Posts Tagged ‘commentary’

Before Lunch

Nice questions and provocations. “If it is about the literary, and if the literary is about language, how is this ‘contained’ in a database?” “If language is local and mediated locally, and digital infrastructure is global [and by implication the same everywhere] then what is the relation of one to the other?” (Manuel Portela.)

History matters. The history of the discipline of digital humanities is not well known outside of the discipline and is too easily either appropriated, or misread, by those coming in. For Willard the change was the arrival of the Web, which was a tsunami that ignored what had been before. Hands on, practical making experience, is fundamental to the digital humanities. You need to make to get the materiality and thickness of the digital. Otherwise you misjudge the possible and the available. Interdisciplinarity matters, but it is a process not a thing. In the digital humanities the boundaries are fluid, but the discipline needs to build itself to be a more robust discipline. It is a trading zone, and in the digital humanities are perhaps poachers more than traders. (Willard McCarty)

What I told the Young ‘Uns

From the Integrated Media blog:

If you wait till inspiration arrives you will not make very much. Good makers make, all the time. They don’t wait. They don’t need to. Not because they are always ‘inspired’ but because they just begin anywhere. You make way more than you keep. When we wait for inspiration we assume that we can and should only make things worth keeping. We don’t do that with words. Nor doodles. And we don’t need to anymore with video, it costs next to nothing to make, use, store. Video is now like our words. (Just sayin’.)

Meta Blogging as Teaching

Integrated Media has kicked off. I subscribe to all the blogs and part of the subject involves me writing commentary. More like sports broadcasting at times (actually doing this via twitter is a good looking idea). A lot of really interesting stuff happens in this liminal pedagogical space between the classroom, the student’s writing, and me drawing it back in from the atomised experience of the student to the collective of the cohort. Here’s one from today:

It’s Friday afternoon, I rode 65km on my bike on the way to work (what you might also call school) this morning and the glorious autumn sun outside is shining a bit too seductively off my bike behind me in the office. There’s no segue here, just a shoutout to Thomas, who I editorialised with last week (yes, I responded to Thomas but it really is good for you all to realise that I use this as an opportunity to engage with everyone, so when I riff of ya stuff it’s usually to illustrate something for all 84 of those doing IM and anyone else passing by) when I did the blog equivalent of a clip behind the ear. No, I won’t read all participation criteria, but after writing on and around 20 or 30 if you bother to read here you will get the gist of it. If you don’t, or can’t, then it’s going to always be a struggle no matter what we do, isn’t it? I take it seriously by doing that, at some point you need to too (as Thomas now has). But I should not need to do this individually for everyone, its a tone, a sentiment, an attitude. A milieu. As Thomas picks up, your blog is you. The more like you it becomes, the better it is, the easier it is to do, and the more pleasure it brings. You nurture your own identity here and this, now, is as important an identity as any other associated with you. How many of you, when you google your own name, has your blog as the first thing on Google. What stronger indication of the authority of your blog in relation to identity in a networked age do you want? (Or do you never use Google?)

Theft by Internet

Each year in my role as honours program director I arrange for gift vouchers to go to our external examiners. Most places pay a very modest amount for examinations, and in RMIT’s case this literally requires the completion of three documents for one examiner, and then a long wait for payment. Oh, and a chunk will go in tax. So instead I send an electronic gift voucher for Amazon.com. You can buy what you like, it is still a modest amount but it’s a much nicer thank you than having to provide a slew of personal details for me to complete a crazy amount of paperwork. In 2011 one examiner was Matt Loads, now a colleague of mine here at RMIT. I left out one letter in his email address when I sent out the gift vouchers so he never received one. I have just gone to resend it, only to find that almosthawed@hotmail.com has redeemed the voucher. I don’t know who that is, but it isn’t Matt Loads. Now this isn’t like receiving an anonymous gift voucher. It had a message thanking you for examining an honours thesis for the program at RMIT, and my name on it. This is the email equivalent of finding a wallet and just taking the money. I just tried emailing them, but the email was bounced by hotmail. Closed the account? Taken the money and ran? I really don’t get why you’d take the money, its theft.

Condition One

I already had downloaded Condition One but it took an email from Jay to the Artists in the Cloud list to get me to spend a bit of time with it. It is an app that works as both a front end/shop front to journalistic video but also provides some viewer options that take advantage of some of the affordances of the iPad. The Guardian has played with it, with a series of short videos about Tokyo.

The stories are chunked up, so I can either get the entire Tokyo series (which includes bonus extras) or get four short episodes (between 1 and 3 minutes in length). They’re not small, the one I’m waiting to view is 1:39 in length and 250MB, that’s a shitload of video for less than two minutes of viewing, even at full screen on my iPad, and this Sunday evening things might be slow out there somewhere, but it is going to take quite a while to arrive. Not hours like in the old days (when you would start a download and come back the next morning…) but it’s looking like a good 10 minutes or so, which at the moment I’d have to say is getting in the way of the experience – though I don’t yet know what that experience will actually be.

While I’m waiting for that to happen what gets my goat up just a bit is the spruiking around “immersive” experiences. This is, of course, the pitch point, the point of difference, that which will make it not just different but great. Now, it might be, but immersive, as the work on flow has well and truly shown us, is not about technological ersatz similitude. Shit, novels have already taught us that. I read a novel, even on crappy paper with lousy typesetting, but if it is a good novel, it works. I might cry laugh, weep. I am immersed in my reading. Not because of the quality of the delivery technology. So this risks a techno determinism that thinks if we get it really really shiny (I’m still waiting for my 250MB and 1:39 of video to arrive) then it will be immersive, never mind I’ve twiddled my thumbs for over ten mintues already just waiting to be really really immersed. Immersion is a consequence of things like possible worlds, narrative voice, and how they intersect with my intention. If they intersect, it works, even at low rez. This is the same snake oil that virtual worlds people use to sell us their visions of the future. It is immersive because you get to move in it, as if this is a sufficient condition for what ‘immersive experience’ is actually trying to claim – verisimilitude and an experience that is, at least in some respects and aspects, somehow phenomenologically equivalent to how immersed I am right now sitting at a desk. But simply having to move something (my mouse, my avatar, my iPad) does not make something immersive in this sense, unless we really do just want ‘immersion’ to be more like, well I was going to say sitting in the bath, but that is much more immersive than what is on offer here. I can’t sit in it like I can in my bath, where I am literally immersed and water flows around and over me. In Second Life my avatar might sit, even swim, but I don’t, and in Condition One I’ve got a traditional cinematic perspective which I either swipe around, or move my iPad up down, left right. (I can’t see all the way round, it is more that I’ve shot wide and the default view in the app is narrower, hence I can move around it a bit.) it is sort of nice, and sets up big questions cinematically (how do I know I have not missed something important that happened not off off screen, but off screen, as it were?), with an off screen that is actually available I can now compose and narrate not only in depth (Bazin via Renoir here) but also by implicating and alluding to what is just out of frame, but can be in frame if the viewer moves the frame. But immersive? No. Immersion is a consequence of other modes of engagement, at the moment this is technologically cool, but that of itself is no guarantee of a good view.

Wevideo

Rupert Howe let us all know about wevideo.com over at the artists-in-the-cloud list. So, what is it?

Seems to be another go at video + editing + the cloud, though this one has subscription right from the start. I guess I am not the market for something like this, but even so I struggle a little bit with the vision. I pay (what to me is quite a bit of money for what I get) and for that I can edit video, publish it out to existing hosts, and also co-edit with others out there. There’s a legal music library it looks like I get access to.

Seems its only the collaborative editing that is significant. After all my mac comes with a video editor, I can buy one for my phone for a couple of dollars, and both will auto publish to YouTube. If I want something more sophisticated (which I do) then I also probably need a lot more than what a service like this can do, or would wonder why I’d pay for it when I already have an editor, pay for my own hosting, and so on.

Collaboration? Yeah, ok, but it won’t cope at the pro end so…?

just my thoughts. But I’ve been wrong too often on these things. Though I guess if I was in this space commercially my business plan would be to get some traction and be bought by Google so that it can be rolled into YouTube, which will make me plenty of money but it’s a crappy way to rethink video. Collaboration. Or the cloud.

Lion, Perhaps

First problem with the iBooks authoring application for me is not the EULA (see why people are stuck in old paradigms, and why academics are being just a bit hypocritically precious, for more) but the upgrade to Lion. I’m still on 10.6 (I’ve lost track of all these bloody cats but I think that’s Snow Leopard), which still has Rosetta. There are two applications that I use that require Rosetta. One is just a FileMaker based program that I have used to store all my software licences. It will be dead in Lion. That one’s not so bad, I just need to manually copy the information into a new program (I’m using Wallet, but I might just use Bento instead since Wallet lacks some info and is not particularly flexible).

The second program though is the late, great, LiveStage Pro. This is how I’ve scripted interactive QuickTime, and as far as I’m aware remains the only program around that can do this. They are gone, broke, expunged from the world, and I’ve managed to keep my version running across new computers and OS upgrades for quite a while now. Well, no more.

But hey, I guess if the software has died I need to move on too. Particularly since Apple seem hell bent on giving up on it anyway, as none of them work anymore in the browser as the QT plugin seems to have been dumbed down to just playback duties – all the programmatic stuff that QuickTime has has been quietly removed. To the point where my small interactive works will play just fine in QuickTime Player 7, but in the OS X players, forget it. I’ve no idea why they have killed such a powerful technology, I assume because Flash quick programmatic QuickTime, and now the battle is simply about video.

Of course I still have faith that new, multilinear and interactive personal video forms will arrive. Real soon now. HTML5, javascript, CSS, et al…

Academics are Whingers

I wrote last week why the general tone of the criticism of Apple’s new iBook Authoring app End User Licence Agreement was an example of media commentators not actually understanding how the shape of the industry/platform/assemblage had changed around them, without anyone realising. This time, it is about academics.

I’m an academic. I write stuff for journals, and while I haven’t written a book the model is much the same. It more or less looks like this: I write, the work has to be peer reviewed, and often edited. This is done by other academics. If accepted it is then published. If it is a commercial academic publisher (so everyone except open access) the book or journal will have a subscription cost. At no point in this will I ever receive any payment. For a book, unless I’m an international superstar, I may receive royalties, though these will be very minor. If it is a book it is common to sign an agreement that provides the publisher with a licence to republish in any media, in any format, in perpetuity. For free.

So, summary: academics provide all the intellectual labour, for free, then pay to read the material that they have produced themselves, and often sign an agreement which means the publisher can do what they like with the material forever, anywhere. The publishers along they way pocketing profits.

Now, let’s put this in the context of iBooks Author. Here I can write stuff. I can presumably get it edited and reviewed if I like. I can distribute it internationally to an enormous audience. I can set a price if I think it is worth it, the majority of which I will receive. Apple will take a commission. Financially this is the opposite of the current model where the publisher takes most of the money and pay me a small commission.

Imagine a group of like minded academics self forming as an editorial board, and deciding to publish iBooks, either for free or a small cost to cover design costs. We could publish course notes, curriculum, research, ideas. All these could be in each book or journal, or form series of their own. Though I do like the idea of something like an iBook that is more magazine that mixes this stuff up. Could have video, audio, image, text, links out.

All the tools to do this are on pretty much every first world academic’s desktop right now. But instead there is a pile of complaining about how if we make something in this system it has to be distributed via Apple. Jesus Christ, talk about ivory towers, we sign away all our rights to academic publishers every day, yet from the humanities academy there is nary a word of complaint. Our myopia can be daunting at times.

Why the EULA is the wrong end of the stick

1. History, the iPod.
I watched the first iPod key note after Jobs died, and it was the first time I got the model. It wasn’t ‘do differently’ but much simpler – “all you have to do is do it better” – or words to that effect. The first iPod, not 100 songs but a 1000. Not the size of a small paperback but a deck of cards. Not 2 minutes of skip protection but something crazy like an hour, easier to use, and better sound. Cost a packet, way more than every other mp3 player on the market. The difference? Design of course, not just industrial design but experience design and what today is known as service design. This was not just the iPod but also importantly iTunes, a free bit of software that let you manage your music. Then your iPod, and then it became the front end to the music store.

Notice the important bits. iTunes is free, it is software, we think of it as the ‘front end’ but from Apple’s point of view it is really the back end into their music retail empire and a bit of service orientated hardware. It is software + hardware + media. It relies upon existing things (we like music, we pay for it, it is really easy to carry with you and listen to while doing other things), and just makes it easier, and better to do.

2. A digital lifestyle ecology
So this shifted Apple out of being a hardware or a software company. It is now a digital lifestyle service design company that controls, designs, owns, and manages all parts of its systems. So they no longer design a thing like a computer but instead an experience, it is about what you can do with it, and they make sure that that ‘doing’ is as simple and easy to do so that anyone can pretty much get the gist of it (watch a 3 or 4 year old with an iPad). They make sure there is content of some sort, as well as the opportunity to make, share and play. Each of these is important, and easy to do.

3. The app store change (low friction service)
Now once they worked out that the music model works – enough people will pay for the music if you make it easy and cheap enough to do so to make it worth Apple and the music industry’s time – they replicated it with the iPhone and apps. They invented a market for generally low cost bits of software that did little things, hopefully very well. They needed hardware that had enough grunt and smarts (location awareness, a camera, and so on), but because they control the hardware it means if the app complies, it will work. You can only do this if you control the hardware. But the shift in the app store from the music store is that Apple now defined themselves as a publisher. They did this without any of the publishers actually noticing – inventing in the process possibly the only current viable publishing model for our digital economy, and it worked. This is why they will refuse some apps, because they are a publisher, for exactly the same reason that a book publisher will not publish anything that is submitted – for reasons of quality, taste, business, politics, legals (and so on). Apple have been quite explicit about this (Jobs again with his declaration that they will not publish porn).

This causes friction, because those of us on the software side of the fence think if I write a program then it is only up to the user whether or not it gets used. Not some intermediary taking a cut. Except they are no longer a software or hardware company, they aren’t thinking like one, but we still are. On the other hand the ecology of iTunes to iPhone and iPod, and iTunes to the music and app store, via your account, is very low friction (I impulse shop there, and at Amazon for Kindle titles, all the time).

On the other hand because they control the platform it makes writing and publishing easier if you’re a developer. You know what the video format is, the required data rate and pixel dimensions, if you match that, it will play. It is (not quite) pretty close to publish once, run always, which from the user point of view is a god send (how often do you have to troubleshoot an app on an idevice?). This really does matter (we are nerds so think it doesn’t but imagine if you had to tinker with your car on nearly every trip to town, personally I’d give up pretty quickly and rely on my bike).

4. iTunes U, iBooks 2, and that new free app
Same scenario, and the uproar (this is a good sample) about the End User Licence Agreement (EULA) is misreading what Apple have done. (This is not arguing that what they’ve done is right or good, but that we are looking at it from the wrong point of view.) We see the free software, and what it can do, and we think it is about the software. We think the software is the ‘front end’. From Apple’s point of view it is the back end. The front is the new iTunes U and their move into the education market. Like music (and now apps), there is an existing market. A large industry with resources. An audience. They have a platform and now a format that is possibly highly compelling (the Kindle solved buying and reading books finally on a device, but they are still very much books, iBooks 2 are illuminated interactive knowledge manuscripts, they’re so far away from what you do on a Kindle to be a different species all together and for education they are very much what we should be doing). The app is a way to seed that market, but here they are playing a role that falls precisely in between the music and the app store. There are publishers with content so Apple can be their shopfront to the iPad (that’s the music model) But with the app anyone can now make stuff, and give it away or sell it, via their shop front (that’s the app store model).

The thing we are missing is that it isn’t about the app, it’s about the shop and Apple is in the media publishing industry (this is the sort of thing Murdoch and their sort should have done years ago if they actually didn’t have their collective heads so far up their heritage media business models). The app is just like any other self publishing print on demand site out there on the web that lets you upload stuff to be templated into their boilerplate and sold through their site (with a cut to them). But way sexier, smarter and useful (it ain’t print for starters).

So, they can insist on that EULA because they aren’t a software company (but we are still treating them like they are, they’ve moved way past that and we’re the ones left behind here) but a publisher, and the app is just a bit of service software that feeds into the larger system. Without even thinking the agreement is a good idea (I personally don’t agree with it) I don’t know of anyone who thinks a publisher should a) give away what they print for free, or b) let anyone use their hardware/IP (in Apple’s case basically iTunes and the iPad) to sell stuff for free. This is pretty much the same strategy that Amazon have tried to do with their new Kindle Fire, where the biggest and best feature consistently noted by reviewers is how well integrated into the Amazon retail system it is. Same deal, the software nerds are becoming not the tool makers, but the publishers.