Links for January 24th 2010:

  • What Does China Censor Online? [Information Is Beautiful] – Provocative infographic illustrating some of what China blocks online.
  • The Director of Downfall Speaks Out on All Those Angry YouTube Hitlers [Vulture – New York Magazine] – “When the Conan-Leno debacle began, two things were certain: One, it would change the face of late night, and two, someone would apply it to the Downfall Hitler meme. When Oliver Hirschbiegel staged the famous bunker scene in his 2004 movie, with Bruno Ganz as Hitler, he wasn’t expecting it to be appropriated for comedy; a dramatic recreation of Hitler’s last stand is not exactly a laugh-out-loud subject. And yet the German filmmaker is pleased, nay, thrilled that YouTube enthusiasts have taken it upon themselves to reinterpret it to address anything from Hillary Clinton’s loss to the Taylor Swift-Kanye West feud. “Someone sends me the links every time there’s a new one,” says the director …”
  • Phone texting ‘helps pupils to spell’ [BBC News] – “Children who regularly use the abbreviated language of text messages are actually improving their ability to spell correctly, research suggests. A study of eight- to 12-year-olds found that rather than damaging reading and writing, “text speak” is associated with strong literacy skills. Researchers say text language uses word play and requires an awareness of how sounds relate to written English. This link between texting and literacy has proved a surprise, say researchers. These latest findings of an ongoing study at the University of Coventry contradict any expectation that prolonged exposure to texting will erode a child’s ability to spell.”
  • Serial Boxes [Just TV] – A draft of Jason Mittell’s “Serial Boxes: The Cultural Values of Long-Form American Television” essay which gives a very clear account of the different ways viewers engage with television, especially long-form serial television, in light of the shifts from live viewing as the only (or primary) choice to a market where box-set DVDs and the like encourage quite different modes of reception. Mittell also looks at the ‘re-watch’ projects and notes why they usually fail to sustain their initial enthusiasm and momentum.
  • Facebook sites inciting anti-Indian sentiment continue to flourish [The SMH] – “Facebook sites inciting anti-Indian sentiment continue to flourish despite protests from Indians in Australia. Groups such as I think Indian People Should Wear Deodorant, Stop Whinging Indians, and Australia: Indians, You Have a Right to Leave, have not been removed. Gautam Gupta, secretary of the Federation of Indian Students, said: “These sites must be shut down but, on the other hand, we must keep track of these hate groups being formed. They can be online or offline. When they’re offline we call them gangs. These are essentially online gangs.” More than half a dozen Australian groups that are specifically anti-Indian are still active on Facebook. On top of that, there are many broadly racist groups, including F— Off – We’re Full and Speak English or Piss Off!!!, which has 54,000 members and is growing at a rate of about 2000 people a week. “I don’t think it’s just a Facebook problem – it’s a social problem, a problem in the society,” Mr Gupta said.”
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Links for December 3rd 2009 through December 6th 2009:

  • Panic Attack and YouTube Discovery [The Chutry Experiment] – Great post from Chuck Tryon about Fede Alvarez’s sudden appearance on the Hollywood radar thanks to his YouTube short “Ataque de Pánico,” (Panic Attack!), 4 minute special effects driven extravagnaza in which a city is destroyed and a career created: “One of the underlying narratives associated with Hollywood mythology is the “discovery story,” the idea that a talented newcomer emerges by chance, out of nowhere, to become a Hollywood “star.” Lana Turner was discovered, so the legend goes, on a barstool at Schwab’s drugstore. Now, as the tools of filmmaking and film distribution have been democratized, those discovery stories have expanded to filmmakers as well. And although it is the case that such stories can be read ideologically, it is also true that YouTube and other video sharing sites still offer us the opportunity to be astonished by the talents of an aspiring filmmaker.”
  • Memories of a paywall pioneer | Media | guardian.co.uk – Scott Rosenberg reflects on Salon’s experiments with a paywall, suggesting it’s not the model for future news media: “I’m not hostile to the notion of people paying for online content. I do so myself. I’m glad people stepped up and paid for Salon. But the value of stuff online is usually tied to how deeply it is woven into the network. So locking your stuff away in order to charge for it means that you are usually making it less valuable at the moment that you are asking people to pay for it. And that’s why people so often respond with: “No thanks.””
  • Vampire Politics by Lisa Nakamura et al [Flow TV, 11.03, 2009] – “True Blood is socially conservative, gesturing towards a radical politics (or any social movement based politics) that it cannot (or will not) deliver. Likewise, the form of the medium itself is conservative. Like its vampires, True Blood is a relic – it airs on television, not the Internet, and it is broadcast rather than streamed. Though HBO claims “it’s not television, it’s HBO,” we know better. Like the credit sequence’s time-delayed decayed foxes and possums, True Blood is a memento mori – to the Civil Rights South, to broadcast television, to civil rights organizing and “unsexy” rights-based movements. True Blood pursues vampire politics, which are all about sexy self fashioning. Were it not for the exquisite Godric’s self-immolation in season two, the program’s credo might be “survival of the sexiest.””
  • Networking Families: Battlestar Galactica and the Values of Quality by Jordan Lavender-Smith [Flow TV, 11.03, 2009] – “Galactica’s interrogation of post-nuclear family mechanics and what it means to be human was potentially groundbreaking, but by the show’s end the reconstitution of the family breaks down, and a thick line is drawn between the natural and artificial, delivering an outmoded humanism through posthuman technologies.”
  • Identity Wars: Google & Yahoo! Bow to Facebook & Twitter [RW Web] – “Yahoo! announced this morning that it is adding Facebook Connect across many of its properties. This afternoon Google Friend Connect announced the inclusion of Twitter as a top-level log-in option. These moves will be convenient for users, but may not be good for the future of the web.” (This is a really interesting article looking at what happens when Facebook and Twitter become default identity authentication systems – so much power then resides in these systems, and what happens to attempts at standards like OpenID?)
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wolvieposterstory2 So, in the wake of the much-discussed and widely downloaded leak of the Wolverine workprint,  the direct-to-DVD BSG prequel pilot Caprica has also found its way online over a week prior to any official release (on DVD or via direct download).  Yet, while media corporations decry the sales supposedly lost and the evils of piracy, any real evidence that these leaks will hurt either the film or the prequel series pilot is hard to come by.

The Wolverine workprint is an unusual case, as the leaked version is unfinished – while it is feature length, many of the special effects shots are either absent or only partial and a series of pick-ups shot earlier this year are missing.  While one Fox reviewer got the boot after admitting downloading, watching and liking the workprint, some reports suggest that the leak has actually worked as great publicity amongst the key demographics most likely to see Wolverine in theatres.  More importantly, in my view, this unfinished and thus can-be-improved-upon version may just lead some people to review the film more favourably – while folks won’t admit seeing the workprint, if the official release is better, and reviewers’ expectations were lowered by the workprint, I’d guess they’re going to give relieved and thus warmer reviews.  More to the point, the workprint might also function as the most in-depth audience screener ever, which has resulting not just in mixed reviews, but in useful advice on how the film might be improved. A canny producer might just collate these suggestions and get some free tips on what the film-going public would really like to see in Wolverine!

Caprica is a different beast altogether – anyone who believes that any distribution of the Battlestar Galactica prequel series pilot will hurt its sales of the series are fooling themselves.  It has long been argued that the US release of Battlestar Galactica was aided by the enthusiastic word-of-mouth generated by peer to peer sharing of the first episodes when they were released in the UK before the US.  The direct-to-DVD pilot (no, it’s not a movie any more than Razor made sense as a standalone movie; it’s clearly a pilot) is there to do one thing: get audiences interested in the coming series. The DVD release is happening primarily because of the success of Battlestar Galactica, and the desire of BSG’s fans for something new in that franchise, albeit a very different sort of show from BSG.  From the studio’s perspective, it’ll also help gauge the level of audience interest. Yet Caprica is, more than anything else, an advertisement for the coming series. The fact that the Caprica pilot DVD will clearly make money (it was 22 on Amazon’s best selling DVD chart today, for example) is candy, and perhaps one way the producers could get a special-effects heavy pilot created, but this is definitely an addition to the normal process of shooting a television pilot.  Sharing the pilot on bittorrent will produce another metric by which the studio can see how popular the coming series will be.  That word of mouth (presuming it’s positive) will be amongst the best advertisements Caprica can have.

Update: The workprint leak clearly didn’t hurt X-Men Origins: Wolverine: it clocked an impressive $AU221 million globally during its opening weekend!

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Links for March 31st 2009 through April 3rd 2009:

  • Internet traffic in Sweden plummets on first day of law banning web piracy [Guardian] – Internet traffic in Sweden – previously a hotbed of illicit filesharing – has fallen dramatically in the first day of a new law banning online piracy. The country – home to the notorious Pirate Bay website, whose founders are awaiting a court judgment on whether they have broken the law by allowing people to find films, games and music for illicit downloads – has previously been seen as a haven for filesharing, in which people can get copyrighted content for free. As many as one in 10 Swedes is thought to use such peer-to-peer services. But the so-called IPRED law, which came into force on Wednesday, obliges internet service providers to turn over details about internet users who share such content to the owners of copyrighted material, if a court finds sufficient evidence that the user has broken the law. … internet traffic in Sweden had fallen by about 30% compared with the previous day.”
  • New Wolverine film leaked online [BBC NEWS | Entertainment] – “An almost finished copy of X-Men Origins: Wolverine starring Hugh Jackman has been leaked online a month before its cinema release. The high quality copy of the film has been uploaded to several file sharing and streaming video websites. The movie is incomplete, with some special effects still in need of fine tuning and green screens and wires attached to actors still visible.” (It took less than 24 hours for this workprint to appear for sale in Jordan’s pirate DVD markets and C20th Fox are on the warpath. While a leak like this might be good for publicity, given that a workprint – which means unfinished special effects more than anything else – tends to emphasise the quality of the plot and dialogue, this could really hurt the box office.)
  • Obama Depressed, Distant Since ‘Battlestar Galactica’ Series Finale [The Onion – America’s Finest News Source] – “According to sources in the White House, President Barack Obama has been uncharacteristically distant and withdrawn ever since last month’s two-hour series finale of Battlestar Galactica. “The president seems to be someplace else lately,” said one high-level official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Yesterday we were all being briefed on the encroachment of Iranian drone planes into Iraq, when he just looked up from the table and blurted out, ‘What am I supposed to watch on Fridays at 10 p.m. now? Numb3rs?'” “I haven’t seen him this upset since Admiral Adama realized that Earth was actually an uninhabitable wasteland,” the official continued. “Or at least that’s what he told me. I don’t actually watch the show. It’s not really my thing.””
  • Victim Of Wikipedia: Microsoft To Shut Down Encarta [ paidContent.org] – “Microsoft will discontinue both its MSN Encarta reference Web sites as well as its Encarta software, which have both been surpassed by rising competitors, like Wikipedia. In a message posted on the MSN Encarta Web site, Microsoft says, “Encarta has been a popular product around the world for many years. However, the category of traditional encyclopedias and reference material has changed. People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past.””
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For anyone interesting in the convoluted social world of the soon-to-return Battlestar Galactica, you must check out the hilarious Battlestar Book which tells the tale of BSG in Facebook status updates.  A snippet:

Battlestar Book

See the full Battlestar Book [Via io9].

Incidentally, does anyone know of an online generator or tool which can quickly knock out icon-driven status updates like these?  After the Battlestar Book and the earlier  hilarious Facebook Hamlet, I’m toying with the idea designing a project in which students summarise either a key article or perhaps episode of television using this style.  I’m thinking it would get them to think critically about the sort of data Facebook gathers and shares about people while also encouraging students to brush up on their skills in terms of finding the key points and ideas in texts.  Or is that nuts?

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Links for December 30th 2008 through January 1st 2009:

  • Principles for a New Media Literacy by Dan Gillmor, 27 December 2008 [Center for Citizen Media] – “Principles of Media Creation: 1. Do your homework, and then do some more. … 2. Get it right, every time. … 3. Be fair to everyone. … 4. Think independently, especially of your own biases. … 5. Practice and demand transparency.””We are doing a poor job of ensuring that consumers and producers of media in a digital age are equipped for these tasks. This is a job for parents and schools. (Of course, a teacher who teaches critical thinking in much of the United States risks being attacked as a dangerous radical.) Do they have the resources — including time — that they need? But this much is clear: If we really believe that democracy requires an educated populace, we’re starting from a deficit. Are we ready to take the risk of being activist media users, for the right reasons? A lot rides on the answer.”
  • Participative Pedagogy for a Literacy of Literacies by Howard Rheingold [Freesouls, ed. Joi Ito] – “Literacy−access to the codes and communities of vernacular video, microblogging, social bookmarking, wiki collaboration−is what is required to use that infrastructure to create a participatory culture. A population with broadband infrastructure and ubiquitous computing could be a captive audience for a cultural monopoly, given enough bad laws and judicial rulings. A population that knows what to do with the tools at hand stands a better chance of resisting enclosure. The more people who know how to use participatory media to learn, inform, persuade, investigate, reveal, advocate and organize, the more likely the future infosphere will allow, enable and encourage liberty and participation. Such literacy can only make action possible, however−it is not in the technology, or even in the knowledge of how to use it, but in the ways people use knowledge and technology to create wealth, secure freedom, resist tyranny.
  • How to Do Everything with PDF Files [Adobe PDF Guide] – Pretty much anything you can imagine needing to do with PDF files, without needing to buy Acrobat!
  • The 100 Most Popular Photoshop Tutorials 2008 [Photoshop Lady] – Many useful photoshop tutorials from fancy fonts to montages and entirely new creations!
  • Israel posts video of Gaza air strikes on YouTube [Australian IT] – THE Israeli military has launched its own channel on video-sharing website YouTube, posting footage of air strikes and other attacks on Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. The spokesman’s office of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it created the channel — youtube.com/user/idfnadesk — on Monday to “help us bring our message to the world.” The channel currently has more than 2,000 subscribers and hosts 10 videos, some of which have been viewed more than 20,000 times. The black-and-white videos include aerial footage of Israeli Air Force attacks on what are described as rocket launching sites, weapons storage facilities, a Hamas government complex and smuggling tunnels. One video shows what is described as a Hamas patrol boat being destroyed by a rocket fired from an Israeli naval vessel.”
  • No terminating the Terminator … ever [ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)] – “Time will not be allowed to terminate The Terminator, the US Library of Congress said overnight. The low-budget 1984 action film, which spawned the popular catchphrase “I’ll be back”, was one of 25 movies listed for preservation by the library for their cultural, historic or aesthetic significance. Other titles included The Asphalt Jungle (1950), Deliverance (1972), A Face in the Crowd (1957), In Cold Blood (1967) and The Invisible Man (1933). The library said it selected The Terminator for preservation because of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s star-making performance as a cyborg assassin, and because the film stands out in the science fiction genre. “It’s withstood the test of time, like King Kong in a way, a film that endures because it’s so good,” Patrick Loughney, who runs the Library of Congress film vault, said.”
  • Webisodes Bridge Gaps in NBC Series [NYTimes.com] – Takes a look at the late 2008/early 2009 webisodes from NBC (particularly for Heroes and Battlestar Galactica) and the way these online stories are used to keep fans engaged with television series (or, really, television-spawned franchises) during breaks.
  • Nintendo to offer videos on Wii [WA Today] – “Nintendo will start offering videos through its blockbuster Wii game console, the latest new feature for the Japanese entertainment giant. Nintendo said it would develop original programming which Wii users could access via the internet and watch on their television. It is considering videos for both free and fees. The game giant teamed up with Japan’s leading advertising firm Dentsu to develop the service, which will begin in Japan next year, with an eye on future expansion into foreign markets.”
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As the countdown to the final (half) season of Battlestar Galactica ticks down in the US, SciFi are in the middle of a final run of webisodes (‘The Face of the Enemy’) which, as usual, are getting good press both on their own terms and as models of successful webisode content in relation to existing franchises.  The New York Times, for example:

“The Face of the Enemy,” on the other hand, could serve as a model of the Webisode genre. It’s not something you need to watch if you’re not already a “Battlestar Galactica” fan, but those who are will appreciate the serious treatment this minidrama has received, the same kind of care taken with the cult-favorite series itself. The lead writer of “Enemy” was Jane Espenson, a “Galactica” co-executive producer and television veteran with “Gilmore Girls” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on her résumé, and its performers include series regulars like Grace Park, Alessandro Juliani and Michael Hogan.

The Webisodes, which will conclude on Jan. 12, just before the television series returns, are a self-contained murder mystery set aboard a small spacecraft that has been separated from the fleet. But they also expand on the “Galactica” mythology, through flashbacks, and flesh out major characters. Fans who had wondered whether Lieutenant Gaeta (Mr. Juliani) was gay found out in Episode 1 of “Enemy.” Or they thought they did, until his close encounter with a Cylon 8 (Ms. Park) a few episodes later clouded matters.

Along with the regular Webisodes the Sci Fi Channel is providing “enhanced” versions featuring commentary by Ms. Espenson. They’re a revelation in their own right. While commentary tracks on movies or even television episodes tend to get boring or crazy-making long before the show is over, commentary tracks on four- or five-minute Webisodes can actually be entertaining.

Ms. Espenson describes the chaotic, and poignant, circumstances in which the Web serial was filmed: with the television series’s final season already completed, the “Enemy” scenes were often the last things filmed on the “Galactica” sets. After a scene was completed, its set would be torn down for good.

Other tidbits — Ms. Park plays two parts in “Enemy” because the “Galactica” star Tricia Helfer turned out not to be available after the story had already been developed — might seem like too much information to have while the serial is still unfolding. But it’s really just a sign that NBC Universal is getting at least one thing right. In a world where the possibilities for elaborating your shows online are endless, the true fan wants to see and hear everything.

As per usual, the webisodes aren’t accessible for those living on the wrong end of the tyranny of digital distance (outside the US), but other avenues are readily available for those willing to look, and the webisodes certainly aren’t shying away from interesting and timely issues.  Until it gets pulled, here’s the first webisode on YouTube:

(You can catch the same webisode with Jane Espenson’s audio commentary, too.)

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As a dedicated Battlestar Galactica fan I can’t wait for the final episodes to start in January and I’m already enjoying the countdown webisode series, ‘The Face of the Enemy’ which features Felix Gaeta, two Cylon Eights (Sharon’s model) and a few very desperate, very lost, BSG crew.  The first webisode went live today and sets up an pretty engaging storyline. It also featured one other bit of story that’s sure to get a reaction:

bsg-f-h

On his way off the Galactica, to catch a raptor to another ship of a bit of leave, Felix Gaeta says goodbye to Hoshi and they lock lips which is the first visible and openly gay male relationship in the series.  (There are other mentions of gay couples, although the most notable lesbian relationship was between Admiral Cain and the poor Six who eventually turns up horribly tortured on the Pegasus; this left more than a few questionable readings possible about the consequences of non-heterosexual relationships!) I’m very much in two minds about the outing of Gaeta; I’m delighted that his sexuality is basically treated as completely normal – the big issue is Hoshi smuggling some painkillers to Gaeta, while their relationship seems normalised (or as normal as anything gets on the rag tag fleet).  That said, I wonder if Ron Moore and the producers are playing it too safe leaving this sort of material for the webisodes?  Their nature as online add-ons might just mean that the writers are allowed to push boundaries they can’t during the actual episodes (and kudos to Jane Espenson and Seamus Kevin Fahey for writing this webisode series), but for this to be a powerful and clear statement about the normalisation of same sex relationships in the world of Galactica, I’d really like to see this thread continue into the final episodes and actually screened on television, not just pushed to one side on the web.

For international viewers, we’re once again victims of the tyranny of digital distance as the webisode are geo-locked and only visible to those with US IP addresses; there will be lots of workarounds, no doubt, but for a short time until it’s pulled, the first webisode is available on YouTube.

Update: Apparently in the run of webisodes we find out Gaeta is bisexual, not gay; I’m not sure if this depletes the overall message or not … probably not.

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Links of interest for October 23rd 2008 through October 24th 2008:

  • Musician defends Sony game song [BBC NEWS | World | Africa] – “The Malian musician whose song is being removed from a Sony video game because of concern it may offend Muslims has denied the music was blasphemous. Grammy award-winning Toumani Diabate said the song celebrated the Koran. “In my family there are only two things we know – the Koran and the kora [West African harp],” he told the BBC. The release of the much-anticipated LittleBigPlanet was delayed when it was found that a background music track included two phrases from the Koran. Copies of the game are being removed from shops around the world.” (I don’t know enough to comment on the religious implications, but I’m fascinated by the power and seriousness with which the politics of in-game music.)
  • Apple Goes McCain On Microsoft With Mocking Attack Ads [TechCrunch] – “The advertising war between Apple and Microsoft continues. Apple’s latest TV spots mock Microsoft’s $350 million ad campaign for Windows Vista, suggesting that some of that money would be better spent fixing Vista. The ad is funny (see above), but it does seem petty and elitist.” (See the ad.) I’m not sure this was a smart move by Apple – while they have the hearts and minds of a significant user base, the the demographic for whom ‘it just works out of the box’ is the main selling point probably don’t see themselves as ‘better’ than PC users; the elitism just might rub a few people the wrong way (that said, the critique seems fairly accurate!).
  • Our media freedom lags behind most other democracies [PerthNow] – “Australia trails other democracies in media freedom due to “outrageous” anti-terror laws and lack of protection for journalists’ sources, a report says. Australia is ranked 28th in the annual Press Freedom Index released this week by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders. Australia’s ranking is the same as last year’s and puts it behind New Zealand (ranked 7th), the United Kingdom (23), Canada (13) and Scandinavian countries. Iceland, Luxembourg and Norway were jointly named the nations with the most press freedom, while Eritrea was named as the country with the least media freedom. “
  • The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and the Meta-Silly Season in Politics: Agenda Setting in the Contemporary Media Environment by Jennifer Brundidge [Flow 8.10 October 16, 2008] – A look at the role of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report in discussing, reporting and debunking other reporting regarding the political process and, most notably, the 2008 US presidential election: “…the particular format by which The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are able to pose a challenge to mainstream media agendas and frames. By being “silly,” they are able to effectively challenge “silly season in politics.” Indeed, there is a good deal of evidence to suggest that through this process, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report play an important role in advancing the political sophistication of their audiences.”
  • Tigh/Roslin 2008: When Politics Turn Fictional by Emily Regan Wills [Flow 8.10, October 16, 2008] – Great article exploring the Tigh/Roslin parody by Battlestar Galactica fans regarding the McCain/Palin ticket. An excerpt: “… Battlestar Galactica is sufficiently complex, and sufficiently political, that it is possible to interpellate political positions for its characters. Fans know where Roslin falls on abortion policy: the plot of an episode revolved around her decision whether or not to make abortion illegal in the fleet, and included arguments based on religion, civil liberties, and population structure. Her general style of governance, her position on separation of church and state, even how she feels about wildlife conservation: it is plausible to deduce political positions for Roslin on each of these contemporary political questions. ” (There are a bunch of other great articles in the special issue of Flow about Sarah Palin, too. )
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