Does anyone feel like I do? Have we finally sacrificed function for flash in our electronics?

I remember growing up with PC cases left unscrewed so that I could get in and overclock and tweak and swap RAM, graphics cards and CD-ROM drives that often didn’t match the colour of the case but could burn at 4X instead of 2X. I remember the glory of gunmetal beige. I remember accessories that dangled from serial and parallel ports. I remember when I tried to squeeze every single last ounce of power out of my system and really not care about how it looked.

I remember the first laptop I had was dinged, scratched, butchered and every blemish was a badge of honour that was embellished by a sticker or liquid paper graffiti. I remember the besmirched black plastic that I abused and bled every last recharge from.

Is there really any reason to pay for what Steve Jobs’ called “the new range of aluminium bodied MacBooks [that] offered the same features as the old MacBook Pro series?” It used to be that notebooks were year-old technology from desktops that got shrunk down. Apparently the Macbook is year-old MacBook technology dressed up in a Judas Priest jacket.

Now I’m really not a Mac hater… I’m not a Mac user mind you. And I certainly don’t begrudge Apple marketing style to all of the hipsters that love art in their computer design. I think they look plenty cool and I’m sure they work very well. After all, I’ve got some very smart friends who swear by them. That said, Macs to me are like SmartCars; if Apple wants me to try one, they better make them significantly cheaper than current PC technology or I really won’t have any reason to switch… I can’t wait ’til people start buying Macbook skins to protect their aluminum finish that no one will ever see again.

The pervasive, and growing, number of suggestion engines concerning topics of all sorts have become a de rigeur aspect of social networking pages. I intentionally didn’t say social networking sites, because, as we discussed on the podcast lat week, social networking is becoming more a regular part of ALL sites as opposed to platforms in themselves.

Whether it’s film, television, music, books, websites, cars, etc., the ability of web users to rate and comment on anything under the sun is facilitating the aggregation of opinion. And popular opinion, right or wrong, often gets confused with fact… but that’s another issue.

There is an inherent danger in recommendation engines that is often overlooked and has nothing to do with the truth or fallacy of the opinions used to generate the recommendations. Recommendation engines homogenize choice. Discovery of the new, unique, and radical is, by nature, stifled by numbers.

If 1000 who liked movie A also liked B, C, and D, the “push” aspect of adhering to such an engine would force me down a road that reinforced a opinions of a cultural demographic instead of a spirit of exploration (excuse my esoteric flight of phrase). You’re taking recommendations from a website, with a certain demographic of users that is even greater constrained by the subgroup of users that actually contributes their opinions (via checks or stars or thumbs). That subgroup becomes a further subgroup of the particular afficionados of whichever particular genre you’re searching for. The model breeds laziness in exploration and a funnel-like status of recommendation cramming that, unless abandoned, will perpetuate a vicious circle of “now 1001 users who like movie A also like movies B, C, and D.”

I only have so much time in the day… it’s a shame that, while, movies J, Q, and U are fantastic, I won’t have any time for them after D.

Check for the new podcast next Monday, where my website of the week will be related to a new spin on music recommendations.

intersecting spheres

When I sift through a social news aggregator like Digg, I often ponder the differences between something that is cool for its own sake (like Shark Week on Discovery) or something that is meaningful on a level where I actually have an interest and a desire to follow story updates or do more research.

I’ve decided to create a template for myself that tries to juxtapose the following four domains:
1) Cool but don’t care
2) Cool and do care
3) Not cool but care
4) Not cool, don’t care

Let’s face it, there aren’t many stories in the last category we even give a second glance to, thus I’ve instantly made my job 25% easier for the long term.

For analytic purposes, however, let’s establish some real world examples for each of subdomains (I’m feeling so pedagogically enabled):
1) Cool but don’t care – “Oct. 8, 1582: Nothing Happens
2) Cool and do care – “460,000 brick Lego Tower in Austria
3) Not cool but care – “99% of Alaska Glaciers Melting
4) Not cool and don’t care – “Formula Created for the Perfect Shower” although “Haggis Could Disappear due to Climate Change” was a close second.

What really prompted this post was a link to a story I saw about galaxies colliding in deep space could impact star creation in deep space.  By the time I got to the end of reading the 10 word link, I already knew that as impressive a scientific discovery this might be, I couldn’t relate it to my lunchtime dilemma over choosing Caesar or Ranch dressing for my salad.

Let us know what you caring sphere parameters are, and listen to the second podcast either here at the blog or in iTunes.

I learned yesterday that the lawyers representing Michael Moore issued takedown notices to torrent sites hosting his new film “Slacker Uprising” which we talked about on the show last week.

There seemed to be a confused “WTF?”that circulated around the web as to why someone who is releasing a film for free via download would complain if it was being spread via torrent. I know he does plan on eventually selling a DVD that will probably contain 12 hours of Moore leading his revivalist sessions at Tallahassee JUCO and the like, but why the big legal fuss? I think I’ve figured it out.

The currency that Moore is getting from the free web download is an email list. He’s created a product that will draw a certain demographic that he can now reach any time he wants. Most people who “buy” into the marketing platform of a free download are probably fans that will not begrudge such an intrusion, which has become regular since I downloaded the film. This is the reason, however, that torrent sites are problematic: no email address required. I appreciate the effort to galvanize and work the system, but seriously, if you’re going to make something free, then free it is. If you want to tell people that the cost is their email and regular missives from Moore, that’s fine too… lawyers don’t seem too conducive to a “slacker uprising” though.

Canadian Bill C-61 concerning protections from copyright infringement and harsh penalities for infringing on Digital Rights Management is brought to you by US lobbyists and Conservative Sith Lord, Jim Prentice.

To put it bluntly: the law, as it stands right now (while grey) seems to support the idea that downloading copyrighted material without paying the rights holder, or their agent, is actually not illegal as too many instances of this could fall under Canada’s version of fair use. Where the illegality starts to wander in, is when you share that content, either hand to hand or p2p. The new legislation, in addition to reworking “sharing” has some draconian concepts surrounding copying your own “paid for” media, which had previously been considered “owned” (at least in a limited way) by the person who bought it.

I can, before C61 passes, back up a copy of a DVD I purchase to my hard drive and convert it to watch on my iPod nano for a flight to Vegas. Under the new legislation if you rip from a DVD (that you bought) you’re a criminal. If you rip a CD that has any protection scheme on it whatsoever, (even though you own the CD) you’re a criminal. And the fines go into the hundreds and thousands of dollars.

One of the things Mike and I will talk about this week in our “49th Perpendicular” segment is the scary aspects of this bill and how it could impact even the casual consumer of digital media.

If you’d like to prime yourself for the conversation, I’d refer you to www.michaelgeist.ca or check out the series of “C61 in 61 Seconds” short videos that are being submitted to www.c61in61seconds.ca.

C61 in 61 Seconds by FairCopyright4Canada