Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Significant new media ... or pointless bloggery?

Andrew Keen has published (using 'old media') a book about the evils of new media: The Cult of the Amateur. Naturally he wants to promote it on the Today Programme:

Click here for streaming audio
(the relevant piece is at 21'09" into this 26'22" clip)*

Download RealPlayer here

Sorry, Mr Keen, the new media is here to stay. It has its faults, just like old media, but your bleating about 'authority' and 'editors' won't make it go away. It's the lack of the old kind of regulation that makes the new media so attractive to its users.

(More later, when I've had time to collate my thoughts on this important subject.)

Now that I've listened to the clip again, and had time to consider, here's my take (note that I've not read Mr Keen's book):

Historically, people have been less likely to question the authority of the old media than they are to question the authority of the new media. Now, they are savvy enough to know that just because something is on a web page doesn't necessarily mean it's true.

When people read stuff on blogs, or MySpace, or wherever, they know it has no built-in authority and will interpret what they read accordingly. Youngsters growing up with the new media are fully aware that they are free to create stuff themselves, and they are also aware of how much authority they themselves have in doing so (that is, none at all) so they are naturally inclined to question what they read.

As a result of this default mode of questioning, they're likely to apply the same critical thinking to all media, new and old -- which can only be a good thing.

If you ask people whether they believe everything they read in a traditionally printed newspaper, they'll likely say, "No, of course not." But until recently if you questioned what someone was telling you about a reported event, they're likely to have told you, "It's true, I read it in the Daily Such-&-Such."

Wikipedia is often brought up as an example of how the internet shouldn't be trusted, but Wikipedia's self-correcting mechanism ensures that its information is mostly reliable. Not completely, but mostly reliable. Just like Britannica, as a December 2005 report has shown.

One of Andrew Keen's objections to the new media is that it has 'zero value'. By which I suspect he means it's free, and therefore worthless. Aside from any frustrations he might have with being unable to monetize his own internet-based efforts, this is a particularly blinkered view. Something is only worth what you pay for it? Hard cash or you're not interested? Tell that to Google. Tell that to Scott Sigler.

Web 2.0 is not, as Brian Appleyard incorrectly states in this clip, to do with interactivity -- we had that to some degree in Web 1.0 -- it's mainly to do with the separation of form from content, which is what makes the creation of web-content so easy for the non-technical user. Web 2.0 is facilitating a medium that allows people to make themselves heard -- to communicate, to create, to think. Long may it continue.

*UPDATE: If the streaming audio is unavailable, download the mp3 of the clip from RapidShare here:


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Only two episodes in and we're already way over the top

James Nesbitt is having great fun on BBC 1 at 9 pm Saturdays, in a completely over-the-top performance as Dr. Jackman -- a modern day Dr. Jekyll. It's a case of split personality, with extra features. For instance, when the good doctor changes into Mr. Hyde (yes, the villain chooses that name) he has enormous, not to say superhuman strength and incredible agility. And being set in modern times, the story incorporates a good deal of modern technology. But just when you think something is about to be explained, something else occurs to let you know that nothing is even remotely simple. Secrets abound, concerning almost every character in the story, so you really don't know where you are.

This series has the advantage of being written by Steven Moffat, who wrote the recent, very spooky Doctor Who episode Blink, as well as previous Who episodes, notably last year's wonderful The Girl in the Fireplace.

We've seen two episodes of Jekyll out of six, and so far it's been a roller-coaster of manic, gory fun. I hope it doesn't just fizzle out.

(As a companion piece to Jekyll, BBC Four has shown a one-off documentary, Ian Rankin Investigates: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which relates how Robert Louis Stevenson came to write the original.)

Friday, June 15, 2007

I feel cheated

This may or may not be fair, but nevertheless I feel cheated.

I have subscribed to "Locus: the magazine of the science fiction & fantasy field" for several years. The magazine is sent to me from beyond the pond, by sea mail. Consequently I get each issue weeks after its publication date, but at a reasonable rate -- a rate further reduced by subscribing for two years at a time.

And then this turns up in my inbox:

Dear International Subscriber,

We value you as a subscriber and hope you are enjoying your magazine subscription. Earlier this year, the US Postal Service announced they would be raising their rates. With this rate increase came major unannounced changes to their entire International rate structure. International surface mail (sea mail) and international periodicals mail were discontinued. Without those two mailing services, we can only fulfill subscriptions by airmail.

These changes affect your subscription and all of our other international surface mail subscribers. We will be converting all our surface mail subscriptions to airmail. Current Canadian and Mexican subscribers will lose one issue from their periodical rate subscriptions. Our current International surface mail subscribers will receive two airmail issues for every three remaining surface mail issues. If you have any questions, or would prefer to receive a refund of the remaining balance on your subscription, please let us know. Our rates will be going up for first class Canadian subscribers on July 1, 2007. If you renew before then, you will get the old rates.

We are sorry to have to make these changes, we hope you understand why the conversion is necessary, and we thank you for your continued support.

I don't know. I agreed to pay for two years in advance on the understanding that I was securing 24 issues at the then current rate. I appreciate that Locus could not have foreseen the end of sea mail. But suppose there's a hike in the cost of paper, or printing, or another increase in airmail postage -- will they feel able to charge me for those as well, on my current subscription? If so, what's the point of paying two years (or more) in advance?

I haven't done the sums, but I hope the offer of cancellation doesn't mean I'll have paid more for the issues I've already received than I originally agreed to.

Not that I will necessarily opt for cancellation. As I say, I haven't done the sums.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Who are the lucky ones?

We are. That is, those of us lucky enough to be within broadcast reception range of BBC1 television at 7:10 on Saturday evening.

I've waxed ecstatic previously on this blog about the spin-off series Torchwood, and now I can do the same about its 'parent', Doctor Who.

Doctor Who? Kid's programme, innit? Maybe so, but it has all the ingredients of ideal family viewing -- something for the kids, something for the grown-ups. The latest series (number three of the 'reincarnated' version), with David Tennant really getting into his stride as the Doctor, and Freema Agyeman in her first series as his not-so-ditsy companion, has shown us some impressive spectacles, including the strangely art deco Daleks in a decidedly art deco New York, as well as the Bard of Avon in mischievous mode.

But the zenith of series three so far for me has been the two-parter that concluded last week: "Human Nature" and "The Family of Blood". Scripted by novelist Paul Cornell (who adapted his Doctor Who book Human Nature), these two episodes reveal characterization to a much greater depth than previously seen, and reinforce the notion that I've always felt about great science fiction -- that it tells us more about how we live our lives in the present, than how we might live in the future. Not that this particular story was about the future, despite the tantalizing glimpses of times that might have come to pass for some of the characters.

The Doctor is being pursued by the Family of Blood -- a group in search of a Time Lord for its own nefarious purposes -- and the only way he can evade detection is to become completely human. And he does so in a pre-First-World-War English public school, leaving Martha to look after not only herself, but his own Time-Lordly essence. When, at the beginning, he asks her if she trusts him, he's really asking himself if he trusts her.

Despite its historical setting, this story exhibits well-known SF tropes, such as an invisible space-ship, time travel (of course) and (hooray!) ray guns. (Or should that be hooray guns...?)

I'll not risk spoilers here, as I know that there are people not as lucky as those of us in the British Isles; impoverished souls who have yet to relish these episodes, condemned to wait until their local TV networks deign to show the latest series, and therefore reduced to squinting disjointedly at blocky YouTube fragments, or ploughing through online directories purporting not actually to host anything at all (apart from dubious thumbnail images that predominate in an excess of exposed skin).

For those less fortunate, but willing to search, may I suggest that entering such terms as "Doctor Who Human Nature Family of Blood" will harvest a veritable torrent of results.

Oh my, you have a treat in store.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Apple TV: useful at last?

Steve Jobs gave tantalizing glimpses of some Apple related things, and remained tight-lipped about others, in this interview with Walt Mossberg at the Wall Street Journal's D Conference (via Podcasting News).

The stuff about Apple TV is what interests me. To date I've remained unconvinced that Apple TV would be useful to me (see my previous rant here). But now that Apple TV is offering YouTube browsing, I hope that this signals further developments that might make it more useful to me. Apple have announced a fatter version of Apple TV with a 160 GB hard disk, so this does seem likely.

But what I need to know, before even considering buying one of these, either fat or thin, is this: will the Apple TV work with a monitor rather than a widescreen TV? I can't justify the purchase of a widescreen TV, but I do have a 19" widescreen computer monitor with a DVI input. This works with my Panasonic DVR using an adapter cable (HDMI to DVI) and it works with my MacBook using the same cable plus Apple's adapter. It seems reasonable to suppose that this set-up would work with Apple TV, but I don't know.