for the 'pop culture' Category

New Media Will Eat Itself.

April 26, 2008

Two links pushed to me via Twitter are forming enough rumination to generate a post. This original video is blog worthy in and of it self and this blogger has seized upon it. It is biting but true enough to be funny. I must be a new media DB then. Except that I have a day job. I think that there are some new media people who are big who do it all for fun and have independent means (or are on the dole).

My peer group of new media folks are the ones who are doing other things for a living. Someone in this camp (who is far more successful in new media than I) is Scott Johnson. His Extra Life Radio Show is very, very popular and he has a web comic and other podcasts as well. He also has a full time regular job. He must be a very energetic guy to sustain this kind of output. I’m sure he would like to quit his day job, but the thing is that old school jobs pay a heck of lot better. That’s certainly true for me. I don’t even do advertising on my podcasts. I’m not going to be quiting my day job anytime soon.

The other link that makes me write is an article from The Los Angeles Times re: SXSW. Here we see new media doing self-cannibalizing at it’s finest with someone vlogging themselves while interviewing a blogger. If you want to take the analogy to its furthest, new media regenerates as it self-consumes. It feeds on itself but miraculously continues to grow in the process. If it is a Hydra, it bites off one of its own heads and two more sprout. Everyone is making content about each other which in turn generates new content.

How long can it continue? It will peak in growth like everything else. But new media itself is permanent. There will always be a segment of the population that like to write words and make videos. The gateway to entry has been forever smashed with WordPress and YouTube. There will always be someone to consume this. As a consequence, I think one thing that has died is the old media superstar. New media pulls market share and eyeballs away from old media even though it doesn’t pay the talent very well. Just like in the music industry, where there will never be another Rolling Stones, so will go the rest of old media. You won’t have enough money in old media to create an old school superstar any longer. Although, on the flip side, every element of human interest gets its own micro-celebrity. In certain instances, that micro-celebrity becomes big enough to be a micro-celebrity superstar, like Veronica Belmont, for example.

If the loss of superstars paves the road for participation in media by the masses, I think we’re all better off. Certainly, with our cameras and microphones and lighting kits, we are having more fun.

Twitter Nodes.

April 12, 2008

Last night, I had a video of David Allen running, I was reading blogs on blog mad and blog explosion and I was reading what people were saying on Twitter.  So I had audio input (I wasn’t really watching the video) new blog material from a variety of sources that I would not ordinarily read and the latest micro-blogging from people across the world.

Twitter is sort of like reality TV except that it’s real time.  Jaffejuice said that “Twitter is like a police scanner except you can talk to the police.”  I like that except we’re all the police.  I think it’s more like the Borg from Star Trek.  It gives you the latest information; the latest sensory input from organic nodes throughout civilization.  It is like a human botnet whose job it is to report what is happening at the moment.

Of course there is a lot of noise.  There are a lot of people talking about a lot of things in which I have no interest.  That’s why I was listening to Mr. Allen and reading blogs.  The combination of activity was far better than television or movie watching.  It was even better than playing a videogame.  It satisfied my relentless desire for new material.

I’ve written in the past how we are all nodes.  We get more connected every day.  But not all of us speak the same language and not all of us have the same interests.  Some of us are, sadly, quite annoying.  And when a node annoys me, I unfollow it.  I’ve done this three times so far and by the count of followers that I have, some people have unfollowed me as well.  This does not surprise me in the least.  I am an acquired taste.  Take this blog for example, while there are a fair amount of readers, I will never be Robert Scoble.  And that’s fine.

In Praise of popSiren.

March 23, 2008

You have to hand it to Revision3.  Internet television has never been this good.  There’s several shows that I enjoy, like Techzilla and GigaOm but I want to talk about popSiren.  This show is terrific!  With any luck, it will be around for a long time.

I like shows that don’t hold back.  If something is complicated they don’t dumb it down.  The tendency nowadays is to reach the dumbest member of the audience.  popSiren doesn’t do that.  It’s like the humor of Joss Wheadon.  If you don’t get it it, they don’t care.  It is entertaining and informative.  Many shows tried to reach that level but popSiren achieves it.

The hosts Jessica Corbin and Sara Lane are veterans from The Screen Savers (which was on the old TechTV).  They also have outstanding segment hosts.  Particularly awesome is the extremely erudite Dr. Kiki Sanford.  I had been a fan of hers for a long time as the co-host of the podcast This Week in Science.  Here she takes to video with terrific results.  She made fire that danced to music on the first show.  Outstanding!  You just don’t see this level of material on cable TV.  The other segment host, Heather, looks like she could be Morgan Webb’s cousin.  That’s not a bad thing.  Her archery segment in the first show was entertaining.

This show is fresh because of the level of detail it gives its subject matter.  The smart writing and quick hosts help a lot too.  Not everything is going to appeal to everyone.  (I’m still trying to figure out why I would want to make comic book envelopes).  Generally speaking, though there are a lot more hits than misses.  It is definitely geared to the geek and nerd crowd, but of course, that’s where you’ll always find me.

Plus, it’s a television show on the internet that has terrific production values!  Who could ask for anything more?  They asked at the end of the show what people would like to see them do.  I had to think about that.  Science interviews would be great like Woz or Dean Kamen.  Sending someone out to these parts to cover the Inventors Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony would be terrific too.  I’m sure that they have a lot of great material to come and I’m looking forward to more shows.

Weizenbaum and Artificial Intelligence.

March 15, 2008

In the Wall Street Journal of all places, I read that Joseph Weizenbaum had died. He created the ELIZA computer program that simulates human interaction. While not a sophisticated program, it is always mentioned (and always will be mentioned) in discussions of artificial intelligence and Turing tests. With his simple program, Weizenbaum immortalized himself as an AI pioneer.

Even though artificial intelligence has its critics, it is already ubiquitous. Just today, I called UPS and spoke at length with a computer. It used voice recognition technology quite effectively to identify my package number. Even now, I am writing this with NaturallySpeaking 9.5. This voice recognition program is inherently based on artificial intelligence algorithms.

But artificial intelligence is not voice recognition alone. AI “perceives its environment and takes actions which maximize its chances of success.” Weizenbaum, clearly a gifted man, gave up computer programming and the field of artificial intelligence altogether later in life. In a way, he was better off than two recent leading authorities in the field. However, based on what I’ve read about him and his work, he really felt that humans shouldn’t rely on machines for decision-making. Of course, now, we do that every day. Pilots use AI to fly airplanes. People rely on AI in their cars without even knowing about it. At some point, people will rely on AI to make decisions about their lives. In one’s PDA, one will have a virtual psychiatrist/business planner/personal coach always at one’s fingertips. I suspect that Weizenbaum would not approve of this, but I think it’s better than, say, relying on Astrology for that same advice.

Weizenbaum was particularly put off by the fact that when ELIZA came out, people really took it seriously. Some people really couldn’t distinguish a simple pattern recognizer from a human being. If you have played with ELIZA, you may find this hard to believe. But remember it came out in 1966. No one had much experience with such things back then. No one had much experience with computers at all. This is how far ahead of his time Weizenbaum was.

At the same time, I think his dismay at how stupid people can be was misplaced. Artificial intelligence, in the form of an interactive program designed to pass Turing tests has not progressed much in the last 42 years. That is not to say that artificial intelligence has not progressed much, it has. However people have not built an interactive program designed to mimic humans with much more efficacy than ELIZA does. There have been some recent attempts and perhaps this is now becoming vogue once again.

Instead of worrying about people who can’t distinguish a computer program from a real person, think about how much these people can be helped. Look how many of the videos on YouTube are made by people who cannot see the consequences of their actions. A quick check with one’s personal digital mentor, might prevent the disastrous outcome from the typical “hey y’all watch this” YouTube adventure. Or Weizenbaum, who was clearly smarter than I am, could be right and such AI development could lead to a Terminator-style apocalypse. I suspect, however, no matter the outcome, such AI is inevitable in time.

“We can’t go on together…”

March 7, 2008

People were making fun of Priscilla Presley the other day. They said that her plastic surgery made her look bad. I don’t know. I looked at some pictures online and she looks the same as she always has to me. Then people were picking on her daughter, Lisa Marie. I guess she’s pregnant. People were calling her fat. People can be so cruel.

I finished watching “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” this evening. I really enjoyed this series. Hollywood scuttlebutt indicates that the series will be renewed in the fall. I cannot tell you how much I hope that this is so. There was a show on afterwards advertised during the commercials (that I mostly fast forwarded through). It was a show about a detective who had been alive for 400 years. I guess it’s kind of a Dorian Gray sort of thing. Although in this case there’s no portrait, from the previews it looks like he got his immortality from Mystic Indians. Ah yes, the Mystic Indian plot device. It is not so commonly used as falling down an elevator shaft or amnesia, but it is used.

I don’t really have many memories of Elvis Presley. I remember my neighbors really loved him. I’ve known people throughout my life who collected Elvis memorabilia. Some people truly revere him as the King. We used to joke in college, that in 3000 years people would worship him like a prophet. We really don’t have to wait 3000 years do we?

Mr. Rogers did not contribute to American narcissism.

July 14, 2007

Professor Chance picked on the wrong American Icon in his rant against narcissism.  Students that try to argue up their grades are really a tradition.  It’s nothing new.  Rudeness, vulgarity and disrespect are definitely societal problems.  However, Fred Rogers was part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Mr. Rogers didn’t hurt anyone by telling them they are special.  My thought on it is that it was more about people having intrinsic value as human beings.  Let me be specific: if people have intrinsic value, then they should not be abused or harassed or tortured or killed.  To me, it’s not about entitlement.  That’s an entirely different social ill.  Fred Rogers was far deeper than that.  His message was more global.  Look at how people treat each other across the world.  Look at the violence.  Rogers is so far removed from the petty social ills that Chance discusses, it’s not even the same universe.

Fred Rogers was a humanitarian who consistently worked toward furthering the causes he believed in his entire life.  He is a giant among those who would help others.  Frankly, if you are going to try to criticize him, you had better have better ammo than some glib accusation.  Then again, attacking an icon is a great way to get attention.

I have always believed that you need to work for what you get in life.  So I am no fan of the spoiled.  However, blaming a guy who is probably as close to a modern day saint that we’ve had in the last 50 years for negatively impacting our society is crazy.  Also, let’s look at another theme of his show: respect.  Each character, each person, everyone on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood treats everyone else with respect.  Do we have too much respect for one another today?  Also, in addition to teaching that people have intrinsic value, Rogers taught that you should recognize those who help you through life.  This is from Wikipedia:

“Daytime Emmys, the Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Rogers. The following is an excerpt from Esquire Magazine‘s coverage of the gala, written by Tom Junod:

Mister Rogers went onstage to accept the award — and there, in front of all the soap opera stars and talk show sinceratrons, in front of all the jutting man-tanned jaws and jutting saltwater bosoms, he made his small bow and said into the microphone, “All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are. Ten seconds of silence.”[5]

And then he lifted his wrist, looked at the audience, looked at his watch, and said, ‘I’ll watch the time.” There was, at first, a small whoop from the crowd, a giddy, strangled hiccup of laughter, as people realized that he wasn’t kidding, that Mister Rogers was not some convenient eunuch, but rather a man, an authority figure who actually expected them to do what he asked. And so they did. One second, two seconds, three seconds — and now the jaws clenched, and the bosoms heaved, and the mascara ran, and the tears fell upon the beglittered gathering like rain leaking down a crystal chandelier. And Mister Rogers finally looked up from his watch and said softly, “May God be with you,” to all his vanquished children.”

That is about as far away from narcissism as one can get.

I submit to you that Rogers telling you you’re special is a voice of hope in a very violent and hostile world.  Rogers was a man of great humility and he commanded respect by his devotion to humanity.  Plus he turned me on to Cardigan sweaters and occasion specific shoes.  In all seriousness, Fred Rogers deserves more than Professor Chance’s criticism.

Book Review: The Happiness Myth by Jennifer Michael Hecht.

May 5, 2007

I have a fixation on the concept of happiness. When I read about The Happiness Myth: The Historical Antidote to What Isn't Working Today, I immediately bought it and read it. It does not disappoint. Hecht takes an historical approach to happiness. She breaks this down into categories: Wisdom, Drugs, Money, Bodies and Celebration. She discusses each topic as humans have behaved over time in an engaging and through provoking way.

I learned a bit of history on Celebration. It seems that if a people are oppressed in one way, they can develop elaborate and in some ways shocking ways of cutting loose through carnivals and festivals.

It goes too far to say that Hecht advocates drug use. However, the reader gets the feeling that she has no problem with using legal drugs to get through rough spots. She has a great deal of historical backing on this point. Of course there’s also a lot of historical data about how bad drugs can be. The message seems to be: if are not the type of person who gets addicted, don’t feel bad about using legal drugs to get by. She argues this point well, yet there are an awful lot of people who struggle with addiction. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but it is thought provoking.

Hecht writes very well. In fact, this book seems to be classified as a self-help book and this does not do it justice. She is a writer of the caliber of Steven Pinker or Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner The book does discuss self-help and distills that literature down to: “Know yourself. Control your desires. Take what’s yours. Remember death.” Taking these topics in turn, Hecht seems to say that happiness is found in open-minded moderation. She also identifies virtually all areas of human endeavor that can make one happy. Yet she goes beyond this in her clinical discussion of happiness and how humans have tried to find happiness over time.

This is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in happiness as a concept.

Beerfest in 1080p.

April 22, 2007

When you are experiencing a 1080p movie for the first time, if you are a true movie aficionado, you should spend the time to pick out a perfect movie for this virgin moment.  Not being a true movie buff, I chose Beerfest.  Actually, I was dying to watch a full movie and my HD choices were Casablanca (which I want to watch with friends), King Kong (which I’ve seen) and Beerfest (which I had not seen).

I liked Beerfest well enough, although it was a bit long.  It’s just that in terms of showcasing 1080p goodness, it’s really like using expensive car wax on a beater.  You just aren’t going to get the same bang for your buck as you would for say, Lord of the Rings.  But LoR isn’t out in HD DVD yet, and, as I’ve said, my choices were limited.

Now, of course, when people ask me:  “What was the first movie you saw in 1080p?”  My answer is forever:  “Beerfest.”  I can always hope that they ask instead what my first HD movie was.  Happily, that was The Enforcer with Clint Eastwood.  Amazingly, I saw this in a hotel room on a 720p TV while on vacation.  It looked terrific and really hooked me on HD.  That experience is what drove me to my current level of home theater dedication.  The Enforcer is a terrific Dirty Harry movie.  Beerfest really doesn’t compare well to it, mostly because of the genre difference.

Actually, I can’t complain too much about Beerfest because it was funny and I recommend it for what it is.  I think I need to wait until The Matrix comes out on HD DVD to really experience 1080p.

Googlers: it’s only a matter of time before your workers’ paradise goes the way of Dilbert.

January 13, 2007

My dear Googlers, I hate to break it to you, but when it comes to salary and benefits, you’re probably overpaid. Enjoy your gourmet meals, your on site fitness centers and your flexible schedules while you can. This extravagance will soon be crushed by your shareholders. Every penny that’s spent on free lattes is a penny out of shareholders’ pockets. Soon it will be time to create more shareholder value.

There’s a reason that all offices have cubes. It’s an efficient way to store workers. Companies need workers but they need to do the absolute minimum necessary to retain those workers by way of compensation (sometimes this can be a lot). This is determined by what the market will bear.

It won’t happen overnight, but cubiclization is inevitable. First, they’ll go from gourmet food to lunch-lady-land style cafeteria food that no one wants. Then, after people stop using it, they’ll close it all together and put in cubicles. The same will happen to the workout areas. Google will outgrow the building necessitating the removal of the treadmills. Instead you will, once again, get more cubicles.

In one interview I saw, a Generation Y slacker said: “I come into work at 11 because I like to sleep in.” Frankly, most managers view this behavior as indicative of mental illness. That policy is doomed to go out the door as well. It will probably be replaced by 8:00 to 5:00 (with a half hour for lunch) for hourly employees and 7:30 to 9 for the salaried. You people will have to learn to work, not slack. Just because you may not have much stomach for personal inconvenience for the sake of work, doesn’t mean five people somewhere else in the world won’t do what you do for a tenth of your salary and with a lot more engagement. Economics hasn’t changed.

So will go your “twenty percent” time. It will be engulfed by the demands of the projects you’re working that actually have economic value. You know, working on something that makes money?

I’m not the only one who foresees this, Wired Magazine did a piece on this concept when Google did it’s IPO.

So enjoy your ping pong and pool tables. Enjoy your X-boxes and pets at work. Enjoy your free M&Ms. They are going to go the way of all things. Also, look on the bright side, when you lose the gourmet meals, you’ll lose all the weight you’ve gained. You’ll probably be able to keep your lava lamps. They don’t cost much. New ones will probably have to be bought refurbished however.

Gadgets and Super Powers.

January 1, 2007

It occurred to me the other day that my adolescent desire to be greater than my fellow men is why I like gadgets.  Call it a Batman complex.  Batman has no super powers.  He does have a utility belt and a whole lot of other stuff.  He is the consummate gadget guy.

Admittedly, no cell phone is going to make you a superman.  An iPod is not going to help you leap tall buildings anytime soon.  Having a really fast laptop is not going to make you invulnerable, even to viruses.

Yet the coolness persists.  Given my sedentary proclivities and the fact that I generally abhor the outdoors, life saving gadgets aren’t even really likely to help me much.  For example, I could take to wearing a Kevlar vest every day, but all that would accomplish is making me buy new clothes and probably making me sweat more.  I’m not Batman, after all.

I think GPS units are really cool, but if I have to drive anywhere further than 4 hours, I fly.  If I’m going somewhere I’ve never been, I take maps and I never veer off main highways.  Since 99% of the time I’m going to and from work or perhaps to a store, my need for a GPS is slight.

My Blackberry does give me the power to be away from my office and answer email and that’s important.  My iPod lets me listen to informative podcasts while I’m driving so that’s a plus in the advantage column.  My Nintendo DS lets me waste time while I’m not near a computer.  It’s certainly not an advantage, but it can be entertaining.

Someday, a gadget is going to come along that really does give a person an advantage in modern life.  I’ll be first in line for that one.  Of course after everyone gets one, it won’t be an advantage anymore, it will be a requirement.  Until then, there’s always something new to play with.