Category Archives: Technology

District 9: Rewind

Great sci-fi isn’t built upon the bluster of battlecrusiers exchanging laser fire while orbiting far-flung planets, nor is it initially constructed with an ornate, complex back-story with confounding names and outlandish technological advancements.

Great sci-fi hinges upon changing just a few major elements in the universe the visionary is creating, and then observing and analyzing natural human responses to these strange and wondrous alterations. All of the robots, lightsabers and ray guns in the world cannot corral a intriguing and compelling story, instead, truly engaging work uses them as garnish atop a story that ultimately hinges upon character interaction, not arbitrary set-pieces and tedious explosions.

Plenty has been said about District 9, and the praise has come in swarms, both from the critics corner and from the box office returns. So I won’t talk about just how fantastic the movie is, how its direction perfectly fluctuates between brutal realism, heartbreak and fantastically captivating action, how its allegorical and simple premise which, although dealing with familiar themes, is nonetheless refreshing.

Instead, I’d like to highlight something that I haven’t seen discussed much in the criticism or discussion of the film (and if it has, do be kind, I can’t be privy the Internet in its entirety).

Isn't this true of all films? It's not too often you see cats or fish in a movie theater...

Isn't this true of all films? It's not too often you see cats or fish in a movie theater...

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Filed under Hollywood, Media, Military, Morgan, Technology

Freedom of the press (to charge you)

Rupert Murdoch did it. He pushed the big, red button. After months, maybe years of holding his trembling, anxious hand over it (the button’s pretty darn big) he shooed his butler out of the room, wiped his furrowed brow of the pooling sweat and pressed downward. Flashing lights popped out of the walls, and the signal was immediately sent to Fox’s Internet Golems to push the giant online switch from “Free” to “Not so much.”

Well, they're technically Morlocks, but Golem is currently the PC term. Don't ask me, ask their union.

Well, they're technically Morlocks, but Golem is currently the PC term. Don't ask me, ask their union.

So we now know for sure, that by the end of the fiscal year (aka next June) that all online content coming from Fox subsidiaries will have a handy little price tag attached to it. This makes them the first big player in the post Web 2.0 world to revert back to the limited-access viewpoint, because after all, as Murdoch has made clear, quality journalism doesn’t come cheap (apparently neither does FOXNews’ coverage). The question at hand is whether or not this venture will be successful or blow up in Murdoch’s face, as most Internet fanboys tend to think it will.

Fox ‘n Fans

On one hand, FOXNews has a very different audience and delivery method from the likes of say, CNN or the New York Times. While CNN presents news and then at least markets itself as leaving said news as it is, marketing itself as a presenter of facts and knowledge (though lately they seem to fancy themselves as a televised Twitter advertisement). FOXNews treats its audience differently. With its obvious ideological bend, it presents news and commentary simultaneously, the two contrasting ideas contorted around one another and presented to the viewer.

To some, this approach is entirely off-putting (though not to the brass at MSNBC…) but to those viewers who do enjoy FOXNews’ opinions, the coverage becomes conversational and personal. I personally think that no one tunes into FOXNews for the very latest, most indepth coverage, but instead to hear the opinions of their personalities, to see the anchors tear the left a new one.

Because of this, FOXNews fosters a community to a much greater degree than its competition. When was the last time you talked to someone who was passionate about CNN, who acted encouraged if you praised it or who reeled back and hissed if you sought to discredit it? FOXNews fans have these reactions, because it’s okay to be a fan of the network’s coverage, it’s built and marketed as such. While CNN advertises itself as “the number one name in news,” FOXNews lets communities build around its personalities.

This sort of loyalty might work in Murdoch’s favor in regard to this online plan. Since the network’s viewers already perceive the coverage to be a premium product, logic says that they would also have less of a problem paying extra for said product. Of course, this begs the question as to why anyone who loves FOXNews wouldn’t just watch it on the television, or pick through The New York Posts’ 10 pages of legitimate content at the newsstand and save themselves from online fees.

Those against the plan argue that it will limit the audience of Fox’s online content, thereby limiting both advertising and search engine access, which will then, in turn, further limit ad revenue. On an Internet landscape that’s becoming increasingly connected, Murdoch’s plan essentially creates a digitally gated community (now isn’t that appropriate?), but given the loyalty of his viewers, and his recent success in broadening the readership of The Wall Street Journal, this could work in his favor.

A profitable, vibrant, stagnant media

But, from a ideological standpoint, if the entire news media switches to this model, then you will not only have deep divides between party lines and political philosophies, but further divisions will emerge between news sources, which will only serve to further polarize the nation. I already have a subscription to The New York Times, and with that I receive unlimited access to their online content. Now let’s say the Times made that package marginally more expense, while the rest of the media instituted similar subscription plans. Of course I’m going to either stick with the Times, or with the news source that represents the best relationship between cost and quality. Remember that whole marketplace of ideas? Yeah, that gets tossed by the wayside.

Mmm, yes. As I have always said, "Let one's worldliness be born not from his press' freedom, but by the expanse of his coffers."

Mmm, yes. As I have always said, "Let one's worldliness be born not from the freedom of his press, but by the expanse of his coffers."

That is, unless, you had brilliant individuals who had subscriptions and then used said subscriptions to draw news out of the gated communities and then report on it through independent websites, which everyone who is used to paying nothing for online news would then turn to for information. This would, inevitably, lead to the old-school media magnates receiving even fewer ad dollars, and then perhaps being forced to open up to free models, which leaves us in this whole stinking mess all over again, just with a few more wrinkles and a heightened sense of cynicism.

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Liveblogging the All-Star Game

To further integrate ourselves with technology (and qualify for the “cyborg” tax deduction) we’ll be having our very first liveblog set up tonight, in celebration of this year’s All-Star game. Now, I can’t guarantee that it’ll go on for the entire game, seeing as to how last year’s matchup lasted for about three decades, but give it a look at 8 p.m. by clicking on the link below.

All-Star Game, All Star Liveblogging

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Filed under Morgan, Sports, Technology, Uncategorized

Raise your hand if you remember money

It’s a nice feeling when you trump a few media outlets on a story, isn’t it? Earlier this year, we reported on how much of a bust Youtube is turning out to be, from a financial standpoint, and now both the Independent and Gawker have reported on the same matter (though the $470 million loss we originaly reported has been toned down to $380 at most). This story has resurfaced around the same time as the record industry settled a long-standing feud with Internet radio and Google’s announcement of its jump into the operating systems market. What a wild time for all of the webaholics, no?

The feverish proponents of the web’s current lackadaisical stance toward copyright protection and apathetic attitude toward things such a money continue to scoff at claims that the current model is broken, it’s a seesaw that tilts perpetually toward the consumer. At first, the philosophy behind downloading materials online was to protest the unfairness of the corporate model, to lash out against the soulless corporations whose products just weren’t good enough for us to pay the full price for. Now that the potential revenues that could have been made if downloading hadn’t been as rampant are beginning to pile up, these same folks argue that it’s too late, the web is the way it is, changing it would destroy its entire purpose.

Here's the money folks could be making if the Internet worked a bit more evenly.

Here's the money folks could be making if the Internet worked a bit more evenly.

Aren’t we supposed to be in an information-based economy, anyways? Aren’t physical products and the sales thereof supposed to be obsolete, with newspapers tossed aside and propped up online and albums replaced by iTunes? I’m going to call shennanigans on the whole thing. The information economy, as wonderful as it sounds, as sleek, shiny and futuristic as it may appear, is going to topple. There’s simply nothing to support the continuation of the “pay for nothing” model. If Youtube, one of the most popular entities on the Internet, can’t come close to breaking even, what hope is there in advertising for the rest of us? Google has posted two straight quarterly sales losses. 90 percent of its revenue last year came from advertising, and the new Chrome OS is intended to solidify that advertising base.

But how does it do that? It’s going to be a huge hit for corporate use, since it’ll eliminate the need to pay for Windows OS as Chrome comes free, and since Chrome creates a dependency on Google, folks will be clicking on ads left and right. At least, that’s how the logic goes. But if it’s going to be mostly utilized by the corporate sector, who is going to click on those random ads next to the search results while on the job? Does anyone who has used the Internet for more than a month even click on them? Given that most of the applications Google has, whether it be Gmail, Google Docs, their RSS feed, etc can be gone through without even seeing a single piece of advertising, how will the cost of sending out a free OS be recouped…is the advertising that no one will see or care about going to really fill Google’s coffers?

There’s a reason no one talks about Facebook’s worth these days, why no one has bought it up with the same zeal that Rupert Murdoch grabbed Myspace (to decent success admittedly, with revenue in 2008 hitting upwards of $550 million and profits around $10 million). Where’s the money? What is it that Facebook offers people to make money off of? It’s a solid enough advertising tool, plenty of companies use it promote things, but much of that isn’t used by paying Facebook for those irritating ads on the sidebar. They create profiles, fanpages and the like, all of which cost nothing. It’s the same with Youtube, why pay for swaths of advertising when you can just hassle blogs to link to the Youtube clip itself?

Don’t get me wrong, I adore the Internet and it’s loose inner workings. But it just isn’t going to work. Companies, whether you like it or not, have to make money. When there’s a tangible product at hand, whether it be software, music or movies, what have you, they have every right to charge money for it and to aim at the people provide the means to plunder it (whether or not this is a good move from a PR standpoint is another matter entirely). If a guy shows up at a garage sale and pays for a few CDs and then hijacks your car, shouldn’t you be at least a bit miffed? Oh sure, perhaps leaving your car unlocked persuaded him to buy the CDs in the first place, but what’s the cost of such a move?

As for the contentious matter of what to do with treating news stories under copyright law (and the viewpoints of the loonies in the print industry), that’ll be written about shortly.

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As if we needed any more hype…

I just happened to stumble upon the ability for to transfer my hypemachine account onto the blog, which means that all of you loyal readers get to take a peek into what I’m tuned into music-wise. For everyone who doesn’t know, hypemachine is a site that hosts a bunch of songs that a multitude of blogs post about, giving you the chance to stream the tunes and favorite the ones you want to keep a hold of. Now of course, hypemachine is rather remix-heavy and topical, so it doesn’t exactly toss the best music in the world out there.

And that’s why, using a bit of 8 Track magic, the Opinions blog presents its first mix. It’s a bit hastily-made, and perhaps too focused on dance tunes, but I’ll leave that up to you all to decide. (Well, the magic is limited, the fancy flash interface that should be at the bottom of this post isn’t particularly agreeable, so just click on the link.

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Filed under Morgan, Music, Pendulum, Technology

Google and its online library

I’ve always been a fan of Google’s. The company has done an amazing job of predicting the online market and the progression of modern technology, well enough to see its stock remain one of the largest in recent years. It’s contested Apple and Intel to that same effect, paving the way for a brighter internet future.

Now it has Google Books to add to its list of ever-expanding uses. You can read entire books on its Web site. Not the three-page preview you get on Amazon, but the whole thing. In most cases, at least. Hugo’s Les Mis is “limited,” but it shows 738 pages anyway, so it’s basically just the abridged version.

Now it is coming under fire from the DOJ, but that’s to be expected. Anything that’s being transferred to digital and online resource is going through the copyright and antitrust debates.

What becomes difficult about it is the same problem that’s plagued media for the last decade or so: how do you make money from that? It’s obvious that this is a format that needs and wants to be embraced by society, but it is impossible to make a profit off of. People can take a PDF of the book and upload it to their Web site. Or they’ll settle for the 3/4 they can read online. More than anything, people who would actually take the time to read what’s available on Google Books wouldn’t buy the book, they’d just read it on the site.

Just like with news print, with movies, music, and–yes–even with television, no answer has presented itself as to how to make a profit. The larger demand for large amounts of convenient media has destroyed its business model, and Google Books is just the latest example.

Of course companies are filing suits with the DOJ. They lose money. But it wouldn’t do the media that much good to see something like Google Books go under at the decision of a court. It just means that the economics need to be rethought.

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Filed under Books, Business, Government, Jack Dodson, Media, Technology

Twitter!

We here at the Pendulum aren’t immune to jumping on the bandwagon, so take a peek at our new Twitter, I’m sure it’ll have all of the wit and brillance of the blog, only ridiculously shortened and littered with tinyurls…

The blog staff tries to figure out this whole "Tweet" and "56k" maddness. Most of the time we're just trying to remember our passwords.

The blog staff tries to figure out this whole "Tweet" and "56k" maddness. Most of the time we're just trying to remember our passwords.

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Filed under Elon, Media, Morgan, Technology

Passing half of the torch

As a good friend of mine said about a month ago, if anyone suggested the idea of a library in this day and age, a sort of communal stomping ground where books and in many cases, DVDs, CDs and even video games (something I’ve never been able to understand) were available for no charge, with the only limitation would be a system of time limits and fines if said limits are exceeded coupled with the scornful gaze of the librarians when you try and check something out only to find that you owe $5 for renting “Derailed,” they would immediately be kicked around by publishing and media companies as a nutcase. How dare this chap encourage the further mooching by Americans off of their wealth of informative and cultural products? It’s bad enough having to deal with the likes of Limewire (I’m sure there are still a few people using it) and the multitude of torrent sites, but to have a brick-and-mortar haven for freeloaders to simply come in with a card and come out with a cartload of media, well that would just spell the end of everything, wouldn’t it?

I’m not going to go into the history of how libraries came to be, and just why they’ve remained despite not making very much economic sense (since we all know the social and cultural importance of institutions is unimportant), instead I’d like to shift the topic toward public ownership of media. What’s going on in Iran right now is revolutionary, not just because of the political messages being sent through the streets of Tehran, but also due to the way in which it’s being covered. The networks have barely any coverage of their own, the papers have minimal reach within Iran’s borders and filling in this gap is a breadth of amateur coverage. Nobody has to buy a paper or turn into a channel to discover what’s going on in Iran, and while this has been true with pretty much every news event of the past few years, never before (save for the initial coverage of the London bombings several years ago) has the majority of the coverage originated from amateurs.

A little birdie told me all about Iran...

A little birdie told me all about Iran...

Blogs and aggregate news sites are mooches, taking the reporting that other agencies slaved over and repackaging with a link and a few deft comments (sounds familiar, no?) but now there’s a undercurrent of these sites not doing their own reporting, but instead being the main conduit of the common man covering the events around him. Whereas before there needed to be a reporter on the scene, given an enormity of importance, folks will carry on with the reporting as they see fit, leaving the rest of the media in a reversed position. Anyone watching broadcast news over the past week knows that the media is just commenting on reporting that originates from non-reporters, instead of the blogs leering over Fox and Friends and blabbering about a report they did.

Yes, there are massive limitations here. With the lack of a journalism background comes a lack in objectivity (not in the commenting that television hosts do, but in the gathering of information and coverage of events, which is a critical differentiation to make) and little patience for uninteresting matters that don’t draw much attention on a national scale. This is where “big media,” newspapers in particular, can swoop in and completely take control of localized coverage, something that many companies are already trying to do.

Despite its obvious awkwardness about having to use YouTube clips as the basis for their programs and not being ahead of the information-gathering pack, the media, there is a bit of hope to be found in this double-sided Iranian revolution. It might come to be that in situations where amateur journalists can have the will and the access to thrive, the media can cut many of their costs, letting the average Joes to take up the bill on the group while they serve not as the gatherer, analysit and judge of every bit of information, but instead as a service provider, setting up a portal through which amateur reporting can be seen and then coupled with both professional reporting (albiet on a smaller scale) and the professional (a term used loosely here, given the quality of cable news) commentating and debate that only a large media company can provide.

Think of it like this: Whereas before the likes of CNN were rock bands that served as their own managers and owned the venues they performed in, they might now be better suited for merely owning the venues and occasionally peforming, allowing smaller acts performing similar numbers to share the spotlight for most of the set.

Bringing it back to the library comment, just by making cultural and information-based goods free doesn’t mean that you’re immediately crippling their production. Instead, the media now has to provide people a reason to tune into them or buy their products on top of being a source of information that, as Iran has proven, can be readily obtained through more personal, cheaper venues. It’s all about adding value to a product, the value in owning a book is in convinience, being able to toss it about without worrying about damages, not having a time limit attached to its completion. The value in news may not simply be tied to having the best reporters in the field, but rather, in recognizing the best mix of professional and amateur material and serving as a conduit through which people would be compelled to purchase the product through the sheer quality and quantity of options.

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Filed under Books, Business, Culture wars, Media, Morgan, Technology

Working for the Clampdown

Democracies are such a problem. Sure, they provide a solid basis for capitalist enterprise, grant people greater control of the government and give a nation greater credibility on the world stage. But oh, when failure and discontent festers in the minds of the voters, what are the poor strongmen in the palaces of power to do? They can’t just let themselves be voted out by popular will, nor can they win an election by the slightest of margins. They must keep hold of their scepters and make it seem as though they have a mandate, to keep those snippity upstarts from mustering the gall to question them.

For Iran’s ruling parties, specifically Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President (-cough-) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the problems democracy creates for despots have come to a boiling point. The country is embroiled in a multitude of protests after the presidential election, in which the government (Iran has no independent agency that verifies election results) ruled that Ahmadinejad had taken the election with 66 percent of the vote, despite a lengthy series of logical and statistical reasons why such a result is highly debatable (which are detailed in this excellent article).

Ahmadinejad carefully decides whether or not he recieved 66 or 65 percent of the popular vote.

Ahmadinejad carefully decides whether or not he received 66 or 65 percent of the popular vote.

I’ve made snide remarks about Twitter in the past, what with its stupid character limit and apparent lack of usefulness in comparison to other web applications, but the uprising against the Iranian government has been by and large covered via people going onto Twitter and other similar Internet resources and informing the world about just what’s going on. Many of the major news outlets have devoted large amounts of their coverage to these reports, especially as they’re faced with an increasingly tyrannical Iranian government trying to take control of everything being covered in their country (the Associated Press’ problems with allowing non-governmental Iranian news sources access to materials are covered here).

Even though reports are now coming in that Internet speeds are drastically decreasing nationwide, either due to increased use or for more dubious reasons, the movement for reform in Iran, led by presidential candidate (and to some, President) Mir Hossein Moussavi, has done an incredible job utilizing the web, to the extent at which I don’t go to the BBC or CNN first for information about the protests and the backlash, I head to the blogs (with The Guardian’s liveblog being first and foremost) and to, amazingly, Twitter. It’s through online resources that I’ve gained much of my knowledge, and though it all must be viewed with a grain of salt (a ton of people are now going wild about a supposedly leaked document from the Iranian government proving the elections results were fraudulent, especially now that the man who supposedly leaked them has been killed in a suspicious car crash, but the document has yet to be completely verified).

It would be nice to think that these protests will lead to immediate change and a swift alteration of the guard in Iran, but the government is simply too powerful, with too many resources and too few morals to be taken down so easily. What this contested election does mark is the begining of the end of the current Iranian regime, and an indication that tanks and explosives aren’t needed for democracy to flourish in the Middle East. All there needs to be is a strong voice, a call for change and a government incompetent enough to view the pursuit of nuclear power as more important than the nation’s economy. And it doesn’t hurt for there to be media that isn’t forced to work with those clamping down on free speech to spread the good word out to millions at home and overseas.

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Filed under Culture wars, Government, International, Iran, Media, Morgan, Technology

YouTube and the digital TV age

Hulu has dominated the internet television and movie industry ever since it began, offering a legitimate home for shows that couldn’t be shut down by copyright laws. It was great. It meant late nights would be complete, with an episode of Arrested Development to go along with the Cheerios when you need a break from writing a paper.

Hulu’s expanded immensely since it started, too, with it’s alien-themed ads featuring Alec Baldwin and other actors from their most successful shows. It’s started showing movies, too, adding to the awesomeness that is free media.

Now YouTube, a Google company, is attempting to play off that by featuring shows and movies on its website.

It seems surprising that it wasn’t there that the whole trend started, though, as a part of Google and an influential company in its own right, and now it’s second to the plate. I have always been impressed with both the search engine’s and the video website’s abilities to foresee media trends and to capitalize on that, but YouTube might have missed the ball on this one. It’s shows are not quite up to par with Hulu’s. Neither are it’s movies. It’s going to take some serious work on their part to correctly advertise it.

And of course, YouTube is in theory a website about the average viewer posting their own material. Anything copyrighted has had to be removed, for the most part, and the major focus is on public work.

That being said, it remains to question to see if Google and its partner can compete with Hulu and actually get some traffic to that, but first it will need to sign on some key shows to sweeten the deal. Great things come in pairs, after all. Sunny and Cher. Paul and John. Transformers and Transformers 2.

We’ll see if this will play out well, and if YouTube can keep its status as the progressive media company, or if it will fall behind quicker mediums.

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