Posts on this blog are dwindling lately, mostly because I keep getting paralyzed by indecision on which of many projects on back burners I should work on first.

I’ve got plenty in the works, but here’s a quickie for now:

Earlier today I flipped on the TV and watched a few minutes of the ill-fated G4 show The Lab with Leo, (RIP). The episode (#146) featured the couple that owns Bongo Beat Records, and explained the unique way they use Second Life to promote their artists. From the show notes:

Ralph Alfonso and Alison Rogers, owners of Bongo Beat Records, started the Second Life Bongo Beat store to target a new audience and reach people who wouldn’t normally discover a label like Bongo Beat, treating this virtual community as a new territory (like England, or Spain, etc) and adapting strategies in communicating with a population/demographic that isn’t necessarily human.

They started integrating virtual appearances by some of their artists – performing live within the Bongo Beat Second Life area.

They created weekly club nights with virtual DJs to build traffic and familiarize them with our area and the online store and Bongo Beat’s music (DJs play whatever they want and integrate Bongo Beat tracks into their DJ sets).

The use of Second Life to advertise real world products and services is nothing new, but the way they go about it is what intrigued me, as I’ve never heard of anyone doing something quite like this. On camera they talked about playing a “concert” from the comfort of one’s own home to an audience of about 60, (and not more for game-mechanic reasons) in Second Life. There are a bunch of interesting factors at work here, such as the immediacy of having new entertainment-oriented music thrown at you during your gaming experience, and the hypermediacy of these art forms sharing one space. I’m sure I’d be right in saying that remediation is at work here, but at the present moment I’m not sure how exactly. Your thoughts?

Whenever I “report” on something like this, my instinct is to throw out some vague inquiry like, “what are the implications if this trend continues?? will it impact our precious world for good or ill??” But McLuhan says that when we’re examining something, rather than asking if what’s happening is good or bad, we should focus on the question, “What’s going on?” I’m trying to do this by pointing out when I see remediation possibly happening, but so far my observations haven’t led me to construct any grand meanings. My gut feeling is that that’s ok, at least for now.

Posted by: Dave | June 20, 2008

Familiar Face

After googling for images of these faces, I know I’m not the first person to point this out, but I’m going to anyway just for kicks.

Those of you who watch Lost will be quite familiar with protagonist Jack Shephard. I actually would not have been until recently, since I just took the plunge this summer starting from the first season. (I haven’t really watched TV through my satellite provider in a planned out way, as in knowing something was going to be on and arranging to be home to watch it, in years and years.) Anyway, Jack Shephard. Yes. And then we have good old Mass Effect, the FPS-RPG that’s loved by so many, starring none other than…well, a customized character. But the default guy is John Shephard – he’s the dude on the box’s cover art.

Jack Shephard played by actor Matthew FoxMass Effect cover art featuring default player character John Shepard

TOP: Jack Shephard of LostBOTTOM: John Shepard of Mass Effect

I mean…c’mon now, Bioware. Didya think no one would notice? And yes, I’m aware that the default player character of Mass Effect is based on a male model that is not actor Matthew Fox, but the inspiration is still fairly obvious. Not that it matters much. Most players create their own “shep” – for all custom characters have the surname Shepard in common – and so the generic John Shepard isn’t even a part of the game for many people. Kind of amusing though. (Then again, I’m easily amused.)

Subsequent thoughts: What is it about these similar characters that their creators hope will make them appealing? Can we infer anything about ourselves from analyzing trends in character design across multiple media?

Posted by: Dave | June 9, 2008

An Interesting stat re: Canadian internet users

From the (excellent) blog of U of Ottawa’s Dr. Michael Geist, in a post now a few days old:

In Canada, five and a half million people (17 percent of the population) were born after Netscape launched its first web browser in 1994. While these Canadians are not yet eligible to vote, there is another very large cohort that is – the additional seven million Canadians (20.5 percent of the population) who were under the age of 15 when Netscape debuted. Putting this into perspective, it is no exaggeration to say that nearly 40 percent of the Canadian population can scarcely recall a world without the Internet and that this group unsurprisingly views digital issues as important.

The rest of the post I lifted this from talks about a recent Net Neutrality rally at Parliament Hill, and how social networks like Facebook and Twitter are playing a central roll in organizing offline events for the advocacy of online rights.

From the current version of Luminato’s main page:


Tonight at Midnight in Yonge-Dundas Square!

Bring your favorite MP3 player. Arrive in Yonge-Dundas Square at midnight sharp for the countdown and press play! Over 200 individually controlled LED lights hung over Yonge-Dundas Square will interact with the music, transforming the space into a silent dance party like never before. Right-click here to download the set.

I wish I could be there to see it – and/or participate! At first I was going to label this an example of hypermediacy, until I remembered Jenkins’ definition of media as the raw material, such as music, and not the device(s) used to produce it. Yet, perhaps we could consider this a remediation of the dance party. Right now the idea of a silent dance party with everyone plugged in to their iPods seems pretty gimmicky, but wouldn’t it be interesting if this manner of partying were to take off? I mean, it has its advantages: you set your own volume, and there’s a lot smaller chance of making your neighbours want to kill you. And I don’t think I need to argue that more ability to customize is a growing trend in other media, do I?

For my own Luminato experience, several of my friends and I went to check out the Count Basie orchestra playing for free at Dundas Square on Friday night. Excellent events all around from the creative arts festival this year.

Posted by: Dave | June 5, 2008

Summize: The Twitter Search

I’ve been having fun experimenting with Twitter for the last couple of days. It’s more appealing to me now than it was when it first came along, not just because of my more intelligent appraisal of it, but because I actually know a few people, personally, who use it. While I feel like I’ve been behind the times on this one, I also don’t think I’ve missed a whole lot – except for all the information contained in tweets themselves – because Twitter and what it does hasn’t changed much since it started. At least that’s my impression right now.

However, tonight I stumbled across this relatively recent post over on Paul S’s blog talking about Summize: a search tool for public tweets. My understanding is that a key way Summize is better than other Twitter searchers is its ability to let you subscribe to custom search query feeds. In other words, you can use it to keep up to speed on what people are saying about a certain topic. Paul Stamatiou uses Summize to track tweets about the web startup he’s involved with, called Skribit:

“I subscribe to that in Safari, which passively notifies me of new results with the number of results next to the bookmark. It fits seamlessly into my daily workflow. When I spot someone having trouble with Skribit, I’ll drop them a message on Twitter to see if I can help.”

So, clearly this tool has potential in the realm of product management. I also wonder about its potential for regular research. I think I’ll suggest it to my friend who is looking for suggestions on a good CMS for one of his clients at work.

Inspired by my shiny new copy of Convergence Culture, I plunked “Henry Jenkins” into Summize and was informed that he didn’t give a keynote presentation at a conference in NYC on June 2nd as advertised, due to illness. I feel better about not being able to go to that now. As a little experiment, I checked out the first page of Google search results for Jenkins’ name. You get his personal website, his CV, some Amazon pages for ordering his books, but nothing about his recent cancellation of a speaking engagement. This illustrates how searching Twitter exclusively can turn up more relevant data, depending on what you’re looking for.

The prospect of being auto-provided with micro-blog posts, on particular topics, as they’re updated in real-time, reminds me of the whole point of the semantic web: machines reading web content for us. It’s an interesting bit of progression, because we’re talking about a utility that caters to a very human need to be social, which is a departure from traditional applications of computing power, such as crunching numbers.

Now, if I could just get my Twitterfeed in my sidebar working.

Posted by: Dave | June 1, 2008

Tardy Twitter’er

When the social networking/micro-blogging site Twitter first started generating buzz, I looked at it and saw it strictly being a way of sharing useless, mundane information.

David is working for another hour. David is drinking cranberry juice. David is clipping his finger nails.

Big deal. I think I started to change my tune when I read the popular story about the grad student who twittered his way out of an Egyptian prison. Then, for the first time, I realized how people are using Twitter to share valuable information in a most efficient way – in 140 characters or less. I’m still learning what all the little features are, and I’ll probably get a Tweet feed going here soon – or perhaps in my personal blog, if it seems more fitting.

I’m “dbeatty”, by the way.

random update: In an excellent post entitled Twitter-me this, Melissa Sconyers has written the best explanation of Twitter’s usefulness I’ve read to date.

Posted by: Dave | June 1, 2008

Music video featuring OS X

Credit goes to Professor Mark Lipton, who I was lucky enough to take a course with during my very first semester, for finding this awesome video and sharing it on Twitter. I’ve been conceptualizing something just like this for a long time, but never gave it a lot of serious thought. Now somebody’s gone and done a fantastic job using the interfaces and other features in OS X as an expressive medium to go along with the song. (“Again and Again” by The Bird and the Bee)

I don’t have much time to make this post right now, so perhaps I’ll return to it later and flesh out some thoughts. For now:

The subject(s) Jon and I blogged about recently have been floating around in the back of my head since then. Instead of repeating myself, check out those posts for details. Then, I made a connection with the mainstream media’s latest hoopla. It really hit me when I read an article (that I can’t find online sadly) in The Hamilton Spectator, by Jeff Mahoney. He speculated about how the ever-increasing cost of personal transportation might be a catalyst for societal changes like less commuting, less Costco-like places in power plazas located out in the boonies, and more local small businesses cropping up to cater to the growing number of walkers and bikers. Needless to say, being discouraged from driving is a convenient effect in regard to global warming. You might not be much of an environmentalist, but the desire to save money might have you being more Green anyhow.

Here is the bottom line:

If our futuristic communication technology has an effect on us, emotionally and socially, that is parallel to that of our long-standing physical mobility, then could our expanded knowledge/community replace receding physical mobility?

In other words, can our instinct to explore and be independently mobile in a physical world be quelled, if only a little bit, by expanded knowledge and communication faculties?

I think this is a pretty interesting question. I’m fairly tired while writing this, so hopefully it makes sense. I may be taking things to an extreme by suggesting “replacement” – I think we’re a long way from a world where there won’t be any desire to go from place to place, by bus or train or what have you. Still, I was stricken by how conveniently one kind of “reach” is just coming along as the other (might be) starting to fade away.

Your thoughts, readers?

Posted by: Dave | May 25, 2008

Not All Talk

On this past Friday afternoon I finally ordered Grand Theft Childhood (hardcover!) and Convergence Culture from my local book shop. It’ll be great to get back to reading again.

I also went out and bought an Xbox 360 (Elite) yesterday, in a deal that got me Assassin’s Creed for free, courtesy of EB games. I also bought Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

Note: While perusing that wikipedia entry I just linked, I saw this interesting tidbit which I wasn’t aware of:

XNA Community

XNA Community is a future feature where Xbox 360 owners can receive community created XNA Creators Club developed games made with Microsoft XNA Game Studio. The games are written, published, and distributed through a community managed portal. XNA Community will be a channel for console videogame delivery over Xbox Live that can be free of royalties, paid-software development kits, publishers or licenses.


Posted by: Dave | May 23, 2008

Musings on the Techno-Takeover

Recently Jon over at culturshock made an insightful post in which he points out how the relationship between technology and distance makes the latter subjective. For example, traveling from Toronto to New York City would be a short trip on a plane, a mid-sized journey by train or car, and a long and arduous pilgrimage by foot. In a striking similarity, the technologies we use for “perceptual, cognitive, and social” reasons have a dramatic effect on the boundaries of those faculties. Furthermore, we really notice it when our reach is suddenly shortened – say, when the internet connection dies – we find ourselves on the phone with our ISPs because we’re suffering from the Internet-Bends, like a culture of cyberpunk SCUBA surfers.

I enjoyed reading about this because it’s right in line with some subjects I’ve been thinking about lately. The other day I stumbled across whisperings about the development of something called The Semantic Web, which is potentially what “Web 3.0” could shape up to be. It’s being worked on by Sir Tim Berners-Lee – credited as the inventor of the WWW, if you didn’t know – and his colleagues. While the link I provided gives an in-depth explanation, here’re the nuts and bolts:

Right now, all the data on the web exists to be readable by humans, be it text or multimedia. Simply put, the Semantic Web would make all that information readable by machines as well. This means that, taking into consideration the advancement in computing power and so on, we could have a vastly more efficient system for finding the information we need. More efficient, because now our computers would find relevant information for us. (Think it sounds too futuristic? Guess again. Developments so far are based around XML, which is already widely used.)

Now, combine that with the notion of ubiquitous computing, and you have a fairly utopian vision on your hands; the key point being that utopias never work – or haven’t yet – which makes this both amazing and terrifying. In a world saturated with “Everyware” devices that tell us everything we need to know, what can we expect? Here are some questions I have. Apologies if they’re somewhat disjointed.

Crowdsourcing. To use the term liberally – with the idea being to arrive at answers based on a poll of humans and/or other machines. How would this work? How does a machine determine what is “good” information, and do we give them authority to do this?

Multilingualism to match multimedia. Will Semantic Web technologies be able to “read” information out of more than just text? What about video? Imagine if a computer could look at an image, say, Mona Lisa, and tell you it’s a portrait of a woman. Imagine what would happen if it encountered one of those optical illusions. “It’s a seedy-looking man. No wait, it’s the word “Liar”. No wait, it’s a man. No wait, it’s….” *kernel panic*

General Effect on Society – especially Education. Seriously, consider the redundancy of writing a research paper for school, or more importantly, the redundancy of traditional school itself. Would we predominantly be training the youth to manage machines that control other machines? Do we even need to teach them that, or would they already know that, too?

McLuhan likened modern media to a central nervous system for entire cultures, and perhaps the entire human race. And that was before the internet even came about. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here, but I’m reminded of Asimov’s brilliant sci-fi short story, The Last Question, because I can’t help thinking all of this is a pretty strong indication that we’re going to develop some sort of cosmic mind. But before matters reach that extreme, we have this potential problem to consider:

Too much info = Indecision = Less Productive? I sell electronics, and one thing I know is that if I tell customers all about every product that could possibly interest them, they get overwhelmed with it all and hit a wall of indecision. And then I don’t make a sale and go back to watching What Not to Wear, because daytime TV programming is seriously lacking. Anyway, let’s say people with high-stakes jobs like doctors and police officers are fitted with some piece of everyware that’s feeding them all the information about their current situation they could ever need. Do they risk being overloaded with info? I’d say it’s almost a sure thing. So that points to the obvious solution of the computer(s) selecting the best answer.

Take a moment to let that sink in. How does one write an algorithm that is sophisticated enough to make the best decision regarding such a wide variety of subjects?

The answer: very carefully, I guess.

Disclaimer: Haven’t had time to do a lot of reading on the semantic web yet. Some of my questions might be answered in the material I’ve linked.

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