Monday, January 30, 2006

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Ricky Gervais Show

Ricky Gervais, a famous British comedian (from the BBC sitcoms "The Office" and "Extras") has a free podcast which is actually the number 1 podcast in the world today.
The podcast--which is audio only--has just completed Episode 8 of 12. It is updated weekly and each episode of the radio broadcast is roughly 30-35 minutes long. It is the funniest commentary I've heard in at least five years. It is basically three British guys talking about common sayings, news, and various issues involving animals. I'll leave it at that since a description can do no justice to the meandering nature of the broadcast.
If you don't like the podcast format, the website for the show has free mp3 downloads of all of their episodes. For more information, see


An update on the story I recently posted about the murals my friend Adam and I painted in high school: my friend Adam forwarded me a picture he took of the mural before we unveiled it senior year of high school.
The red border is not a part of the mural. The street sign on the top left is actually three dimensional and stuck onto the canvas.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Freshly-Cut: Albums of the Month

(January 2006)
  1. Cat Power / "The Greatest" (2006)
  2. Joy Division / "Unknown Pleasures" (1979)
  3. Temple of the Dog / "Temple of the Dog" (1991)
  4. David Gray / "White Ladder" (2000)
  5. Brokeback Mountain / "Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" (2005)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Podcast Revolution

So as to avoid reinventing the wheel, according to Wikipedia, a podcast is defined as:

[A] term coined in 2004 when the use of RSS syndication technologies became popular for distributing audio content for listening on mobile devices and personal computers. A podcast is a web feed of audio or video files placed on the Internet for anyone to subscribe to. Podcasters' websites also may offer direct download of their files, but the subscription feed of automatically delivered new content is what distinguishes a podcast from a simple download or real-time streaming (see below). . . . Podcasting's essence is about creating content (audio or video) for an audience that wants to listen when they want, where they want, and how they want.

The technology is deceptively simple. It basically reuses the RSS feed concept that many websites use to notify people of updated stories. For example, if you "subscribe" to a ESPN RSS feed, you'll get the message in your inbox (or sent to a dedicated newsreader). So all a podcast does is take that kind of delivery of text and use it for audio or video.
I. The Content
Some podcasts update their listings every few hours (like NPR), others update daily, weekly, or at more random intervals. You can tap into great political coverage, world news coverage, audiobooks, music, comedy shows, and just about anything--all with no or very few advertisements. Most podcasts are free, but some require payment.
So what's the big deal? Well, some say that it's not that big of a deal since it is not a "live" broadcast. So all this is just another way of listening to something pre-recorded at your own leisure. Nevertheless, I think the concept itself is impressive since you are getting some very good content (with decent quality sound) mostly for free. Instead of walking to and from class a few times a day listening to the same music tracks, why not listen to NPR's morning or afternoon news? Why not listen to a story on BusinessWeek's story of the week?
II. The Implications
Some may argue that a podcast is just another way for people to 'plug-in' and 'tune-out' of the world around them. I disagree. People use technology in the way they want. With great news coverage delivered directly to my computer (and MP3 player), I can cut watching TV news altogether because it is unbelievably repetitive and of generally poor quality. In addition, I think listening to spoken words (comedy, books or news) sharpens some skill sets that may fade if we just rely on video. It forces us to listen to someone else talking for at least a few moments of our day. And what you might listen to might broaden your horizons. So if anything, the argument that plugging in is tuning out is pure rhetoric.
There are some drawbacks to the technology. The most important I would say is tangentially related to the "tuning out" argument. It is actually the flipside to the argument I made in the paragraph above, which is that if people have a choice to listen to very specific broadcasts, they will choose only the messages they want to hear (conservative radio broadcasts or only entertainment news). So many users may use this technology as a way to siphon out any views that are contrary to their own beliefs--much like insulating yourself in your own worldviews. It's the same argument that people make about satellite receivers that get 500 channels (and its the same argument the FCC made in the early days of radio, when licenses were granted onto to broadcasters who made content in the general "public interest"). But I think this drawback is something I can live with. Having a greater choice of potential messages is necessarily attached to the choice to not listen to other messages. It is expansion and exclusion simultaneously--and I think philosophically I would ALWAYS choose more expression over less, irrespective of information overload or segmentation of the listening public. I repeat . . . ALWAYS.
The other problem with the podcast technology is more surface oriented. Unfortunately, the name of the technology--podcasting--dupes listeners into thinking that they need an iPod in order to make use of it. Yes and no. At this point, iTunes is the most cohesive application from which you can subscribe and listen to podcasts. But there is other software out there--Yahoo's Music Engine plays podcasts as well. Although the nomenclature of the technology is Apple-centric, I think it is nothing to worry about in the long run since my hope is that anything with the term "Pod" in it will be a victim to genericide.
With that said, I still urge all of you try a podcast out.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Saga of the Registrar

The world by now knows that the Registrar at Boalt Hall is a apex of evil for a variety of reasons. I'll spare you the list and just relate my two minute excursion into their office.
I am waiting in line and another law student (a 2L) asks a question when his turn is called. "I run a student organization and we are planning an activity for 1L students. Is there a listing of the classtimes for 1L classes? I don't want to schedule the event when 1Ls have class." Simple enough.
The answer: "Well, we don't give out that information to non-first year students."
What the hell?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Beyond Hegira

Most of you probably don't know much about my history, probably because I enjoy and guard my privacy and share information on my own terms. I think it is time to share just a few stories so as to demarcate a slight shift in the theme of this blog.

I started this blog a few months ago and it is the first non-academic writing I've done in a long time. I used to write a lot in the mid-1990's. I wrote, painted, sketched, colored. This was mostly up until high school. I just stopped writing around the beginning of my senior year, though I did take an art class that year where I finished a few projects on religious imagery. I also painted a mural for my high school which depressed the hell out of people. Maybe that's a good place to begin . . . or, maybe, exactly a year before that.

I had been asked to paint a mural. In our high school--like most high schools--they have something called Battle of the Classes (you know, an exercise in class warfare). So each grade level competes with the others in a series of events that include tug-of-war, various relays, and among other things, a mural competition.

During the previous two years of high school, I had sat back and let other students paint the mural on behalf of my class. We did not win either year. I was fine with it probably because I was mostly uninterested with the event. But in my junior year, some committee who organizes the event asked me to paint the mural (because I was always known as a good artist). My condition was that I get full control and that I wanted a good friend, Adam Schwartz, to work with me. Adam knew more about mixing paints and brush techniques than I did. In fact, Adam has since graduated from a good art school in NY and does some digital design work. Anway, I gave my conditions; the only condition I had in return was that the committe could pick the "theme" of the mural. I said OK.

So I was saddled with "Animal Kingdom" for my theme. That's a pretty shitty theme, but not so shitty so as to be unworkable. I'll spare you the details of the actual process, but I kept most of the ideas a complete secret, with Adam and I being the only ones working on the project. I had a general idea for it and Adam chimed in with some good ideas, back and forth we went, building the foundation of my folklore.

Now keep in mind this event is a happy event. Previous murals had peace symbols and such nonsense as flowers and random hideousness that most high school students prefer. But you know me, I can't help myself. I wish I had a picture of the mural to show you
We played on the theme of "Animal Kingdom" and envisioned the modern animal kingdom as a zoo--a prison of sorts. So we painted on half of the canvas a bald eagle. We then covered the canvas with aluminum wire and shaped it like a steel fence. On the other half was a picture of a lion. We painted the lion with its paw poking out of the canvas. We attached some molded forms onto the canvas in the shape of claws, giving the effect that the lion was ripping through the actual space that we--the authors--were relegating it to. It was rebellion. Genius and scandal--my humour.

You can imagine that most people found it off-putting. A few yelled at me or Adam or both of us, but nothing out of hand. One or two people didn't want it displayed at all. But others interpreted it as a kind of political message about the environment--one that I myself didn't really think of consciously while painting. So it was a mixed reaction. We won the competition.

Then comes my senior year. People knew they couldn't really trust Adam or me in terms of subject matte because of what happened the year before. But we won, so they offered Adam and I the position again, though I was surprised that they didn't want more oversight over the project. The same bargain, only this time we were afflicted with the theme, "SENIOROPOLY." That's right folks: SENIOROPOLY. Apparently the powers-that-be thought this was a good theme. I assume it was a mix between the term Senior and the game Monopoly.
Adam and I went to work. I thought why not go out with a bang. I'll give them something they'll remember. I figured why not use the Monopoly imagery--the hotel, the railroad, properties--and play with the term "Senior" by depicting Uncle Moneybags as a decrepit senior citizen. The only difference of course is that Uncle Moneybags is bankrupt. His cubical green house has a broken roof. The letters "SENIOROPOLY" are featured on the mountainscape, fashioned like the Hollywood letters, except only they are falling down and broken. A lighted train is shown derailed in the background as well. I'm smiling now just thinking about it; I was such an asshole for doing it. This painting was DARK. Not just thematically, but literally. Adam and I figured out a way to make it look almost black, very subdued. It was downright dreary.
And when we brought it into school for the unveiling some blew a gasket. Some people yelled and others demanded that the painting was not "proper subject matter" for the competition. Surprisingly, it was only students saying things. The administration didn't say one word. One of the art teachers--Carl Strand (a.k.a. Carl Strand, Superstar)--was one of the judges and also knew Adam and me pretty well. He said with admiration, "Why the fuck does everything have to be so happy?"
Needless to say, Adam and I won again. Neither of us showed up the night when they announced the winners. We were such assholes.
Adam still is an asshole.

Well, after 2000, I kind of shut down inside--at least in terms of creative writing. I just couldn't paint or draw anymore; it literally hurt to do so. As if tapping into that part of my self where I get ideas and inspiration was emptying me out. Of course, I had a lot of academic writing during my four years at Syracuse University. I was churning out critical theory papers like nobody's business. Two papers a week, I became an analytical monster.
I still love critical theory and psychoanalytics. I have fond memories of Syracuse (I never really did anything creative until my last few semesters there, when I started work on an Honors Thesis. I'll talk about that thesis project some other time though). After I graduated, I moved to Berkeley and started law school. It was at the end of my first year when this blog started.
To make a long story--well--as long as it needs to be, I have finally come to my point. Writing this blog has been fun. It started easily enough, with some tech and movie reviews, an album here or there, and a lot of commentary on advertising. This is subject matter where I can offer an opinion but not necessarily share much information.
Well, I feel that feeling again; the desire to author conent. It's not strong. I still have to force myself to write. It might take the form of altered academic writing, movie or technology reviews, or general expositions on various political or religious topics.
You might think this shift is of marginal importance, but bear with me. I'm learning how to speak again. I've been away for awhile.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

A Brief Foray Into Telecommunications

So tomorrow I begin a course at Boalt Hall on Telecommunications Law taught by Howard Shelanski. I'm quite interested in the subject matter and apart from my above-average rate of consumption of various media, I consider myself a novice to the legal terrain. I'm hoping it will be a type of professional calling. I am taking Patent Law, Copyright Law, Trademark Law and Constitutional Law as well, so many issues from one class often blend into issues from other classes.
The following are two observations I've been mulling over the past few years about the way in which certain markets have been developing. I suppose both of them are only tangentially related to my coursework, but they are issues that I've been wondering about.
Observation 1:
Recently I have been pondering the way in which markets for movies, television, music (and other consumable goods) are starting to converge in very interesting and distressing ways. It is not the idea of convergence that bothers me, but convergence based on proprietary models. This means that if we want devices that merge more than one media function (a computer, a digital jukebox, a television, a radio, and DVR), we're probably going to have to purchase the devices and the content from just a handful of huge companies who are intent on making it difficult for me to mix and match anything.
It boils down to how companies are going to use differences in formats and employ various digital locks to make people pay for every use possible. I suppose this has implications mostly on copyright and anti-circumvention law, but I think it falls into the category of telecommunications as well.
Take for instance the new Motorola RAZR V3C from Verizon, which I recently upgraded to. In terms of aesthetics, it is spectacular (though I think it is a little too thin. In fact, it is so thin that the battery itself is very thin, resulting in poor battery life. The thinness actually forces the rest of the phone to become very wide, making the wide and wafer-thin phone difficult to hold up to your ear. Anyway, enough about the phone itself . . .). The RAZR has a mini-USB port on the side of it. Of course, the phone has no mini-headset jack, so of course I have to purchase a whole new set of accessories for the phone (like a handsfree microphone). So I broke down and bought a handsfree set.
Intent on not making anymore purchases, I figured I had a mini-USB cable at home, so why not just plug that into the phone and transfer files, songs, and pictures and also charge my phone via my computer? Well, the powers-that-be have conspired to cripple my phone. I can't use bluetooth nor the USB cable to transfer music or pictures. Instead, I have to log onto Verizon's website and upload a picture and send it to my phone (which, not surprisingly costs 25 cents per message).
What if I want a song on my phone or a custom ringtone? I can't just drag one of the songs from my own library; I have to pay for that too. And if I take a picture myself with the cameraphone and want to put it on my computer, I have to send it via Verizon's shitty network and pay more money to them. And guess what, Verizon just unveiled it's new V-Cast music network so that if I want to listen to music on my cell phone, I have to pay for that too now.
What if I want to transfer my phonebook from my old phone or from my Outlook address book? I have to buy a software suite from Motorola for 30 dollars. And guess what, the software suite is bundled with the same crappy USB cable and a set of drivers I need. This is pay per use at its apex. It's greed personified.
Well you know what's happened? I stopped caring or using any of the features. I don't care if my phone can take pictures, send or receive pictures. I don't care if I can watch shitty movie clips on the V-Cast network nor do I care if I can listen to music. I'll just use the phone as a phone. And you know what else? I worked three times harder at finding the drivers on the web and got my own USB cable to work to charge the phone and use it as a dialup modem.
Just to spite Verizon, I have my laptop hooked up as a modem hours at a time on nights and weekends. All it costs me is minutes, which are free during those times. If Verizon wants to treat me like a cash cow, I'll go ahead and clog up their network as much as I can. Here's to abusing Verizon. Cheers!
Observation 2:
A slightly related observation. If the market is moving in the direction of a pay-per-use or a subscription model, then what happens to advertisers?
It used to be that the whole purpose of broadcast television or radio was to attract listeners and then sell them things via advertising. It was nothing more than a delivery method for goods and services. But as people make more and more attachments to the programming itself, they are demanding less or no commercials and are willing to pay for it (like a movie station on cable TV or satellite radio or Internet radio).
So what sort of mystifies me is this: what happens to the advertisers in this shuffle?
Let's use an example. Let's say a station broadcasts a TV show and has no commercials because the station is available only to subscribers. The subscribers pay money and that helps fund the station. The station also makes money by releasing DVD sets and various other CDs. Well if the viewer and broadcaster are happy with this setup, it is a kind of self-sufficient relationship. So what happens to the whole body of corporations who want to sell us products and services? How do they enter the equation of the subscription model?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Freshly-Cut: Albums of the Month

Balance: 1 Albums of the Month entry past due.
Payment in full with interest.

(December 2005)
  1. Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah! / "Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah!"
  2. Johann Johannsson / "Dis"
  3. Hooverphonic / "A New Stereophonic Sound Spectacular"
  4. The Strokes / "First Impressions of Earth"
  5. The Fray / "She Is"
  6. Elliot Smith / "Xo"

Sunday, January 15, 2006

IBM Gone Wild

IBM, whose commercials are so 'sophisticated' they usually forget to tell customers what they are selling, is advertising a new line of servers. At first they lament on how most businesses have at least one room called a server graveyard:
Its a valid concern: the accumulation over time of servers that take up space, even though each server promised to be the last your business would ever need. So what does IBM suggest? Anser: buy a server that is the SIZE OF A FRIDGE which--not surprisingly--promises to be the last you'll ever need.

I can see it now. Two years from now, IBM will have a new ad campaign depicting graveyards of fridge-sized servers. Apparently Big Blue thinks we've gone mad.

Incoming Transmission

So I'm sure you can tell I've been away for awhile. Over the past month I've:
  • Finished finals
  • Had my mother visit California for the first time
  • Rebuilt my computer
  • Saw "Brokeback Mountain," "Syriana," and "Munich"
  • Went to New York for a week
  • Started my Spring semester at Boalt
  • Sold my Toyota Camry
  • Saw a stunning Colts loss and a satisfying Denver win

New posts will be here soon.