Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Saturday Spotify 11, August 13, 2011

August 13th, 2011 by Reinder

Trying something different: I got Spotify back in April and it's really helped open up my listening habits. I've since become a paying subscriber, because even though I only have it on my computer at home, it's helped me find new (to me) music and touch base with old favorites, while keeping cost down compared to buying records.

Spotify has playlist sharing as a feature, and I've enjoyed some blogs that use sharing to spread, such as Spotify Classical. I think even more than YouTube, this feature will change how people write about music, with 'music criticism as consumer advice' becoming completely obsolete, and 'music commentary as swapping notes' replacing it. So heres an attempt, and if it's not too much work I'll do it every week or so. Here are some songs that caught my attention in the past few weeks.

This is the playlist and because I don't expect everyone to have Spotify, I'll try to find alternate links for the songs as much as possible.

1. Nicole Atkins: Brooklyn's On Fire off Neptune City, 2007.

The opening bars of this, after the instrumental intro, just fill me with joy every time I hear them. While I'm still gushing over those chanted phrases, the song develops into a lush 6/8 melody with even lusher strings. And what a voice. The one thing I am not sold on is the lead guitar, but I can ignore it easily.

2. Kate Bush: The Song of Solomon off Director's Cut, 2011

The second song on Director's Cut, and the second song I ever heard on Spotify as the main trigger for me getting Spotify was to hear this album the moment it was available. As long-term readers may have guessed from the lack of a review of the album, I'm lukewarm about Director's Cut as a whole. Some of the songs work, some don't. "Song of Solomon" is one of the songs that do deliver on the album's promise: Kate has succesfully shaken the cobwebs off the original production and added gorgeous, sexy new vocals and understated live percussion. If all of the album was this good, I'd be all over it.

3. Unicorn Ensemble: Nevestinko Oro off The Glory of Early Music, 1997.

This instrumental tune is the traditional dance that Kate Bush based "The Sensual World"/"Flower of the Mountain" on, and it's quite gorgeous in its own right. The Glory of Early Music is a Naxos compilation of music from before the era of the Classical composers, and that colours this interpretation. The version in the Youtube vid is the same one, even if credited differently.

4. The Damned: Grimly Fiendish off Phantasmagoria, 1985.

(This is an actual video, so I'm showing it larger)
I saw this on Shakesville and loved it from the opening bars on. I did find myself checking the video to see where Captain Sensible was, before concluding that evidently he wasn't on it. That shows how little I knew about the Damned: I had some inkling that they'd had a bunch of line-up changes, splits and reunions, some of which did and some which did not include the Captain. I also knew that they were one of the legends of punk rock, that they'd changed styles a lot, and that they'd made quite a few albums that didn't live up to the group's reputation. But I was fuzzy on the details, and hadn't actually heard much of their music. After hearing this, I'm trying very hard to catch up.
To some people, this early goth hit off 1985's Phantasmagoria will be among the records that don't live up to the group's reputation, but I can't get enough of it. Musically, it sounds like a cross between Adam Ant and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, with harpsichords for extra colour. The delivery is confident, like a group on top of its game, and the singer's voice just fits. Phantasmagoria as a whole doesn't convince me yet, but this single is one I can listen to over and over again, and have.

5. Martyn Joseph: Giant Panda's Giant Thoughts off The Wildlife Album, 2005
I found the The Wildlife Album compilation while looking for Roy Harper songs on Spotify. The Wildlife Album is an acoustic, singer-songwriter oriented charity compilation including some big names such as Harper, Bert Jansch and Jan Akkerman, some second-tier names like Gordon Giltrap and Steve Ashley, and some artists that I hadn't heard of before at all. Martyn Joseph is in the latter category for me, and stood out because of his bluesy, tasty guitar playing. Nothing special, just very well done. Oh, and the lyrics made me laugh with their panda's-eye-view. I could not find this one on YouTube, sorry.

6. Movits!: Äppelknyckarjazz off Äppelknyckarjazz, 2008

My old friend DFG sent me this and I loved it at once. Sweden's Movits! Seem to be the missing link between Caro Emerald and Kaizers Orchestra - more polished than the latter, more edgy than the former.

7. Janelle Monáe: Tightrope featuring Big Boi, off The ArchAndroid, 2010
Video here, embedding disabled
Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon repeatedly praised Janelle Monáe's concept album The ArchAndroid as the best album of 2010. I don't know if it's quite that good; it's not exactly genre-defying and the album drags a bit in the second half. But knowing me, the time to ask me what the best album of 2010 was will be around 2015.
The ArchAndroid is good enough, though, to break my resistance to contemporary R&B, and this track in particular, with its funky beat, smooth bass line and Monáe's vocals, is one of the things that have been bringing joy to my life lately.

8. Corvus Corax: Satyricon, off Seikilos, 2002

Another band that I've known about for years now, but never got around to digging into. Aggie's seen these guys live in Germany and reports that they're very good and entertaining live. I now have a Spotify playlist for this genre of music, containing about 200 tracks. This instrumental is one of their most popular and it did jump out at me at first listening. I expect there'll be more of this type of music in Saturday Spotify posts if I do more of them.

9. Happy Rhodes: Ra is a Busy God, off Many Worlds Are Born Tonight, 1998

(Video is not the studio recording, but a live recording from one of Happy Rhodes' house concerts. These have probably reached more people than the concerts originally did).
I purchased about 60 Happy Rhodes tracks in one swell foop from both iTunes and Spotify, after doing price comparisons for each album to get the cheapest combination. This did result in me getting Happy Rhodes overload, and I still have a hard time identifying which of these 60 tracks are my favorites. This track from Many Worlds Are Born Tonight, her only album that charted, is a contender. But it doesn't really matter anyway, because what I love about Happy Rhodes is her voice. I don't really care what she sings, as long as I can listen to her singing.

10. Siousxie and the Banshees: Cities in Dust, off Tinderbox, 1986.

For years I had this mentally misfiled as being by Sinéad O'Connor. Upon hearing it again, it doesn't sound as big as I remembered it, but I also find it a lot more enjoyable now that I've stopped fetishising guitar-based rock like I used to. The mid-eighties generally were a much better musical period than I remembered them being.

11. Amy Winehouse: Rehab off Back to Black, 2006.

You know this. You've probably heard it enough to get sick of it. I for one am not sick of it yet. After Amy Winehouse was found dead in her hotel room, one of my Facebook friends referred to it as an "unintentionally ironic anthem to denial and an unexamined life" (among other unkind words), which did not make sense to me until I realised that what he actually meant, whether he realised it or not, was that "Rehab" was a completely flawless creation: a work of art so perfect that all the self-observation, self-reflection, and self-interrogation that went into making it have become invisible. What a compliment to pay to an artist on the occasion of her death! The song also has a good beat to it.

(This was written over the course of an afternoon inbetween doing about 500 other things, because there are two people in the house who are sick and neither of them is me. Perhaps I'm better off posting vids to Facebook/Waffle in drips and drabs like that Facebook friend does)

Torchwood quality shocker!

August 16th, 2009 by Reinder

For the first two seasons, Torchwood was my favorite bad series: it sucked, but I still enjoyed watching it because Eve Myles and her Welsh accent are super sexyof the ambition on display and the interesting ways in which it failed.

Not this year. The 5-hour miniseries Torchwood: Children of Earth is really good, tense, bleak, well-performed and very compelling to watch. I watched the first episode last night and had to watch the rest of it today. Fantastic stuff, well worth spending five hours on.

And the kicker? Russell T. Davies wrote it. The man never ceases to amaze me. He's capable of both awesome and awful stuff. This time around, he delivered the goods, with great, compassionate characterisation and tight plotting.

Linklog: Some stuff I’ve read lately

August 8th, 2009 by Reinder

Out of the Kitchen, onto the Couch. Michael Pollan reminisces about Julia Child and discusses the contradictions inherent in the Food Network.
In Defense of Food Network. Tristero disagrees with Michael Pollan.
The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult. 1972 article by Murray Rothbard describing exactly in what ways Objectivism functioned as a cult and demanded blind loyalty to its leader and her doctrine, all in the name of reason. Useful to know about now that Ayn Rand's work is back in the limelight again.
A French Revelation, or The Burning Bush. James A Haught at the Council for Secular Humanism writes that former French President Jacques Chirac alleges that former US President George W. Bush invited him in 2003 to help invade Iraq to "thwart Gog and Magog, the Bible’s satanic agents of the Apocalypse". Seriously. If true, it's pretty much a miracle that the world survived eight years with Bush's hand on the red button.

Return of the Son of the End of Free, Part II

May 17th, 2009 by Reinder

Over the years, I've become skeptical of paid content as a viable model for most of the content being published online, particularly for webcomics. In the previous part, I discussed what I believe are the reasons micropayments have historically failed and free content resurged in the mid-2000s.

I believe Rupert Murdoch's plan to start charging for The Wall Street Journal online will also fail, but for a different, much simpler reason: this recession is much worse than the last one, and end users are keeping their wallets shut much more. Even if the problems with the infrastructure and the immediacy of micropayments are resolved and users finally start understanding the concept, they are going to pinch their pennies, hard, and refuse to pay for anything they can get for free elsewhere. Entertainment, which is much less fungible than news, will not be safe from this: if the money simply isn't there, people won't buy it and will instead go with the inferior good that they can afford. Or they will simply entertain themselves: the choice won't be between a paid Radiohead album and a free Hootie and the Blowfish album as Scott McCloud argued in the essay I quoted in Part I, but between a paid Radiohead album and a game of Monopoly with the family, a free knees-up at the Irish pub or an hour practicing Radiohead songs on the guitar.

However, there are two long-run scenarios in which I micropayments and subscriptions may win out. I hope these won't come to pass as neither of them will be pretty. They are The Big Content Squeeze of 2010 and the Google Power Grab Scenario. In both, Rupert Murdoch's assertion that the Internet will never be the same again will be correct.

The Big Content Squeeze of 2010
The recession continues through 2009 and into 2010 and it hits hard. Initially, this means more free content in the form of blogs as newly unemployed people turn to writing. However, it becomes harder to finance the content. Small-time bloggers move from their own hosted space to free bloghosts to save money. Then the free bloghosts stop being free and the blogs vanish.
Meanwhile, newspapers stop treating their free content as loss leaders, and start seeing them as the profit-eaters they really are. Some switch to micropayment solutions, which fail, before shutting own their sites. Others shut down at once. This robs the remaining bloggers of much of their material, because most news/politics/gossip/satire bloggers do not do original news gathering and are entirely parasitic on the so-called Mainstream Media (the idea that bloggers are "citizen journalists" is pure, unadulterated Bloggocks). The quality and interest level of those blogs drops and so do their revenues. Bit by bit, the entire Long Tail of all websites disappears. Comicspace loses its advertising revenues and its venture capital funding at the same time. Keenspot loses its advertising revenues. Both firms close their doors and only the most succesful comics hang on to their existence, on independent hosts and subsidized directly by their users. Eventually, the Short Head, the highest-quality, most popular websites, starts getting eaten as well. By that time, though, content is no longer abundantly available and is indeed getting quite scarce. People who want to read news or blogs or webcomics online have the choice between paying for them or not getting any at all. In this new landscape, micropayments are a viable model once the recession starts bottoming out. By time the recovery is finally under way, micropayments and the sites financed by them are entrenched, the infrastructure for content paid for by advertising is dead and gone and new, free content sites will not be immediately competitive because users will be loyal to the content they have already paid for.

This end result, of course, isn't all bad. The result of this Darwinian process will be a smaller number of sites that have high quality by a number of metrics. They won't waste the users' time, they will be well-made and worth paying for - for a time, at least. They will also have to stay strictly within the mainstream and within the boundaries of acceptable opinion and taste. There will not be a significant Long Tail of niche sites. As the successful media get entrenched, the lack of competition and the need to avoid giving offense may lead to blander, less interesting content - it will continue to very be good at a technical level but will it challenge the reader? And if it doesn't, where else will you go if you do want to be challenged?

The Google Power Grab
This scenario, on the other hand, is one whose outcome won't be good at all. In this one, Google develops a working micropayment system (currently, Google Checkout does not support true micropayments as defined back in 2000, but is suitable for larger payments. I don't know anyone who uses it, though), and sits down with News Corp and all the other big media outfits until they all sign up to use that system exclusively. Because Google already has your data, you probably already have an account with it and most people trust it far more than they should, it is in a position to make its system ubiquitous and immediate in one fell swoop, and it has the funding to ride out the rest of the recession. It can also give preferential treatment to sites covered under its micropayment system, making them show up first in searches and embedding micropayments code into its search links so these sites perform better than non-micropayment sites. People will still be reluctant to use them for as long as the recession lasts, but they will be pressured into accepting them earlier than if any other party supplies the micropayment service (because they will be shut out of the best search results if they don't) and once they get more money into their pockets again, they will start embracing them.

In this scenario, Google leverages its power to gain even more power, and unlike in the Big Squeeze scenario, the big media win without having to raise their game for even a moment. The landscape changes irrevocably, to the advantage of parties that are already entrenched.

I'm not happy with both scenarios. The first one seems more likely right now than the second, as I recently read an essay (on a Dutch newspaper's blog, no less - but I unfortunately didn't take note of where it was and can't find it anymore) in which the writer recommended that newspapers shut down their websites entirely so they'd stop competing with their paper editions. But I'll be glad if neither come to pass and consider not having a good, viable micropayments system on the web to be a small price to pay for that.

Return of the Son of the End of Free, Part I

May 17th, 2009 by Reinder

So the big media news last week was that Rupert Murdoch wants to start charging for the Wall Street Journal online, and the coverage brought back a word that I hadn't heard in a couple of years and that I didn't really expect to hear again: micropayments.

I'll talk about the new End of Free (there was a website by that name, once, but I can't find it anymore) and how I think it will play out in part II of this series, but I want to indulge in some nostalgia/give the younger readers a little history lesson first.

Ah, Micropayments. Scott McCloud loved them, Jakob Nielsen loved them, back in the days of the Dot.bomb. They were touted as an alternative to subscriptions beginning about a decade ago, when it first started becoming clear that banner ads weren't going to keep bringing in the $40 CPMs that they did back in 1997. When the 2001 recession hit and avertising revenue really tanked, demand for payment based content distribution models grew and a large number of firms popped up that offered content on either a subscription or a micropayment basis. Modern Tales was originally one of the subscription-based content providers; there was a micropayment-based site called Bitpass that was popular with cartooonists for a while, which I experimented with a bit half-heartedly at the time. Modern Tales, of course, is still here but it offers most (or in practice, all) of its services for free, financed mostly by advertising. Bitpass is gone. This seems to be the pattern everywhere, with only the formery subscription-based sites even lasting long enough to make the switch back to free content financed (just) by the much lower advertising CPMs common today.

What went wrong? Why didn't micropayments work out? I think there were three closely related reasons.

Firstly, micropayments didn't become immediate. There was no single infrastructure for them - instead there were a number of micropayments providers, plus some of the content providers themselves. Users had to sign up to a new site for each individual content provider or third-party scheme they came across, they had to get their account credentials, maybe make a deposit through a fourth party, thenthey could make the micropayment, then they could be redirected to the content they wanted. It was clunky and it meant that on top of the monetary micropayment, the user's time investment, at least for the first transaction, went through the roof. People online like immediacy and they hate uncertainty and waiting, so users weren't too keen on the whole process. So as Clay Shirky argued as early as 2000, people hated micropayments.

Secondly, users didn't just hate micropayments, they didn't understand them either. They did not understand the distinction between a micropayment and a payment, or between micropayments and subscriptions. Originally, a micropayment was defined as a small payment between a quarter and a fraction of a penny. By the time of the arrival of Bitpass in 2003, typical transactions offered were in the 25¢ to 75¢ range, and the fact that this was so was a big part of Scott McCloud's rebuttal to another Shirky piece accurately predicting Bitpass's failure, in which McCloud argued that this one would be different. By 2005, users in internet forums like the Comicgenesis forum were using the word "Micropayment" to refer to Modern Tales' subscription fees or regular Paypal donations. The term had been swept under the rug and never heard from again.

Third, the recession ended just at the time when the price of bandwidth and hosting plummeted. In other words, businesses started advertising online again as the cost of publishing came down dramatically. Free content became worthwhile again.

I haven't kept track of how the recession is affecting online ad revenue. My own ad income is up since I joined Webcomicsworld and ditched my Google ads, but that's not enough data to go on. However, I don't think it's a coincidence that this idea starts raising its head again in a new recession and comes from an industry that is having a really hard time.

In part II, I'll discuss some scenarios in which I think the idea may turn out to work after all. They are not going to be pleasant for people who like easy access to content (free or not) or

Linguistic change from above

April 29th, 2009 by Reinder

Just this morning, a client at my day job wanted some urgent press releases translated into Dutch, pomoting a product that could be used to screen travelers for what to the best of my knowledge is still called Swine Flu in English. While we were working on it, the news came out that the Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieuhygiene, which is equivalent to the US Center for Disease Control, had urged everyone to refer to the bug in question as "Mexicaanse griep" rather than "Varkensgriep", so Mexican Flu rather than Swine Flu. Until then, government bodies had used "Varkensgriep" like everybody else.

We contacted the client and they said they wanted "Mexicaanse Griep" as well, citing the RIVM's terminology recommendation. So we used that. And already, so is everyone else. This screenshot from Nu.nl shows the linguistic change in progress:
Nu.nl, April 29, 2009, 8 PM. The body of a new article uses "Mexicaanse griep" while a link to a popular, older article still speaks of "Varkensgriep"

0.7 million a cheek

January 27th, 2008 by Reinder

So the FCC wants to fine ABC 1.4 million bucks for

briefly show[ing] the side and back of a naked woman getting into a shower.

"Although ABC argues, without citing any authority, that the buttocks are not a sexual organ, we reject this argument, which runs counter to both case law and common sense," the FCC said in its complaint.

Kind of makes you wonder how much the Republican-led FCC knows about common sense. My friend leya responds as follows:

For those of you that may think this ruling is fair, please let me elaborate.

The backside of a human being is not a sexual organ. The buttocks are are rounded portions of the anatomy located on the posterior of the pelvic region. They are composed mostly of gluteal muscles with a lovely layer of fat, and their purpose is to allow us to sit upright without putting weight on our feet. True, they do split at a point and surround a hole, but that hole is designed for the defecation of waste material. It can be used in a sexual manner, but so can the mouth, the hand, and indeed a greased up knothole in a tree. This does not make them a sexual organ. They are nothing to be ashamed of, they are nothing to be afraid of, they are part of the human anatomy.

They have been sexualised, yes, but that is due to the fact that humans, like most animals, are randy fucks. And most often due to the titillation factor of a body part usually unseen by casual clothing. Other items that have been sexualised are legs, feet, foodstuffs, languages, the entire female body and sheep.

But lastly, and most importantly

If you can't stand the sight of a pair of human buttcheeks YOU SHOULD NOT BE FUCKING WATCHING NYPD BLUE. It is not a nice show. It showes the aftermath of bloody murders, horrific sex crimes, the seedy underbelly of humanity. If a human arse offends you to the point of writing a nasty letter, but the other factors waft serenely by your mental blinders, then get the FUCK out of my genepool.

To which I don't really have anything to add, except that I hope these idiots get thrown out with the rest of the Bush administration in November.

Arms Don’t Work That Way

July 17th, 2007 by Reinder

Look at this Before-and-after montage of, er, someone called Faith Hill on a magazine cover. It's hypnotic and freaky, but what's especially worrying is the arm in the published version. Arms don't work that way. If a comic book artist was found drawing arms like that, they'd be posted all over Scans Daily within a day.

A beginner’s guide to Eurovision

May 14th, 2007 by Reinder

Mr. Bob posted this on the Comicgenesis forums (I think it's by him. It's not credited but it looks like his style and is the sort of thing he would do. Besides only a Dutch artist would give that much prominence to the Dutch-Belgian blocquette): A beginner's guide to Eurovision for Americans and other lifeforms of feeble intellect and little awareness of the outside world
Stereotypes galore, but actually pretty accurate. Especially about the Dutch having to be high to think they have a chance to ever win it again.

An honest obituary of Boris Yeltsin

May 1st, 2007 by Reinder

I found this more than a week late, but Yeltsin: An Obit of a Drunken, Bloblike Train Wreck of a Revolutionary Leader by Matt Taibbi is still worth a read because it's well-written and gives a better insight into why the Russians didn't care much about ole' Boris than the "they prefer an authoritarian over a buffoon" line that was common in the conventional obits. (Via Majikthise)