Blog Ipsa Loquitur

President Obama was interviewed by some YouTube celebrities shortly after his State of the Union address. This was a little unusual, because he doesn’t usually appear on shows which end with the words “please share, like, and subscribe.”

These people don’t necessarily have educational shows; they aren’t journalists in any traditional sense of the word. One of them is a comedian as much as she is anything else. You can tell because one time she made a video of herself in a bathtub with cereal as a gag, and traditional media seems to have labeled her “the cereal lady.” Quaint and not reductive at all, guys.

One of the other YouTube celebrities, a guy named Hank Green, summed up his experience in a wonderful post on Medium called Holy Shit, I Interviewed the President. My favorite part is when he laughs at members of the traditional news, most of whom were laughing at the idea that the president would give an interview to kids on the internet.

“Legacy media isn’t mocking us because we aren’t a legitimate source of information, they’re mocking us because they’re terrified. Their legitimacy came from the fact that they have access to distribution channels and that they get to be in the White House press pool because of some long-ago established procedures that assumed they would use that power in the public interest. But those things are becoming less and less important and less and less true. Distribution is free to anyone with a cell phone and the legitimacy of cable news sounds to me like an oxymoron. The median-aged CNN viewer is 60. For Fox, it’s 68.

The Fox/MSNBC idiot machine is degrading a generation’s opinion of all news media. They watch John Stewart make fun of Fox News and they think “That’s what ‘news’ is” so they just disengage. This isn’t just bad for journalism, it’s bad for America. I might venture to say that it’s terrible and dangerous and frightening for America. How does a democracy function with no credible system for informing its citizens?”

Green’s account of his experience interviewing the president is charming and worth reading. He’s a skilled entertainer, which is why he has 2.5 million subscribers to his YouTube channel. His most popular videos have tens of millions of views.

His articulation of the media landscape’s generational schism is absolutely fantastic, and you have to read it. I think these sorts of differences mirror our extant generational divides in politics, foods, sports, and probably literally everything else. I’m sure people in the 1930s were aghast at how radio dumbed down the news; events were read aloud instead of printed on the world’s first mass medium, movable type. Heck, Socrates hated books centuries before the printing press was invented. Hand-copied texts were too mass medium for him.

Now we’re at the mass medium that supplanted the mass medium that supplanted the printing press which supplanted the hand-copied texts. We’re at YouTube. And look at Hank Green: at 2.5 million subscribers, his is an audience larger than virtually every cable news show. That Anderson Cooper guy? That Rachel Maddow lady? Sean Hannity? Add their ratings up and you’re close to this guy’s audience. That’s bonkers.

The information age has raised the exposure for publishing in a mass medium by an order of magnitude, while simultaneously lowering the barrier to entry to nearly zero. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Filed on under The Digital Age

As a nation, we’ve decided that school shootings are bad, but not bad enough to effect anything approaching gun control. In light of this, schools have to take certain drastic measures. For example, some are considering using bulletproof blankets to protect students from the guns we can’t seem to keep out of schools. And just about every school in the nation has banned toy guns, no matter how obviously fake they are.

In that spirit, nine-year old Aiden Steward should have known better before he brought to school a replica of one of the deadliest instruments known to man:

There’s something to be said about the One Ring from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Ring series: it’s powerful enough to get a nine-year-old student sent home from school. Aiden Steward brought a toy version of the magical ring to school after watching the film version of most recent Hobbit film with his parents, telling a fellow student he could make him disappear with the ring. Aiden was promptly sent home.

This is your typical silly fluff news story that doesn’t merit even clicking the headline in the tweet. Except for the quote from Aiden’s father:

“I assure you, my son lacks the magical powers necessary to threaten his friend’s existence,” Aiden’s father Jason Steward said in an email to the school. “If he did, I’m sure he’d bring him right back.” He said the principal of Kermit Elementary, Roxanne Greer, said no threats would be tolerated by the school, magical or otherwise.

Simply beautiful.

Filed on under Not The Onion

In my day job, I work with open data and government transparency. Government officials aren’t always super enthusiastic about putting their data online. In 2014, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers surveyed its members to determine the three biggest barriers to open data were.

The most common answers were, in order:

  1. Agencies unwilling to open data. (53%)
  2. Poor-quality data unfit for public. (49%)
  3. No reliable funding for open data. (33%)

I can tell you a big concern for particularly meaningful information is also “could this be used to embarrass us?” Agencies don’t want to publish how long it takes them to respond to Freedom of Information Law requests, because they miss the statutory deadline often, and it might make them look bad. (You say “bad,” I say “criminally underfunded – seriously increase budgets for records access.”)

In Chicago, the answer is yes. The local paper has caught the city red-handed… plowing a street with an important Alderman’s house faster than some other streets where Aldermen(?) don’t live.

The stretch of West 51st Street is far from Chicago’s busiest road, carrying only two lanes of traffic and dead-ending before Pulaski and the CTA’s Orange Line tracks. Still, the 3900 block of 51st got lots of attention from city snow-removal crews during and after last weekend’s intense winter storm.

The plows pushed through the block as early as 6:48 a.m. on Sunday and again at 10:31 p.m. that day. They returned two times Monday and gave a fifth sweep on Tuesday morning, according to city Plow Tracker data gleaned by clearstreets.org.

You see, 51st is where you’ll find the 5,600-square-foot home of the City Council’s longest-serving and most-powerful member, Finance Committee Chairman Ed Burke, and his wife, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke.

Seriously, guys? Your government has one of the top municipal open data portals in the country, and you’re F5ing the snowplow tracker to keep your government honest? Really? We’ve settled all other issues of civic accountability and transparency? This is the last possible transgression against a perfectly democractic republic we have left?

Look, you don’t have to confine yourself to effusive praise for all Official State Data Sets, but this kind of inanity wastes everyone’s time. There are ways to be constructive about government open data, and ways to churn out pointless clickbait. This is just shameless.

Filed on under We Can't Have Nice Things

Doug Van Hollen is of two minds about Wirecutter:

At first, I felt that this was the greatest website I’ve ever seen, and possibly the greatest service that the Internet has ever done to humanity (or at least capitalism). It was like Consumer Reports, except free and on an angel dust-Adivan cocktail (most reviews clock in at over 10,000 words). And the reviews are actually good. We bought our washer/dryer, dish soap, paper towels, and cheap earbuds based entirely on Wirecutter’s recommendation, and they have all been flawless decisions. And, best of all, decisions that I didn’t have to make. […]

But then I noticed the downside. I looked around my life and I saw all the things that I’d already bought, in the past, without the help of Wirecutter. These garbage products consumed without even three thousand words of testing and analysis. […]

I started to purge, at random, whatever was within arm’s reach.

The whole thing is very funny and very smart. He somehow simultaneously skewers both the fetishization and eschewal of the Platonic ideals which consumerism implies. And the whole concept of an “ideal paper towel” itself. It’s beautiful. But the single best part is that his primary target appears to be his own neurosis, which is also pretty much my neurosis.

Filed on under Irreverently Irrelevant

There might just be too much TV:

There are 352 scripted series on primetime and late-night TV. That means there are 352 original comedies and dramas with actual narratives and writing. 352 series that are fully staffed with writers and actors and directors. 352 series that are competing for Emmys and Golden Globes and SAGs and—even more importantly—your attention.

Those 352 series are broken down into 199 series on cable, 129 on broadcast, and 24 on streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. Those series aren’t further classified into half-hour comedies and hour-long dramas, but let’s, just for the heck of it, assume that they’re half-and-half each. That totals 15,840 minutes of television that were aired in regular episodic installments in 2014. That’s 264 hours. That’s about a week and a half.

Kevin Fallon, the author of the article, doesn’t necessarily spell it out: that’s a week and a half of “primetime” TV per week. As in, if you recorded all the TV in a given week’s 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. time slot, you watch it 24/7 and still miss out on over one-third of the scripted series airing in primetime that week.

If you also count the 1,363 “non-scripted” (i.e. reality TV) series that air in primetime, there are roughly Seven and a half weeks of TV airing between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. Every week. In three hours.

Now, sure, there are exactly zero TV series that air 52 weeks a year. I don’t know what the average production run for any of these shows is, but we can argue the reverse. If each of those series averages just 7 episodes per year, we as a culture are officially producing more than a week’s worth of primetime TV every week for the entire year.

That’s nothing, though. On YouTube, over 100 hours of video are uploaded every minute. Every hour, there are 6,000 hours of video uploaded. Every week, over a million hours of video. Mass media is unfathomably massive in the digital age.

Filed on under The Digital Age

Lukas Mathis is a guy who knows how to put together software. He knows what makes a good user interface and what creates a lousy experience. He wrote a wonderful piece comparing Windows 8 (which he liked) and Windows 10 (which he calls “the most disappointing piece of software I’ve ever used”).

He takes a bit to get to the heart of his post. It begins with the reasons Windows has become what it’s become, as it slowly accumulates new features and refuses to excise outdated ones. It wants to be for a tablet, but it’s the same UI they’ve used since 1995. But then when Mathis gets going, he outlines his complaints very clearly and understandably.

See his site for the screenshots that illustrate his points.

The start screen is probably the worst offender. This is what it looked like in Windows 8. It’s simple, focused, looks good, and provides the features you want from an app launcher.

This is the start screen in Windows 10. This is the kind of designed-by-committee let’s-add-every-feature-we-can-think-of mess that made Windows terrible in the first place.

Instead of providing a clean, spatial, organizable, zoomable, user-configurable set of tiles, and a simple search field, Windows 10 adds everything. List of «places» you might want to access? Great idea! Automatically generated list of most used apps? Got you covered. List of recently added apps? Why not. Link to more apps? Sure. List of «Everyday apps»? Need that. Weird «Explore Windows» button? Let’s add it. Area for tiles? Why not. Power button? Weird star button? I’m sure we can find a place for that. Start button when you’re already in the start screen? Search field? List of running apps? Bunch of widgets? Current time? Eh, it’s already in the taskbar, so let’s throw that in, too!

Ouch.

I hope someone from Microsoft is reading this. Windows 8 was a solid tablet OS, but if Windows 10 is taking its user interface cues from Windows 95, there are some serious issues brewing.

Filed on under The Digital Age