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Updated the podcasts page

June 9, 2012 Comments off

It’s been a while, so I updated the Podcasts & Vodcasts page.

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Categories: media Tags: , ,

The world’s gone mad… I Am Spartacus edition

November 15, 2010 Comments off

Flickr CC-BY-NC johnlinwood

Many people are familiar with the ‘Twitter joke trial’ here in the UK, where a chap discovered that his nearby airport was closed due to snow, so was not going to be able to spend the weekend with his girlfriend, and sent the following humorously frustrated tweet in January this year:

Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!!

I knew it was a joke, he knew it was a joke, we all knew it was a joke, but someone at the airport decided not to see it as a joke after having searched social networks for references to themselves. Possibly in the same way that some celebrities, companies and cults trawl through Internet archives looking for people to sue.

Not only was he arrested on one charge and later convicted of something completely different (the “arrest him now and find something that’ll stick while he’s in custody” approach), he’s had his appeal overturned — despite the able assistance of David Allen Green (also known as @jackofkent), the lawyer who successfully assisted Simon Singh in his libel defence with the British Chiropractic Association.

In response to the appeal being overturned, many people who had been following the case’s progress used Twitter to show solidarity by re-tweeting his original tweet using the #IAmSpartacus hashtag (original reference). And as I write this post I can still see people re-tweeting it. Humanity can be fantastic, especially in the face of what many of us consider to be a travesty of justice.

Whatever your thoughts on the wisdom of the tweet ‘in this day and age’ (if ever there was an Appeal to Happy Days fallacy, that is one), the reaction of the airport management, or the subsequent arrest, conviction and appeal failure, Charlie Brooker has — I’m sure some of you will be shocked to discover — something to say about it:

The moment I’ve finished typing this, I’m going to walk out the door and set about strangling every single person on the planet. Starting with you, dear reader. I’m sorry, but it has to be done, for reasons that will become clear in a moment.

And for the sake of transparency, in case the powers-that-be are reading: this is categorically not a joke. I am 100% serious. Even though I don’t know who you are or where you live, I am going to strangle you, your family, your pets, your friends, your imaginary friends, and any lifelike human dummies with haunted stares and wipe-clean vinyl orifices you’ve got knocking around, perhaps in a secret compartment under the stairs. The only people who might escape my wrath are the staff and passengers at Nottingham’s Robin Hood airport, because they’ve been granted immunity by the state.

Read the rest of the article here: The words you read next will be your last

Categories: media Tags: , ,

On books and TV

October 20, 2010 Comments off

Flickr CC-BY linnybinnypix

One of the numerous blogs I read, normally during my lunch break or while cooking dinner, is that of Seth Godin — marketing guru, entrepreneur, public figure and speaker, and populariser and coiner of the term permission marketing (better known in Internet circles as opt-in).

Most of his blog posts are short and to the point, and are normally of relevance well beyond the sphere of marketing. Hence me reading them, averse as I am to marketing in general.

His latest post really struck a chord with me, covering as it does the apparent correlation between book purchases and addiction to television (particularly banal types of reality TV):

Many people in the United States purchase one or fewer books every year.

Many of those people have seen every single episode of American Idol. There is clearly a correlation here.

Access to knowledge, for the first time in history, is largely unimpeded for the middle class. Without effort or expense, it’s possible to become informed if you choose. For less than your cable TV bill, you can buy and read an important book every week. Share the buying with six friends and it costs far less than coffee.

Or you can watch TV.

The thing is, watching TV has its benefits. It excuses you from the responsibility of having an informed opinion about things that matter. It gives you shallow opinions or false ‘facts’ that you can easily parrot to others that watch what you watch. It rarely unsettles our carefully self-induced calm and isolation from the world.

I recommend reading the whole post: Deliberately uninformed, relentlessly so [a rant]

Like Seth did not, I am not going to try to suggest that you do away with your television. It’s here to stay, in one form or another, and these days it has multiple roles as the display device of television, games console screen and home theatre display.

This is also because I’m rather fond of it myself — perhaps a little too fond. Some time ago I realised that I was getting home from work, switching the TV when I got in the door, and would sit and watch it until I went to bed.

So what?

Life’s not meant to be lived in front of a TV any more than it’s meant to be lived playing video games (also something I’m a little too fond of). There’s more to life than consumption of passive entertainment to fill in the time between work and sleep (or birth and death, perhaps). I am, of course, limiting the context of this post to the developed world.

We’ve never lived in an age where information has been more readily accessible (nor, paradoxically, in an age where we’ve trusted it less). We have the majority of the wealth of human knowledge no more than a few keystrokes and milliseconds away. Yet it’s been argued that we’re slowly developing a population who could never design something like the Internet: science and engineering uptake in schools and universities is dropping, literacy rates are dropping, people are losing the ability to write and communicate, and voluntary ignorance is increasingly prized above intelligence.

As Seth says, it’s not a new problem, but it got me wondering about how it affects my own life. In my own little microcosm, I realised that hours in front of a television was time not well spent. There’s never a shortage of interesting things to watch on TV, and you can’t watch it all. Not even all the stuff that specifically interests you (I could watch crime shows, science shows, documentaries and world cinema all day — and with satellite TV it’s possible to do that 24×7). And let’s not forget the cost of satellite or cable TV — many are on contracts that cost a small fortune, so we want our money’s worth, whatever that means.

Too much intellectually passive entertainment prevents me from doing the intellectually active things I very much enjoy, particularly reading and writing. From self-education in science, finance, skepticism, history and biographies to the escapism of well-written fiction and exploring different genres, I can read all day often with no sound in the house but for my cat gently snoring in the corner. Providing I keep the TV off. And as for being creative, it just doesn’t happen if I even look at the remote control — procrastination takes over and the small voice in my head always says that if I just watch this one show, it may give me some ideas on the story I’m writing. It lies. Not about the ideas, but that I’ll then get writing.

I self-experimented for some time by allowing myself to watch TV or play games until 9pm and then switch it off regardless of what was on (much easier with modern DVR systems such as Sky+), leaving the rest of the evening for creativity. While it did result it wonderful productivity, the downsides are that the time is limited and I quickly realised that once I got going, I couldn’t stop my brain. At all. Every time I tried it and got to bed at a normal time, I’d lay wide awake in bed until 3am or so, wrecking me the next day.

End result: I don’t read or write anywhere near as much as I’d like to, even though I usually read a chapter of a book in bed before switching off the light.

So how can one strike a balance between the passive couch-potato and the (often smug) “I don’t own a TV, actually!” people we all know? Pick nights of the week during which the TV stays off? Set a specific time in the evening at which the TV can be turned on or must be turned off? Something else?

I’m genuinely curious.

Categories: media Tags: , , ,

News media legally permitted to lie?

July 19, 2009 Comments off

Most you know that I’m not in the US, but what goes on there has a habit of spilling over into the rest of the world. This is particularly true of politics, culture and media…

It appears that the US news media is legally permitted to lie to and has no legal onus to tell the truth to the public, according to that government’s law courts and communications regulatory authority, the FCC. For many people this has been an accepted, if unwritten and cynical, fact for decades, but I wonder how many know that it’s actual fact?

I realise this sounds straight out of one of the Internet’s countless conspiracy theory websites, but this is one of those situations where it’s completely accurate. It started with an article called Fox News gets okay to misinform public, court ruling on CeaseSPIN, a website that states its mission is to seek a return to “more objective, truthful, fair, balanced, relevant and representative news reporting.” (Though the cynic in me wonders if such an animal has ever existed).

The most notable portion of the article says:

On February 14 [2003], a Florida Appeals court ruled there is absolutely nothing illegal about lying, concealing or distorting information by a major press organization… The ruling basically declares it is technically not against any law, rule, or regulation to deliberately lie or distort the news on a television broadcast.

People like Noam Chomsky have been saying this for years, in books such as his Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies, but — if I’m brutally honest — although he’s clearly a brilliant and intelligent man, I’ve often wondered if maybe he was one step away from the puzzle house. However, that opinion was based on the assumption that there was a legal requirement for there to be at least an attempt to tell the truth in the news media. We can all think of examples where the news has got it so wrong as to be laughable, though we normally put such things down to over-eager reporters or not having all the facts. But what if that’s wrong?

Thinking that this article must be incorrect or sensationalised, I looked a little deeper into the facts behind the story. According to a number of online resources, it appears that two former employees of a Fox News-owned TV station in Florida, Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, refused to knowingly include false information in a report about an artificial hormone developed by a multi-national biotech company and they were subsequently fired. Presumably believing that they were wrongfully dismissed and that the station had knowingly broken the law, the couple sued them under Florida’s whistle-blower’s law (among other things).

The pair won their case and, as often seems to be the case with big business, it went to appeal. Amazingly, and although the reasons for the original case seem not to have been contended, the appellant corporation successfully argued that while the FCC had a News Distortion policy, it was only a policy.

Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeals Case 2D01-529 (PDF) concludes with the following statement:

Because the FCC’s news distortion policy is not a “law, rule, or regulation” under section 448.102, Akre has failed to state a claim under the whistle-blower’s statute. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment in her favor and remand for entry of a judgment in favor of [the appellant].

The original ruling was overturned on the basis that the news media outlet had broken no laws, and it didn’t matter whether they were conveying facts or lying through their teeth. In short, this means that there is at least one piece of case law in the US that states that news media has no legal requirement to report anything resembling reality.

The FCC’s Consumer Facts: Complaints About Broadcast Journalism page states:

The FCC is caught in a tug-of-war between two consumer factions: on one side, consumers have urged the FCC to set guidelines to prevent bias or distortion by networks and station licensees or to supervise the gathering, editing, and airing of news and comments; on the other side, consumers fear possible government intimidation or censorship of broadcast news operations.

Is this a classic example of a policy intended to prevent something from occurring actually facilitating it? What if the network or station isn’t one of the good guys?

For anyone who’s watched news networks in the US, UK or Australia (and most likely other countries) — particularly those with 24×7 news coverage — will be familiar with the concept of biased, unfair and unbalanced reporting being a matter of course, particularly when they become politically-aligned. I’ve been cheekily referring to “the news” as “infotainment” for years, but cases such as this make me wonder if I’ve been right all along.

None of this is likely to be news to anyone possessing basic critical thinking skills, but to see it enshrined in law is hideous. I wonder how many other pieces of case law around the world contain such rulings?

If you have examples, please provide citations in the comments.

Categories: media Tags: , , ,

Podcasts & Vodcasts

March 14, 2009 Comments off

TripleJ Drum LogoMy daily commute is about 50 minutes each way – giving me over 8 hours of listening time each week – so rather than listen to the same music each day or listen to one-eyed opinion radio, I prefer to listen to podcasts on topics that interest me.

As I often get asked what podcasts/vodcasts* I subscribe to, I thought I’d provide my current list — last updated 16 April 2009:

Podcasts (audio only):

Vodcasts (video or combined):

The list above changes periodically as I discover new shows or existing shows turn out to be low quality, irrelevant to my interests or just simply go to that podcast site in the sky. ;)

I also listen to/watch a number of others at work, but these are my main subscriptions.

So what interesting podcasts do you listen to?

* If you’ve been living under a rock, a podcast is a periodic MP3 ‘show’ and a vodcast is a periodic  video ‘show’ – both usually via an RSS feed, and obained via visiting the show’s website, an RSS reader or using podcatcher software such as iTunes.

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