The Tangled Web of “Work It Out”

Three hours just blinked by, lost in the web when I should be doing something–anything–else. I can’t imagine and sometimes hope for a world without the internet.

It started with an artist spotlight edition of Rocketboom and the music video for “Work It Out” [On Rocketboom, Two Versions on Ghost Robot, YouTube with Informative “About the Video”]. I’m not a huge fan of dance, but the way Bill Shannon moves on his crutches is magical. He reminded me of Oscar Pistorius, the runner banned from competition because his designed prosthetics surpass our evolved appendages [IIAF Rules Pistorious Ineligible, Double-amputee “blade runner” barred from Olympics].

Their stories excite my inner geek because it shows the great potential humans have of incorporating technology into themselves and transcending what wetware alone can accomplish. I’m so ready for my direct neural interface and cyborg body! One common element to both stories is they were both children. Perhaps that augmented grace requires a clean slate so the kinesthetic mapping isn’t cluttered memories of how the body used to work. There’s hope though with recent stories about the surprising plasticity of the adult mind when dealing with brain damage, stroke, and cybernetic senses.

Back to “Work It Out” and the artist, RJD2. After googling around for information on Shannon, it was time to hunt down the music. I started out on iTunes and ended up on Amazon.com, my new music shopping pattern. There’s no debating the iTunes interface is slicker and provides better value-add with its exhaustive “related” info. Amazon wins out when it has the same music at a higher bit rate and without DRM.

Morgan Webb on WebbAlert today [14 January 2008] mentioned that Sony, the last DRM holdout, is throwing in the towel. The recordingindustrasaurus has been clever in punishing Apple for its dominance and anti-DRM stance by making Amazon DRM-free. Just goes to show a pea-sized brain in a behemoth’s body can still get a good idea once in a while and have the weight to throw around with destructive abandon. I’m sure Steve will have something up his sleeve tomorrow at MacWorld. EMI pulling out of RIAA might just be the asteroid with recordingindustrasaurus’s name on it though. Maybe they’re actually going to evolve? Hmmm, we’ll see.

Please oh please let there be a subnotebook or an ubertablet at MacWorld please please please please!

There is one good thing about Amazon’s music store; it lets you preview the entire album with a single click. So I went through five of RJD2’s albums and bought the following: Two songs from Since Last We Spoke, Magnificent City Instrumentals in its entirety, and five songs from The Third Hand. That ate up a few bucks and about 90 minutes. discovered the “Mad Men” title theme on .

That started the NYC tangent of course. I’ve been missing Manhattan lately, and “Work It Out” is set in NYC. Then I find the title theme to Mad Men on “Magnificent City Instrumentals”.  “Mad Men” is an amazing period piece about 1960s Madison Avenue, well worth catching in reruns or renting. That and 30 Rock (one of the few network programs I’ve TiVo Season Pass-ed) are my post-Sex-in-the -City lifeline to the cosmopolitan archetype. I’m struggling once again with the idea of moving back, so a trip to NYT to browse the apartments and real estate classified ate up another thirty minutes. Don’t they know the bubble’s burst up there? The logistics and finances of the move leave my dreams Shattered. Shadoobie. Shattered, shattered…

So that plus blogging is how the first three hours of my Monday are going. The cold lingers and the sinus infection rages, so I’d say I’ve been pretty productively unproductive. Now perhaps a shower and some breakfast to pretend normality.

Oh no. The “Recently Added” playlist included “Still Alive”. Maybe a few levels of Portal before I get the day officially started…

Eat Your Damn Oatmeal

The Diabeetus

Or else!

The folks over at Scientific American caught me off guard with their post about the goodness of oatmeal. They’ve slung puns with geeky abandon before, but the Brimley Meme here is dead-on perfect. I hope they don’t mind me reproducing the image; it’s fair trade considering the creeps I’m going to have in my dreams tonight and my cereal bowl tomorrow morning! “A” Daily Show also goes for a mustache ride at McCain’s campaign in New Hampshire [Celeb Endorsements].

Politics and the Facebook Effect

An empty TiVo and moderate fever kept me on the couch through most of ABC’s “One Night, Two Parties” debate, sponsored by Facebook. It wasn’t as gimmicky as the YouTube debates, but both attempts to span old and new media fail to add anything significant to our democratic process.

Does Facebook think plastering its name on the small screen is going to bolster membership? Is ABC trying to gain relevance with a younger, more tech-savvy crowd by paying lip service to the current fad? I don’t see tonight as a win for either of them. The Facebook segments felt stapled onto the back of a traditional media format.

My feelings about Facebook have been steadily going downhill. The novelty of things like viral software deployment has worn off, leaving the annoying cuteness and intrusive advertising schemes. I’m close to closing my account for lack of interest and fear of getting dinged by their next Beacon-like fiasco. The only reason my page sees any updates at all is I configured Twitter to cross-post to Facebook.

I’m looking at the politics page where Facebook users “weigh in”, trying to see the value of it. A bunch of people answering some simple polls and blurting out a sentence or two amid the din of the crowd doesn’t improve my understanding of the candidates or issues. Is there something here I’m just not getting?

Not that the debate format itself was much help. Maybe I take the word “debate” too literally, but I expect to see people argue issues and present evidence. The only fact I heard was an interesting comment by Ron Paul on how currency inflation is really behind the price of oil. (No luck finding the NYT article yet.) Tonight further supports the notion of there being little to distinguish the candidates within their parties. The most interesting thing about the debate had more to do with who wasn’t there:

  • Dennis Kucinich comes in ahead of Bill Richardson in both the Facebook and ABC polls but was excluded from the debate instead of Richardson.
  • Although Ron Paul was present, Gibson mostly ignored him. ABC didn’t assign a correspondent to Paul for the spin room/post debate coverage like they did for the other four.

The one thing the internet really has brought to this process, especially for Ron Paul, is giving voice to candidates who can’t mount the traditional dollar-intensive media blitz that’s status quo. It’s ironic that Facebook participated in a forum that proceeded to muffle those very voices that have carried so clearly over the internet. Shame on you.

UPDATE: My mistake about the article Paul mentioned, it was in the WSJ and probably not linkable. I did however find the transcript on the NYT site. Here was the comment:

REP. PAUL: I’ll be glad to answer that question because it’s something I talk about all the time and it’s a very important question. The Wall Street Journal yesterday had a very good chart that explains this. If you look at the price of oil in the last 10 years, if you look at it in terms of dollars, it went up 350 percent. If you look at it in Euros, it went up about 200 percent. If you look at it in the price of gold, it stayed flat. It’s the inflation, it’s the printing of money, it’s the destruction of the value of the dollar.

UPDATE 2: YouTube has that snippet of the debate as well:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIwlKyz6LvU

Politics and the PBS Effect

Bill Moyers had Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul on his program this week. The interviews reinforced my growing suspicion that they are the only Democrat or Republican candidates in this Presidential race. The others differ so little on policy that they’re becoming almost indistinguishable. Almost.

Even if most of the Democratic candidates won’t openly champion equal rights for gays, at least they’re not a threat. Paul excepted, any Republican candidate–Rudy included–would gladly pry up a two-by-four from the party platform and gay-bash the fuck out of me for some quick votes. The one thing that hasn’t changed is my disgust for the entity currently masquerading as the Republican Party.

I also can’t support any candidate who wants to keep us in an unjust and horribly executed war. This administration has deeply shamed us and our armed forces in the military arena even though we’re the only superpower in the world. Ideally we need to get troops out and bring everybody else in to create a real coalition and broker a diplomatic solution. My second choice would be a candidate with the anatomy to say “Let’s drop a few hundred thousand more troops on this, open up the special toys locker, and end it quickly” rather than leave our troops to burn in the spreading conflagration we ignited.

Biden had the best grasp of foreign policy on those rare occasions he wasn’t full foot in mouth. You think the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee might actually have a clue about foreign policy? Duh. I’m sorry he dropped out of the race since he might have raised the bar on the war debate in the run up to Super Tuesday. I hope he’ll still be in the running for Vice President. The Cheney Legacy makes me wonder which office actually has more power now anyway.

Other things have changed. Until recently I considered Hillary inevitable. Not in a bad way mind you, I think she’s smart and tough and wouldn’t make things worse. It wouldn’t hurt being the first President with a successful two-term ex-President lying in bed next to her for bouncing ideas around. Oh, and I have no fear that she’d be Bill’s puppet. Please.

She and Obama are effectively identical on issues for me. Maybe she’s a little more hawkish (doesn’t bother me) and he’s a little more inspiring (except for my instinctive distrust of smooth operators). Edwards might be a little more palatable on a few social issues but doesn’t really stand out in any other way. I’d be comfortable with any of them in office, just not terribly excited like I am for Nutter becoming mayor next week. Woohoo!

But something strange is happening. I visited a few sites that poll your position on issues and match you with the most compatible candidates. Hands down on both sites it was Kucinich by more than 10%:

I’m a little skeptical of the second one since I jumped there from a Kucinich site and couldn’t immediately determine its owner. Then again its results matched the first, more clearly non-partisan one pretty closely. Gravel tended to be second, then Obama. When I visited Gravel’s website, it played a clip that actually played up the perception he’s a little bit crazy. Something about that made my innards twitch and I don’t really consider him viable. Clinton appeared just above the first of the Republicans, Ron Paul.

I have a few problems with Ron Paul in particular and Libertarians in general. There’s this idea of tearing everything down to make everything better. It sounds good on the surface, but that kind of myopic utopianism scares me, conjuring up images from Larry Niven’s Cloak of Anarchy. Thing is, the more I see Ron Paul, the more I like him.

I don’t really agree with him on most things, but I do feel there’s both a brain and a heart to the man. He’d be a “do no Constitutional harm” president for our ailing republic. If he fails, I think he’d at least be a glorious failure to the American Experiment. Bland and safe, status quo for its own sake, mediocrity are things I cannot tolerate when my world is trending down.

Maybe Kucinich and Paul can say anything because they have no real hope of being elected, but that’s not the impression I’m getting as I dig a little deeper. I have to say that TiVo, podcasts, and the internet as a whole have raised my political awareness during this race far beyond any previous election. Being Between probably isn’t hurting my political awareness either.

The strange conclusion I’ve come to is that I’d vote first for Kucinich–and probably will if he’s still in the primary–then for Paul, and finally for any of the three generic Democratic front runners. Of those, right now it would be Obama to reinvigorate politics especially among the young, then Clinton for the reasons above, and finally Edwards because he’s not a Republican (Ron Paul excepted). I did vote for Katz over Street after all. Little good it did Philly.

What particularly infuriates me is how the media completely ignored my two front-runners from their Iowa Caucus coverage. (The whole caucus “process” is a maddening circus in the same tradition as the Electoral College.) Last night I checked the usual media outlets to see how the two underdogs did, and I found myself wondering if they’d dropped out of the race before Iowa. In fact, Paul got a 10% showing–amazing considering the media blackout he and Kucinich both suffer. Kucinich predictably didn’t do well and caught heat from his own supporters because he made a great recommendation going into the caucus. I hate people.

Here’s the story. The caucus process weeds out candidates that don’t get a certain percent of votes in a balloting cycle. Kucinich said that if he got bumped (he did), then he wanted his supporters to vote for Obama in the next round. That makes perfect sense. If he’s out of the race because of the convoluted rules of caucusing, then having a plan B is smart. His supporters, not nearly as smart as he, thought he was bowing out and recommending Obama instead of him beyond the Iowa caucus. Idiots! Including Michael Moore apparently. Tsk, tsk.

Thanks to the PBS Effect, I’m exceptionally informed and annoyed on this and a bunch of other issues. At least Jon Stewart made me laugh occasionally. Watching The News Hour, Now, and The Journal are like following Kassandra’s blog during the Trojan War.

Do you prefer seeing the train coming or having it clobber you from behind?

Pandora’s Beat Box

Pandora drives another nail into the coffin of the traditional (can we now say legacy) music industry. Instead of a broadcast model, you create “stations” by choosing one or more seed songs. Then Pandora finds similar songs based on a complex categorization system [The Music Genome Project].

I never really listened to regular radio for lots of reasons: Advertising, blathering DJs, no “skip” button to bypass the 90% crappy programming. I’d listen to NPR in the car sometimes, but thankfully they podcast everything now. My brief flirtation with iPod radio transmitters is also thankfully moot with MusicLink and the aux port in the Civic. Yes, I use two iPods in my car at once. That’s another story though.

Internet radio has some strong benefits over regular broadcast: Tailored content, less talking, no advertising, full remote control functions, being able to see previously played songs for follow-up. We’ll see if it survives the changes to the royalties fee structure though. Thing is, I’d still skip lots of songs. The categories are still too broad, assuming I even know what they mean. Anybody have a good taxonomy that explains house, tribal, and all those other exotic species? Problem solved with Pandora.

Pandora’s genius is the correct man-machine division of labor. Experts (humans) classify songs across hundreds of dimensions, genes in their speak. They do what humans do best, recognize complex patterns and subtle traits in analog. Then machines do what they do best: Suggest music by crunching those hundreds of genes across millions of songs to find similarities that a listener might not even perceive. Human experts classify individual songs and machines crunch the entire database. Perfect.

After seeding the station, Pandora gathers listener feedback (thumbs up/down on suggestions) to fine-tune each station; I skip fewer and fewer songs. The adaptive icing on the cake. This is all great for me, but what’s the business incentive here?

This is what radio-industry-asaurus doesn’t get: I find new music that I like, stuff I’d absolutely never even look at otherwise, and buy it. My Touch goes places where internet access is limited or non-existent. Will that change if/when ubiquitous internet access becomes available? Perhaps, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for iPods and paperback books to become obsolete anytime soon.

Like most iTunes users, my purchases dropped off after an initial feeding frenzy. I hunted down all those albums from the vinyl/tape days that I couldn’t find on disc and the singles from otherwise worthless albums. Pandora does what you’d expect from a smart Web 2.0 application: It lets you click on songs and buy them directly from Amazon (a little clunky) or iTunes (smooth as expected). You can also bookmark the song or the artist for later consideration. Pandora makes my life easier with useful personalization and helps pay the bills with some web services smarts.

I came across another music site, iLike, on Facebook. Comparing music with friends doesn’t lead to new music purchases though. Reading a Facebook page or the “What’s New” iTunes emails doesn’t entice me to buy. Actually hearing music does. I’ll keep using iLike because it provides concert and album release announcements for artists I’ve bookmarked, something Pandora doesn’t do.

Now I will admit to something embarrassing. My Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) station suggested a Britney Spears song, Heaven on Earth. And I really like it. And I bought it. I would never have bought anything like this without Pandora. Oh joy, another reason to avoid letting friends scroll through my Touch’s music library.

Unlike Pandora’s Lunchbox (love the name, the food not so much), this Pandora lives up to its mythic namesake. Try it and let me know what you think.

Happy New Hate Speech

It didn’t take Pope Benedict 24 hours to rachet up the hate speech.  Apparently gay marriage threatens world peace.  Either Benny remembers his Hitler Youth lessons perfectly or Karl Rove’s new office is in the Vatican.  Frankly I think I’m more of a danger to world peace single.  So I charge all my friends to (1) find me a husband and (2) push for gay marriage in 2008.  Otherwise I just might have enough time on my hands to finish that death ray.

Portal to Insomnia

Stupid me, arriving early for The Golden Compass (very good, go see it, more later). A half hour to burn and a Best Buy within 500 feet means two new time wasters came home with me: The Shivering Isles and Valve’s The Orange Box. TOB wouldn’t normally show up on my radar, but the gamer blogs/podcasts have been raving about it–especially Portal.

Oh Valve, thank you. Portal lives up to the hype. Definitely first person, more puzzler than shooter, in a setting that feels like a near-future take on Paranoia. There’s a special place in my heart for insane computers, dangerous technology, and dark humor. Expect inventive game play, smooth graphics, great visual style, and merciful brevity. That brevity feels as deliberate as a filmmaker proving a concept with a short film before committing to a full feature. My only real complaint is how the frequent loading definitely broke immersion due to sound glitches and the literal text “Loading”. Tsk, tsk. Hopefully that won’t be the case with Half Life 2.

This is a must-play for PC gamers because of the fresh concept, well-realized setting, and replay value. I cackled, gasped, cursed, and back-talked my way through Portal in one sitting of about six or seven hours. Of course that means it’s 5:30 am. Ugh. So much for getting back into a more work-friendly sleep/wake cycle. More on Portal and other things time-wasting after some shut-eye.