Saturday, April 26, 2008

OK Kid, Get Off The Couch and Learn iMovie Already

Clay Shirky spoke recently about something I have pondered - the tragic waste of mental energy that's sunk into TV watching. Rather than suggest Nuremburg-type Trials for TV producers, as I did, Mr. Shirky has a much brighter and optimistic outlook, predicting a future where the people who once sat on the couch watching TV get out into the world (or onto the internet, more or less the same thing) and start producing something. We will finally take advantage of what Clay calls a 'cognitive surplus'. Coincidentally, Clay has a book out, 'Here Comes Everybody'.

Clay concludes with a story about a 4-yr-old watching Dora The Explora who, in the middle of the show, gets up and starts 'looking for the mouse'. Sez Clay:
"Here's something four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. Here's something four-year-olds know: Media that's targeted at you but doesn't include you may not be worth sitting still for. Those are things that make me believe that this is a one-way change. Because four year olds, the people who are soaking most deeply in the current environment, who won't have to go through the trauma that I have to go through of trying to unlearn a childhood spent watching Gilligan's Island, they just assume that media includes consuming, producing and sharing."
I like Clay's ideas, and I hope he's right (love his hair, hope he wins), but as somebody who caught more than enough of a 'My Little Pony' DVD recently, I'm not sure the 4-yr-olds have totally broken free of the cathode-ray chains. Perhaps I am shirking (ow!) my responsibilities as a parent letting her watch that show, but maybe I'm trapped, paralyzed even, trying to keep up with the feeds on my RSS reader (Google Reader), or emails from work, or whatever (you can't blame the blog, though - I only write here when she's asleep or somewhere else).

Further, though I've enjoyed my iPod and am on board with the goodness podcasting brings, I had a disturbing thought recently. If you're on the phone, talking to somebody, listening to music or podcasts or whatever from the minute you get out of bed until you lose consciousness, how would you even know if there were voices in your head? When would they get a word in?

The situation is still undeniably better than it was 50 years ago. For one thing, 50 years ago I did not even exist. There was no MF Doom, or even Ghostface Killah, and yogurt was still disgusting and fit for consumption only by Greenlanders living in the 1300s. Today the potential is there to do many a worthwhile or interesting or at least participatory or engaging thing (as Shirky points out, the biggest loser sitting in his basement in his underwear pretending to be an elf is still exercising better judgement about what to do with his free time than the middle manager sitting on a really nice couch watching 'The Biggest Loser'.) Even writing this entry which nobody is gonna read or firing off <140 character 'tweets' that scroll up a couple of follower's twitterific windows is better than sitting in a chair smoking a pipe or whatever it was Mr. Cleaver did between dinner and hopping into his twin bed next to June's twin bed. It's just that sometimes I feel overwhelmed by choice. Maybe televised trials of sweating big-media executives would ease the pain a bit and provide a nice distraction for all us poor schlubs after all.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

I was in Vermont this past week

(written whilst internetless)

We ran into that 'Rambo' guy, he had one tooth and a bushy beard and a very sad story from 'nam - he had been told to stay in the tent that night and not go anywhere, but he disobeyed and went in search of a 'piece of tail'. When he came back - you know what's coming - everyone was gone, they had been attacked and killed (I feel bad for the gut reaction of wanting to go on Snopes to check out his story, but there you have it).

Today he was more interested in reminiscing about the spring day in 1968 when there was a big snow fall, so he ditched school to go snowmobiling. Spring of 1968 - the Prague Spring, the student uprisings in Paris, Vietnam, the White Album, and snowmobiling.

This was followed by a visit to the Vermont Country Store, a delightful place full of penny candy for eight hundred and ninety-five pennies a pound, practical and not so practical clothes, all sorts of gag type gifts (joy buzzer, butterfly that flies out of a book when opened, etc)
, and now a vibrator/kegel exerciser section. That and some great cheese, too. Across the street there's another store, where I bought some 'coffee soda' from a micro-soda-brewery in Vermont. It was kind of odd, I'm not sure I'd do it again. The woman behid the counter gave it a similar review.

I haven't had internet access all day, and haven't given a fuck about it. I guess I'll have to wait to see what sort of cleverness people are coming up with on Twitter and there's a hope in hell I'll read some books instead of RSS feeds. Fuck you Vint Cerf, fuck you Larry Page, fuck you Sergey Brin, and facebook guy, you rate an F and I'm not spending any more energy on you. I'd just as soon not go back. You hear me? I said I'm not going back. To the internet I mean. I wouldn't last a month here in rural Vermont. I have callous-free hands and thirty-seven years of avoiding physical type labor. Too late to kid myself about going 'off the grid'. I'd last a few hours, tops. People think Vermont is all lattes and liberals since that commercial with the old bitter constipated Republicans griping about Howard Dean, but it's not like that at all.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Recommending Free Stuff since we have that Recession going

I am recommending free stuff not only because of the Recession, but also because too much of human interaction (esp. on the internet) is about 'oh hey, I bought this'. 'You bought that? Cool'. 'I'm gonna buy this other thing.' As I type this on my MacBook Pro, I realize I'm as guilty of this as anyone.

The flip side (the Jedi side, the punk rock before 1991 side, the Jesus before Fallwell got into him side) of the Internet is that largely it is about free shit. Not just free music, but free (as in beer and in speech) software, like Linux and all the Gnu stuff and Firefox and this NodeBox thing I've been playing w/ lately, which is Mac-only (ha!). It embeds Python in a self-contained app you can use to experiment w/ generating 2D graphics and perhaps even simple games. Fun for the would be hyperformalists out there. Start with 2d, then make the leap to 3.

Freebie #2 comes to us from Brazil, and it's the Loronix blog. It took a beating at the hands of pranksters/hackers/the RIAA recently, but zecalouro's rebuilding it. It's a good place to hear music outside of the well-known Caetano Veloso/Gilberto Gil/Joao Gilberto/etc circle, as he makes available music that you could otherwise only hear if you know a Brazilian person with a record player and a good record collection.

Item #3 is the Podcast The Sound Of Young America at The name is a bit misleading as it's not a Youth Radio type deal where the oldest person involved in the production is still in high school (not that there's anything wrong with that - Youth Radio on WFHB is great), rather it's America's Radio Sweetheart Jesse Thorn interviewing a good mix of people I've heard of (Patton Oswalt, Upright Citizen's Brigade, Steven Wright, Colin Hay aka the singer from Men at Work, 2 guys from The Wire, etc) and people I had never heard of (The hosts of '7 second delay', Dan Deacon, etc) previously, but am glad that I now have. It is consistently good and hopefully Jesse achieves radio domination much like Ira Glass before him.

Items #4 and #5 are Frederator and its retro counterpart, re-Frederator.

Frederator hosts the series 'Meth Minute39' by animator Dan Meth, which has provided the world with such gems as 'Mike Tyson's Brunch-Out!', 'The Wang Warriors', and the classic mixture of real watermelon footage and unbelievably catchy music that is 'Watermelon Nights'. The weekly podcast compiles collections of cartoons by various artists, and is a mixed bag, but worth subscribing to for animation fans. If you are an eggplant, you wouldn't dig it, man.

Re-Frederator also puts out a podcast, this one focusing on very old cartoons, as in cartoons from the 30's and 40's. My daughter and I have bonded over the antics of Ub Iwerks' 'Flip The Frog' and have found that Little Lulu's 'Bargain Counter Attack' still works for 4-year-old girls in 2008, who have been brought up watching the likes of Dora, Bob The Builder, and the Backyardigans (who IMHO are far superior to Dora and Bob).

Re-Frederator doesn't whitewash (ha.) the past, and has featured old cartoons with stereotypes and attitudes from the 30s and 40s, including 'Plane Dumb' and 'Little Black Sambo'. These are interesting to watch now, although with people like Imus and Michael 'He's a N*****! He's a N******!' Richards running around, we probably can't look down on how it was in grandpa or great grandpa's day as much as we'd like. On the other hand, it is true they didn't have the Internet back then, and that really had to suck.

The End!

Be back hopefully in less than several weeks!