Friday, March 26, 2010

The Tree of Knowledge of Google and Evil

So, in a post I put up back in January, Not All Google-Eyed Over China, I wrote about Google's moral struggle over doing business with China, and noted that while Google could have been more careful about who it was getting in bed within the first place, better late than never.  And recently, Google actually took the big step of putting an end to its censorship of the special search engine it supplied for China.  As summed up in pithy fashion by Computerworld:

Google defied China's government on Monday and fulfilled its pledge to stop censoring search results from its Chinese search engine. Users who visited were directed to Google's Hong Kong search engine, which delivers information on topics that the Chinese government deems politically controversial and bans search engines from displaying. The row began in January when Google claimed Chinese hackers attacked its servers and it threatened to exit the country or offer unrestricted Web searches. The Chinese government criticized Google's decision but has yet to block access to

And in the same roundup, it's noted that Google is not the only internet concern facing off against China's authoritarian government:

Google isn't the only U.S. company taking on China's Internet policies. Domain name registrar will stop registering .cn domains in China after the country's government demanded information on previously registered domain names. The Chinese government wanted GoDaddy to provide it with photo identification, business identification and a signed registration for owners of all .cn domains that the company has registered during its six years in China. Concerns about the safety of the individuals registering the domains and the threat this posed to an open Internet prompted GoDaddy's decision, a company executive said. The Chinese government claimed that the domains would not work if the domain registrar failed to fulfill its information request. 

So, Go Go GoDaddy!

And, given a choice between Google and China, I'll go with Google, that's a no-brainer.  But does that make Google the good guy, or the lesser of two evils?  The question was underscored, for me, after seeing an Australian video about Google brought to my attention by my old MA student, Sarah Morgan, who came to talk to my Social Media class on Wednesday.  The video is called The Beast File: Google ('HUNGRY BEAST', ABC TV), with ABC here standing for Australian Broadcasting Company, and the description reading

Meet Google. The noun that became a verb. The world's favourite search engine, and the company whose motto is "Don't be evil..."

Graphics by Patrick Clair, written by Elmo Keep.

Full list of sources available here:

'Hungry Beast' airs in Australia on the ABC, 9PM Wednesdays. More stories: 

Anyway, take a look, I think this is really well done, and the ending is just great fun:

And I know what you want to say, you want to say, Lance, hey mate, any Hungry Beast videos about China?  And the answer is, you betcha, it's called Great Firewall Of China (HUNGRY BEAST), and here it is:

So, even here, we have that same ambivalence about Google.  And I can't help but think about Googlezon, that future "history" video that was so popular online a few years ago.  You remember,, right?  But if you forgot, or missed it, you can view the original and a slightly updated (but still a bit dated) version, Epic 2014 and Epic 2015 by clicking here.  And if you've never seen the video, it's worth a screening, as an important bit of cyberculture, and a not unreasonable bit of extrapolation.  But as always, I'll make it easy on you, you know that's what I do, and provide you with the updated version, from 2007, courtesy of YouTube:

And here too, while coming across as a dystopian future along the lines of Orwell and Huxley, things are not all that clear cut.  As the description itself puts it:  "It is the best of times, it is the worst of times."  I suppose they had a dickens of a time coming up with that one.  And maybe it would be apropos to provide more of the opening to A Tale of Two Cities?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Yeah, that's the present period all right!  And as for Google getting out of China, well, I think the folks at Google might well declare:  "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.'"

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Of Scrolls and Scribes

I recently came across this video about a process of Torah restoration taking place at a Reform Temple in Poughkeepsie, New York, and found it quite interesting.  Here, take a look:

There's an article to go with the video:  Restoring the Torah, refreshing the faith: Vassar Temple begins scroll project.  I won't go into the entire report, but I rather liked this quote:

"We are doing more than physically restoring the letters and the parchment," said Lou Lewis, restoration project chairman. "We are seeking to create a spiritual journey for members of our congregation and consciousness raising for our entire community."
Also worthy of note is the fact that this process allows for participation from members of the congregation:

On April 18, an opening ceremony will take place at Vassar Temple. During the daylong celebration, some members will be able to ink in a letter on a parchment scroll with Rabbi Moshe Druin of Sofer on Site guiding them.
Throughout the spring and summer, more congregants can make appointments with the scribes to make their marks on one of the scrolls being restored.
David Lampell, a congregant living in the City of Poughkeepsie, said he attended a previous a talk in which one of the scribes described the process of restoration. He said in inking in the letters, he and other members of the congregation would rely on the scribe to guide the quill pen along the parchment.
"They'll be doing the actual writing and we'll be holding onto the quill," Lampell said.
I also find the final part of the article especially interesting:
The origin of the temple's five scrolls is uncertain. Eastern Europe is believed to be where they were transcribed. The temple's "Prague Torah" probably was brought to America by one of the five families that founded the congregation in 1848, Golomb said.
The animal-based parchment, possibly goat skin, was made to endure many restorations.
"Because of its thickness, you can scrape off the letters without tearing it," Golomb said.

And this brings me to my broader point, which is that it's quite interesting to consider the Torah as a medium of communication.  But first, some background information.

The Torah is the Hebrew name for the Five Books of Moses, also known as the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible commonly referred to as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. And it can refer to the text, regardless of the form it takes, be it handwritten, printed, or electronic, and be it in the original, ancient Hebrew or a contemporary, vernacular translation.

But more specifically, what the video is about is the Sefer Torah, which refers to the parchment scroll produced according to strict ritual standards and guidelines by a special scribe known as a sofer (sefer means book, and the word for scribe, sofer, comes from the same root).  A Chumash, on the other hand, is a copy of the Torah in bound book form.

The web page, What is a Sefer Torah?, provides a neat summary of how one is made.  In a time when Twitter has us think in terms of messages that are no more that 140 characters long, it's sobering to learn that the Torah contains 304,805 letters.  The letters have to follow a prescribed form of calligraphy, and each one must be flawless.  Heroic measures are taken to insure that there is no error, as this page describes:
It takes a professional Sofer almost a year to write on parchment more than a quarter of a million letters. The Sofer is not allowed to write from memory. The Sofer has to look into the text of a Chumash that has been thoroughly checked to be an accurate copy or a Tikkun for each next letter, concentrating himself on the holiness and significance of each of the letters of the Sefer Torah. The Torah can only be written in a special square script called K'tav Ashuri. Although Hebrew is read and written from right to left, the Sofer forms each individual letter starting from left to right, checking each word from the Tikkun, singing each word, each letter, out loud.
Note that contemporary proofreaders use a similar technique, that is, reading backwards, albeit word by word, and from the bottom of the page up, as a better way to spot errors than reading in the standard fashion.  But what is particularly important is that the slow, methodical, painstaking process that sofers use makes it possible to produce copy after copy that are textually identical to one another. 

This was all but unheard of in the scribal culture that existed before Gutenberg sparked the printing revolution in early modern Europe.  Copyists invariably introduced error and variation into their copies, often deliberately altering or editing their copy to suit their own tastes and whims, changing the wording, deleting passages they didn't care for, adding their own material in as well.  This is known as scribal corruption, and it makes it all but impossible to establish an original, authoritative version of any text from the ancient or medieval world.  But the Torah has been reproduced faithfully, even down to the exact words that make up a line and the exact lines that make up a column and the exact columns that make up a page (248 pages in all) since antiquity. 

Parchment itself is a durable material, Harold Innis termed it a heavy medium, associated with time biased cultures, which is to say that it is well suited to preserving knowledge over time, but being heavy, is not so easy to transport.  Made from animal skin, the origins of parchment are unknown, but its use as a writing surface became increasingly more common from the 6th century BCE on, especially within Jewish culture.

The book as we know it, pages bound together between covers, did not exist before the development of the parchment codex in the 1st century CE.  Up until that time, and even well after it, the word book referred to scrolls, and scrolls tended to be relatively small and lightweight.  Often they were made from Egyptian papyrus, which Innis referred to as a light medium, associated with space biased cultures, as they were easy to transport over distance, but not terribly durable.  Parchment scrolls were heavier and longer lasting than their papyrus counterparts, but limited in size.  That's why the Bible is made up of books rather than chapters or sections, each book was originally a scroll of its own.  The same is true of the various works of the ancients that are divided into "Book One," "Book Two," "Book Three," etc., such as Aristotle's Rhetoric, a text familiar to communication scholars like myself.

The Torah, then, is a scroll five times over, and given the fact that the letters are relatively large, and that it's made of thick parchment that's attached to wooden staves, it is without a doubt a heavy medium.  Add to this the fact that the scroll is covered in a velvet coat, and given a silver crown and ornaments, and it takes some effort and strength to lift one, as is required during the Shabbat worship service.  I've had to carry and hold Torahs for extended periods of time, and I can tell you that it's not easy!

But then again, it's a heavy medium, not meant to be moved around from location to location, but rather meant to remain in place and keep safe the knowledge it contains from generation to generation.  And to the extent that the medium is the message in this instance, the message is tradition, preservation and continuity.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Hey Rube!

No, I'm not asking for help, and no, I won't think you're a rube yourself if you've never heard of the famous 20th century cartoonist, Rube Goldberg.  He was pretty well known when I was a kid, but better known to older generations than to us baby boomers.  I don't see any reason to fault folks for when they were born, and for the popular culture references they may or may not get, so much of that is generational.

So, if you want to read up on Rube Goldberg, check out his Wikipedia entry, and the website  And just know that he is best remembered for his cartoons of overly elaborate mechanical devices, machines that took a simple task and accomplished it through the most complex and convoluted means imaginable--and boy, Goldberg's imagination was like nothing else.  I remember learning that his name had become a figure of speech back when I was a kid, and according to Wikipedia, "in 1931 the Merriam–Webster dictionary adopted the word 'Rube Goldberg' as an adjective defined as accomplishing something simple through complex means."

Here's an example for you:

Such Rube Goldberg machines spoke to a particular moment in history, the era of the assembly line (some like to call it Fordist nowadays, but I think that term sounds awful), a time when mechanical and industrial technology had reached its peak, and was about to reverse into the age of electricity and information.  In a sense, then, Rube Goldberg was parodying his times, but also presciently making the machinery that was in the process of becoming obsolescent into an art form.  But that's enough McLuhanizing.

So, as I was saying, when I was a kid we knew about Rube Goldberg more by reputation than current exposure, but we knew very well one particular Rube Goldberg machine (although it was not one that he actually created), the Ideal Toys board game, Mouse Trap.  Here's the original commercial from 1963:

Oh, how I wanted one myself.  But it was not to be, although I did get to play it once or twice at a friend's house.

Anyway, all of this came rushing back to me recently, when the following music video, OK Go - This Too Shall Pass - Rube Goldberg Machine version - Official was brought to my attention:

Here's the description that accompanied the video:
From the new album "Of the Blue Colour of the Sky" available at OK Go on Tour  Directed by James Frost, OK Go and Syyn Labs. Produced by Shirley Moyers. The official video for the recorded version of "This Too Shall Pass" off of the album "Of the Blue Colour of the Sky". The video was filmed in a two story warehouse, in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA. The "machine" was designed and built by the band, along with members of Syyn Labs ( ) over the course of several months.  There is an in-depth behind-the-scenes look at the warehouse here:

That last link,, is worth checking out, as it has a very intriguing, interactive map of the warehouse and machine layout.  The band also has four short "making of" videos on YouTube that are interesting, but not as informative as I would have liked them to be.  But for what it's worth, here they are:

Back in Rube Goldberg's time, specialization reigned, and so art was art, music was music, and machines were machines. Today, in the electronic media environment, the boundaries are blurred, the coolness of artists and musicians blend together with the hot intensity of technologically-minded nerds, and we return to the original, ancient sense of tekne as arts and crafts, music and machinery.

I wonder what old Rube would have made of the internet, though...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

And Vice Versa

Neil Postman began his book, Teaching as a Conserving Activity, by saying that he and Charlie Weingartner should have ended their popular co-authored volume, Teaching as a Subversive Activity, by saying, or vice versa, because the argument that they were making was true in the context of its times, but could be wrong at a different time (and in fact was wrong a decade later when he wrote the Conserving book).  And true to this principle, he ended Teaching as a Conserving Activity by saying, or vice versa

At least, that's the memory that was triggered when I saw the following video, The Future of Publishing, which begins with the standard notion that the age of print is dead, and halfway through provides the vice versa in a very creative manner.   There's no real argument being made here, it's just a clever way to show how you can frame your view on the future of publishing in a positive or negative way, and has nothing to do with the reality of book sales, consumer research for the publishing industry, or the evolving electronic media environment.  

Anyway, it's fun to watch.  Here, take a look, but be sure to watch and read the whole thing:

The description for the video over on YouTube reads:

This video was prepared by the UK branch of Dorling Kindersley Books and produced by Khaki Films ( Originally meant solely for a DK sales conference, the video was such a hit internally that it is now being shared externally. We hope you enjoy it (and make sure you watch it up to at least the halfway point, there's a surprise!).

 As it turns out, The Future of Publishing was inspired by another video that I had seen on YouTube a while ago, Lost Generation.  Here it is:

The description for this video explains that it "was created for the AARP U@50 video contest and placed second," and that it's "based on the Argentinian Political Advertisement "The Truth" by RECREAR."  So, that's where this all started.  And thanks to YouTube, we can take a look at it as well.  Here's the original, Spanish version:

And the description listed the following:

Title: TRUTH
Advertiser: RECREAR
Product or Service: POLITICAL MESSAGE
Entrant Company, City: SAVAGLIO\TBWA, Buenos Aires
Advertising Agency, City: SAVAGLIO\TBWA, Buenos Aires
Country: ARG This excellent political advertisement, it won the silver lion in the Cannes Lions Contest 2006.

And there you have it, and vice versa brought to life, or at least turned into an audiovisual reversi!

The irony in all this is that the Penguin version that I began with, The Future of Publishing, is an attempt to argue for the continued appeal of book publishing by presenting text in a way that print media cannot, as a moving image.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Volumizing Ear Relevance

In a previous post, Now Oddcasting, I told you all about my new podcast show, Lance Strate's Ear Relevance, which so far consists of only one episode.  And while I have yet to create a new episode, I was troubled by the fact that the episode I did upload came out at a low volume, even when turned up all the way.  So I used a program called Sound Studio to amplify the recording, albeit at the cost of some distortion.  And I uploaded the new version as episode 1b; episode 1 was uploaded as an MP4a file, and episode 1a in the more widely used, lower quality but smaller in size MP3 format).

And thanks to the embed codes supplied by the good people at, here it is:


Volumizing, I guess I should call that Hair Relevance?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Learning to See

In my previous post, Perception and Reception, I noted that the concept of information reception in communication and information theory, along with the process of abstracting in general semantics, are closely related to the biological and psychological process of perception.  Perception is not a matter of simply taking in information passively from our environment, but rather it is an active process of probing the environment, selecting what we will attend to, interpreting what we take in, and essentially constructing our view of the world. 

In War and Peace in the Global Village, Marshall McLuhan's 1968 follow-up to his bestselling collaboration, The Medium is the Massage (both books listing Quentin Fiore, who supplied the graphics, as the co-author, and both produced by Jerome Agel), he explains that patients who are born blind and later receive an operation enabling them to see cannot at first make sense of the visual data that their eyes take in.  All that they "see" are patches of light and dark and colors, and it is only through actively engaging with their environment that they learn how to make sense out of their visual sense.

This is exactly what Pawan Sinha talks about in this TED Talk that I am embedding below.  The first 8 minutes of the talk provide a poignant overview of the problem of congenital blindness, and his work aiding blind children in India.  It is very moving, and worth viewing in my opinion, but it is only in the last 10 minutes that he gets into the nitty gritty of how the brain learns how to see.

The brief description accompanying the video is as follows:

Pawan Sinha details his groundbreaking research into how the brain's visual system develops. Sinha and his team provide free vision-restoring treatment to children born blind, and then study how their brains learn to interpret visual data. The work offers insights into neuroscience, engineering and even autism.

While the topic of autism is only briefly mentioned at the end, it is interesting to note the similarity between the temporary problem that the typical brain faces in making sense out of visual stimuli for the first time resemble the ongoing problem that autistic brains encounter in organizing and interpreting such data.

There is also a very interesting point made here about the importance of dynamic input, that is visual motion.  I have long understood that it was active engagement with the environment, which require motion on the viewer's part, that was essential to the process of learning how to see.  The idea that it is also vital to view objects characterized by change and motion makes perfect sense to me.  It also reminds me of the fact that animals that lack binocular vision have to rely on motion to a large extent in using their eyes--this was a plot point in Jurassic Park, you may remember.

Anyway, let me turn the stage over to Sinha, who is well worth 18 minutes of your time:


The TED Talk bio for Sinha simply reads, "Pawan Sinha researches how our brains interpret what our eyes see -- and uses that research to give blind children the gift of sight."  A link to the TED bio page for Sinha includes a longer blurb which I find worthy of quoting here:

At Pawan Sinha's MIT lab, he and his team spend their days trying to understand how the brain learns to recognize and use the patterns and scenes we see around us. To do this, they often use computers to model the processes of the human brain, but they also study human subjects, some of whom are seeing the world for the very first time and can tell them about the experience as it happens. They find these unusual subjects through the humanitarian branch of their research, Project Prakash.
Project Prakash sets up eye-care camps in some of the most habitually underserved regions of India, and gives free eye-health screenings to, since 2003, more than 700 functionally blind children. The children are then treated without charge, even if they do not fit the profile that would make them eligible for Sinha's research.

Sinha's eventual goal is to help 500 children each year; plans are under way for a center for visual rehabilitation in new Delhi. The special relationship that Sinha has created between research and humanitarianism promises to deliver on both fronts.
"The first thing that prompted me was seeing these numbers, the humanitarian goal was just so evident."
Pawan Sinha

It is not everyday that you come across someone doing groundbreaking scientific research and performing great humanitarian work at the same time.  In Pawan Sinha's case, I think we have someone who is very much cast in the mold of Albert Schweitzer.  I wish him the best of success in all of his efforts.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Perception and Reception

In an entry I posted a year ago entitled Information Theory and Communication, I touched on Claude Shannon's mathematical theory of communication, which had a major impact of the field of communication during the 50s and 60s, but was later pushed aside and has been all but abandoned.  And while it did not live up to its promise as providing a scientific basis for all communication study, it ought to be, in my view, an important component of any communication curriculum, along with the related notion of cybernetics that was introduced by Norbert Wiener.

When I used to teach introductory communication courses, I introduced information theory and cybernetics early on, and later I moved on to the topic of perception.  In doing so, I noted that perception was most often studied in the fields of biology and psychology, and that in the field of communication, the subject was typically referred to as information reception.  I didn't take the point any further, but between you and me, the reason for this terminology switch is that communication scholars are typically concerned with the sending and receiving of messages, whereas perception is about something more than receiving messages sent by some source, it's about taking in information from the environment through our sense organs.

Now, I don't think that it takes a brain surgeon or rocket scientist, as they say, to make the connection between the reception of information, as understood by engineers and scientists such as Shannon and Wiener, and the process of perception, as understood by biologists and scientists.  Making connections, that's what we do, or at least, that's what we ought to be doing, in the field of communication, and in media ecology, and general semantics.

So it seems that what was intuitively obvious to us philosophical and poetic types has now been discovered and confirmed by the more mathematical and scientific crowd.  Or so I've learned through the Technology Review website's Physics arXiv Blog (the X in arXiv stand for the Greek letter Chi, in case you didn't know, so that it's pronounced "archive"), in a post dated February 24th, and entitled, An Undiscovered Link Between Sensory Perception and Shannon's Theory of Information.  The post begins by stating that the "mathematics that describe both sensory perception and the transmission of information turn out to have remarkable similarities."  It then goes on to discuss what might be termed a mathematical theory of perception:

In 1834, the German physiologist Ernst Weber ... carried out a series of experiments to determine the limits of sensory perception. He gave a blindfolded man a mass to hold and gradually increased its weight, asking the subject to indicate when he first became aware of the change. 

These experiments showed that the smallest increase in weight that a human can perceive is proportional to the initial weight. The German psychologist Gustav Fechner later interpreted Weber's work as a way of measuring the relationship between the physical magnitude of a stimulus and its perceived intensity.

The resultant mathematical model of this process is called the Weber-Fechner law and shows that the relationship between the stimulus and perception is logarithmic. ... The Weber-Fechner law is important because it established a new field of study called psychophysics.

The logarithmic relationship between a stimulus and its perception crops up in various well known examples such as the logarithmic decibel scale for measuring sound intensity and a similar logarithmic scale for measuring the visible brightness of stars, their magnitude.

Okay, so, so far we have this idea of psychophysics, which is maybe a little interesting, but maybe not, and maybe you're saying, hey man, I'm here for the blog, not the log.  So, the main point here is that this process of quantifying perception opens up the possibility of comparison with Shannon's quantification of information.  And that's what come's up next in this arXiv blog post:

Today, Haengjin Choe at Korea University in South Korea, says there is an interesting connection between the Weber-Fechner Law and the famous mathematical theory of information developed by Claude Shannon at Bell Labs in the 1940s.

Shannon's work is among the most important of the 20th century. It establishes the limits on the amount of information that can be sent from one location in the universe to another. It is no exaggeration to say that the world's entire computing and communications infrastructure is based on Shannon's work.
So yes, Shannon's work has always been important, and has become even more significant, and relevant, now that we are living in a digital, online, new and new new media environment.  Now, what does this have to do with perception?
Choe points out that the law developed by Shannon that links the amount of information that can be transmitted by a single symbol is also logarithmic. In fact, it takes exactly the same form as the Weber-Fechner law. 

What that means is that psychophysical phenomena can be treated mathematically in the same way as any other form of information transmission and so opens up a new and extensive mathematical toolbox that may provide new insights into the nature of perception .

Hey, I'm all for unlocking tool boxes, and I look forward to new insights as well.  Indeed, this may be instrumental in the development of artificial sensory organs and neural technological interfaces.  I have to admit that I once thought that that sort of thing, as posited in the science fiction stories of William Gibson, who coined the term cyberspace (and inspired movies like The Matrix), was not feasible, but now it seems that we're well on the way to developing such technologies.  Whether the benefits of such developments outweigh the losses remains to be seen.

But back to the blog, which ends with the following point:
Of course, the idea that sensory perception is a form of communication and so obeys the same rules, is not entirely surprising. What's astonishing (if true) is that the connection has never been noticed before.

I guess it depends on what you mean by noticing the connection.  But hey, my hats off to Haengjin Choe for pinpointing the mathematical correspondence.  The post also provides a link to the abstract of Choe's "Proposal new area of study by connecting between information theory and Weber-Fechner law."  Here's how it reads:

Modern Information theory is generally considered to have been founded in 1948 by Shannon in his seminal work, "A mathematical theory of communication." Shannon's formulation of information theory was an immediate success with communications engineers. Shannon defined mathematically the amount of information transmitted over a channel. Meanwhile, psychophysics is the study of quantitative relations between psychological events and physical events or, more specifically, between sensations and the stimuli that produce them. It seems that Shannon's information theory bears no relation to psychophysics established by German scientist and philosopher Fechner. To our astonishment, it is possible that we combine two fields. And therefore we come to be capable of measuring mathematically perceptions of the physical stimuli applicable to the Weber-Fechner law.

And there you have it.  Now, let me further note that perception and information reception are aspects of what is known in general semantics as the process of abstracting.  In information theory terms, it means that something is always lost in the process of transmission.  In the field of communication, it's a common place to say that the message received is not the message sent.  In general semantics, the point is that we cannot perceive all that there is to perceive about any event or phenomenon.  We only take part of it in, only attend to a portion of what is out there, what is going on, leaving out some of the detail, filtering the information, selecting and simplifing.

Put another way, perception is more, even, than receiving information about the environment, insofar as reception suggests a passive process of taking in whatever comes our way.  More than mere reception, perception is an active process of meaning-making.  We process the sensory data, put the pieces together, interpret, and construct our reality.  This is how we talked about it in the media ecology classes I took with Neil Postman and Christine Nystrom, where we used the term perception, which is, after all, the clearest term to use in this particular instance.

Human beings are meaning-makers.  We interpret and make meaning out of the messages we receive.  We make meaning out of dots and lines   :)    ;)    :D     We make meaning out of the things we perceive in our environment, out of clouds, tea leaves, ink blots, animal entrails, etc.  We make meaning out of the random firing of our neurons while we are asleep (we call that dreaming).  We cannot not make meaning.  And I don't think that's a matter of logarithms.  But it is a matter for my blogger rhythms (oh, I know that's bad, that's bad, but you get my meaning, don't you?).

Saturday, March 13, 2010

FCC It Now

Edward R. Murrow's program, See It Now, encapsulated the power and potential of television in its early years.  Now that TV has matured, and gotten somewhat long in the tooth, so to speak, and its influence is waning in the face of our new (and new new) media, I have to wonder if we are witnessing the industry equivalent of a nervous breakdown, or midlife crisis, or perhaps even its death throes?

I've been addressing these problems, as they relate to the cable industry, in a series of posts (starting with All Foxed Up, or Time(Warn'er) for Cable NeutralityTell Old Pharaoh to Let My Channels Go!, and Ordering TV À La Carte, and just recently, ABC You Later, Cablevision!), and arguing for cable neutrality and the audience's right to choose the channels that we pay for.

Now, in a recent AP report, dated March 10th,  it seems that cable television providers, who have operated largely outside of the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission, and Federal oversight, and very happily so, and with great disdain at the thought of government intrusion on their operations, have suddenly found that maybe the First Amendment isn't as absolute as they were saying it was, and they've called on the FCC for help.  

Satellite services, which do have something to do with the FCC, relying as they do on the airwaves, have joined with cable providers in asking for the government bailout, er, I mean assistance in the face of what they see as big bully broadcasters.

The report appears under the title Cable, sat TV firms ask gov't to stop TV blackouts (I found it courtesy of the Technology Review site), and begins

Cable TV, satellite and other video providers have asked the government to intervene in ongoing fee disputes with TV networks -- big-money conflicts that are expected to escalate this year as more contracts expire.

The most recent showdown left millions of Cablevision Systems Corp. customers around New York without an ABC station at the start of the Academy Awards.

About 15 minutes into the show, a scrolling announcement told viewers that a tentative agreement had been reached.

So, unless the government steps in to protect our precious right to television, we can expect more of the same kinds of incidents that led to millions of Cablevision subscribers missing the opening to the Oscars as performed by Steve Allen and Alec Baldwin.  The root of all this evil is money, of course:

As advertising revenue has weakened, TV networks have begun to demand cash for their over-the-air programs rather than some of the advertising swaps that have been acceptable in the past.

And so it is money that motivates the non-broadcast television industries to turn to politics, making for somewhat strange bedfellows, it seems:

Rising tensions between subscription TV providers and the networks have brought together rivals including Time Warner Cable Inc., Dish Network Corp., DirecTV Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and even a consumer rights group often critical of the companies, Public Knowledge.

The group of 14 companies, consumer and trade groups sent a joint petition to the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday, seeking a change in the way broadcasters give cable TV and other providers permission to carry local channels on their lineups.

Of course, some of the industry convergence that's been going on can lead to somewhat incestuous bedfellows, making things rather awkward indeed:

One company was conspicuously absent from the petition. Comcast Corp., the nation's largest cable TV operator, would become a broadcaster if its plan to take control of NBC Universal is approved.

So, it seems that the broadcasters are playing hardball:

The National Association of Broadcasters is not backing down.

"To see billion dollar pay TV companies asking for government intervention to protect their exorbitant profits is just plain wrong," the industry group said in a statement.
The problem, though, is that it's the broadcasters who have the power to pull the plug, and in the case of Disney/ABC, they did in fact pull a fast one on the viewing public, in forcing a TV fast on them.  So it's the cable companies that end up as proponents of we the people?

Early this year, Time Warner Cable customers faced the threat of losing their Fox stations, which broadcast shows like "The Simpsons," and "American Idol," during a standoff with News Corp., which owns Fox.

"Consumers are increasingly being put in the middle of disputes," Time Warner Cable said in a statement. "The petitioners implore the FCC to act expeditiously to help prevent further consumer harm."

Cable TV and other video providers are concerned that broadcasters have threatened to shut down, or actually ceased, TV signals when talks don't go their way. They want regulators to stop broadcasters from yanking TV signals during contract talks. They also want the FCC to put into place mandatory arbitration or other measures to resolve disputes.

And hey, what they propose is perfectly fine by me, but the problem is that they want it both ways.  The want to be free of the FCC when it's convenient for them, and they want the FCC's help when it's in their interests.

I say, the FCC should intervene, but on the side of the consumer, the people, and give us cable neutrality and TV à la carte.  Edward R. Murrow would approve.  Otherwise, we'll be saying FCC ya later, TV, turn the sets off altogether, and get our entertainment fix online instead.  Can you say, iTunes?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Adas Emuno Now Blogging

So, I decided to put some of all of this blogging experience I've accrued here at Blog Time Passing, not to mention in teaching my classes, to work on behalf of a good cause. 

As you may recall, or may not so I'll remind you, I am a member of the Board of Trustees of Congregation Adas Emuno, which is a small temple in the tradition of Reform Judaism located in the town of Leonia, New Jersey, not far off from the George Washington Bridge, in Bergen County.  Every so often, I post about Adas Emuno here (it even has its own label: Adas Emuno and this will be the 34th post with that tag).

So, last year, another Trustee, Kim Merlino, revised the Congregation Adas Emuno website, and for some time after, I've been thinking about the possibility of starting a congregational blog as well.  And after revising the look of Blog Time Passing, I felt the time was right to do get one going for Adas Emuno, so I made the proposal last week at our monthly board meeting, got the approval, and set out to set it up.

It's just in the beginning stages, I hasten to add, but I'm pretty much satisfied with the layout, and I've also put one post up as of this writing.  So, if you're interested, go take a look: Adas Emuno.

Feedback and followers are welcome!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A New New Media Shout Out

As I've mentioned before on more than one occasion, it was my friend and colleague at Fordham University, Paul Levinson, who got me into this whole blogging scene, and social media in general.  If it weren't for him, you wouldn't be reading this, so any criticisms you may have of anything at all having to do with this blog, or my online activity, should be directed at him.

So, Paul was recently interviewed for Fordham's new in-house student-run cable TV show, Fordham Nightly News, and the segment was uploaded to YouTube under the title:  Quarreyman News: Paul Levinson.  The write-up says, "Fordham Nightly News piece on Fordham" and "Dr. Paul Levinson's life outside of Fordham," which in my opinion makes the unfounded assumption that Paul has a life, let alone one outside of Fordham.

I kid, of course, and I'm happy to share this with you, all the more so because Paul gives me a shout out here.  It seems that I've become a character in one of Paul's science fiction stories...  What? Oh.  Oops, my mistake, I'm a character in one of his nonfiction books instead, one called New New Media, which is all about Web 2.0 and social media.  If you haven't picked up your copy yet, what are you waiting for?  I'm using the book in two of my classes this semester, as a matter of fact, and after the term is over, I'll be making a full report here on Blog Time Passing.

But the video is about more than just the book (and me), so I'll let you take a gander for yourself:

Of course, while YouTube is an example of what Levinson calls new new media, the television program itself is a bit of old media.  Not old old media, of course.  In fact, given that McLuhan, Carpenter, and others referred to television, radio, and movies as the new media back in the 50s, you might say it's old new media.  Well, whatever it is, thank you Paul, and keep up the good work, and words!