Saturday, May 30, 2009

Long Dark Night of the Sole

I knew I shouldn't have eaten that fish.

Still, since I spent several hours invoking the name of God into the Great White Telephone, you could say it was a spiritual experience.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Roger Ebert agrees with me!

A proud moment:

(Last Q&A on the page, and also the inspiration for the column title for that week).

Yes, I am pathetically easy to please...

[Note: Updated April 13, 2015 as Answerman columns now have permalinks, which they did not when I first posted this.]

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Post-Modernism Eats Itself

According to this article at Techdirt, the copyright holder for the works of Derrida is suing because somebody published a Spanish translation for free.

But wait -- I thought post-modernists like Derrida subscribed to Barthes' theory, set out in "The Death of the Author", that the reader should be considered the author just as much as the writer?

If so, Derrida's estate has no more business claiming royalties for his work than I do, right?

I used to be confident about my interpretation of the text, but now I'm not Saussure.

If you don't get this, don't worry: Dennis Miller will be along in a minute to explain it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

'People-person' brain area found

According to this story at BBC News, scientists have discovered the areas of the brain that may determine how sociable a person is. Warm, sentimental people tend to have more brain tissue in the outer strip of the brain just above the eyes and in a structure deep in the brain's center.

Here's scans of the brains of two people in a social setting, with the "social pleasure" areas highlighted:

Monday, May 18, 2009

New Social Networking Sites

I think I've identified a handful of opportunities in the crowded social networking landscape:

  • the only online dating site that openly admits that most people are more interested in biology than chemistry. Lying about your identity and interests is actively encouraged.

  • if you're ashamed at the lack of activity and updates from friends on your Facebook page, this site can help. Just "friend" a handful of the fake profiles from the hundreds of thousands on offer, and pretty soon the invitations, photos, and funny messages posted from your new "friends" will make you the envy of all your real friends -- assuming you have any, of course. And in case you're wondering where we got the data for all those fake profiles: Remember that "25 Things About Me" meme that was going around? Exactly.

  • ADate: Jews have JDate to meet people with a similar religious and cultural background. It's about time somebody did something similar for the Amish. This is an enormous untapped opportunity: there are over a quarter of a million Amish in the USA and Canada, and not a single website caters to their social interests!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Thought for the day

If my enemy's enemy is my friend, what does that make my friend's friend?

And what about my lover's lover?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

On the passing of the analog era

What my generation regards as normal in the worlds of music and movies is coming to an end. And by "my generation" I mean people old enough to remember buying music on something before CDs, and old enough to remember when watching a movie at home on videotape was a novelty. In reality, everything that we take for granted about the economics of music and movies is a brief aberration in the history of art and performance, one that is now passing.

When the history of the music industry is written, the introduction of the digital representation on CDs will probably be pointed to as the turning point, although the change really didn't reach critical mass until distribution (the internet) and reproduction (MP3s) were added. After that, it became inevitable.

But what makes this really interesting is the realization that this is not a revolution so much as a counter-reformation.

The 20th century gave us a small window of time in which music, films, prints, etc. could be distributed as analog physical products, meaning that they could be mass-produced easily, but not too easily. This oddity put economic power in the hands of companies that could marshal manufacturing, distribution, and marketing resources, and also made it possible to charge for every copy. It also made a painful necessity of the "star" system: with so much fixed cost involved in creating a record, from the recording sessions to the manufacturing to the shipping, records had to sell in large quantities. That in turn meant expensive promotion -- another fixed cost -- and an upward spiral that resulted in stars, superstars and megastars, where people who were only slightly more talented and slightly more fortunate were rewarded exponentially more.

And so a generation of artists, managers, agents, etc., grew up expecting to get paid for every copy, and from there it was just a small hop to getting paid for broadcasts or other performances that "cheated" them out of selling a copy. In the space of a couple of generations, this bizarre entitlement had become the new norm.

With digital reproduction of music and movies supplanting mass production/distribution, that assumption is breaking down. A generation is growing up that knows perfectly well that it costs essentially nothing to make copies of recordings... and that arbitrary rules aside, it's not actually depriving the artist of anything. The artist doesn't have to work any harder, and the artist isn't being deprived of any payment they might otherwise get... unless you assume a priori that they should get royalties. And frankly, that's not a very convincing argument.

Before mass production, musicians and actors had to go out and perform. With the passing of the analog interregnum they will have to do so once again if they want to get paid.

The companies that profit from the analog model are desperately fighting this shift as if the current state embodied some inherent moral and ethical right, rather than merely a profitable business model, and its end would be a catastrophe. "Nobody will be able to afford to make $120M movies", they say, as if that were self-evidently a terrible thing.

But really, the worst thing that will happen is that people like Madonna, Michael Jackson, Tom Cruise and Angelina Jolie will be merely moderately rich rather than absurdly rich.

The second-best thing that will happen is that, in the absence of a compelling economic reason to manufacture and market celebrities, the whole ridiculous world of "celebrity culture", of Hello! magazine and awards shows and wedding pictures and paparazzi and TMZ, will evaporate.

And the best thing of all that might happen is that "reality" television shows, which are essentially the bastard offspring of pseudo-celebrity culture and over-elaborate game shows, a world that feeds on exposing people with neither talent nor shame to brief notoriety and passing ridicule through the lens of mass media and calling it entertainment -- will return to whatever circle of hell they escaped from.

Well, I can dream...

Friday, May 01, 2009

WHO do you think you are fooling?

WHO wants to change the name of the H1N1 'flu virus strain from 'swine flu' to 'influenza A (H1N1)'. They say it's at the request of the meat industry, but they're not fooling me: it's all part of the porcine cover-up. Sorry, little piggies, it's too late: I'm on to you.