Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Spotty Service

Advertising has never been a terribly sure thing. To be sure, there has long been a sort of dubiousness about commercials, that often expresses it self in a particularly jocular manner. The paraphrasing of Mark Twain as 'lies, damned lies and advertising' being a perennial favorite. The odd thing is that there does not seem to be nearly the same healty skepticism when it comes to other forms of advertising. Forms such as mottos, slogans or, as they are known today, 'taglines'. Boastful ones such as 'we won't be under sold' or 'the real thing', have given way, largely in the 21st century, to more conciliatory or even semi-philanthropic sentiments such as 'have it your way' or 'you deserve a break today'. New business, much like new media, has followed close behind its legacy predocessors. While companies such as Twitter are still allow a slight boast, delcainring themsevels to be 'what's happening', competitors such as Facebook are going the new route, heralding themselves as 'opening the world to like-minded people'. By the same token, music streaming giant Spotify has always proclaimed itself tobe the place with 'music for everyone'. Sadly, this claim holds about as much weight as a mayoral cadinate promising free ice-cream on Sunday.

Such deception has not always been the realm of the onine world. Having long ago learned from the mistakes of the past, the majority of online commercial entities at least attempted to be as direct and honest as they could possibly be when it came to dealing with customers. Even Amazon, which has developed a bit of a dodgy reputation when it comes to the delivered product living up the the discription, or even the image, advertised, has plausable deniablity when it comes to product sould by outside retailers that they allow to sell through their site. A shrewed move that increases profits while limiting responsibility to proucts they sell themselves.

The first signs of trouble began to show in 2013. In October of that year, a story in The Guardian revealed that there had been something of an exadous of some of its most popular acts. Beginning with known contrarian Thom York or Radiohead fame, others including Black Keys and Amiee Mann soon followed suit in pulling all their material from the streaming site. Even long-time Spotify supporters such as Metallica and Bob Dylan began to pull up stakes and cut their losses. Act such as Garth Brooks and Led Zepplin were featured on the site without their agreement and the less said about David Byrne's comments on the whole debacle the better.

The decent into corporate shill-ism has only gotten deeper for Spotify in current days. In an article last Satrudy the Guardian revealed that Spotify would be limiting access to particular acts to paid, premium suscribers. This in the wake of an agreement with some of the major players in the record industry. So it is less 'music for everyone' than some music for everyone. We all have to sell our soul sometimes I guess. And it is not always for virtuoso guitar skills.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Rise of the Machines?

It has been a notion long feared that, before long, the machines will come to out-number humans on the planet. The general notion that being greater in number, it will make it that much easier for the robots to enslave us. Or at least make us obsolete in most cases. Indeed, there is now a projection, made by those who are supposed to know about such things, that by the year 2055, up to 50% of human work activities will have become fully automated. This includes careers such as teaching, occupation management, therapy and acting. There are already machines said to be able to write poetry.

What is lost in such discussions is that projections such as these are based on a false premise. Or at least a faulty one. For a key handicap of any mechanized device, no matter how sharp its artificial intelligence, the one thing it will always lack is emotion. Acting is a non-starter if one cannot emote. Judging cases, while possible, would remove any sense of judicial discretion. A computerized entity would be unable to make the quick decisions required of an office manager and could not comprehend the emotional empathy required to be an effective therapist. The prospects of a mechanized take-over of human work, while ominous and it no way over-blown if plausible, are also a bit too far-fetched to warrant a great amount of present day concern.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Mail Verus Modems

In the endless march of progress, it can be very easy to lose a sense of proportion. If something is has been around before one is born, it can be easy to think they had always existed. Even if one is broadly aware that one invention of a particular ubiquitous device, it tends to be only in the the most abstract of terms but also a simplistic and inaccurate ones. The Cliffs Notes of History seem as though they would read along the lines of “Everyone used used candles, then there was the light bulb and they didn't anymore” so on and so forth for every other device invented since 1850. Have you ever seen the old footage of people who first tried to invent a mechanized flying machine, completely ignoring the fact that, in most cases, the blimp already existed? Some of them literally putting what amount to propellers on cars? Pretty funny right? As well as dangerous and essentially pointless as what would be the airplane was years away and looked nothing like these early death machines. This is not to say that no one should every try anything and we should all be reading and printed books and newspapers by candlelight in a room warmed by a wood stove, just that true invention, or innovation to use the accurate term for the majority of cases, comes only with long period of difficult labor, a streaming parade of failures and, more often than not at least in the old days, at least several injuries if not one or more deaths. Scarifies that increasingly not only go unsung but completely unknown as time goes on. To be fair, this preamble has little to nothing to do with the modern age which, according to my rigorous empirical research is a frightful bore for at least 45% of modern audiences but this is near the point where I actually get to the interesting stuff.

Modems are great!
Modems. For those of you born after 1990, this funny looking word refers to little boxes that let computers but not phones or tablets, get on the internet, at that point called “the World Wide Web” (what all that 'www' business stands for in web addresses) or “the Information Superhighway”. They are the reason that we can do what we now do, mostly forgetting what went before.

But not always ...
While now mostly inside the computer casing, yes they are in there along with the DVD player and hard-drive, tucked away and unobtrusive, back in the day they were big, hard, plastic things making a noise that would be heard emanating form the deepest bowels of Hell. Based partly on the the technology used in Fax machines, there were modems, originally pronounced moe-dems by the elderly and uninitiated, back before the internet (yes, there was indeed a time before the internet, even dial-up). What happened in those days, when we all wore bonnets and computers ran on coal, was that data would be sent directly from one computer to another, hard-drive to hard-drive, by way of a modem. What makes the current situation truly ironic is that while in these latter, halcyon days of high-speed internet and wireless connections, traditional mail is referred to as snail mail yet back then, say around 1988, the mail, also know as the post, was actually faster at getting information from one place to another. Though to be fair this situation was not only to do with the somewhat clunky performance of the technology of the day. This was also a time in which the postal service was still regarded as a service and there were a minimum of two deliveries a day from Monday to Saturday.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Sudden Death

There are many dangers in this modern world. Many of them clear and obvious. Others not quite so much. Who, for example, ever would have thought that a seemingly healthy green veg could cause thyroid glands produce too fast or that air bags, once the high-point of automotive safety, could kill those of insufficient height? Came straight out of the blue, those did. Something else that is beginning to come as something of a surprise is the flammable nature of particular pieces of cutting edge of technology. In particular, those using lithium ion batteries. A respectable member of the periodic table and wonderfully usable antidepressant lithium, at least of the 'ion' variety, has an odd tendency to catch on fire if allowed to get over-heated. As an unfortunate Australian woman discovered when her wireless head phones burst into flames. Whilst she was wearing them. On an airplane. With all the compressed air and such, it is truly a lucky thing the situation did not turn into a reenactment of the Hindenburg.

Monday, 13 March 2017


There are, indeed, some mysteries humanity is not meant to know. Why, for instance, is it considered not only traditional but pretty to drag a deceased tree into one's domicile and then proceed to adorn it with all manner of bibs and bobs on an annual basis? The theory is well enough to comprehend. The practice, however, if applied outside the applied time-frame, would surly be regarded as an act of lunacy. So too, as I have recently ascertained, is the case with the charging apparatus for many modern models of computing device. While not generally regarded as such, said devices are little more than an appliance, particularly inn the household context. Though even in the office environment, when was the last time one saw a coffee-maker or copy machine with a detachable power source? It simply does not happen. Writing devices, on the other had, particularly of the portable model, are fully detachable, the ends that plug into the device themselves invariably breaking. Not so with refrigeration units or electric irons and the like. They surely do break but this tends to be at the wall end or somewhere in the middle. Why then, does no one find electrified writing machines with similarly built in power sources? Or, more accurately, why does one no longer? For, you see, when first beging developed, the electric type-writer did, in fact, possess a power source that came as part of the unit. As did the later 'word-processor' of both the analog, paper-fed types and the more advanced digital variety. It was not until the advent of the domestic commercial computer in the mid-1980s that power cords came to be detachable. Though even then, they tended to be made up of sterner stuff than those found today. With the end result that such early examples of mechinized writing impliments can still be found in operation today. As indeed can the even older, mechanical ones. Ease of use not always leading to economy or longevity.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Two Out of Five Senses Agree

It is an irrefutable, though much neglected, fact of the human condition that touch is a very important source of information. Which is why, as any new parent can attest, infants possess an unfortunate, if adorable, tendency to attempt to eat anything within reach. As society and technology has move along, there has been increasingly less emphasis put on the tangible and an ever increasing focus placed on the visual. More than half of the experience online is visual, much of the remainder occupied, quite comfortably, by the auditory realm. The only time touch comes into the equation is the keystrokes on the keyboard. Smell and taste being excluded all together. This is fine for some of the myriad activities moving to into the digital realm but raises some uncomfortable questions in the case of others. How, for example, does one shop online? Going to a store has almost always been a case of sensory overload. All five information gathering sources queued up to full level. One cannot even buy a single tomato without at least four of them being applied. The only case in which this may not be a problem is in the matter of media, a category into which the internet already falls. It is easy enough to tell if one might like a song or a book or a television show by experiencing a sampling of it via screen and speakers. But how, pray tell, does one accurately assess something in the manner of a musical instrument, an automobile or a new pair of boots, based only on the information supplied by text and sound. Information which, incidentally, can easily be counterfeit. Particularly in the case of ‘customer’ reviews that are, more often than not, penned by or on behalf of the seller of said product or service. Where as one’s real-life experience of a thing, while still fallible, tends to be a lot more honest.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Cross My Palm With Silver

Creative work can, indeed, be one of the most rewarding endeavours in which one can engage. Except, perhaps, when 'work' is meant to be the operative word and it is by such toil that one sustains one's mortal existence. It has long been a refrain of the young and the talented that their skills, no matter what they be, are rarely appreciated in the financial sense of the thing. Gaining any form of remuneration being exceedingly difficult to achieve, a livable level even more so. Not such a dilemma in the time of patrons. The truly talented sustained by those possessed of the wealth who wish to use it to positive ends. This time has long passed however, the age of the freelancer having become essentially dominant in by the early 19th century. While there were still those willing to pay for the skilled to ply their art, they became scarcer to find and the likes of Beethoven and Poe found themselves either penniless or reduced to other forms of employment to buy the sustenance needed in order to keep up the stamina to work. 

Something that it was promised the digital age would remedy. Innovations in equipment design, rendering them both smaller and less expensive, coupled with new networks of global distribution via the internet have certainly changed the way in which art is created and  distributed. Or has it? Yes, most artists are now able to create and distribute their own work via the internet but with the rapidly dissolving barriers between producer and audience, the attainment of any steady in come is very difficult. The competition being stronger than ever before. The digitally based companies are not much better. Most of them distribute for free, are supported by venture capital or sponsorship money. There is rarely enough to go around, especially at the level one might deserve. That is assuming one can get a position in the first place. Ironically, the best place to get money reflective of one's talent is in the traditional media. Independent comic book creator Dave Sim once observed that 'No publishing company will ever pay you enough to sue them'. This is likely true. Though they are likely to get your work to the intended audience and, if successful, pay out accordingly. Sadly, this structure is slowly eroding, the companies that still remain closing ranks and becoming even more selective about what they accept. Getting in is a struggle. Though really no more of a struggle than acquiring decently paying work as an online content creator, either for one's self or a 'business'.