Archive for April, 2016

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Everyone, just calm down now.

April 15, 2016

Yep, that’s what I think.  Everybody just needs to calm down.

Americans get excited about money from oil, and invade other countries.  Other countries get excited about being invaded and retaliate.  Americans get more excited about security and start taking any measures they can think of to protect themselves.  Republicans get excited because the President has a relatively dark colour to his skin and start a very excited movement for everyone to be ignorant and paranoid.  Donald Trump excitedly yells, and excited people yell back ignorantly about making things “great again”.  Extremists blow things up.  Putin gets excited and starts invading things, and has some of his planes buzz an American destroyer. The excitement starts catching and other people get excited as well.

It seems that frantic, excited reaction to events breeds more excited frantic reaction, and its really hard to turn that around. Once excitement reaches a certain level it turns into fear and paranoia … and then violence. It takes a lot for Buddhist monks to get excited (actually I know almost nothing about them, but I make things up), but if they do, things really get crazy.  Most of the time, though, they’re really calm so you never hear about them doing stupid things on the news. The news is about excited people, but you might notice that a lot of the time their excitement is just a precursor to someone getting hurt. In fact, people get excited about the prospect of other people being hurt while they watch.  People get excited by football and there is no way to imagine football without brain-damaging collisions … pretty exciting. People get excited about other people doing dangerous things because other people might get hurt. They get excited about stock car racing because there might be a crash and someone might get hurt.

It’s pretty hard to be violent when you’re relaxed unless you’re a complete psycho.  So, I’d like everyone to just calm down and take some deep breaths.  ISIS should have, like, a picnic with the CIA and nobody should get excited. Maybe they could all go and get a massage and one of those hot stone treatments. The only way that could turn out poorly is if someone gets excited, and that will be against the rules. So … calm down … take some deep breaths, look around you.

Just don’t get so excited.

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Just better.

April 6, 2016

The other day I bought a lovely used 1963 release by Shelly Manne on Impulse! records.  Impulse! had a beautiful design for all of the releases that is just unmistakable.  Not many labels make all of their records uniform in design, but Impulse! always did a simple black white and orange design that looks great. (RogueArt is a great example of this now … I can easily spot my RogueArt release on the shelf.)

Anyway, I was sitting and staring at this record and admiring what is truly a message from another universe. On the cover is a picture of Manne, looking thoughtful and smoking … that’s it.  What I realized is that this is a far better mode of communication than anything that has come since.  I see Manne, I get a message of what this thing is and some atmosphere, and that’s about it.  Thing is, that is all that you need.  The music will speak for itself, and liner notes will give a bit of background, and you’re set. I don’t know what he had for lunch, I don’t know who he’s dating, there is no product placement stamped on his forehead, there aren’t a series of articles describing Manne’s misbehaviour on the weekend, or pictures of him pushing a baby stroller fresh from waking up.

If I did have all of that extra, uh, stuff, I wouldn’t be even remotely better off.  In fact, for me, having all of that information would actually put me at a disadvantage.  I am speaking of what it is like now, with the Internet providing a torrent of information to me pretty much constantly, and almost all of it is nothing but noise.  Would it be better for me to see pictures of Mann’s lunch, see pics of him wasted on the couch with his buddies on the weekend, or know about some shoes that covets?  I realize that humans have this unquenchable voyeuristic tendency, but does the satisfaction of that desire to see into private lives actually enhance … anything? At one point I thought that it was pretty cool to be able to know more about previously private lives of people that I was interested in. I’m not so sure anymore.

This is all pretty difficult to describe, but there is a real beauty to me in an object like the record I was holding in my hands.  In that one 12″ square of cardboard with a circle of vinyl inside, is the entire expression of how Shelly Manne wanted to portray himself to the world.  There is a carefully chosen photo that gives a definite impression of how Manne wanted to be seen, there are liner notes that have to tell me everything I need to be told in a limited space, and there is music that has been carefully chosen and sequenced to communicate something to me in the limited space of a vinyl recording.  Of course, people are going to object to the “limits” that are imposed in every step of that process and I am going to respond that the limits are actually what make the record jacket meaningful, rich, and a lean, calculated message. It gets to the point because it must, and every element is there for a reason, because there’s no room for waste. This is not unlike painting, which must get the communication job done inside of a limited frame, and every brush stroke is there for a reason, or it is not there.  When I view a painting by Jean Michel Basquiat everything on that canvas (or whatever he painted on) is there for a reason.  He didn’t just add a line because there was some space, his painting is tremendous because it is perfect. When I stand in front of a Basquiat painting I can  appreciate the perfection of every line and admire the fact that it is there.  I have never seen one of those paintings and said “well, there is that one line that seems to be there for no reason”.

Now, we have Justin Bieber (to shoot fish in a barrel).  Sure, there have been shallow purveyors of fluff for a very long time, but Bieber came up in discussion recently and I thought that he was an interesting case. I don’t know a single line of one of his songs and I’ve likely heard some of them.  The thing is, Bieber (or his handlers) don’t have any of that sense of economy.  They throw every stinking thing at you that they can possible find in a torrent of info that makes it impossible to not know things about Bieber. Fact is, I know way more about what Justin is wearing, who he makes the mistake of hanging around with, what his current hair configuration is, and the fact that he seems to have thrown eggs at his neighbour’s house. This info is extremely effective at keeping him in the public eye, but I’m not sure what value it brings … to anything. Of course, this is happening from multiple sources all-day every day so that I know about the Jenners, the Kardashians, what that idiot Kanye West is doing, etc etc etc.  The vast majority of this is NOISE.  Although it serves the purpose of maintaining attention, that seems to be its sole value. It’s not what people know, it’s just that they’re paying attention. I find myself pretty much constantly working to turn down the flow of garbage coming out of the internet nozzle.  The force of attention is very very strong and it is far from easy to quiet down the din. Thing is, while everyone is trying to shout the loudest, all that they are shouting is “look … Look … LOOK!!!”  I actually get this pretty much every waking hour, as I have some young folks in my house and they are forever hearing “LOOK!” and then coming to me essentially saying “we’re supposed to LOOK at this” … “LOOK at it … LOOK at it!!!”.  I look, and at this point instantly realize that I quite simply am looking at empty images with nothing except shock value, pathetic behaviour, or just about anything that someone can come up with to get some attention … whatever that takes”.

I was told that Justin Bieber has recently had a resurgence in popularity.  When I asked why, it seemed that it was pretty much entirely based on his new haircut.  While people have survived on haircuts for quite a while now, it seems that the haircut is now the entire package … there is nothing else.  His haircut has garnered attention, but his new music just melds right into all of the other stuff being played loudly at the clothing stores at the mall. His new haircut is where it begins and ends. There’s nothing there there. While Shelly Manne was sending a message and it seems rich and clear, Bieber is saying absolutely nothing except “look at me”.  I look, and that I say “what?”  “What do you want to tell me Justin?”  I’m met, however, with nothing … he is two-dimensional, flat, a pretty picture. He says nothing.  His image changes, not to send a message, but to recharge the attention machine. We are barraged with the image, and nothing else … nothing at all.

I recently was writing something and summed up the early history of the internet as a ton of promise and hope for an information network, that exploded when everyone saw William Shatner singing and expanded so fast that none of the hopeful bits could keep up.  As it turns out, it’s never gone beyond Shatner singing. Media has lost its depth … there’s nothing beneath the surface and process of content creation has just become picking up as much crap as possible and throwing it at me. I have to keep turning away to look at things with depth and meaning, and it gets harder and harder to hear something real above the 2D din.

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Time to catch up, people.

April 4, 2016

On Saturday, I began my annual attempt to watch the NCAA Final Four (the basketball tournament).  I’ve been watching it since 1983, and it’s always been an interesting measure of where tech is at. At first, it was all TV and you’d be able to see one game at a time (there are often several going on at once).  Then, the audio of games started to be broadcast on the Internet, and I’d watch one game while listening to another.  Then, they started streaming games, and I’d watch one on TV while streaming others, and there’d be screens all over the place.  Then, I got rid of TV and started watching it only on the Internet and that improved.  Then, I still didn’t have TV and the people streaming the games started getting dumber and it became harder and harder to watch the games.  Then, CBS started streaming the games themselves and for a few years I could watch games streaming high quality.  Then, CBS started farming off games to other networks, and I could watch some streaming from their site, but others required that I prove that I subscribed to the network before I could watch them on the web.  That year, clearly, we started moving backwards.

In my usual way, I thought a lot about this and cursed a fair bit in the process.  I now was watching the games that CBS streamed in high quality and loved that.  Then, a game would be streaming in high-quality but I was forbidden to watch it because I didn’t subscribe through conventional TV systems to that network.  So, I’d go to a “streaming site” where other naughty people were streaming the games.  The absolutely insane part of this is that the bad people were just re-streaming exactly the stream that I would have seen should I be allowed to on CBS, but in lower quality.  So, I was watching the same commercials but giving money to someone else, and CBS (or others) couldn’t count me as a viewer because I was getting the stream from elsewhere since I had been driven there by weird limitations.

If you think too much about it (like I do), it is clear that the limitations are extremely weird.  Essentially, my ability to watch the games in any reasonable way on the Internet is being governed by the model of TV in which I subscribe to a third-party who runs a wire into my house and controls what I watch and when. The weird part is that TV hasn’t worked like that for me in a very long time, but for some reason I can’t shake that model even  when I don’t own a TV or have an appropriate cable coming into my house. Even weirder, I know very well that I can watch other smaller events like surfing contests, professional skateboarding, or rugby through really great systems that work perfectly and don’t have ridiculous walls placed in your path.  It seems really odd to me that small events broadcast really well (and massively increase their exposure) while bigger events try to limit who can watch them, and make it ever more difficult to actually see the darn things. I think that it’s safe to say that CBS spends way more time and effort trying to keep people from watching events than they do trying to allow people to watch, which has totally reversed their business model.

Fact is, there is a lot of money to be made by actually making use of the Internet instead of hobbling your viewers by trying to make the new technology fit the limitations of the old.  This lesson has already been painfully learned by the music and film industries who had to be dragged kicking and screaming into making vast amounts of money in new modes like Netflix and iTunes. (and many other platforms)  For Pete’s sake CBS, would you stream the damn games in a watchable way, put in all of the ads and bill advertisers for that, and even charge me if you wish for the use of this service (I WANT to pay!)  Ditch all of the ridiculous  license agreements that cause you to make the Internet not work, and collect money like there’s no tomorrow.  Is that an unreasonable request?  Apparently.

For, you see, this is not about allowing viewers to view events.  It is about preserving revenue streams that were invented in very different days.  The business is about limiting access, and the viewers are just trying to view.  And the limits aren’t working. CBS is very slowly shooting itself in the foot to save its old ways.  Give them what they want, get the old models out of the damn way, and monetize it.  You don’t even need to invent this … others have already showed how it’s done.  (look to surfing … they went from having events in far off inaccessible places where nobody could watch to having 50,000 viewers watch entire events on YouTube in glorious high-definition for free … their only problem is dealing with a massive rise in popularity and ad revenue that they never used to have).

Oh, I should mention (for all two of my readers) that this all begins with having to pretend to not be Canadian.  Yes, the first step in this insane process is to fire up a VPN and hope that this year it works.  This is because in addition to all of the other ludicrous limitations put in my way, the providers of this event also pretend that there are borders on the Internet.  Of course, there aren’t any borders, just artificial obstacles played in the way to pretend that it is still 1978and to make sure that everything isn’t quite convenient.

Can we get over this soon?  Just charge me, please, and don’t make me jump through these hoops.  Soon, you will completely lose me to the people who can actually figure this stuff out, and you can horde your media all to yourself while repeating over and over that one day everything will be just like it was in the “old days”.