IN THIS ISSUE:
REVENGE OF THE NERDS
iTOON on Mall Pigeons
EXAMINE THE NET WAY OF LIFE
It was not very long ago, in small strip shopping centers, that the Ma & Pa Video Store was the only place to browse the weekend movie aisle for your VHS or Betamax. One could rent a video for a couple of bucks for a couple of days, return the tapes, and begin the process all over again. It was a low margin business model that got squeezed when the business went to national chains like Blockbuster who cut deals directly with the studios on releases. Then the studios wanted more of the secondary market action. The studios then started to stamp out copies of movies for retail sales. Fans of certain titles would certainly want to own a studio-quality copy of their favorite feature. So established national department stores began selling videos in their electronics departments. Then the electronics departments grew into national electronic chain stores.
Progress. The Ma & Pa Video Store only lasted a few years after the competition flooded the market with specialty stores. It is a cycle that affects any technology ecosystem. For example, the television. It was revolutionary in its science and its societal effects. Few people knew how to fix or repair the early sets. In my town, there was a television repair shop. As a kid, I recall walking into the small building and the front of the store contained shoebox upon shoebox containers of various sized vacuum tubes. There was the sawed in half 1950s style robot next to the counter, the tube tester. On Saturday mornings, there was a constant line of fathers with their brown paper bags filled with their set tubes plugging in the prongs into the tester to find the burned out tube that was killing the quality home television picture. Once the offending tube was found, it was handed to the clerk who would shuffle around to a shoebox bin to find a replacement. Beyond the counter, one could see picnic tables filled with television sets in various degrees of dissection. Wires falling out of huge picture tubes made it look like an alien autopsy. The owner of the store made money taking in broken sets, repairing them, and selling the restored sets. It was an early form of technology recycling because the economics of the consumer still had television sets on the luxury side of the home budget equation. The transistor technology lead to the demise of the tubal television set. The Ma & Pop TV Repair store hung around fixing the jumpy black and white screens, or replacing broken rabbit ear antennas. When the industry went overseas for production, it became cheaper to replace an old television set than to repair it. Color, cable ready, digital, high def . . . the rapid changes in signal engineering made repairmen NASA-like techs. So, America's landfills replaced the local repair shop as the final destination for most sets.
The personal computer age was born in garages and homebrew science clubs. In order to have an early personal computer, you had to build it yourself, from a kit or from scavenging parts from other discarded machines. No one thought initially that a home-built computer would replace a typewriter, a radio, a television, a movie theatre, a newspaper, or an engineering career. The first consumer models could be found by local enthusiasts turned shopkeeper, in the same small strip center locations that the Ma & Pop Television Repair shops used to occupy. A lucky new tech-head could browse the wonders of a machine with 256kb RAM, the latest dot-matrix printer or dream of a modem with speeds of 1200 bps. The programs were modest at best; the publications of the day were more geared toward the home user taking his copy of BASIC and coding in modules to make the existing software more usable. Hardly the mainstream plug-and-play off the shelf software of today. The technology quickly warped into megabytes, faster processors, supercomputer speeds, color screens, 3D graphics and stereo sound. The simple computer store geek did not have the capital to stock the growing explosion of technology based products. Just like office supplies was consolidated into regional wholesale supply companies, computer equipment and supplies created a market for regional computer retailers. Those retailers soon found competition from the department stores, the hardware and software owners who started to use direct sales techniques, to accountants who were consulting clients into transforming the paper ledgers into electronic, to the consumers choice --- the catalog warehouse supplier. Who did not like to see a monthly or quarterly sales brochure with the latest and greatest computer gear? No need to run from town to town to try to find a needed product; dial the 800 number and call in your order. The rise of ground shipping to consumers made the process seem seamless. The local computer store would fade from memory quicker than the television repair store.
The above history came to mind after reading about the latest Ma & Pa consumer service, called Ripping. Ripping is the service where a tech-savvy person will take your vinyl records, your photo-scrap books or your old 16 mm home movies, and transfer them to digital format on DVDs. Most people with home computers have the ability to do this transfer work themselves, but for the reason of fear of technology, or the lack of time, or pure laziness, they would prefer to pay someone else to do the dirty work, the manual labor of scan, capture, clean up and burn one's memories onto DVDs.
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REVENGE OF THE NERDS
The fine folks at Comcast have completed the merger of its G4 gamer channel with TechTV. In the end, TechTV was eaten whole, digested, and left as fertilizer on the digital television path by the lumbering zoo animal called Management. Most assumed that the merger was just a play to capture more bandwidth. In the cable domain, each system has a limited number of available program channels so the cable operators began a final land-grab of their own fiber lines. On the sat-dish domain, it is a numbers play --- viewers still count for advertising dollars which means rating dollars. TechTV had talent, programming, cult stars, and most importantly, viewers. Comcast bought the viewers and threw out the baby with the bathwater.
So hardcore TechTV viewers are steamed that their favorite shows have been canceled, butchered or left for minor filler on a channel that is geared toward talking Playstation-Xbox liner puke to 12 year olds. So what do upset people do today? The converge on the Net to vent, blog, plead and receive some form of justification for their past loyalty.
The old TechTV guard have continued their individual websites, and through the progress of technology, have revamped their old program, Screen Savers, through podcasts.
Leo LaPorte and Kevin Rose continue to interact with their fan base, foreclosed from regular, irregular or dish broadcasting. But technogeeks can find a way around the corporate programmers and their blundering decision-making. Go to the web. Not just a static website; but loaded with links, comments and discussion groups. Now, adding the podcast feature to the mix, video streaming can only be around the corner.
Broadcasters feared that the internet would transform itself into the next TV set -- the main informational and entertainment tube on the planet. So the industry has unwittingly pushed the technology ahead by eliminating programs that technology-gadget-science viewers liked but refused to let go.
Tech guru Rocky adds this footnote to the Story:
Leo & Kevin and a whole host of other TechTV alumni have formed a new venture called "This Week in Tech" or TWiT for short. Go to twit.tv for details. It's the second website that I have ever given money to. It's also the future of tech broadcasting, or should I say tech podcasting. The next iPod will have video capability. iTunes 4.9 will have podcast download capability. iTunes 5 will have podcast creation capability. The revolution will not be televised. It will be podcasted.
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Comics were the first to abuse recorded lyrics for their own personal gain. In the 1970s, comedians used the reporter on the street skit to ask political questions, to be answered by the hit pop song(s) of the day. This editing soundbites into a humorous record was common place. It was called parody. It was called fair use. No one complained. Because, in the most part, it was funny. And no one was confused as to the origin of the original music.
The music industry is on another crusade. It is venting about the current trend called mash-ups. Mash-ups are nothing more than blending similar sounding song segments from different artists into a newly edited hybrid song. Intellectual property theft, is the industry's cry.
If one takes away the fact that people are finding more and more songs that sound really, really, really like another song (which is because music is a finite concept; there are only six strings on standard guitar, and the player has only five fingers to manipulate the instrument), the real question is who is ripping off whom?
In his latest commercial, Bruce Springsteen appears to be morphing into Bob Dylan as the years pass both artists by. Can you compare their acoustic catalogs and find similar rhythms and chords? Probably. Are Springsteen fans also Dylan fans? Possibly. Will fans care if some computer geek merges their songs together to show the similarities? Not really.
The music industry is guarding its recordings, note by note, modulation peak by modulation peak, against any unauthorized retransmission. There were individual victories against the rappers who sampled pieces of established songs; it was a matter of money in those lawsuits, as rap music had suddenly overtaken the rock n roll standard bearers (linked to the major labels) who saw their royalties at risk.
But most mash-ups are the non-commercial expression of either (a) hey, I found this, (b) hey, did you ever notice that A's Song A is like B's Song B, or (c) hey, how do you like my audio editing and transition skills? Is that derviative music, or music commentary? Probably a little of both - - - then, fair use?
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Ted Turner had a simple mission statement when he ran his cable empire. If there was a major, global news event, he wanted the world to turn on CNN. He put reporters and camera crews throughout the globe to be the first on the air with live coverage of a breaking news event. World leaders began quoting CNN before their own intelligence services.
Media consolidation put Turner into the pasture, and a slowing advertising revenue base cut back the worldwide bureaus that he had created to hit the journalism home runs. In his stead, the net has brought the video feed to the desktop.
Most American television news organizations have links to live news feeds, but they attempt to charge a premium for that content. One needs the proper media player, a fast connection speed, and the patience to pull it all together to keep up with the AP radio bulletins.
No story showed the worldwide breathe of the desktop breaking news story than the death of Pope John Paul II. The news media had their cameras poised on the rooftops surrounding St. Peter's, but the live feeds were edited, sparsed or over-commentated by anchors who were very unfamiliar with the concept of religious reporting.
When the College of Cardinals began their secret voting, the world was on edge. People wanted to know who would become the next Pontiff. There was the traditional visual sign, white smoke from the chapel stove pipe. People caught in their offices without television coverage could not determine whether the radio reporters vague pronouncements were really true. Confusion reigned.
I tried to log into the major news organizations to get a live feed when the square began to fill with massive crowds. No link connection could be made. Then a web search of Euro news organizations to find a secondary source of Vatican news. I finally hit upon Vatican TV which had an entire schedule of web related content, including a live camera of the balcony where the new pope would first emerge.
So the desktop computer had the small web window of the Vatican cam on for about ten minutes when there was a rush of activity on the balcony. The radio station that was across the room was about 6 seconds ahead of the web feed. But the radio commentators could not speak Italian to determine who the new pope was going to be, but from the video feed, one could immediately know that Cardinal Ratzinger was the choice because he did not step out to introduce the new pontiff as would have been his last duty as the Dean of the College of Cardinals.
It was also an interesting feed from the perspective that it did not have any commentary associated with the pictures. It was just a live event. You heard and saw what the crowd in Rome heard and saw. Unfiltered from the western press glib conversational reporting that has become standard filler.