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Monday, Feb 11, 2008

I found these charts, courtesy of economist Aaron Schiff, interesting. They chart the growth in traffic at the social networking duopoly:


MySpace:


Facebook:


Schiff’s conclusion: “Social network traffic grows exponentially for about two years, and then follows a random walk.” For me, that confirms my sense that social-network users are perpetually migrating to new sites that they feel are more exclusive, and then when the ordinary folks catch on they move elsewhere. It’s sort of a small-scale model of Veblen’s theory of emulative consumer behavior. And it also points to the fact that advertisers shouldn’t get their hopes up about the potential locked-in quarry of users that the social networks promise, as this BusinessWeek article details.


Social networking was supposed to be the Next Big Thing on the Internet. MySpace, Facebook, and other sites have been attracting millions of new users, building sprawling sites that companies are banking on to trigger an online advertising boom. Trouble is, the boom isn’t booming anymore. Like Heritage, many people are spending less time on social networking sites or signing off altogether.
The MySpace generation may be getting annoyed with ads and a bit bored with profile pages. The average amount of time each user spends on social networking sites has fallen by 14% over the last four months, according to market researcher ComScore. MySpace, the largest social network, has slipped from a peak of 72 million users in October to 68.9 million in December, ComScore says.


The article searches for evidence of its thesis that suers are mainly turned off by the ads, collecting mainly some anecdotal evidence in the form of quotes from random users. It’s not hard to imagine, though, that people don’t want their friendships sponsored by corporations. It seems entirely possible that people will be able to build ad hoc social-network like tools for keeping in touch with friends that aren’t under the auspices of big corporate brand. At that point, Facebook and MySpace will more clearly be seen as the beefed-up versions of Classmates.com that they really are, useful as places to search for people you once knew on a whim. But for other functions, they will seem like the second-coming of AOL, weirdly gated versions of the internet at large. Eventually even the late adopters and the technophobes will be comfortable enough to cut out such middlemen, when they see the value added isn’t worth wasting time and effort with evading the ads.


Update: This article from Spiked Online details the privacy issues with Facebook, all the more reason to eschew it for direct internet access. Facebook really is digital sharecropping:


read the terms and conditions for sign-up. These clearly state that Facebook owns all the data users add to the site: ‘By posting Member Content to any part of the website, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license to use, copy, perform, display, reformat, translate, excerpt and distribute such information and content and to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such information and content, and to grant and authorise sublicenses of the foregoing…’



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Monday, Feb 11, 2008

Zadie Smith is the headline grabber of the day, with her comments on the Willesden Herald web forum slamming literary prizes. Smith is quoted in the Times:


Most literary prizes are only nominally about literature. They are really about brand consolidation for beer companies, phone companies, coffee companies and even frozen food companies.


Her clear dismissal of the Whitbread, Orange, Costa, and Booker prizes comes following her inability to select a winner of the Willesden Herald short story competition. According to Smith, of the 850 entries, not a single one enticed her enough to give away the 5,000 pound prize.


Further comments on the forum suggest entrants pandering to Smith. The Times quotes her again:


To be very clear: just because this prize has the words Willesden and Zadie hovering over it, it does not mean that I or the other judges want to read hundreds of jolly stories about multicultural life on the streets of north London.


The post concludes (not quoted in The Times):


Nor are we exclusively interested in cutesy American comedies, or self-referential post-modern vignettes, or college satires.


Of course, not everyone appreciates this sort of to-the-point honesty. Ion Trewin, organizer of the Booker Prize, criticizes Smith for lambasting literary awards while accepting their financial benefits (Smith is a former winner of both the Whitbread and the Orange Prize). Author Joanna Trollope says Smith is utterly incorrect in her evaluations, noting that such prizes often dig better books out of potential obscurity, which makes it all worth it.


Good points, both. But Smith has a point, too. I can’t help but appreciate her honesty. Responders to her post are shocked and appalled that not even a shortlist could be culled from the Willesden entrants, and Smith has been chided that she’s simply incapable of being impressed. Read her comments a little more closely and what starts out as a bit of a catty backslap to the entire literary community becomes an impassioned plea for wannabe writers to immerse themselves a little more in research. To read better in order to write better. More from the Willesden post:


For let us be honest again: it is sometimes too easy, and too tempting, to blame everything that we hate in contemporary writing on the bookstores, on the corporate publishers, on incompetent editors and corrupt PR departments—and God knows, they all have their part to play. But we also have our part to play. We also have to work out how to write better and read better. We have to really scour this Internet to find the writing we love, and then we have to be able to recognize its quality. We cannot love something solely because it has been ignored. It must also be worthy of our attention… We got into this with a commitment to honour the best that’s out there, and we feel sure there is better out there somewhere.


We must do better. I don’t think this is a bad thing to say. I don’t think it’s particularly rude. If the entries weren’t up to scratch, try again. It shocks me that we all talk about finding truth in literature, in the moments, in the thoughts, and sensations, but when, in “real life”, someone decided to speak their personal “real life” truth, all hell breaks loose.


I only hope her frustration pays off, and those who submitted to her competition do try again, and do get better, rather than turning away in some kind of hoity disgust. We writers are sensitive folks, you know.


 


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Monday, Feb 11, 2008

OK, maybe I was a little harsh before but let’s face it- even most music fans reluctantly watch the Grammys.  If you’re a pop music junkie, you need to see it or maybe you need to root for your favorite artist but otherwise, you probably have better things to do with a few hours of your life.


Looking back, last year’s broadcast was actually pretty good (not great though).  But this year?  The Foo Fighters were good though that orchestra part and the American Idol rip-off were tacked on pretty clumsily.  Amy Wino deserved the kudos (even if the State Dept won’t have her) and she actually delivered a good performance which means that she should stop saying no, no, no to rehab. Aretha sounded in good voice though it seemed like they were trying to shove as many gospel acts on stage as they could after a while.  Other than Kanye (the tribute to his mom was moving and you gotta love the Daft Punk pyramid), Fogerty/Little Richard (though not poor Jerry Lee) and Tina/Beyonce (who tipped their hat to Ike whether they like it or not), the other performances were pretty snoozy.  It was nice to see Prince and Stevie up there but it would have been even better to have them perform instead of just presenting. 


The real news was Herbie Hancock upsetting not just Wino but also Kanye (can’t wait to hear his rants) and snagging the big prize- he looked genuinely surprised (as I’m sure most people were).  It’s a nice album and Herbie’s always been a great musician (for proof, check out not just Headhunters material but also his 70’s sessions with Miles and his early album Maiden Voyage, not to mention his early/mid 80’s hip-hop phase with “Rockit”- quite a varied career).  This particular album, his tribute to Joni Mitchell with guest shots by Nora Jones, Tina Turner, Leonard Cohen and JM herself, seemed OK to me when I first heard it but not extraordinary- basically, it’s good lounge jazz record aimed at the adult contemporary market.  Listening to it again, I still think the same way but I don’t see how it adds a lot to any of the original material.  Yet because it serves the AC market so well, it probably snagged enough votes from the Grammy constituency’s older crowd to beat Kanye and Wino, both of whom made better albums.  Which is not to take anything away from Herbie- I think it’s great that he nabbed a big award and certainly deserves the recognition (not to mention the inevitable sales boost he’ll get).  It makes me wonder about the academy voters though and when a younger (and MAYBE hipper) demographic will dominate there and be reflected in the voting choices.


Otherwise, it was actually a little more boring than I feared and longer than I thought but at least, it’ll be another 12 months before it comes back…


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Sunday, Feb 10, 2008


Now, over three decades and a billion jaded movie experiences later, it’s hard to explain the impact Jaws had on those who first experienced it. As any film fan will tell you, Universal didn’t expect much from the project. The book by Peter Benchley was indeed a bestseller, but it was a terribly tawdry read, more Peyton Place with sharks than a pulse pounding actioner. The director, a certain tenderfooter named Steven Spielberg, was more accustomed to doing TV films. In his naïve, novice way, he thought it would be simple to film the complicated story on the actual waters of the Atlantic Ocean. And then there was the cast - a relative unknown group of struggling stars that had solid credentials, but very little turnstile twisting face value.


All of that changed when the first few moments unfurled. By the time Chrissie was crunched up like so much skinny dipping granola by our unseen aquatic villain, audiences were indeed hooked. But it took a classic line delivered by an equally iconic actor to really sell the situation. Decked out in a season hiding slicker (the Summer film was shot in deepest winter), rugged tan, and lawman like glasses, Police Chief Martin Brody manned the Orca’s chum bucket with a sense of immature consternation. When boat Captain Quint demanded he keep the slurry line going while Oceanographer Matt Hooper manned the engine to go slow ahead, Brody was pissed. “Slow ahead?” the words echoed. “I can go slow ahead. Come down here and chum some of this shit”.


And with those words, viewers got their first major glimpse of 25 foot sea beast Bruce, the great white devil at the center of Jaws’ story. And at that moment, Roy Scheider became an instant member of cinema’s indelible icons. An already mature 42 when he made the proto-blockbuster, the seasoned stage and television actor was better known for his episodic work than his feature films. While he had starred alongside Gene Hackman in The French Connection and proved his tough guy mantle in 1973’s The Seven-Ups, it would be the timeless fish frightmare that cemented Scheider’s status. He never went on to top the popularity of his work in Spielberg’s popcorn perfection, yet his career would remain one of grace, gravitas, and gumption.


Born Roy Richard Scheider on 10 November 1932 in Orange, New Jersey, sports would dominate the future thespians young life. By the time he hit college, he was already the proud owner of a broken nose (the emblematic feature was his only reward after a stint in the Golden Gloves competition) and an adventurous spirit. Studying drama at both Rutgers and Franklin and Marshall, he spent some time in the military before finally foraying into performance. He even won an Obie Award (the off Broadway equivalent of a Tony) for his work in Stephen D, and was part of the New York Shakespeare Festival company. Early film roles, however, found him wallowing in grade-Z schlock (Curse of the Living Corpse) and minor supporting parts (Star! , Paper Lion).


In 1971, he was lucky enough to costar alongside Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland in the controversial award winner Klute. He was so memorable that, from there, William Friedkin hired him to play Det. Buddy Russo in Connection. That turn would earn Scheider his first Academy Award nomination. It would also threaten to typecast him as a tough as nails NYC cop. His role in The Seven-Ups, as Det. Buddy Manucci seemed to stress that possibility. But when he was tapped by Spielberg to play the transplanted New Yorker charged with keeping Amity Island safe from an unusual string of shark attacks, Scheider sensed something was about to change. Though Jaws would be one of the most grueling shoots of his entire career, it raised his professional profile drastically.

Marathon Man followed, the newfound A-lister standing astride acting maverick Dustin Hoffman as the sibling catalyst for all the diamonds and Nazis intrigue. He then turned down the role of Michael Vronsky in Michael Cimono’s Vietnam drama The Deer Hunter, believing the script was illogical and implausible. Robert DeNiro ended up with the part. Reports claim that Universal was so angry about his stance and consternation (he even reneged on his contract) that he was forced to appear in Jaws 2 as punishment. It was not his most memorable work.


There was another film for Friedkin (the Wages of Sin remake Sorcerer), that second dip into dorsal fin territory, before the role that would come to redefine who audiences thought Roy Scheider was literally fell into his lap. When despotic stage director Bob Fosse found newly anointed Academy prima donna Richard Dreyfuss wanting in the role of Joe Gideon, he realized his egomaniacal epic needed a new leading man.  He immediately said “Goodbye” to his star and went looking for a singing/dancing reflection of his onscreen, autobiographical self. Oddly enough, he wound up picking Dreyfuss’ costar, the man who endemically complained about the rotten fish buffet he was forced to serve up.


Scheider was the first to admit that he was the completely wrong choice for 1979’s All That Jazz. While his resemblance to Fosse was frightening, he was practically tone deaf and had a self-described pair of two left feet. Weeks of intense training as well as careful song reconstruction in the studio resulted in one of the stand out tour de forces in the actor’s canon. Jazz would go on to become one of 1979’s most critically acclaimed films, and while the Academy chose to ignore it in favor of the family drama Kramer vs. Kramer (it got to share the loser’s circle with Apocalypse Now - not the worst company to keep), Fosse’s vision has since stood the test of time.


Oddly enough, it appeared as if Jazz jinxed Scheider’s fortunes. While he worked consistently (Blue Thunder, 2010, 52 Pick-up), he never eclipsed his performances from the ‘70s. In fact, by the end of the ‘80s, he was resorting to direct-to-video filler (Night Game) and off the radar independents (he was very good in David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Naked Lunch). He would eventually reteam with Spielberg for a project about a futuristic underwater science vessel (SeaQuest DSV), but the F/X heavy TV drama failed to capture the imagination of audiences. It was back to the ‘Bs’ then, popping up occasionally in minor roles in mainstream movies (The Rainmaker, The Punisher).


Schieder never stopped acting, though. When the news of his passing at age 75 was released this past Sunday 10 February, the Associated Press quoted longtime friend Dreyfuss as follows:


“He was a wonderful guy. He was what I call ‘a knockaround actor’. A ‘knockaround actor’ to me is a compliment that means a professional that lives the life of a professional actor and doesn’t’ yell and scream at the fates and does his job and does it as well as he can.”


He also never shied away from his past. When DVD arrived, allowing actors to offer their often unheard perspective on the films they appeared in, Scheider was there for interviews and commentaries. His insights into the directing styles of now legendary filmmakers (he once called Fosse “a real SOB”) added a great deal to the historical legacy of cinema. He also participated in the 2005 Jawsfest celebration which saw many in the cast and crew return to Martha’s Vineyard (where the film was shot) to share memories and memorabilia with fans. His contributions to the convention (captured by filmmaker Erik Hollander in the Scheider produced The Shark is Still Working) were a major part of its success.


As an actor and an activist (he championed environmental causes), Scheider was never known to back down. Even during times when the freezing waters off the Maine coast threatened to chill everyone to the bone, he jumped in and did his job. Rumor has it that Spielberg needed 75 takes of the sinking Orca to get said all important final shot right - and the angular actor was there for every one. While family and friends will remember a man who was dedicated in all pursuits that struck his fancy, those of us mulling middle age will never forget his turn as Chief Brody. If anyone could make it safe to go back in the water, this well meaning peace officer had the ability. Quint will just have to find someone else to do his dirty work now.


 


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Sunday, Feb 10, 2008
by PopMatters Staff

The Shanghai Restoration Project: Story of a City
Preface - The Shanghai Restoration Project feat. Di Johnston [MP3]
     


Movement - The Shanghai Restoration Project feat. Heath Brandon [MP3]
     


Touchdown - The Shanghai Restoration Project feat. Natural Fact of Unconscious Logic [MP3]
     


Last Morning - The Shanghai Restoration Project feat. Jordan Cooper [MP3]
     


Buy at Amazon.com


Jason Collett
Out of Time [MP3]
     


Charlyn, Angel of Kensington [MP3]
     


Daedelus
Now’s the Time [MP3] (from Live at Low End Theory released 22 January)
     


Nada Surf
See These Bones [MP3]
     


Crushed Stars
Spies [MP3] (from Gossamer Days releasing 19 February)
     



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