a feminist technology blog

Month: November 2005 (Page 1 of 3)

links for 2005-11-30

Breaking News II: Don’t be dickly to your customers

I love this Fortune article on the anime industry and how its success is at least partially due to its close relationship w/ fans and customers.


  • Attending fan conventions
  • Hiring fans as consultants for adaptations
  • Not shutting down fan webpages (hey FOX)
  • Not suing their customers (hey RIAA)
  • Allowing respectful filesharing, and even studying that filesharing to see what’s popular and what they can make more money off of releasing on DVD (hey every single television network in history, maybe this is a good idea?)

And naturally this has made them lots of money, even with piracy, the threat of video games, greedy customers, filesharing, or whatever other heap of garbage the motion picture and recording industries are claiming is the cause of their rapidly sinking profit margins. What a shock.

(What’s that you say? DRM is causing record labels to lose money? No kidding. (This article is mostly anecdotal, but meanfriend in the forums makes a good point (slightly edited for clarity):

Online vendors like Amazon will play a big part in enabling end-users to identify and shun products that have crap they don’t like, like DRM.

Being able to browse comments from other buyers and getting feedback based on their experiences can be valuable. Sure, you always have to take what you read with a bucket of salt, but if hundreds of people are dumping on a product because of it’s DRM, it’s probably something you shouldnt ignore.

It would be like if we could all go to Best Buy and put Post-It notes on the products we’ve bought for others to see. Not everyone knows what to look WRT DRM labelling, and not all DRM is created equal.

And I’m sure the artists themselves take a keen interest in how their albums do on Amazon etc. Watching their latest work tank in the rankings and being able to read the customer feedback to see why has got to be an eye opener. Even the biggest technodummy could see how draconian DRM has hurt their fanbase and they might take more interest in how their future works are published…

True dat. Also a good point: DRM isn’t at all about preventing privacy, but about controlling what the customer can or can’t do w/o permission.)

By the way, there’s an article in Entertainment Weekly this week bemoaning the dearth of Oscar-worthy performances this year by women. This is blamed, in the article, on: women not going to theaters enough, female actors not acting well enough (I’m not kidding), “chick flicks” not having wide enough appeal, and all these things happening despite the presence of multiple female studio heads (subtext: we don’t need to hire women, because even if we do, nothing changes).

A few brief points:

1. Studio heads notwithstanding, the rest of the movie business is male dominated, from the grips on up to the directors and producers. (“In the last four years, the percentage of women working as directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors on the top 250 domestic grossing films has declined from 19% in 2001 to 16% in 2004.” See The Celluloid Ceiling for more eye-opening statistics like these.)

2. There are still far fewer roles for women than there are for men, thus less opportunities for women in film (I can’t find an accurate statistic, but it’s somewhere between 3:1 and 7:1 in terms of the number of male roles vs. female roles).

3. Anything with men in it is still seen as the default, while anything with women in it is seen as a niche product. For example, if you reverse the roles in Ocean’s 11 so that it stars like 11 women and 1 man who played the kind of incidental boyfriend to the main character, it just doesn’t work. It would never get made. And if it did get made, it would be marketed as a women’s movie not a movie (but it would still be awesome).

(Here’s my test for whether a role is sexist: if you reverse the gender of the role and the character seems totally preposterous, it’s a stock sexist role. This is not the same as a stereotype. Indiana Jones, for example, is a stereotypical action hero, but I could totally see an female Indy-type; in fact, that’s Tomb Raider for you. J.Lo in the Wedding Planner playing a maid who is pretending to be rich so she can marry a rich guy, on the other hand, is sexist.)

4. There are way less showpiece roles for older actresses, who tend to be more accomplished than younger actresses. Oscars are primarily given to women in their 30’s and men in their 40’s. Sure, there are a few every year, but compare the number of movies made by women in their 50’s and 60’s to the number of movies made by vet actors Morgan Freeman, Jack Nicholson, Clint Eastwood, Harvey Keitel, Al Pacino, etc.

Bite me, Entertainment Weekly. I’m also mad at them for their headline about shocking! political! movies! — like ANY movie’s not political! Returning to J.Lo, Maid in Manhattan is chock full of political statements. Just because something supports mainstream, status quo, conservative politics doesn’t mean it’s apolitical.

(How did I get here, again? Note to self: stay on topic.)

links for 2005-11-29

Pop Language

Found a neat interview on the Stay Free! blog with Leslie Savan, author of a new book on pop language: catchphrases, slang terms, and “verbal celebrities”. She’s focused more on pop phrases popularized by old media (wassup, talk to the hand, don’t go there), but I’m interested in phrases that start online and move outward. Hence: the internets, teh, lollerskates, re:, the interweb, SUP. How does language move from written (typed) to spoken? “LOL” is a good example: it works really well when typed out, but it’s almost impossible to speak. What do you say? “Loll?” “L.O.L?” When you get so used to using a pop phrase online it’s really frustrating not to be able to use it in verbal language (another example: acronyms like BTW and WRT).

> Intro: NYT piece by Leslie (no registration required)
> Interview: Stay Free! Interview w/ Leslie Savan
> amazon link

Homebrew Application Review

1. What should I read next? – Plug in the name of a book and it generates recommendations. If you enter a book that it doesn’t recognize, it’ll prompt you to sign up and make recommendations of your own. How does it generate recommendations?

WSIRN produces recommendations based purely on collective taste: when books are entered into the same favourites list, they become associated with each other. The more often particular books appear on different lists, the stronger that association becomes. Purely and simply, WSIRN represents mass opinion about books. Over time the recommendations should get better and better as the database grows.

I’m not actually sure whether this works or not. Entering Dickens pulled up Boris Leonidovich Pasternak (author of Dr. Zhivago), Robert Louis Stevenson and Olivia Goldsmith. It would be hard to find more disparate authors. Similarly, Jay McInerny’s Bright Lights, Big City, which I’d probably group with fellow Brat Pack authors Bret Easton Ellis, Tama Janowitz, and pomo lit like Delillo, instead lists Jonathan Ames, P.G. Wodehouse, and Inga Musico.

OK – so this is a new service and it doesn’t have a huge amount of data to draw on and so that’s why the recs are so screwy. But I question the entire recommendation model. If I’m going to write a big list of all the books I like, it’s going to range from Brenda Laurel to Judith Butler to the Gossip Girl series to Tolstoy. Individual taste tends to the quixotic, especially for avid bookworms. Plus, I’m not sure what advantage this site gives over Amazon or Barnes and Noble, both of which have huge databases of customer data informing their recommendations. You’re better off trolling the chicklit.com forums for ideas.

2. Gollum, the Wikipedia Browser

Simple, stripped down, easy to use interface for Wikipedia. Useful for kids and non-power users, but was Wikipedia that difficult to use to begin with? It’s open-source, so I envision this changing quite a bit in the next few months, but it would be good to incorporate some accessibility features if you’re going to muck around with alternative ways to view web content.

3. Streampad, which is a super-cool in-browser mp3 streaming server… thing. You install the helper app on your home machine and you can listen to your entire iTunes library from work, the internet cafe, your friend’s machine, whatever. Nice integration of faddish web stuff to learn about new music: listen to whatever mp3’s people are posting to del.icio.us or to mp3 blogs (through The Hype Machine) and through the Internet Archive”s concerts. (There’s also a completely unnecessary Google Maps mashup stuck in there, just for fun.)

The problem? It doesn’t work. This just isn’t ready for primetime yet, although I would very much like it to be. I couldn’t get a single track to play; the problem is that heavily linked content like songs on mp3 blogs are usually stuck on usendit or on some server that’s down or something and they just aren’t conducive to being quickly streamed to sample them. Too bad.

(This would be really interesting if linked with audioscrobbler, which I still can’t forgive for merging with last.fm and mutating into worst. interface. ever. )

Here’s the Web 2.0 Mashup Matrix for more applications like this. Suggestions?

Thanksgiving break

I’m on Thanksgiving break right now and am headed up to my mom’s house for a few days, in a town where there are 8 nail salons but not a single internet cafe. Regular blogging should resume by this Sunday.

Happy Thanksgiving to all and sundry–


links for 2005-11-23

links for 2005-11-22

RIP Infinium Labs, 2003 – 2005

Kevin Bacchus resigns as Infinium CEO after 14 weeks on the job.

That’s not good. I worked in Infinium’s Seattle office (where Kevin was based) and was, like, employee #5 there. The company’s been running on empty for about a year now, still trying to scare up investors with Kevin as figurehead, but this I think has got to be the final nail in the coffin. It’s really too bad as the product idea is fantastic, and the development team was amazing; we were saddled with a legacy executive team though (who Kevin took over from) and let’s just say the decision making wasn’t always the most bestest evar.

For those of you who are like “what???” Infinium was developing this thing called the Phantom Gaming Service, which was a console-like system that allowed users to play PC games in the living room environment. It was a games-on-demand service that required broadband internet. The Phantom gets a lot of hate due to the broad and mostly ridiculous claims made by the early executive teams, but the actual product idea would really have benefitted the game industry. It would have provided an alternative publishing platform for PC game developers who can no longer sell their games in Electronics Boutique and Gamespot due to decreased shelf space and console game domination. It would have allowed independent game developers to get distribution, it would have provided another revenue stream for older games, and it would have let PC gamers play in a more social, fun environment than just hunched over a desk.

If you read the comment boards on any gaming site about Infinium, you’ll see a whole lot of conspiracy theories about how Infinium is some sort of fake company to drum up investors, a big scam, etc. (It’s totally not.) The reality is that Infinium is a great company with a great product ideas but deservingly terrible PR. It’s hard to come back from missing multiple carved-in-stone ship dates, especially with a history of grandiose press releases and over-the-top claims. I’d like to say I hope Infinium has another chance for the sake of my friends who still work there… but I’m not that delusional.

Fashion blog

I met this woman today at the Avenue A flea market. She runs a blog about wearing reduced, reused, recycled clothing (she’s a stylist, I believe) and took a picture of me trying on a really fabulous green 70’s maxi-skirt frock that I got for a whopping $5.

I’m trying to keep my fashion obsession out of this blog for the most part, so I won’t bother going on about how I wear 75% thrifted clothing simply because I’m really poor (rather than because it’s cute and different– there are economic realities of wearing vintage, even for a super fashion conscious gal like me – a full-price dress at Nordstrom or Barney’s could clothe me for a year). I AM interested in this sort of real world blog-to-blog contact. Like you meet someone at a bar and it’s like, oh, check out my blog. In 1999 that would have been “I have a homepage”, and that was only among the most geekiest dot.com people. In 2003 it would have been “Oh my god, you’re on Friendster? ME TOO!” And now it’s blogging.

It’s nothing new that internet content spills out into real-world interactions. In fact, I think the distinction between “online” and “offline” is pretty obselete. When I’m getting dodgeball messages, email, and text on my (not very sophisticated) phone, when I’m keeping in touch with my friends in Seattle primarily through LiveJournal, when I’m meeting people in “real life” that I’ve known on LJ for years and our relationships translate pretty seamlessly– what is the purpose of trying to draw any sort of distinction there? What would the distinction be based on? What kind of technology we use to talk to each other? Where we first met? Where I physically am located when I’m interacting with them?

In fact, the idea of “the internet” as “cyberspace” or “a place” is a stupid metaphor, because:

1) It assumes that there is a “cyber place” and a “non-cyber place” which, as I just said, doesn’t make sense.
2) It assumes that there is something specially unique about the internet (web, email, IM, SMS, etc.) that completely delineates it from ALL other physical locations. Would you think of the telephone as a place? Or reading the newspaper? Does. Not. Make. Sense.

Back to our fashion blogger. In order to swap URL’s, we had to write them down for each other and actually physically hold pieces of paper. There is something really weird about that, I must say: it almost seems like the papers themselves should be clickable, like the writing should resolve into hyperlinks like Word does when you start anything (anything AT ALL) with http://. But that’s just the visual metaphor from “cyberspace” spilling out into online space. (It’s similar to the desire to copy-and-paste text from a book to a computer screen.)

I have a couple of articles about gamespace and physicality of video games, which I think is really interesting w/r/t how you move your “body” in the game and how YOUR actual body interacts with the game system (e.g. twitch gaming, DDR, people who move the controller when they move, etc.) and where these boundaries lie. It’s not really clear. I’m pretty firmly against the disembodiment hypothesis of online identity (which holds that “going online” — again with the spatial metaphors– allows you to de-seat your “self” from your “body”) but I do think it’s totally possible that technology might influence you to think of space differently. Other things that overlap: physical tagging of spaces with flickr/folksonomic tags, sms/gps/cellphone location mososo’s, google map mashups.

I am starting to get really abstract so time for bed. Saw the new Harry Potter tonight: I won’t spoil it but I am kind of a book canon geek and I was a bit disappointed by some of the cuts that had to be made to get the movie down to a reasonable run-time.. but the effects were fantastic.

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