Spotify & the Coming Cloud Culture

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Damn it.  I like it.  But I’m still beholden to CDs!

Spotify is a service that allows full access to songs, if not albums, to a listener.  On your home computer, you can listen to almost anything for free, as they have legal access to most of what is out there.  Sure, there are some annoying ads, but not nearly as annoying or as lengthy as what you would hear on the radio.  You can make your own playlist, sample new releases, or just explore the depth of its catalog. 

Okay, you don’t want to listen to songs while seated at your computer?  Pay for the subscription, and all the content is accessible on whatever portable player you might have.  This suits the needs of a great majority of the today’s population, whose understanding of music is that its intended to fill your head and mash out external sounds.  There are only a few relics like me who still enjoy high quality sound reproduction on honest-to-gosh speakers.  Still… nifty.

Spotify may or may not be the best service for this – we’ll see as time moves on – but the trend is clear.  Whether it’s Netflix for movies, Kindle or Nook for ebooks, or music from a subscription (not iTunes… do you really need to purchase a digital song if you can play any song with a subscription?), the concept of “ownership” is being challenged.  Do I need to physically have a book to enjoy it?  No.  Must I have a CD to enjoy music?  No.  A Bluray for a movie?  No!  It all takes up space and, giving consideration towards the shelf space and the dust accumulation after the initial purchase, it’s clear that there are not a whole lot of “touches” afterwards.  The enjoyment from owning these products is from the experience of the interaction, not the physical possession.  So why not an on-demand source?  Convert everything to bytes, and stream it from the Cloud when I want it, where I want it. 

It’s hard to argue against, and, as a single consumer, I can’t anyway.  If viewing the chronology of the 78 > LP > 8 Track > Cassette > CD > mp3 (flac or whatever other formats take over, as this evolution marches forward), it’s important to recognize that while the format of music has changed, it’s the benefits of the changes that are more important.  At each stage, quality has improved, in part due to the product on which music is recorded and in part to the equipment on which it is heard.  What can’t be denied is that it’s more consumer friendly at each step of development… and obsolete almost as fast.

I remain very interested in technology, but I’m also well rooted in the obsolete.  I like that I can loan a CD to a friend.  I like that I can borrow a DVD from someone.  And I like sharing books. 

I bought a Kindle.  Considering the absence of printing, transportation, storage, and retail markups associated with selling a book, I’m fairly vexed at a digital format being sold almost at the full retail price for “the real thing.”  It certainly doesn’t encourage a move to eAnything.   Less production costs should result in lower sales prices, while respecting the revenues that go elsewhere. 

That said, I found the experience enjoyable enough, despite a clear indication of how much further I had to read before I would get to the end of a Chapter.  Bigger font for easier reading, slim case, good legibility, ability to note or highlight passages…  heck, immediate access to a dictionary as I read the book.  Pretty cool.

One such experience was “The Mistborn Trilogy,” by Brandon Sanderson, who is becoming a favorite fantasy author.  After this speedy read, I say to myself, “Self,  you know what?  The wife would like to read this!”  …IMG_2237[1] but not on Kindle.  She likes real books.  And, hey! My daughter would like to read this, but she doesn’t have a Kindle.  Or an iPad… To loan a book, do I have to loan my Kindle?  So…

… right. I bought the books.  And they enjoyed them.  Mr. Sanderson is doubly blessed financially.

Sharing is an issue.  Kindle allows a 14 day limited “sharing” of a book to another Kindle.  Thanks, but I paid  retail, remember?  And, say, what happens if Amazon becomes a dry gulch?  Or Apple decides to spin it’s new Cloud storage service to another party that reinterprets its obligations and fees?  We’ve all seen the comings and goings of everything Tech. The weather changes; clouds, too, will come and go...  

A few years ago, Amazon realized that they had sold George Orwell’s 1984 as an ebook without the proper licensing.   What did they do?  They immediately deleted it from every Kindle.  But wait, hadn’t consumers already paid?  Sorry, Amazon.  You pay fines and let the consumer should keep what they purchased.

And that ultimately is my remaining doubt about the Cloud.  I know it’s coming. It’s inevitable, and it’s beneficial.  It’s perfect for backing up everything that I have that would benefit from off-site storage.  But, there are hackers who seek to steal or destroy everything deemed worthy of hiding behind a firewall.  Or even without. 

There are more legitimate companies who pay dearly (but not to me) for the rights, if not just the ability, to data-mine my virtual stuff and to directly market to me for related products.  And, of course, the eProviders can simply turn off the power without as much as a “Thanks for the memories and especially the cash.”  After which, I am promised and have access to abundant helpings of eNothing.

At work, I frequently click a button that says “OK.”  “OK” is my electronic signature saying I approve of whatever I have just input.  For iTunes or other services, you have a choice of accepting their terms and conditions by clicking the featured “I Accept” box, or… well, you do want their service right?

For the Cloud to succeed, it has to meet not just providers’ interests, but consumers’ as well.   eContent on so many things is subject to immediate erasure – sites that host submitted poems, discussion forum hosts, etc.  Here today and gone tomorrow. 

Sorry, but as more meaningful content, whether purchased on sourced from a user, is placed out there, the public should be provided basic access rights – a due process through which I have the opportunity to take my content and move it to another place, like my computer, if notified that a host Cloud is selling out, shutting down, being acquired… whatever.   And if the marketers want my data, I want to be directly rewarded from allowing them access to my data.  Otherwise, as the Rolling Stones might put it, “Hey, you, get off of my (backup redundant and eThreat secure) cloud!” 

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2012 Solar Storm

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There are some pretty amazing images of the most recent solar storm, storm being the appropriate term for an event that can damage satellites, disrupt telecommunications and power grids, as well as cause the rerouting of aircraft.

Appropriately separate from the purvey of The Weather Channel, NASA has a Solar Dynamics Observatory which captures images of the Sun – including is flares, storms, magnetic activity  etc., usually at extreme wavelengths that help isolate views of particular activities.  Solar storms, which are a footnote in the news this week, are billion-ton clouds of solar plasma, ejected from the solar atmosphere in a coronal mass ejection (billion-ton clouds qualify as mass to me), as the result of a larger eruption than is common for solar flares. 

Other than an interest on how flares and storms might affect “climate change,” I haven’t really studied our most important heat source, and I wasn’t aware of the term solar maximum.  Between every 9 to 14 years, the magnetic field lines of the Sun are the most distorted due to the magnetic field on the solar equator rotating slightly faster than at the poles.  So, during the next year, more heightened solar activity is likely.

I would imagine that if I were a scientist, I would find it very interesting and ultimately satisfying to study the Sun and examine its behavior and ultimate affect on Earth.  As I’m not, though, I’ll remind myself to take another peek at the Sun through the solar telescope at each year’s Dragon*Con, and try to understand what I’m seeing a little better.

It’s fairly overwhelming to comprehend the constitution of a star.  Whatever we burn here, we light it, the fuel is consumed fairly quickly, and it is reduced to ash.  I can comprehend that.   The Sun… just keeps burning and burning… until someday it won’t in a more abrupt and final statement on climate change that might be debated by Earthly residents still lingering at that time.

In the meantime, I’ll thank the heavens that Earth is pretty safely snuggled in its own protective atmosphere that deflects or absorbs the worst that the sun throws at us, in this case, at 3 million miles an hour.

Back to the photos – they’re pretty incredible, but helpful in looking beyond the bright spot we see into what is seemingly translated into a Hollywood special effects production.  From the NSO website, with accompanying notations:

This channel highlights the outer atmosphere of the Sun (corona) as well as the hot flare plasma.  The dark spots are where very little radiation is emitted but at the same time are the main source of solar wind particles.  Characteristic temperature:  2.25 million F.

This channel shows coronoal loops where plasma moves along the magnetic field lines.  The bright spots are where the magnetic field near the surface is strongest.

An extreme ultraviolet channel designed to study solar flares, measuring extremely hot temperatures (18 million F) as well as cool plasmas (720,000 F).

Active regions of the corona, 5 million F

This and the next two pictures feature a combination of three images taken at different wavelengths, highlighting different parts of the corona.  This suggests a worrying instability to me.

 

 

Shot Tuesday in Sweden at the Abisko National Park, time lapse photography:

 

Lights Over Lapland Photo Expedition on 1-24-2012.

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The More of Life

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Okay, I’m getting older, the hair is thinning, the kids are moving on and… there’s no crisis.  I’m not hankering for a Harley Davidson or conspiring to trade my spousal unit for a newer model.   “Midlife crisis,” is a term which I don’t spend time considering in depth, but I recognize that the time is right.   Still, as such things go, I’ve fallen short of a sudden bent on 1) recapturing my youth or 2) living life in excess.

That said, there is certainly some contemplation of where I am and what I want in my remaining years…  I came across the following quote recently, and having reflected on it periodically, I find it to be a truth – not the type of life abiding truth that encompasses life’s meaning, purpose and destiny, but a truth.

     “The less of routine, the more of life.”

     — Amos Bronson Alcott

Going to school for years, going to work for even more years – those are the foundations of routine around which life revolves, further occupied by chores and obligations. I’ve been open to my managers over the years; I work to be able to afford the things that I want to do.  Regardless of how much I like my job, I wouldn’t do it for free.  I know there’s some percentage of people who love their occupation, but it’s a small minority. 

In college I was fairly timid at trying new things, as a young married adult I settled into the routine of work then TV then sleep then repeat – relatively contained by the budget.  It’s only these last few years when I’ve taken an interest in “doing things,” things that are not the norm, or at least were not the norm for me.  Rafting, the USMC Mud Run, The High Museum of Art, concerts… 

And there’s the beginning of it really.  I’ve always enjoyed live music, but from the suburbs, going downtown is a huge intrusion into the routine.  Is it worth going to a concert when it’s going to take 2 hours of driving there and back?   IMG_2199[1]Plus the cost of the ticket, and fees, and parking, and an obligatory meal out?  The reasons not to go pile against.   Whether concerts or anything else, the routine formed a mental barrier against the non-routine – “It’s so much trouble…”  I remember telling a co-worker who was in a habit of going to shows that I really needed to go downtown more often.  I attended 1-2 a year.  With an intent that agrees with the quote, it’s been 10 or more since. 

I’ve debated carrying on with this blog.  I’m thankful for the followers I have and the friends who keep up with it.  But like 99.9% of blogs, it’s not a forum that prompts much feedback.  I periodically remind myself that my audience really isn’t any of you.   It’s for me.  The blog is an intentional outworking of a decision I made to be more aware of what I’m doing and what I’m thinking, in short more appreciative, because the routine doesn’t deter reflective thought, but it doesn’t reward it either. 

By writing, I experience whatever it is I’m doing or thinking more fully, and a byproduct is that it awakens a desire to do new things, whether it’s to try a new burger joint, go to an art show, think about “news” and test whether it really touches my  life, etc.   In short, the blog has developed (or more honestly, is developing) an attitude of saying “yes” instead of the routine laden, subconscious “no.”  As such, this blog has become more than a catalog of amusements.

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Mrs. Buttersworth & Politics

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One of my childhood friends was Johnny.  Through most of my formative years, we and a gang of several others ruled the neighborhood, skateboarding in the middle of the street, playing army in the woods, biking in the fields around them, and doing whatever anywhere else that our feet or bikes would take us.  Good times. 

Adding a long e sound to the end of names certainly wasn’t universal, but it was common.  Daniel to Danny, Amanda to Mandy, Patricia to Patty, Charles to Charlie, Jaclyn to Jackie… etc.

I moved away for a few years before meeting up with Johnny again in college.  John.  I guess it’s kind of like the little kid “buzz cut” that eventually grows out for a more adult form.  So long, Johnny. I adapted. 

The same can often be said for pets.  It’s rare to have, say, a dog named Gilbert.  But, Berty, maybe.  Gussy?  Whatever.  We’ve had dogs named Sadie, Gypsy and Maddie.  And, a cat named Joey.  My wife and her two siblings each have names that end with “y” or “ie”, so maybe there’s a built in predisposition.  Still, the customization adds a flavor of affection, I’d say.

Puppy, kitty, bunny, monkey, donkey, horsey, pony…  No wonder kids like them.

Fast forward to the 1990’s Atlanta Braves, who fielded some fine teams with excellent pitchers.  Greg “Mad Dog” Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine.  We know the names, but people who listened to the announcers, teammates and managers knew the last two as “Smoltzy” and “Tommy.”  They were adults, but I guess professional baseball players are still playing a kids game and are naturally tagged with kid names.

Some names stick.  Bobby Cox, their manager, was born Robert Joseph Cox.  I gather he’s lived all his life as Bobby, and I’m fine with that.  It’s a more familiar form of a formal name, just as Tommy would be for Tom, or Johnny for John.  Currently, the Braves have Tim Hudson.  “Huddy.”  Meanwhile, the Falcons have Matt Ryan, aka “Matty Ice.”  Whatever.   If nicknames won titles, Atlanta would have a rich sports history.

But a line has to be drawn somewhere.

Recently I heard a sports talk host refer to the Atlanta Falcons’ head coach Mike Smith as “Smitty.”  I guess they’re buddies, right?  If I were getting paid millions of dollars and/or being paid to be the head of an organization where respect and authority are implicit, I think I might prefer to be called “Coach Smith,” … if, of course, my last name was Smith.  And Smitty needs some respect, as his 0-3 record in the playoffs is not endearing.  Arty Blanky has some thinkin’ to do.

Did anyone call Dean Smith “Smitty?”  Would anyone call Mike Krzyzewski “Coach Mikey?”  Vince Lombardi “Vinny?”  Of course not.

I researched the internet (Googled means research, right?) and couldn’t find any psychological studies that looked into whether names with long e sounds provoke feelings of warmth, likeability or affection.  Clearly, though, the weight of our societal experience points towards just that.  The more eeeeeee, the more we like it.  Syrup is sweet, syrupy is sweeter.

So, let’s apply the Mrs. Buttersworthy (sic) hypothesis to the frontrunner of current events, the remaining Republican hopefuls for President:

Rick Santorum – No affection there.
Ron Paul – Nope, though his facial expressions beg for political cartoons.  
Jon Huntsman – No.
Newt Gingrich – egad.  Blame your parents, man!
Mitt Romney – ah, and I so wanted to dismiss him.  Alas, Mrs. Buttersworth says he’s good, and one can’t help but wonder if his subconscious pour of syrupy goodness is what causes his public to stick.  (Or, why gooey Republicans still swoon for Chris Christie…) 

You’ll have to wait some months for this principle to go viral.  You’ll know that it is a serious factor when Baracky Obama starts approving his own ads. 

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Yusk Imai

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I’ve played an online game, Runescape, for many years, and I’ve developed friendships with the real people behind the pixels over that time.  Whether through text chatting in the game or voice chat over the internet, I’ve gotten to know some of them very well and consider them friends.  Some closer to me I’ve met irl (in real life), and others who are farther away I’ll likely never meet.  Still, it’s a great experience to speak regularly with people not only across the US, but in England, the Netherlands, Canada, and other countries. 

One acquaintance, masterful at “Big Boss Killing” by the way, is an artist named Yusk, who resides in Brazil and who has almost completed a year long world tour creating and exhibiting his art.  This includes photography, sketches, canvas art, and larger scale wall art on buildings (note the aerial lift).

Snow Yusk

I don’t necessarily “get it,” but still find it amazing.  He’s just posted a video on a project in Japan:

 

A quick bio:

Yusk Imai was born in the U.S.A., 1983, in a Japanese descendent family. At the age of 6 months, his family migrated to São Paulo, where he still lives. Influenced by the French artist Eroné, Yusk started experimenting techniques using different types of paint on wood.

Yusk has always combined his work on canvas and wood with painting in the streets of São Paulo. Experimenting with callygraphic and Japanese symbols, texsts and figueres, his work shows a diverse amount of styles both in and outdoors. In 2006, a gallery owner saw Yusk’s fotolog and fell in love with his work and invited him for an exhibition. Since then his work has been shown in galleries in Germany and the U.S.A.

The world created by the artist shows influences from mangas, comics, Dali, Ernst and Miró. Yusk fills spaces with different styles of texture, slightly deformed human figures, and overlays of decorative friezes. His work was many times compared to the Austrian art nouveau artist, Gustav Klimt, who ended up becoming Yusk’s idol.

His Facebook page is here:  https://www.facebook.com/Yusk.page

His blog is here: http://yusk.blogspot.com/view/mosaic

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This is America

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“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” – so sings Roger Daltrey on The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

So it’s a New Year, feeling much the same as the last year, with one final day of restorative idleness before months of toil (if measured until my next paid Holiday, May 28th).  On a quasi related note between the old and new, or in this case, the old and older, I’ve found the below to be quite interesting.  It’s a comparison of the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark, a movie classic in my time, with snippets from other adventure movies made over the previous decades, with some sharp editing.

 

What’s new… may actually be old.  It was known that Raiders was a tribute to the old serials – I hadn’t really appreciated how much time and effort Spielberg must have put into finding suitable scenes for “inspiration.”  But that is much of the nature of literary, personal, societal, relational, etc. evolution – building on the past to make something new. If there’s a point to learning history, it would be to repeat past successes and learn from past failures in the hopes of avoiding them.  Similarly, the old year transitions to the new.

I’m hoping for some new things this year – great political ideas, if not execution; a restored economy; an agreeable entrance to the college experience for my son; tangible rewards for my wife’s hard work; a great new musical “find.”  The basis for any of these in different ways has already found its origin last year or in earlier years, but the outcome remains as yet uncertain.  This isn’t to say that I’m not thankful for some things as they are.  I hope that they continue, employment and family health foremost.  But the above short list is what comes to mind for “new” hopes in 2012. 

Now, if I were one to find symbolism in anything, then I’d have to remark on two New Year’s Eve events.

The first is ESPN’s Red Bull “No Limits” motorcycle/snow ski dual jump in San Diego.  Should it bother someone that most everyone who watches does so to see if there will be a crash?  Should it bother me that I watched the same tired idea, again?  I personally don’t know anyone who keeps track of distance measurements for motorcycle jumps.  Add a snowmobile for breaking new ground?  Please.  The major miss, as transitions go, was that the cameras did great showing each driver zooming down their respective launch lanes then, *POOF*, they’re landing on the other side.  The change was so abrupt it was as if they edited the aerial portion out.  Replays 10 minutes later actually showed the airborne moments, but this was as big a live miss as I’ve seen in quite a while.  Hello New Year.

Secondly, Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve.  God bless him; he tries, and the spirit is still there. But overall, NYE is an excuse for a party, okay.  Got it.  We had a small one ourselves.  Still, from the few minutes I watched of the beloved 40 year Dick Clark tradition, I can’t help but reflect on the shallowness of everything that is pop culture (no one needs to point out that pop culture is over half of what I end up writing about.  I write about the good parts, of course). 

Lady Gaga, whose burst into stardom remains unexplained, actually has a great soulful voice.  Still, cast with the young kid with the famous haircut who is (gag) an American (teen) Idol and whose whose name I shall never include in my blog, a rapper named Pitbull, a Dick Clark wannabe host, a (gifted) musician whose head remains in a pillbox in the 60’s, and a former Playboy Bunny who celebrates the New Year by making out with a random NYC police officer… it occurs to me.  This is America.  Inspiration needed.

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