Monthly Archives: July 2005

why podcasts need DJs (kudos to Fake Science)

When i went to see War of the Worlds, i spent most of the film trying to crawl into my mothers’ lap because i *hate* scary movies. As i tried to calm myself in the theatre, my conscious mind told my reactive mind that it’s just the music and if it weren’t for the scary music, you’d just think that watching Tom Cruise was as fun as watching fratboys. Try watching the opening scene of Apocalypse Now without the audio – it’s an entirely different movie. Music matters and movie folks know it.

Film is not the only place where music is put to use to help tell a story. For example, NPR uses sound for many of its pieces. As much as the music between the segments on NPR can annoy me (because they have dreadful taste), they also help the transition and place the listener into the mood to hear the story. There’s an art to putting together an audio production and it’s not the same as just talking talking talking.

When i realized that a DJ friend of mine put together a podcast, i was curious enough to actually revisit my ban on podcasts. I was floored. Fake Science’s The Lab Report weaves interviews and music. They pay attention to the entire sound of the podcast, focusing on transition and creating breaks in the speaking by reviewing different music. !Plus! they have brilliant music taste so each transition includes some heavenly dub, downtempo or ambient music.

In listening to their podcast, i realized that podcasts really need DJs, or at least people who really understand the flow of sound. There is an art to sound design. While we all learn how to write in school (and some of us enjoy it more than others), we’re dreadfully ill-equipped to produce persistent, asynchronous audio without conversational feedback. Far fewer of us know how to turn audio (or video) into an art that really communicates what we’re trying to convey. And listening to someone’s awkward speech is worse than reading someone’s arbitrarily vomited words.

While Fake Science definitely is focused on the topic of music, i would strongly encouraged everyone interested in podcasting to really think about how they’re transitioning their thoughts. Talk to a DJ or sound designer, add some sound bits in an intelligent manner. I don’t really care about the music industry but i can listen to an hour of Fake Science, unlike most podcasts. And the reason is simple – they make the transitions palatable, they pay attention to how the entire podcast sounds.

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AIM Fight

One of my favorite articles is Cobot in LambdaMOO: A Social Statistics Agent. After people complained that the robot was learning about the community but not giving back, it was programmed to answer questions about the statistics it gathered. Things spun out of control because people found out that they were less cool than their friends. Competition ensued. It’s a classic case of why statistical information about social hierarchy is not always so good for community or relationships.

I thought of Cobot when i saw AIM Fight, a service that lets you put your AIM account in against your opponent’s to find out who has a higher score (a.k.a. popularity rating). So what are you going to do about your coolness score?

(Tx Joe)

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MySpace -> News Corp.

I’ve been waiting for a mega-media company to buy MySpace and sure enough, it happened. News Corp bought Intermix Media (the half-parent of MySpace). Unlike the other YASNS, the value of MySpace comes from the data on media trends that is the core of what people share on that service. You have millions of American youth identifying with media and expressing their cultural values on the site. Marketers who want to understand the constantly shifting youth trends are often looking for a perch from which to be the ideal voyeur. And with MySpace, they found it. Here, youth are sharing media left right and center and forgetting that they are doing so under the watchful eye of Big Media who are certain to use this to manipulate them. Because youth believe that MySpace is a social tool for them, they are not conscious of how much data they’re giving to marketers about their habits.

Really, it’s a brilliant move for News Corp. (assuming they can stay out of the courts and that the RIAA is nice to them). I’m just not so certain how good it is for youth culture.

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Which evil nation state are you? (similes for Microsoft, Yahoo and Google)

OK, i can no longer resist posting this even though it’s not so very nice. In a moment of snarkiness, i was thinking about how to frame the perceived attitude of the three big search companies: MYG (Microsoft, Yahoo, Google). By thinking on a global landscape and thinking about empires, i decided that you could draw similes between each company and powerful nation-states in the 20th century. Yes, it’s a crude and rude model drawing off of stereotypes to build caricatures. But it is kinda funny. I was trying to resist posting this because it feels so inappropriate, but why should that stop me?

Microsoft is Germany. They did some pretty evil things a while back but you don’t remember the details, you just know that you really hate them. Even though they’re really no worse than any other large corporpation/country, you can’t help but distrust them permanently because, well, you always have.

Yahoo is Japan. It had an economic crisis that almost destroyed it and it plays too nice with all of the other evil empires, supporting the most evil endeavors. It hasn’t really innovated for a while, but it tries to improve on known products to support average people. It’s currently trying to sell culture in the form of animated cutesy iconic images which you kinda like and kinda despise.

Google is the United States. It has never seen trouble on home turf. It is arrogant and loved by the elite. You know you’re supposed to respect them for being better than everyone else, because they think they are, but you actually kinda resent them for being so rich and powerful. Yet, you really like their cool toys.

Note: This post is meant to be humorous in that way when you make fun of things which are intimately a part of your life. I have much respect for all three companies and while parallels are drawn that sting, it is meant in jest, to poke at the issues of how attitudes by each company are perceived. I also know that this post can be read as xenophobic because i draw on stereotypes of different powerful nation-states. With both the companies and the countries, i am not saying anything about the employees/residents – this has to do with corporate and historical brands, not with the actualities or individuals.

I tried to draw parallels that were equally dismissive and offensive of each company, so don’t think that i’m aiming for one company in particular. I do respect all three companies and countries, even when they (as institutions) make a fool of themselves. In fact, i work for Google because i respect Google. But in any case, i figured you’d enjoy these caricatures and tear them to pieces (or at least critique the hell out of them).

(And thanks to Barb for the image!)

Update: The comments are *fantastic* – make sure to read them and play along!

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Jared Diamond on Collapse

Last night, the Long Now Foundation hosted Jared Diamond to speak about his new book Collapse. In OCD fashion, i convinced two of my friends to leave at 5:15 for the 7:30 talk and i’m glad i did because only a very small fraction of those who showed up got in.

The talk was fantastic – he discussed how societies collapsed in the past, using a set of case studies to analyze different factors. The emphasis of the talk was on how societies who use up all of their resources fail. He spoke of Easter Island (which deforested itself to cannibalism and eventually extinction) and the natural experiment of Haiti vs. Dominican Republic. Amidst all of the stories of failed societies, he discussed how Japan saved itself from deforestation and extinction.

Throughout it, he kept making jabs at our current political state and how we are (globally) headed to a very very bad place. At one point, he rattled off a set of possible statements that the Easter Islanders might have said when they cut down the last tree. I can’t recap them perfectly, but they were hysterical… something like “well, there might be tree elsewhere that we don’t know about yet” and “science will find an alternate to trees shortly” and “God gave us these trees for our own use” and “this is my property, i have the right to do what i want with my own trees.” We all giggled nervously.

One bit of data really got to me. He said that there is a dreadful drought going on in Australia right now and Sydney is rapidly using up its water reserves. He argued that Australia has 12-20 months to figure out its water solution or things are going to get really bad. I don’t know how true this is, but it really hit home. And why do Southern Californians water their lawns?

There were lots of interesting questions, but on the way home, my friend Aaron proposed a question that i really wish i knew the answer to. How did people react to the warning of a collapse? Were there situations in which scientists knew it was coming and no one would listen? [This is the fundamentally the Flatland question.]

Anyhow, the lecture was really stimulating and it was sooo fantastic to see so many familiar faces out even though most of my friends were turned away. Unfortunately, while Diamond identifies as a cautious optimist, suggesting that we can learn from this situation and right it, i don’t have that faith in systems of power. I think that we are more likely to self-destruct than to wake up and rid ourselves of our blind faith that everything will be fixed. But then again, i always did believe that man is basically evil, much to the chagrin of my 9th grade English teacher.

politics of breathing

I first noticed my bad breathing habits when i went scuba diving. When everyone was ready to emerge, having depleted their tank of air, i still had half a tank left. I also notice that my reaction to someone disrupting me working on my computer is to take a deep breath. Do i breathe when i’m virtual? I certainly don’t remember to eat, pee or blink so i kinda doubt it.

All of this made me absolutely fascinated with Kelly McGonigal’s The Politics of Breathing: Still Liberating Women, After All These Years? I wonder if the computer is my contemporary corset….

my queer dyke cunt

I officially feel like an angry dyke because the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has deemed my identity “vulgar.” In denying “Dykes on Bikes” a trademark, the attorney decided that ‘dyke’ is offensive, scandalous and vulgar. I love how people in power are allowed to regulate the self-identification of marginalized populations. Don’t they realize that we’ve spent generations trying to take back the terms that they have used to oppress us? These are *their* terms and we’ve reclaimed them. Now they’re ours. And since they are now ours, they can oppress by regulating them. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

Update: i’m an idiot and forgot to thank Jason Schultz for keeping me abreast of all this. And bless him for being willing to go to bat for us crazy dykes.

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you live, you learn

Alanis Morissette performed in Oakland tonite, revisiting Jagged Little Pill on it’s 10 year anniversary. Aaron managed to snag front row center seats, allowing me to view her every facial expression, every emotion while i vividly flashed back.

In 1995, my cousin handed me a copy of Jagged Little Pill, telling me that i would like it. It hadn’t been released yet; he had a review copy. I put it in the tape player and it got stuck, where i left it on repeat play for over six months. So many things were connected with that album. The beauty pageant. My neck. The party. But more than anything, there was Clark. Tears rolled down my face as Alanis sang “Perfect” and i flashed back to learning of his death, running out the house in hysteria and jumping in my car, speeding down Oregon Pike until i spun out in the ice, crying Alanis lyrics intermittently combined with screaming, car in the middle of the intersection. I saw him there, remembered his voice and our last conversation, remembered the night when he hid in the dark waiting form me to come home from work, grabbed my hand to place a sleeping River in my palm.

We all had our reasons to be there
We all had a thing or two to learn
We all needed something to cling to
So we did

It’s amazing to realize that we carry our pasts with us always and the little triggers quickly collapse all temporal distance. Within the sadness, i felt so much joy listening to her, realizing that i too am ten years older and her words were in the past for both of us.

You live you learn
You love you learn
You cry you learn
You lose you learn
You bleed you learn
You scream you learn