Emulation Elation

Playing emulated games can be a pain. There's the problem of legally acquiring ROMs, and often emulators need some tweaking to function properly. (Did you ever try to play Amiga games on a Mac?)
This is where Arcade Retro Gaming’s MCC-216 comes in. It utilises an FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) core, which – as far as I can tell – means that it can accommodate several systems on a chip.
The devices can be hooked up to any screen or monitor and comes with the classic Competition Pro joystick. Pure "click, click" bliss! Most importantly it comes with a good amount of licensed C-64 games and demos. Ironically, some of these even have the hacked/trainer front-ends, a good reminder of how hard some of the classics were.
Best of all, the device comes with the possibility to install multiple cores. Currently C-64 and Atari 2600 cores are available, and an Amiga core is in beta.
Sure, if you want to you can get your hands on retro games: you can play them on your iOS device, download them from the Wii's virtual console or buy compilations. None of these solutions, however, offer the flexibility and versatility of the MCC-216. Or a Competition Pro joystick.
Beginners can happily play away, pros have something to tinker with. It's ultraportable, hooks up to pretty much anything, is not crippled by any DRM and even supports keyboard input.
Most importantly, it keeps the legacy of the classics alive. After all, what is a medium worth if it is not conscious of its own history?
-Jens Schroeder
PS: Props to Toronto Thumbs for inspiring this post!

WikiLeaks: Supplementary Reading

When I was in University, a lot of my classes had a supplementary reading list. You didn't need to read these articles or books to pass, but they were related to the subject matter and might help your understanding of it. As I'm reading more and more about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, I've become reminded of some great articles or stories that I've read over the past few years. Below are a few of them that I think anyone interested in WikiLeaks might also be interested in: The Cypherpunk Manifesto - "Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age. Privacy is not secrecy. A private matter is something one doesn't want the whole world to know, but a secret matter is something one doesn't want anybody to know. Privacy is the power to selectively reveal oneself to the world," wrote Eric Hughes in 1993 as the opening lines of The Cypherpunk Manifesto. And while that was almost 20 years ago, it feels incredibly relevant in the context of the Wikileaks case breaking now. As the text continues, I can't help but feel it must have very influential on a younger Julian Assange:

"Cypherpunks write code. We know that someone has to write software to defend privacy, and since we can't get privacy unless we all do, we're going to write it. We publish our code so that our fellow Cypherpunks may practice and play with it. Our code is free for all to use, worldwide. We don't much care if you don't approve of the software we write. We know that software can't be destroyed and that a widely dispersed system can't be shut down."

Anything about Sealand - While I haven't been following the Wikileaks case closely enough to know where exactly the information is being hosted these days, the talk of finding an independent data haven reminded me of the brief obsession I had with The Principality of Sealand. This off-shore platform was built in international waters during World War II and has had a colourful history of pirate radio stations, pretenders to the throne, secessionists and so on ever since then. For a while, I remember there being talk of it being used as a data haven by online gambling (and more nefarious organizations) wanting to keep their information safe from the prying eyes of government.

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson - While it is a work of fiction, the plot of this lengthy tome is about a group of people trying to set-up a data haven somewhere in the South Pacific. Its got historical adventure, techno-babble and the type of writing you can't put down. If you want to have a taste of some the research that went into writing this book, I strongly recommend also reading "Mother Earth Mother Board," an epic article that Neal Stephenson wrote for Wired Magazine in 1996 about the business of laying undersea fibre-optic cables across the world. In the age of Wi-Fi, it can feel a bit dated at times but is still a top-notch read.

Assassination Politics - I feel like there have been a couple of calls for the assassination of Julian Assange, and the whole thing got me thinking about Jim Bell's concept of Assassination Politics (an article I read about the same time as The Cypherpunk Manifesto). The concept is basically that with the right type of cryptography, the type that would allow us to exchange information and money without either side of the exchange knowing the identity of the other, you could set up a sort of assassination market that would easily collapse governments. Jim Bell's article is a great thought experiment, particularly when combined with some of the other articles in this list.

What would you add to the Wikileaks Supplementary Reading list?


Pure Performance

Sometimes you get handed a project at work, and you're the only one on it. You see it through from every step and when its finished, for better or worse, it was all you. Sometimes though, you're just a small cog in a big machine, a player on the team.

Either way, it feels amazing when things come together and you see some success.

When you're working in social media, sometimes that success looks like seeing your clients' content on some of the biggest blogs in the world, then shared across dozens of different social networks.

Sometimes it is just hundreds of thousands of views.

Sometimes its both:

And the making of:

A lot of hands when into making these videos and letting them out into the wild, but I think most of the credit goes to creative forces here at DDB Canada.

Life Imitates Art Imitating Life (Our Android Entertainers)

Sometime last week I read a news story announcing that "Japan's latest rockstar is a 3D hologram." The star is actually a software package that a company put together that is capable of mimicking a human voice (based on a sample from a voice over artist) and creating songs. As a devoted sci-fi fan, I wasn't surprised by this. It was more like the feeling you get after a medium-length car trip: "Oh, we're here?" you might say as you put down the magazine and tell whoever it is that drove that it seems like you made good time.

In the 1994 animation movie Macross Plus, one of the main 'characters' is an Artificial Intelligence named Sharon Apple.  She sells out stadiums, and appears to be the biggest star in the world.

Similarly, in William Gibson's 1995 book Idoru one of the main characters 'marries' Rei Toei, another performer who is nothing more than an Artificial Intelligence.

I haven't seen the movie S1M0NE, but apparently it has a similar plot line with the added perk of Al Pacino.

How much of our entertainment of the future will be entirely artificial? Its one thing to create robots that can sing like humans, and insert digital characters into movies, but will a computer ever be able to create an actual story?

Image of Sharon Apple above via this site.

Advice For Anyone Who Wants to Start A Blog

A few days ago, a friend of mine mentioned that she had begun PR school and asked for advice about what to do for the blog she was obligated to do for one of her classes. If you're one of those die-hard BlogCampaigning fans, you probably already know my thoughts on adding another PR blog to the over-saturated sea of PR blogs.

Back then, my advice to my young friend would have been that she should start a blog about something she cares about.

Now, my advice would be that they avoid starting a blog altogether.

Instead, she should start a Facebook Page.

Right at the start, she can populate this Facebook Page with information about herself (or her project) and what the page is about.

Since I'm pretty sure students in these PR classes are encouraged to read each others' blogs, she can then ask her follow students to 'Like' the page (a much easier task than subscribing via RSS).

Instead of daily blog posts, she can write daily status updates for the page. Facebook's newish tagging ability makes it easier to link to other pages, and isn't really that different than the traditional HTML links you'd include in a blog post. These tags have the added ability of ensuring your post is visible on the page that you tagged, potentially increasing your audience. Interactions on these pages (Likes, Comments) will be spread across the social network of her and her friends, encouraging further interaction and becoming much more visible than if these same interactions were made on a blog.

If she does all this, she'll have the framework for a 'blog' that has the potential to be more popular than any of her classmates. She'll also learn a lot about an increasingly relevant tool in the communicators' kit.

She'll still have to ensure her posts are interesting, resonate with her audience and encourage interaction. A supporting website with basic contact information and direction to 'Like' the Facebook page couldn't hurt, either.

What do you think? Is this good advice for a PR/communications student? If you're a teacher, would you give a passing grade to a student who did this instead of starting a traditional blog?


Good Foot is a Good Idea

I've met a Jon Gauthier a few times and while I  knew he was an entrepreneurial fellow, I didn't know he was starting up his own courier company. The company, Good Foot Delivery, "provides a personalized point-to-point delivery service on foot or via public transit as well as employment opportunities to people with developmental disabilities."

I think this is a great idea, and while I don't want to downplay the hard work that Jon probably put in to get Good Foot off the ground I also think its a great example of how easy it can be to get a project like this off the ground with the help of social media. Its great to see that Jon was able to use his skills to do something he was really passionate about while also giving back to the community.

Read more about Jon's company, Good Foot, in the Toronto Star and then vote for them on the Pepsi Refresh Project website.

Keep up the good work, Jon!


Gear for hacker kids

Twenty-odd years ago, a whole generation of kids grew up tinkering with Commodores, Ataris, and clunky Intel 286s. Back then families shelled out a good chunk of change to participate in The Personal Computer Revolution, hoping to give their kids a head start in the hazy future of computers and electronics. It wasn't all fun and games though. These devices weren't just toys, and they encouraged anyone, adults and kids alike, to delve deeper into their mechanic and electronic underpinnings. For our generation, I hope we also pass on the favour to the kids, to allow them the opportunity to tinker, to think, to come to terms with the future in their own way. Here's the state of the art in exploration, to the delight of kids and adults alike:

For the toddlers, the One Laptop Per Child project's OLPC XO-1 junior convertible tablet takes the crown as the cutest, bubbliest tablet currently not on the market. A few years ago, it was possible to get these laptop/tablets via the Give One Get One program, which donates a device to the developing world for every one purchased. The project has since discontinued this deal, but it's still possible to find these on eBay. However, the best way to get one of these is to participate in the OLPC project itself. The project has loaner models for volunteers, whether as coder, hardware developer, or even evangelist. The hardware itself is fairly hackable, and as the OS is based on Fedora Linux, with large parts of the UI based on Python, it's an easy and early entry point for kids into the wonderful world of UNIX. There is a higher spec "high school" version currently in development: the XO-1.5.

For the curious teen, looking to brag about the biggest, baddest robot on the block, there's the MakerBot:


The MakerBot is a construction kit for the modern age. It's a do-it-yourself, DIY 3D printer. For $950, it allows you to construct objects from models designed on a computer. The base material is ABS plastic, which the MakerBot spits out layer by layer to form the finished product. A video is worth a million words, so here's Bre Pettis, a founder of Makerbot Industries.

Missing a Lego piece? Maybe you can make one yourself. Or perhaps try to refine this experimental Coke and Mentos driven engine. Tons of space for learning and fun here.

For the fledgling adolescent, wanting to know more about why one boy is so different from another, or needing information on coming to terms with family histories of illness, we have the gateway to genetic analysis and biotechnology in the upcoming OpenPCR project. While the science of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is more advanced, the goal remains the same: it's a tool for enlightening and learning about our world. The OpenPCR is a DIY box for replicating DNA, as the first basic step in genetic screening, testing, and analysis. The purpose of the PCR process is to create enough copies of the microscopic DNA from a sample, so that we can visualize it, and use other tools to break it apart or match it for certain patterns. The project is requesting funding at their KickStarter page, which has a good video intro to the process.

Why would kids be interested in this? Because they can use it to prove that they really do hate brussels sprouts, so don't even try making them for dinner.

Of course, the MakerBot and OpenPCR both require plenty of adult supervision, but that's also the point, isn't it?—to spend some quality time with the kids thinking and learning about the world together, outside the influence of ads and TV, away from ready-made toys and the latest gadgets du jour. I'm sure there are many other exciting gear and tools that allow kids to experiment and learn about emerging technologies and sciences. Let me know in the comments if you run into something cool.

Anatomy of a Traffic Spike (Flickr Madnss)

On Saturday, June 12, I uploaded a series of vintage NASA photos to Flickr.

I wrote a blog post about how I found the photos, Stumbled the Flickr set, and also emailed a link to the set to one of my favorite blogs, io9.

When I woke up on Sunday morning, the set had over 10,000 views. As the day went on, and I kept checking the stats, it continued to gain more views.

What happened?

io9 wrote about the photos, referring to them as "the motherlode of space porn" and linking to the set on Flickr.

That post received approximately 52 different tweets, while a link to the set itself has received almost 90 tweets.

Jens told me he was going to submit it to Boingboing and Reddit, but he was too lazy to do either.

According to a little search I did, it was also shared on Facebook 82 times, got 45 "Likes" and 35 comments.

Since then, 52 different people have added me as a contact on Flickr (you can too: I'm ParkerNow there as well). My photos have had over 50 comments and tons of them have been made favorites by other people. Even better is that some of the Flickr people commenting are incredibly knowledgeable about the photos and are adding information, like when the photo was taken and who is in it (as below):

Admittedly, the photos weren't really "mine" to begin with (as various comments have pointed out, better quality versions of some of the pictures are available on the NASA website and are in the public domain), but I wanted to put them in a public space and the whole thing has turned out to be a pretty rewarding experience.

On a related note, this graphic of "Your Flickr Stats Explained" is pretty good.


Microsoft's Take On Video

Online video undoubtedly plays a significant role in emerging media. Video is nothing new, but its use on a growing variety of devices (smartphones, tablet PCs, laptops etc.) has sky rocketed in the last few years. YouTube alone reaches upwards of 2 billion views per day, doubled from one year ago. Video is obviously here to stay, but it isn't a static format. With our ever-growing needs, it is constantly evolving to be clearer, simplified and easier for developers to work with.
I was recently given the opportunity to interview Peter Farfaras, Emerging Video Specialist for Microsoft. He spoke at SES Toronto last week and had the following to say about emerging media and Microsoft's role in the development of online video.
Q: Can you provide some insight on Silverlight vs HTML5? Adobe has had a lot of push back lately (Apple war) and HTML5 is being touted as the next major platform for video. What are your thoughts on how Silverlight compares here?
A (this first answer came from Senior Video Product Manager Matthew McKenzie):
Microsoft ships the world's most popular HTML client. Despite the HTML5 specification being a work in progress, we implemented several HTML5 features in our most recent browser. Microsoft has co-chaired the HTML5 working group in W3C since its inception, and we remain active participants. Our browser will continue to be the dominant HTML standards implementation for the foreseeable future.
Likewise, we continue to invest heavily in Silverlight development and deployment. There is no one-size-fits-all, perfect tool for every development job. HTML5 will be fantastic for some scenarios, while Silverlight will be great for others.
Q: Coverage being distributed via Silverlight? Are more developers using it now?
A: Yes, more and more developers are using Silverlight, and we have a DPE team dedicated to Silverlight evangelism. As for results from our collaboration with CTV for the Olympic video coverage, below are some impressive statistics worth noting provided by our DPE teams:

Q: Do you think large-scale production videos are going to be replaced by more web-ready compact video?
A: No, I don’t see large-scale production videos being entirely replaced by web-ready compact video. I do however see the changes or improvements being made to optimize the production of Video.
Definitions of video content types are always changing but the core question is around production and type.
There will be times when video production will either be less, the same or more complex to create than TV; but as I stated earlier, this will be dependent of the type/genre of content or event. We have millions (even billions) of examples of compact/low cost production—"handycam" or mobile video content—being created and uploaded to the web all of the time.
It really comes down to what environment the video viewer is in. Think of "a day in the life" scenario: do they want to watch premium long-form video content that has high production quality in the evening, short-form premium video on demand while they are at work or travelling, or low-res —UGC or viral video content—for a laugh. Context matters. We will still have large-scale production video, we’ll just have them optimized and create and distribute them more efficiently; that’s where the evolving world of video technology comes in. (Attached is a condensed version of our Context Matters by eMarketer.)
Q: Where do you see the video industry five years out?
A: Based on global statistics, Canada continues to maintain one of the highest levels of video usage as a percentage of population: currently 88%+ (according to comScore Video Metrix, April 2010).
I expect to see continued growth, especially if online video adoption, viewing, usage continues at its current trajectory.
It’s really exciting to think about how dynamic this environment will be. It’s always evolving and there are several forces at play, a few being:

  • Increased PVR/DVR adoption
  • More and more content shifting online (globally)
  • Viewers continuing to want a choice of how they can access either long-form or short-form content
  • What viewers can do with that content (stream, download, share, etc.)
  • Networks wanting to capitalize on a growing/shifting audience—to meet the ‘convenience factor’
  • Technology companies wanting to provide the vehicles for viewing this content (software, hardware)
  • ISPs/cable operators needing to scale accordingly to this demand and perhaps even change their revenue structures

The perception may be that video is still in its early days when you compare it to TV, but we have this perfect environment where users will continue to demand access to video content online, especially as more and more short-form and long-form TV moves online. Just take a look at the Vancouver Olympic stats referred to above, those are some unprecedented numbers. Video isn’t going away.
Q: What are some ways that Microsoft is planning to use video and stay ahead of the curve?
A: Video will continue to be a key pillar for Microsoft: delivering premium video content to our users via the most reliable and cutting edge technology. Our new MSN Video destination site improves on previous versions. The end-user experience is paramount, and the new player takes the UX to the next level.
Features like:

  • Dim the lights—cinematic experience—where users can dim the background of the site and content making the video player standout
  • HD content: Full-screen in HD content
  • 14 different sharing features and options
  • Unique URLs for each video
  • This is key for Video Search as the metadata is improved/more robust

What are your thoughts on the emerging role of video? What would you like to see companies like Microsoft introduce into the market?

1172 NASA Pictures

A few years ago, Jens gave me a CD with some files on it that I needed for a school project. Also on the CD was a folder titled "NASA - 1172 Pictures (Black Magic Alchemy Illuminati Nwo)."

Knowing what I did about Jens at the time, I wasn't super surprised. I also thought that the contents of the folder were awesome and, for the most part, exactly as advertised: over 1000 old-school space and rocketry pictures. There are photos of astronauts, galaxies, and the earth from space. There are diagrams of rocket trajectories, and landscapes of the moon and mars.

Some of them seem to be pictures from magazine articles, while others seem to be scans of official slides. They're all amazing.

When I asked Jens where he got them, he said he didn't even know about the folder, and that he'd originally gotten the CD from another friend of his.

Wherever they came from, they were too awesome to keep bottled up on a hard drive and I decided to upload them to Flickr.

Enjoy them.


Peter and Valentine Were The Original Bloggers

Note: this post has some spoilers about Ender's Game, so if you haven't read it yet, don't read this post. Just go out and buy it and read it, because it's amazing. But don't take my word for it;  I mean, the 1986 Hugo Award and 1984 Nebula Award are hard to argue with. It's not even that long of a book. You can probably finish it in a lazy summer afternoon at the cottage, if you put down your iPhone for long enough. You can buy it on Amazon right now for, like, seven bucks.

This weekend, I finished re-reading Ender's Game for the first time since I originally read it ten years ago and was blown away by how well the author, Orson Scott Card, predicted the future from the early 80s.

I say the early 80s, but it could have been earlier. Card's first version was published as a story in a science fiction magazine in 1977. He later fleshed this out to a full-fledged novel in 1985 (according to the copyright information in my copy of the book), and made some more minor changes in 1991.

And when I'm talking about how Card predicted the future, I'm not talking about Ender's Desk (which is described exactly like an iPad) or even the Ansible, a device capable of near-instantaneous communication over vast distances (not that far off, really). I'm talking about how he predicted the rise of blogging and the influence social media can have over culture and politics.

While most of the plot of the book follows young Ender Wiggin, youngest of three children, as he goes to Battle School at the age of six to learn how to be the commander of a fleet to fight invading aliens, a sub-plot involves how his sociopathic, but brilliant, brother Peter, and more empathetic, but equally brilliant, sister Valentine, are left home on earth.

Under the leadership of Peter, the two of them start contributing to "forums" on the "nets" using pseudonyms, or characters:

"They began composing debates for their characters. Valentine would prepare an opening statement, and Peter would invent a throwaway name to answer her. His answer would be intelligent, and the debate would be lively, lots of clever invective and good political rhetoric. Valentine had a knack for alliteration that made her phrases memorable. Then they would enter the debate into the network, separated by a reasonable amount of time, as if they were actually making them up on the spot. Sometimes a few other netters would interpose comments, but Peter and Val would usually ignore them or change their own comments only slightly to accommodate what had been said."

The next paragraph describes how Peter tracked how their work was being read and shared, and reads almost like a description of media monitoring in 2010.

As the two keep writing, their influence grows, their articles get syndicated, and they begin to get involved in serious policy discussions. Since its all online, no one knows that it is actually just two genius children.

Implausible? Yes. Impossible? No.

While I doubt that our global politics are being played like a game of chess by a couple of kids, I think Orson Scott Card's prediction of the way an ordinary citizen can get involved via the internet and become a serious, real-world influence is a great bit of future-casting.

Reasons like that are why I love reading science-fiction, be it old-school Heinlein and Asimov, 80s cyberpunk, or the post-human stuff that's all the rage these days. Science fiction is a framework for thinking about what could happen; it's a way of looking forward to finding out who is going to be right.

Have you read Ender's Game? Were Peter and Valentine the original bloggers?

The Guardian: Taking the Guards Down

Chris Thorpe, Developer Advocate for The Guardian presented one of my favourite sessions at Mesh this year. He spoke about The Guardian's open platform program which opens their API, data, and content to developers. This is a stark contrast to the many newspapers in North America that have started charging for content, placing it behind pay walls and forms. Chris believes this will ultimately decrease their influence, reach and engagement, leading to lower traffic and ad revenue. He explained that the longer people spend browsing on your site, the more pages they view and the more likely they are to click through on ads, increasing revenues overall. If you block off your content, you can kiss those extra eyeballs and advert dollars buh-bye.
Before you get the wrong idea, Chris and The Guardian aren't giving away the farm for free. They are implementing developer agreements (revenue sharing, syndication, etc.) on data and API codes to build businesses with developers. The four stages of newspaper production are creation, production, monetization, and distribution. Chris says to put a "co-" in front of each stage. Involve the public and the audience in the process.
Why is this a good thing?
First, it gets people engaged in the journalistic process, using the engagement of the audience and the readers to bring out more information and news. He cited the example of G20 "protester" Ian Tomlinson who was killed by police. The police told one story, but the pictures and video sent in by other protesters told quite another. Time has come for the public to take back some of its power in bringing truth and justice to the forefront. By empowering the world's citizens and bringing them into the process, trust in mass media as a source, and newspapers as a medium, can be restored.
Second, it allows developers to use The Guardian's data to develop new websites, microsites, and apps weaving The Guardian into their fabric. This will put The Guardian in front of new audiences and increase traffic to the newspaper's website. It will also increase ad revenue and provide information needed for more targeted ads both on the partner sites and The Guardian's own website.
Third, most developers are creative and entrepreneurial. By working with, instead of against, developers The Guardian will reap the benefits of new and innovative business models.

Chris sees The Guardian as an online business, not a print business, and he believes that in order to survive, news entities must restructure their business models to work with the online shift, not against it. He believes that by opening up their content and data, The Guardian can one day be the world's leading liberal source. With already more than 40% of their traffic coming from outside the UK, this certainly seems to be within their grasp.
What do you think?

Hired Guns Get The Job Done

A few days ago, Jevon MacDonald wrote a post on StartupNorth advising startups to avoid using Public Relations agencies or Marketers to contact him on their behalf. While he was speaking about his site specifically, his statement suggests that hiring a PR firm means a startup's priorities are "out of wack". I disagree. I don't think that every startup needs a PR firm, but there are certainly many that do. Getting some early coverage can be key to getting investors, and PR firms can help with reaching the right audiences and helping the startup founder tell an interesting story about the company.

While some founders are probably great at writing and communicating, there are equally as many that aren't. A PR agency can help draft emails, arrange interviews, and develop collateral. These are all things that PR pros excel at, and that would take away from time that a startup founder could probably spend working on the key element of their company.

Tim Lee wrote about a similar topic in a post titled PR Firm as The Anti-Signal, and I followed that one up, too.

What do you think? Should startups be hiring PR companies, or are they a waste of time?


Happy Ada Lovelace Day

March 24th is Ada Lovelace Day, the international day of blogging, to draw attention to the achievements of women in technology. Ada Lovelace is often noted as the first computer programmer. She wrote the first computer algorithm in 1842, and believed in the strong role that computers and technology would play in society far ahead of her time. Today is a day to celebrate not only her achievements, but the achievements of every woman in technology and science around the world. I believe women bring a valuable outlook to the technology field, viewing and solving problems in different ways from our male counterparts. The diversity of solutions created by active participation from both men and women enables the advancement and flourishing of science and technology.

Today I am thankful to be surrounded by so many brilliant women, who continue to create, invent, blog and inspire others to get involved each and every day.

Cheers to some women who inspire me on a daily basis:

Jen Evans: Founder and Chief Strategist at Sequentia Environics (where I work) – inspiring and amazingly brilliant!

Candice Faktor: Doing amazing things to push the envelope and keep the media industry churning – Managing Director of Corporate Development and Innovation, Torstar Digital.

Ashleigh Gardner: A digital publishing force to be reckoned with – Digital Publisher, Dundurn Press.

Sarah Prevette: Founder and CEO of Sprouter – persevered towards her dream of helping entrepreneurs connect and being featured one day in Wired Magazine.

Jess Bennett: Inspired Toronto blogger for Sift, Dust & Toss about food, health and nutrition – named best new Canadian blog of 2009.

Amanda Laird: Toronto food blogger for Mise En Place, community manager and communications specialist at CNW Group.

Which women inspire you?

The Amazon Kindle Review From BlogCampaigning That You've Been Waiting For

I got an Amazon Kindle for Christmas this year, and it has been really enjoyable to use. It's as light as a small paperback book, the screen has the visual characteristics of regular novel paper, and it can store quite a bit. For someone like myself who frequently has a few books on the go, the Kindle makes it easy to have them all with you in one slim package. (I'm currently reading Galileo's Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami, and The Night's Dawn Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton. I'd like to say I'm also reading Jens Schroeder's dissertation on the Kindle, but he only sent it to me in PDF and that type of document doesn't display well on the device—sorry, Schredd.) Add to that the convenience of being able to very easily add books to your collection (I went on a $50 spree in about five minutes when I first got it), and it makes for a nice little package.

Some of the other features I like about it are the ability to quickly search through the text. Although this isn't a mind-blowing feature, I can definitely see myself using this when it comes to writing a blog post on a few books I've read recently, and I want to find key passages. Similarly, you can very easily add notes to yourself and browse them later, a feature that may come in handy for those doing reviews or research and not wanting to do all their reading on a computer screen or with a notebook in hand.

As a very avid Blackberry user, I find the keys on the Kindle are spaced a little bit too far apart, making the keypad difficult to use. Since the Kindle is mostly for reading and note taking for me is rare, this is a minor gripe.

The lack of other flashy features that something like the iPad might have is something of a feature in itself. With the Kindle, I'm able to focus on the book I'm reading without being tempted to switch into other programs, or check something else.

I've also been letting my roommate Annie borrow it now and then. Annie's job is making clothing for the puppets on the TV show Glenn Martin, DDS. She also makes leather purses, and although she always buys the latest issue of Wired Magazine (normally the UK edition), she rarely reads it online. She never wants to own a Blackberry, and when I told her what I did for work, she asked me if I was a spin doctor.

Her thoughts on the Kindle? She feels self-conscious using an expensive piece of electronics in public (even after I pointed that the Kindle probably isn't high up on the must-have list for thieves).

The two of us also agree that until everyone has a device that can handle e-books, sharing books is a pain the ass. She has a few books downloaded on the device, and so do I. With one device, it means only one of us can read our books at the same time. I've been pretty good at sharing with her, but I know there are sometimes when she wishes she could read it on the train on the way to work while I'm already out of the house with it, having a coffee and reading my favourite book.

"I think there will always be a place for paper books and magazines", Annie said when I told her I was writing this blog post. "They'll just be a lot more special, like those Phaidon art books."

I tend to agree with her when she says that, and I said as much in a blog post about the magazine industry a while ago. Just as MP3 players have made it easier to share and enjoy music while increasing the demand for box sets and live music, I think e-readers will do the same for literature. While everyone will have freely available articles and books on their devices everywhere they go, true collectors will spend hundreds of dollars on super-glossy, limited edition runs of books and magazines.

But that's really all an aside... at the end of the day, the Kindle is a great device.

How long until we read everything on e-readers? Have you got one? Will there still be a place for books and magazines?


Torys LLP iPhone App

Last year I wrote a whitepaper on Canadian law firms and their use of social media. I was interested in finding out how the legal industry had started to use social networking and social tools to grow their firms. Torys LLP was among the firms I interviewed. They weren't afraid to take some risks and try new things before other law firms. They positioned themselves as a leading firm in online marketing and communications, and they are still at it.

This week, Torys launched a free iPhone app for their firm, marking the first time a Canadian firm has taken this step. It certainly won't go unnoticed.

Main features of the app include: Twitter updates, legal bulletins, lawyer and admin staff profiles, lawyer and student videos and a GPS office locator. I played around with some of the features and also got some feedback from a lawyer friend of mine.

Overall, the app is an impressive first step, especially in an industry that is generally a little bit behind the times when it comes to digital marketing. As with most first generation apps, there is always room for improvement. Torys might consider tailoring content and breaking down feeds to specific practice areas and also making the publications mobile friendly (they are currently web formatted PDFs).

If you are in the legal industry or just looking for a good lawyer, check out their app and leave some feedback!

Mr. Anderson?

Last week I found myself in the middle of one of those conversations that keeps you thinking into the wee hours of the night. By no means did we reach a resolution; however, I'll do my best to recount some of the main positions and posits of the conversation. Hopefully you can provide some insights of your own. Like most brain busters it began simply enough. My friend told a story of how she had been in the car with her dad watching him manoeuvre between his cellphone, blackberry, MP3 player, and the steering wheel. "He was like a zombie", she said, "doing a million virtual things at once", barely even conscious of the conversation he was supposedly having with her. In that instant, almost all of her dad's faculties were fulfilling virtual obligations over a variety of virtual networks.

Envision a matrix, each technology filling a virtual space around us, connecting slowly but surely with other virtual spaces until we are in fact living most of our conscious lives in a virtual realm. Kinda scary, but not that far-fetched.

This brings in the discussion of augmented reality, the real-time intrusion of technology into our physical environment. However, I am not talking about overlaying our environment with technical or digital information. I'm speaking more about disconnecting from our physical environment altogether.

Forget the notions of Second Life, where users are still quite present in the physical realm. The reality of our current situation mirrors science fiction, whereby our physical selves are not necessarily needed for much of our day-to-day lives. The matrix of different networks is definitely starting to fill out, taking more and more of our consciousness with it.

The law of conservation of energy states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. We put so many hours of energy into virtual worlds and networks every day—tuned to our laptops, iPhones, and Blackberries so as not to miss a single nanosecond of social networking, emails, video games, online shopping, or music. If the law above holds true (and it does), where does this energy go? Does it flow out the other side in the form of new creations, products, events, and innovations? Or does it get trapped behind the screens in a virtual space awaiting our next visit? If we are engaging in three or four or five different mediums at a time, giving small pieces of ourselves to each one, how much of our conscious minds are "here", and how much is already residing in virtual space? And more importantly, what end are we all working towards?

We need to ground ourselves and remember that at least for the time being we are existing in the physical realm. It is important to turn yourself off of social networks, cellphones, and other virtual devices every day. Spend some time and energy with your feet rooted in the soil.

What do you think? Have you found yourself having this same conversation? Did you get any further in your discussion than we did?

Fanboys: These Days' Mods and Rockers

When I was writing about the iPad and technicity, I noticed that the notion of technicity can also be applied to the scourge of the game world: Fanboys, and their hatred of other people's choices. To recapitulate what technicity means: it is an “aspect of identity expressed through the subject’s relationship with technology. Particular tastes and their associated cultural networks have always been marked by particular technologies, e.g., rockers with motorbikes and mods with scooters” (Dovey & Kennedy, 2006).

Technicity comes to stand for identities that are formed around and through technological differentiation. This is even more true for the confusing 21st century where these new allegiances—based on attitudes towards or adoption of technology—seem to offer more critical purchase in representations of technoculture than the old more fixed sureties of class, ethnic or gender identities (ibid.).

Gamers in different countries might have more in common with each other than with other groups in their own country. This is because being a gamer is associated with certain skills and styles:

"The significant aspect of the term of ‘technicity’ is to encapsulate, in conceptual terms, the connections between an identity based on certain types of attitude, practices, preferences and so on and the importance of technology as a critical aspect of the construction of that identity. To be subjects within the privileged twenty-first-century first world is to be increasingly caught up in a network of technically and mechanically mediated relationships with others who share, to varying degrees, the same attitudes/ tastes, pleasures and preferences" (ibid.).

To make this notion a bit more palpable, the aforementioned mods and rockers make a very good example. Mods rode scooters; rockers motorbikes; and they were dead serious about it. To the outsider, both seem like a mode of transportation that will get you from A to B; just like to the outsider there is not much of a difference between an Xbox and a PlayStation. However, as everyone who has seen Quadrophenia can testify to, scooters and motorbikes were serious business. They were an extension of one's personality.

Within a dominant frame—e.g., youth culture, digital culture—different forms of technicity clash. This clash is not about which mode of transportation is better or which graphics are prettier. It's something personal, it's about one's identity expressed by one's gadget choices.

Additionally, and this is something that makes the arguments surrounding game platforms even more intense, games force you to invest much more of your personality. You need skills, you need to decode a game's structure or system—of levels, architectural organization, scoring systems, timing of events, non-player characters’ actions and interactions, etc. Without you, there is no game.

Accordingly, by questioning the purchase of a console you question someone's self in two ways: not only is the person's choice an expression of a "wrong" technicity, and therefore a "wrong" personality, but also the person's investment his or her self in the games is a waste of time. Their practices, their preferences, their skills, their decoding abilities, they themselves are doubted. And they don't take too kindly to it.

This also explains the clashes over platform exclusivity, and the accompanying notions of superiority and disappointment when a title is made available on other platforms. It also accounts for the tendency to compare titles which have been released on several platforms to the very last details. "Yes, it may be the same game, but my technicity is still superior to yours!"—Uh, I mean, "Yo gaylord this game iz much better on PS3, faggotbox cant do shit cuz its de gheyz!"

Kinda makes you long for some good old bank holiday clashes, doesn't it?


Dangerous Social Networking Games

I'm not quite sure where I stand on the phenomenon of location-aware applications. (I'm sure you've noticed that Foursquare is the hot one at the moment.) I find geo-tagging interesting; it's the sort of thing that I want to use to build pre- and post-apocalyptic fantasies. But marking a spot with useful or neat info, and letting others know you were there, is different from letting people know exactly where you are now. Well, I think so anyway. I see the value of letting friends or acquaintances know where you are at a given time: you can increase the likelihood of "chance" rendez-vous, and it adds an element of hyper-modern fun or adventure to our hyper-tech lives. It tries to put the social back in social networking.

I think of location-awareness as a sort of antidote to the separation that social networking brings on, whether it actually works or not. I've mentioned before that I now spend far more time at my computer than ever before, which, besides its other effects, makes me feel like I'm missing out on being social, even when I'm engaging in conversations on Facebook, Twitter, and whatever other forum. By letting others on my networks know where I am when I do get away from the new boob tube, I can at least feel like I'm being a bit more "real" social. Well, I don't precisely do this. At least not via a specific location-aware application. Occasionally I'll mention on Twitter where I am or where I'm going (usually obliquely), and I guess I'm not sure exactly why I do that.

Anyway, at the moment, I hardly go anywhere except for home and work, so my location posts would be excessively dull!

There's a dark side to all of this sharing though. Just as identity thieves can mine social networking sites and the world wide web in general for personal information to recreate private identities and do all kinds of bad stuff, enterprising thieves might use personal location information to determine when a person is and is not at home and when she is likely to return: the perfect opportunity—practically an invitation—to steal. That's kind of the premise of Please Rob Me, a website that uses Foursquare data from Twitter to inform the world when people are away from their homes, and thus supposedly when those homes are ripe for a'robbin'. (Really, their goal is "to raise some awareness on this issue [of privacy] and have people think about how they use services like Foursquare, Brightkite, Google Buzz etc. Because everybody can get this information.")

I'm not an alarmist when it comes to this sort of thing, but I do believe that identity thieves are out there, and I'm sure that somewhere someone is in fact nefariously collecting information on social networkers' whereabouts. I don't think those are necessarily reasons to stop using Twitter or foursquare; just think smart and be safe, okay?

On the other hand, I think Blippy is one of the worst things I've ever heard of. The site updates your status, like Twitter, with every purchase you make on your credit card. And sane people volunteer to share this information with the world. This seems to me to a shockingly shallow intentional expression of private information. (And I'm not going to provide a hyperlink, because I don't think you should bother visiting the site.) People used to say that Twitter was narcissistic, but Blippy has no other purpose than to gloat over one's consumption. There's little more narcissistic than that. Barbara Kiviat writes in Time Magazine that the idea of posting every credit card purchase might shame people into spending less, but one of the website's co-founders, Philip Kaplan, points to an opposite trend: spending more so that the world knows all the cool stuff you're buying and doing. Kiviat herself finds the urge to spend more rising within her after using Blippy for a while. Ugh!

When we look at social networking tools in isolation, it's difficult to see the harm that they might cause, but these tools don't exist in isolation, especially not now. I think it should be clear enough that releasing important private information can lead to bad things without the many warnings about doing it, but the warnings are there, and the problems will only get deeper the more information we choose to share.

Where will all of this private disclosure lead? What are the advantages? Do they outweigh the potential pitfalls? I could pretty much talk about this for hours, but I'll let you chime in for a minute...


Spreading The Noise

As regular readers of BlogCampaigning might know, I also write a music blog. That means aspiring artists, their labels and their PR people always email me new music. Some of it is good. Most of it isn't. Nearly all of the pitches I get are amateurish at best, and nearly all of them are poorly targeted.

However, one name has consistently stood out over the past few months for sending me music that I usually like wrapped in well written emails: Alastair Sloan from Spread The Noise. Curious to find out more about what he's doing, I wrote him an email and he was nice enough to answer some of my questions.

Describing his company as a "music marketing agency specializing in digital relations", Alastair explained to me via email that he got his start because his own music blog, Noise Porn, received so many poorly written pitches that he recognized a need in the market.

Alastair also mentioned that he doesn't have any formal marketing or communications training, but rather draws on his experience as a music blogger and from time spent working for newspapers and the PR department of a major organization. I think we'll see a lot more of this in the future, as PR education programs start to focus on production and internships rather than teaching the theory, while many more self-taught online communicators will have the skill and self-confidence to start their own companies or enter the working world.

Since I've always got an interest in how artists feel about giving away their music for free, I asked Alastair for his thoughts on it.

"It tends to be larger labels with an established position within the industry who are less keen to give away music", he wrote. "Sometimes I convince them; sometimes I don't. The important issue to point out here is that the business model of the record industry can have a 'free' aspect to it. Building your profile online can lead to more gigs, and more money. And building that profile is a lot easier if you're prepared to give away something to the bloggers." He goes on to mention that in a lot of cases, the artists he represents are actually paying him to see that their music is given away to the blogs, quite the reverse of the traditional model.

His parting advice for others wanting to reach out to bloggers and the online community is to be personable and not too formal. "Follow up your emails, and show you care", he says. He also adds that if you are a large PR agency, you shouldn't be sending the same formal news release to blogs that you would send to more traditional publications.

From what I can tell, this British bloke seems to be doing pretty well for himself, so go check out to see for yourself.

For some more posts on music blogging from BlogCampaigning, check out A Round Table of Music Blogging Knights and Music Blogging: Posting, Pitching and PR