Tubes

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When the first episode of Pushing Daisies aired on TV, I was thrilled to pieces. Not only were the cinematography and art style playful and quirky, but the script was refreshing and unpredictable, and Anna Friel was finally back in my life. I loved it.

That's all I've seen to date. Even before the credits finished rolling on that first epsiode I was waiting for it to come out on DVD. Like a lot of people, I don't have a regular schedule; when it comes to being in front of a TV at the same time week after week, I don't even try. I'm not the kind of person who needs to see something NOW and there's plenty of other entertainment in the world to keep me occupied in the meantime. Krissa and I went back to watching our Netflix DVDs, and the current TV season carried on without us.

Occasionally, seeing a billboard for the Pushing Daisies on a bus, I worried.
Maybe it was too quirky, too unusual.
Maybe people weren't watching it.
Maybe it would be axed.
What could I do?
I didn't want to sit there watching the seventh and final episode on DVD, enraged at the brutal termination of yet another interesting show. Not again.
How can viewers communicate our desires to the networks?

The way in which my enthusiasm for a show manifests is that I bother to rent every disc in the series on Netflix rather than quitting and taking them all off my queue...which doesn't give any feedback at all to the stations...and by that time, why would they care? They sold the rights for DVD distribution for a fee based on TV ratings, and you're not giving their advertisers face time by watching a series on DVD.

This is the crux of the odd three-way relationship between advertisers, the television stations and the audience. They want completely different things and only care a little, in an indirect way, whether or not the other parties get what they want.

We the audience want entertainment with as little financial or time-sacrifice as possible. The TV stations want to sell advertising to make money. Advertisers only care about selling their products to make money.

When TV stations held all the cards, their audience contract was simple.

Watch the commercials, and in a minute you will be entertained.

By walking away from this contract we are almost cheating the system that creates our entertainment in the first place. By cutting the connection to the TV stations and renting the entertainment only when it is available to be viewed as and when I choose I am acting in my own self-interest - the way I get my entertainment is convenient and free of any time-investment requirement to watch advertising, something I am happy to pay a little money for.
I don't feel bad about this - the networks and advertisers will themselves only ever operate in their own interest, but technology has shifted the balance of power towards the viewer. This is of course great news for me - the contract is unevenly weighted in my favour - but I have put myself into a position where the choices of the remaining live television audience control what eventually gets down the chain to me, which, while not exactly a sacrifice (what is the real effect of an individual audience member in the ineffective democracy of television ratings?) disconnects me from that direct contact.

If I am willing to pay for convenient and advertising-free entertainment on alternative technology (DVD), the television networks might be able to use technology to tip the balance of values by offering a compromise.

Hulu.com has a library of shows and movies that can only be watched after an unskippable advertisement. This gives viewers the convenience and control of a rented DVD without having to pay for it, as long as we sit through the advert.
It's a technologically enabled redraft of the old contract, but with the scheduling removed.
Another plus is that with direct streaming media you are communicating directly to the television network what you like, which programs are good enough that you will sit through advertising. With an immediacy that bypasses the DVD release dates, that's something I can really appreciate.

Now that Krissa and I are once again coming to the end of the excellent and cruelly cancelled Firefly on DVD, and news is breaking about Joss Whedon's new show, Dollhouse, pausing in production and undergoing changes...I think this direct feedback will remove the feeling of lack of control that being part of an enormous 'television' audience induces.

Pushing Daisies is back for a new season, the DVD and I hope the second, third and fourth episodes are as good as the first. Hulu is great, but I'll still be subscribing to Netflix for a while - one, because of the deal that allows members to watch Netflix streaming media over Xbox Live, and two, because the networks haven't come round to my house and hooked up a computer to the television.

Call me uncompromising, but I'll only fully buy back into television when they figure out that the television itself is a redundant piece of equipment. We shouldn't have televisions in our living rooms any more. We should have computers, but computers linked to a library of advertising-supported entertainment at a better resolution and framerate than the current internet offers. And most importantly, in front of the couch.
...Kelloggs was a British company. I never for a moment thought the box I spent twenty minutes reading each morning with the 'By Appointment To Her Majesty' crest was anything but British. I never saw 'Road to Wellville'. Admittedly after reading Bill Bryson's description of the invention of the cornflake I had less of an excuse. Krissa loves to tell this story.

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...'Oldsmobile' was slang for an old car. Who came up with that as a brand?

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...fruit juice in a can was a stupid idea. I still think this.

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...it would be weird if someone handed me a cup of coffee in a bag. I still think this.

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...all American beer was regulated to 4% alcohol by volume or under. This is mercifully and incredibly wrong. Hurrah!

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...I understood weights and measurements. Metric! Metric metric metric. I miss you so. Instead of beautifully interchangeable metres, kilometres, litres and so on, I have to wrestle with feet, slugs, fahrenheit, horsepower and British Thermal Units (hahahahahaha).
I have been reduced from (occasionally) working things out in my head to ALWAYS needing paper or a calculator, and more often than not, the internet as a reference.
Example:
1 British Thermal Unit is the energy needed to heat a pound of water by one degree fahrenheit.

Fair enough.

12,000 btus of cooling is called a ton of cooling. This is based off how much cooling can be done by a ton of ice. Historically - not so long ago that people were happy to sweat all day, but long enough ago that they weren't very good at preventing it, air conditioning was performed by dumping a large brick of ice in front of a fan and then pushing that cold air around a building.
So, perfectly naturally, 1 ton of ice = 1 ton of cooling.
All big AC equipment is still rated in tons.
And don't even talk to me about slugs.

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...England was an English speaking country (I have since been corrected - NYU require prospective students of British citizenship to take an 'English as a Foreign Language' test if they wish to study there.)

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...aliens came from outer space, when in fact I am one.

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...

Two Types Of Snoozer

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Type 1

Phone: TIME TO GET UP!
Human: I want to sleep a little longer.

-a bit later-

Phone: TIME TO GET UP!
Human: I suppose it is.


Type 2

Phone: TIME TO GET UP!
Human: I want to sleep a little longer.
Phone: TIME TO GET UP!
Human: I want to sleep a little longer
Phone: TIME TO GET UP!
Human: Uhhhhhnnnflumphmeh
Phone: TIME TO GET UP!
Phone: TIME TO GET UP!
Phone: TIME TO GET UP!
Phone: TIME TO GET UP!
Phone: Screw this for a lark. Standing by.

-a bit later-

Human: ...uh what time is it?


It's tough when these two types of snoozer share a bed.

Attention Span: A True Story

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Early in the morning yesterday in Washington DC, on a narrow grass median where a highway off-ramp meets a crossroads, a man leant a large white stuffed bear against the traffic light pole. Let's call the man Tom, and we'll call the bear Dick.
Dick was dressed in torn and dirty clothing and was holding a sign that read 'S.O.S.'

Tom withdrew to the trees on the other side of the road to take pictures of Dick and the cars. For hours, on one knee or standing, he took photographs from many different places at the roadside, usually when the traffic lights were red and the space between him and Dick was packed with cars.

At about 11 o'clock another man crossed to the median.
Let's call him Harry.
So we have Tom among the trees with his camera, Dick the bear, and now Harry.

Harry stood for a moment, looking at Dick.
Dick and Harry were both dressed in tattered, weathered clothes, and Harry had a sign as well, a big one he held under his arm. To Tom's distress, Harry dropped his things in the grass and picked Dick up bodily. Carrying him under his arm, Harry crossed the second half of the street and propped Dick against a trash can on the pedestrian sidewalk and, leaving him there, made his way back to the median.
Harry's sign said, 'Vietnam Vet hungry and homeless please help'

Tom hung around for another couple of hours taking pictures of Dick in his new spot, without moving him. Now Tom took pictures when passersby could be seen reacting to Dick and his sign. At about 3 o'clock Tom picked up Dick and walked off. Harry stuck around.

So; two things.

Firstly, Tom and Dick. Or at least what I think Tom and Dick were all about - I didn't ask.
Congress is considering energy legislation this week.
The folks at wecansolveit.org think that if:

-you care about the recent elimination of the hugely successful and economically beneficial renewable energy industrial subsidies that have boosted the progress of renewable energy in the US
-you're concerned about the push for domestic US drilling being used as an excuse for continued reckless use of fossil fuels (the USA is using 25% of the world's oil and sitting on 3% of its reserves)
-you're a little vexed about the fact that we are on the brink of seriously fucking the earth up

...well then!
You should call your Member of Congress and tell them just that.
Here's how.
Don't use the word fuck like I did.
If you don't have a Member of Congress, call your local governmental representative.

Secondly, Harry.
I don't know what to say about Harry other than...peace and compassion - let them move you.

Downtown Manhattan is again today swamped with visitors attending the memorial service for the victims of the September the 11th attacks. The reading of the names is echoing in the streets near the former site of the towers. The mood is subdued and sad, but today I witnessed none of the aggression and appetite for vengeance I had seen, admittedly only at the crowd's fringes, at previous events. I hope that says something about how people feel, and not the police's policies on demonstrations at the ceremonies. I noticed a huge water cannon under covers in a nearby sidestreet in a row of waiting police vehicles.

A block from the WTC site, a wild-eyed man stared at me in my bank's lobby as I walked in. He was in the process of taping some home-made posters to the glass. I can't really remember who he blamed for 9/11, but the words 'INSIDE JOB' featured. I had just been walking through the crowds listening to the names, and I was feeling very emotional. Upstairs, I let the teller know, and she asked a security guard to go down and talk to the man.

Aperture Science

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I frowned at Google the other day. Not because of Chrome, although I'll get to that in a minute, but because Google - the search engine bit - wasn't being helpful.

It was trying, but failing.
It's a work example, but I hope you'll bear with me.

On Monday I looked up drycooler. I'm not a fan of them (engineers will, at this point, have to excuse the pun. everyone else, please carry on), they're inefficient but small.

Due to the unique way the google' 'history' function is wired and if you have it enabled, you'll get a different set of results to me when you click on that link. Chances are you haven't looked for them before, so this will be google's first stab at getting you what you want - Classic Google algorithm, original recipe.

Tuesday I looked them up again, and the page was different. The first page of results was thick with the links I'd clicked from Monday's results, regardless of where they'd been in the original line up.
Which would be great, if I was looking for the exact same information that interested me before, when in fact I was deliberately looking for more models, from more manufacturers, so it took me a while to get to the stuff I wanted.

"Ah, foolish Stuart," I hear you pointedly remark, "The Mighty Google has sorted all these things for you! Click one results page back and you'll be in virgin internet territory! Amen."

And you would have a point.

After a year of using google for my product searches, I will have enormously skewed my preferred results towards vendors I use a lot; the big equipment manufacturers that dominate the American market, and they will handily spring to the fore each time. But what is going on in that selection process? Are European vendors being screened out because I usually look at US sites, from a computer in the US? Is something I searched for in my lunch hour going to affect my work searches? 

If at 12.30 one day I search for 'Nike Air', look for fares on 'US Air', read a funny story in a pictureless Reuters 'Funnily Enough' story and then have to look up 'hot air balloon shaped like a banana' how are those 'air' themed searches affecting my 4.30pm hunt for 'steam air humidification systems absorption rate'?

It seems that making suggestions based on previous 'satisfactory' results is a narrowing-down of the possibilities of the internet. Chrome's built-in 'omnibar' suggests results as you type -from your previous history and 'popular sites even if you haven't visited them'...which could in future be google advertisers. Paid ads are clearly defined though the google.com interface, but not yet in the address bar suggestions...

I'm having difficulty articulating my problems with this, apart from the fact that it raises my net neutrality hackles - no one should be limiting your access to the internet, not even your past self.

Google History is an optional 'feature' that I've now turned off, but it seems to be somewhat warped way to run a search engine that can be adapted to so many unpredictable purposes by the same user. I think Google needs to worry less about giving people what they might want, and work on improving the ways in which they can do what they like.
Tools like calculator, the unit conversion aspect of which is a favourite of mine, the almost-but-not-quite-awesome "define:" function... things like that are turning google into a powerful query responder in its own right, not just a gateway to other people's information.

Trying to narrow that portal to point at a particular type of information can only be a bad move. Even if it's only a little more work to get at what you want, it's still a restriction.


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