lovehate: Proprietary Overload

I understand that not everything in the world can be "open source" or boast complete compatibility.  The staff in the idea bunkers buried deep under the Apple, Microsoft, Google, Sony and Sun Micro cities look at the same crap, a thousand different ways, day after day trying to find the one little way they can make the same widget better than it was before - better, stronger, faster. And each time they find the little tweak that they believe may give them a market advantage, if not, at least, buy them a little more time before being relegated to Tech. Support Supervisors, the company lawyers write up a patent registration.

I remember one of the baffling frustrations of my childhood was not being able to swap power cords from my Mattel Football to Merlin to Simon to Fabulous Fred. The voltages and milliamps and plug sizes were all different and one can simply not afford an endless supply of 9-volt batteries as a pre-teen.

Now remember, I get why, on may levels, this HAS to happen. I understand the economy demands some sort of intellectual property exist for companies to exist. That said, why the hell can't I get one USB cable that fits more than one cellphone and why won't my so-called "standard" 1/8 inch headphone jack (that I use on my Apple Nano) fit into the same phone?

Speaking of Apple, why do I need Firewire anyway when USB 2.0 works just fine for more stuff? I need Firewire because apparently a bunch of camcorder makers all got together and decided they liked the smaller form factor of the Firewire socket. Sure, Firewire was plenty faster than USB 1.0, but hasn't USB won the VHS/Beta war? I honestly don't even care which one is better - I just don't want to have to buy both!

But Firewire/USB doesn't even begin to approach the Memory Card debacle. It's not enough to just have one or two types, but every device I buy is open to a litany of options that ALL DO THE SAME THING! Is it CompactFlash Type 1 or 2 (and is there Microdrive or Wi-fi in there)? Is it Memory Stick  or Memory Stick PRO or Memory Stick Duo or PRO Duo or positive sickening-sounding DRM-laden MagicGate (thanks Sony, you heartless bastard purveyors of proprietary nonsense)? How about the MMC Multimedia Card in Regular, Reduced and Mobile? Maybe it's SD (Secure Digital) in regular, Mini or Micro. Of course it could be SmartMedia or an xD Picture Card (type H or type M), but by this point I'm sharpening a Sony PencilCam and getting ready to stick it in my eye.

When I'm buying my new portable audio device, does it play mp3, aac, wma, ogg, flac, shn, monkey or real? Does my new portable video player decode DivX, XviD, H264, mov, mp4, mp2, vob, wmv, and flv? When I decompress downloaded music for my player, is it zip, pkzip, lz, rar, 7z, iso, bin, tar? And is the album cover image within the folder a bmp, jpg, gif, png, tiff, ai, eps, cdr, or pdf? Of course, in a software universe, everything can be converted, but it would be nice if I didn't have search through virus-bloated warez to execute such a transformation that didn't involve command-line structure with seventeen switching variables.

Enough already! Everyone's taken their little slice of the pie and the Double R Diner is closed. I'm going to watch some Flash streaming of the Olympics... wait, what the hell is Silverlight?

Proprietary overload - HATE it.

memory

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thinglets: Elliott Smith

While I don't mind Elliott Smith, I love this critical rip of one of his CDs even more:

"Elliott Smith is known best as a purveyor of sad-bastard music, a reputation he established right away on his gorgeously downbeat 1994 solo debut Roman Candle. But Smith also had a slyly humorous side, which he exhibits on the closing instrumental "Kiwi Maddog 20/20," a languid surf-y tune that wouldn't be out of place playing over the credits of a Quentin Tarantino film. Which means "Kiwi Maddog 20/20" is totally out of place on a collection of depressing folk-pop songs, though after 30 minutes with Smith's quiet tales of desperation it's practically a lifeline."

lovehate: Acting and the Science Fiction Film

Let me preface this love hate. There are some great reasons to have and use special effects in science fiction films and television, be they make-up, sound, camera angles or computer-generated objects, backgrounds and characters. I enjoy seeing spaceships, phasors, impossible landscapes and situations as much as the next viewer. What I often regret, however, is the over-reliance on these visual and aural tricks of the trade to the point where they distract what should still be the prime mover of film and television: acting.

The blame can be easily spread around. While The Matrix received almost religious status among its eager audience, and I'll be first to admit it's an enjoyable sci-fi romp if not a thespian tour de force, the performances of Keanu Reeves and his fellow cast members were wooden at best. That said, who is to blame: Reeves, the Wachowski brothers, or the combined vision that placed all of the actors in environments where the effect became more important than the performance. While it's easy to name an actor for a bad performance, most of the time not enough blame is placed on a director for allowing it to get past the questionable take. In this case, I'm sure the prevailing vision of the Brothers on this film was more about creating an awe-inspiring world and letting it drown out the less than inspiring performances.

I don't mean to pick on The Matrix or poor Keanu, but science fiction seems plagued with characters that are intentionally "stoic" (for lack of a better phrase) and the conspiracy theorist in me is convinced that it's far easier for a director to allow an actor to play emotionless monosyllabic heroes. Story gets told through atmosphere and set more than acting performance. While this model has provided for some spectacular films, am I just nit-picking in thinking that the best of both worlds is possible?

The dependence on visual effects cannot help but adversely impact an actor's performance. Actors are used to reacting to other people and physical sets, but when a director asks them to pretend an alien or robot is ten feet away by holding up a ball on a stick, and, oh, by the way, you're standing in a radioactive war zone that is currently being represented by a green screen and... Action!

It is for this reason that many accomplished actors (and by accomplished, I'd rather think revered as opposed to prolific) are loathe to accept roles in science fiction films unless trying to re-establish a career. Maybe part of this comes from the fact that even when an established director makes a science fiction film, they are not necessarily familiar with the genre. I would imagine, through common sense more than any practical experience, that in so much as some A-list actors will clamor to work with a Scorcese, Spielberg, Coppola, Soderbergh, the Coen Brothers or even Woody Allen, the opposite must be true for directors who do not come with such noteriety. Which actor would be breaking down doors to work with a relatively unheralded Irvin Kershner, even though his direction provided for IMDB's #1 science fiction film and #9 film of all-time: The Empire Strikes Back.

I can watch almost any sci-fi, good or bad, because my expected level of suspension of disbelief is always so high that I can tolerate any deficiencies in acting that often slides under it. This, however, seems the prominent reason that the genre seems devalued by critics and award academies alike.

While I could never say that I hate the genre, I do hate that (but for a few shining examples) some of the greatest sci-fi stories ever told include some brutal performances by actors and "cut and print" choices by directors.

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thinglets: word association poetry game

Rules:

1) Either by one or two words, but as little as a syllable, create a common idiomatic usage, expression or cultural link (pop or otherwise) from one set to the next.

2) Do not take more than one turn in a row.

The poem starts like this...

Blue moon river runs through it sucks to be you can't touch this love has taken its toll bridge ____________

lovehate: Renting Music (Bill C-61 Revisited)

While the Canadian parliament is out of session for the summer Conservative Sith Lord Jim Prentice's Bill C-61 (Canada's take on reforming copyright and Digital Rights Management) is getting batted around more than a pinata at Cinco de Mayo.

For as complete a compendium of information as you could hope to get on the issue, I refer you to michaelgeist.ca where almost every aspect of fair copyright for Canadians is represented through links to interviews and articles.

While my thoughts on C-61 are pretty clear, I thought maybe another question would provoke the marketing wizards that sell music in stores or online: am I just renting music?

For years people have been able to rent paintings and sculptures from galleries in order to decorate their lives for a few weeks or months at a time. Why should music be any different? If the only rights "owned" on a piece of music are by the artist, producer, and writer, what am I really paying for with a 99 cent song download or a 15 dollar CD purchase? If I cannot take that CD and replicate into the other formats that allow me to enjoy it at its fullest, I seriously have to consider whether buying (should consumer ownership of art actually exist) is such a worthwhile thing.

I don't purchase CDs at stores or online anymore, but one of the places I do buy them is when I'm at shows of smaller or independent performers because often those purchases entail more money going directly to the artist. The first thing I do when I get home, however, is rip all of the tracks onto my computer so I can use them on my Nano. If I buy the same tracks online, Apple takes the cut that band gets at the venue. This formula works the same for a music store that takes a cut every time a CD gets purchased. But, if Bill C-61 passes, I'll have to wonder if it's ever worth it for me to buy a CD again. If every CD mastering house starts to put forth an even insignificant protection scheme on every CD, I can be fined tens of thousands of dollars for ripping one disc. If I ripped a DVD to my Nano to watch on a flight to Vegas, same penalty.

And this raises a further question: if purchasing a song, or collection of songs, in any format does not give me any real rights of self-distribution, am I really "buying" anything at all? How would the average consumer feel about renting music instead of buying it? Would you be willing to pay 99 cents for a song that you could only listen for three months on one computer? Should I buy a DVD that I can only watch on my laptop computer but not a DVD player? I may as well just buy an iTouch and use wi-fi to stream everything without owning a single song or film.

Those who rent paintings do so to make a statement, send a message, impress visitors or sell their condo. I don't listen to music or watch the films I do to impress anybody. Ask my friends and they'll tell you I have some pretty messed up loves and hates when it comes to music and films that wouldn't impress anyone. So if I'm purchasing music, it's for the long haul, and the last thing anyone should want is to prevent a lifelong love of a band or song to be threatened just because formats change.

And that's the real rub isn't it? CDs will be obsolete in five years or less and the music industry is afraid, because while they could sell people on compact discs being "better" than vinyl in the 80s (at least enough to make you re-buy your entire collection), that pitch is going to be far more difficult when the average download quality pales in comparison to the CD you have now. The average mp3 has six to ten times less audio information than a track form a compact disc. Why would I buy everything again in a lesser format unless the law forced me to?

Bill C-61 is a cash grab by the music labels, retailers, and their lobbyists in Ottawa. Sure there are pieces in the bill that deal with music re-distribution (from one party to another) but we already have legislation to deal with such occurrences. Bill C-61 will serve to do one thing upon its signing - make half of the population instant criminals. Thank you Sith Lord Prentice, may I have another?

thinglets: sketch comedy

This thinglet comes from Mike Vardy. Mike is the brains behind the Eventualist productivity ideodology "EffTD" (Effing The Dog) and is chief contributor to www.effingthedog.com and its accompanying podcast. Click the links and check out his work.

I’m waiting for the day when the layperson finally gets that sketch comedy is not improv.  It’s pre-written and while there’s room for latitude with a sketch, you can’t just throw it by the wayside for a passable Christopher Walken impersonation when the going gets tough.  No wonder why most people think that MadTV is filled with genius comedic talent.  Until this changes, I’ll just assume that most sketch comedians pretend they’ve done improv when they get adulation from the audience for coming up with such great material on the fly.  If only Studio 60 on The Sunset Strip hadn’t been cancelled - Aaron Sorkin could’ve converted the ignorant flock.  Then again, maybe they couldn’t handle the truth.

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