Sips from the Firehose
A blog that seeks to filter the internet into a refreshing, easily-gulped beverage

May 27

Posting from the iPhone

Posted: under Uncategorized.
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Getting the WordPress app to work on the iPhone has been a bit of a struggle, and one that I really haven’t had time to wrestle with – until now.

I’ve had a couple days here in West Marin, and the utter breakdown of my Vaio (aka the $2800 paperweight) has spurred me totry to make this work. So here is a test-post to see if this truly can work from anywhere…

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May 20

Friday Noon Videos: Week of May 15

Posted: under Online Video, Video.
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Eurovision, Artsy Sheep, Sean Connery Torments Alex Trebek, and Drool-worthy Vids Made with a Canon 5DII

Please excuse the mess: I’ve been wrenching away at the template on this blog, trying to get it to function in IE7, as well as to get the banner to animate (without having to resort to either an animated GIF or a .flv file that slowed load time to a crawl).

This week, I’ve got a great mix of light & funny and experimental & trippy.

First out of the box, the most popular video of the week – the Eurovision winner. A fiddle-playing Norwegian kid, with big soulful eyes that has all the chicas in the comments section swooning.

It wasn’t until I spent a couple of months in Moscow that I realized what a big deal the winner of the Eurovision song contest was. Apparently, this has become the proxy for the landwars of the 19th century, and the combat in the voting and online is as fierce as Austerlitz.

Hey, if this can keep them damn countries from launching senseless wars against each other, I’m all for it, and will encourage it in any way that I can.  Any chance we can get Putin to do a soulful KGB ballad about the sadness & emptiness of life, now that they can no longer yank fingernails out of dissidents.

Eurovision Winner – Alexander Ryback

Julia Dales – Beatbox Champion

Next up is another musical video – somewhat more stripped down. This teenage girl manages to mimic a pretty elaborate beatbox; the comparisons to the dude in the “Police Lobotomy” movies are inevitable, if somewhat trite. I kinda wonder why this was shot in the backseat of a car? Maybe it was where they could find the best acoustics – although the window is open.

Anyway, the talent to sing while still laying down a rhythm track is hot, and the Republican Party should recruit this girl immediately, and send her thru a Cato Institute shake-n-bake seminar on right-wing ideology. That way, when next the reporters start asking pesky questions about the GOP’s alternative to Obama’s universal health coverage, she can leap into the fray and distract everyone from the utter lack of any sort of ideological alternative.

Cute Girl Has Amazing Beat Box Skill – Watch more Funny Videos

Extreme Sheep Art

I guess it’s not as bad as some of the other, more “Performance Art” pieces that could be done with a flock of sheep & some bored shepherds.

Actually, this is quite sweet, and made me think of the movie “Babe.” I had never noticed how predatory the herding dogs look when they come at the sheep; their heads are so low to the ground their muzzles must be damn near scraping, and they look like they’re coiled and ready to go for the throat. Maybe the panicked reactions of the sheep aren’t so out of line?

Anyway – any video that manages to combine sheep in lighted vests, a hillside & the 1812 Overture to good effect gets a thumbs-up from me. And the sheep have obviously been getting their cardio-vascular exercise.

Samsung Extreme Sheep LED Art
Uploaded by sertanarig.

SNL – Will Farrell Returns as Alex Trebek, Still Tormented by Sean Connery

Everytime I see versions of this skit, I collapse in laughter.

Killer line this time: “Is that what the moustache is for, Trebek?”

Why I Want a Canon 5D Mark II: Part 1 – Deep Powder Skiing

I defy anyone to try to get this kind of quality in such extreme conditions with a standard HD camera; the camera is either way too clunky (check out the trippy sequence when the skiiers are weaving through the trees – a larger camera would have smashed into the trunks & not have been able to thread the needle) or too bulky to take along with you during a downhill run like this, over moguls and deep powder.

The shots of the snow were so crisp that I got a brain freeze.

Powder Mountain Perspective from Ian Provo on Vimeo.

Part 2: Great Music Video Cinematography & Color Depth

This is just neat-o eye candy.

wemakemusic* – Dance with a Statue from Sebastian Woeber on Vimeo.

And last, check out this (it’s not embeddable, so you’ll have to click through) – it’s just a camera test, but it feels like the beginning of a 70s-vintage thriller like “French Connection” or something.  The stedicam work done with the 5D is great-it must be a treat to be able to be so nimble in your movements because of the reduced size & weight. The video is a little sticky, so you’re going to have to wait for it to buffer, which can be a pain. (Brief pause to check stats)

This vid is about 116 megs, so yeah, it’s gonna take a while. Obviously fairly uncompressed, which is why the image quality is so high.  Hope I’m not banging your bandwidth too bad, guys… but I do recommend checking out how well the 5D does Panavision with a 50mm lens on it.

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May 19

Watching the Watchmen: Chron Reporter Fired for Criticizing Bosses

Posted: under Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers.
Tags: , , ,

Man, I didn’t think there was anyone left at the Chronicle to fire – and here I read that they just canned 151 more people?

Delfin Vigil, a reporter at the Chron, took out an ad in the Examiner to decry the sorry state of the paper after all the cutbacks, layoffs, contractions, consolidations, downsizings & general slow self-asphyxiation.  Surprise! He just got canned in the latest round of layoffs, and has written an impassioned letter questioning what’s left of journalism these days. 

In his letter, Vigil does raise a valid point, about how journalists are encouraged to criticize every other leader besides the guys in charge of the media companies that they work for.

Here’s my stupid question: Why is it that journalists are allowed (and even encouraged) to publicly challenge, question and criticize everyone else’s boss — except for their own?


If we as newspaper journalists aren’t allowed to place the same kind of public pressure on our own authorities, who will? Does anyone truly believe that the leaders of The Chronicle and other dying newspapers across the country don’t deserve the same level of scrutiny?

It’s long been a truism in the industry that the story that the press covers the least (and the worst) is themselves.  The fruits of that neglect are now becoming clear to all of us.

What would have happened if, back in the 80s, the industry had really done an in-depth investigation of what was plainly obvious to anyone working in & around papers that were being snapped up by chains like Gannett?  Every journalist I knew then talked about how being bought by Gannett meant that the paper was stripped of everything that made it distinct, and the best talent was shipped off to toil at the USA Today, while the newly installed publishers were under tremendous pressure to “make their numbers,” and sought to do so by widening circulation by any means necessary. This model was quickly copied by other large & rapacious chains, who took advantage of the relaxation of media ownership rules to start a feeding frenzy on small papers and TV & radio stations.

Which meant that smaller staffs were whipped like dogs to produce copy that could be  wrapped around the ads.  That fat colorful graphic packages were produced to “engage” the readers and give them the sense that they were actually learning something from the paper, while longer investigative projects – and particularly those troublesome community-defending “crusades” were quietly taken out back and shot.

Yeah, I know, there are always exceptions to these broad generalizations.  I am quite certain that a lot of the smaller papers that get consumed by the big chains continued to do the best they could with what they had.

But the problems only accelerated in the 90s
, and I recall very little mention of it at the time. Perhaps we had become inured to it by that point. It was the inexorable trend, so we might as well figure out how to exist under it.


What would have happened if, sometime in the 90s, reporters and editors had started making it as much of a priority to report about what was happening to the news business … maybe some fraction of the news hole that was allocated to oh, say, the O.J. Simpson case?

Again – I know – long analysis stories about the consolidation of news outlets hardly grabs the same numbers as the White Bronco freeway chase.

At some point in the last 20 years, the news business started turning out products that the citizens of the United States decided they could pretty much do without.  There were mutterings about it, but nobody really started screeching until we found ourselves stuck in this blind alley from which there seems to be no exit.

One last happy graf to leave you with:

The prestigious stock-rating firm of Morningstar says that two big newspaper chains, McClatchy and Lee Enterprises, may be worth zero. “McClatchy stock could be worth nothing,” says Morningstar, adding that Lee Enterprises “shares could lose their entire value.” Fair value of each is listed at $0.00. Both are deep in debt.

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May 15

Micropayments and Unintended Consequences: See LUN in Santiago, Chile

Posted: under Digital Migration, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers.
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Over at The Digitalists, the question of “What would micropayments mean for journalists?” was raised.

Well, there are two schools of thought to this.  The first is the one that was espoused there:

What exactly do these people think that newspaper execs will do with
data showing exactly how profitable every single article is? Just sit
on that information? Or will they use it to make business decisions
about which departments, types of articles and individual journalists
are delivering the most ROI? “Sorry, Woodward, we know you won the
Pulitzer last year, but your articles only generated $97.85 in revenue,
so we’re going to have to let you go.” Of course, it wouldn’t just
influence the executives. Journalists themselves would start shading
their stories to what sells, and the most successful would be the ones
who were the best salespeople (or who knew the most tricks). Get ready
for a lot less zoning-board recaps and a lot more “Top 10 Sexual

You can see one example of this over at the Santiago, Chile daily Las Ultimas Noticias, where the publisher started to let the tail wag the dog — that is, the stories that garnered the most clicks on the website would be the ones given the biggest play in the paper edition the next day.

Also, the stories that got lots of attention would lead to follow-ups. The upshot of this was that the coverage did start to resemble a deranged issue of Maxim magazine.

Business news? “Picture of Women Executives Working Out & Getting Sweaty”

Political news? “Vote on Whether Japanese Women Have Cute Butts.”

Religious news? “Priest Develops the ‘Catholic Kama Sutra.”

…and so on.

But before everyone starts jumping on the already-crowded “I Told You So” train, LUN was always a bit of a downmarket paper.  They were #8 out of 8 daily newspapers in Santiago, Chile.  So their core, and the people they attracted with their marketing blitz, were readers that were not already dedicated to the bigger papers, such as El Mercurio and La Tercera.

And yes, LUN did vault from last to first, and a big part of this was the aggressive strategy.

But since then, LUN has been branching out in its coverage; they no longer have T&A on every page.  They have the core audience of what the British call “Lager Louts” or “Yobbos,” but they are branching out to include more technical content that appeals to the same young webheads that come for the biscuit shots.

And for the editors and reporters who fear that switching over to a reader-driven basis for content is going to lead to endless pages of bikini shots and [fill in the anatomical blank] slips … well there are plenty of sites dedicated to that kind of content already.

The users have the power, you see, to go to wherever it is that we want to go to, to find the kind of pictures/video/stories that we want.

If all there were on the web was imitations of Maxim-meets-Ogrish, that would be unbelievably boring after a while.

And as we’ve seen with OhMyNews, even when users are allowed to pick their perfect, tailored mix of stories and information, after a while, we kinda want someone (read: an editor/blogger/”curator”) to surprise us.

We want to see things from outside the bubble.  Well, most of us do. Some people will gleefully sustain themselves on a steady diet of mental Twinkies, and never get tired of them.  Never mind them. They were never your readers anyway.

I think that the recent political campaign and the economic meltdown have hammered home to a generation of news consumers that it’s kind of a good idea to pull our heads away from whatever dingbat thing Paris & Britney did this week, to see what it is that our elected officials are doing with our money … and how they’re funneling it to the equally dingbat financiers and bankers that bribe them.

So yeah, maybe there will be a bit of a blip when the micropayment model is implemented.  But it will shake itself out.

If you believe that all your audience wants is cheezcake … well, aren’t you saying then that your audience is a bunch of pervert dimwits?

To quote Frank Sinatra (as filtered through the late genius Phil Hartman): “Contempt for the audience! That’s what killed Dennis Day’s career!”

UPDATE: Over at The Editor’s Weblog, the debate over charging for online content has attracted comment from industry experts Jeff Jarvis and Rob Curley, as well as Agustin Edwards, the editor/managing director of LUN, speaking at the INMA World Congress:

In terms of charging for content, both Jarvis and Edwards are wholly in agreement. Jarvis is of the opinion that it is now more valuable to build audience – “I think the odds of success in charging now are slim to none”. Edwards echoes his sentiments, with his belief that “if we charged for content on the internet our traffic would go down significantly… It’s abandoning the trust in the advertising as a financial model.”

Well, that trust has been strained recently, and it is only going to get worse, unfortunately.  The continued soft economy is going to put some severe downward pressure on ad revenues, at least for the next nine months. The best news that I’ve seen today came out of the LA Times – a small article about how the bottom-feeders are out snarfing up low-priced houses in the Phoenix area (which was pretty much the most overinflated area in the U.S. when it came to the housing bubble).  If this holds up over the next couple of months, that would mean that a lot of the “frustrated money” that’s been sitting on the sidelines is going to start getting back into the game.

Again: I do think that there is a place for charging for content online.  But that model necessitates a radical change in how the news business does/would operate, one that makes shutting off the presses and moving only to web distribution look positively timid by comparison.  I’ve worked at magazines that were almost all circulation supported. The key to survival is that you have to have something that the consumers can get nowhere else.

Perhaps I’ll write more about my experiences in this vein in a post later this week.  It might be helpful for those considering this kind of a move.

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May 09

Friday (after-) Noon Videos – Week of May 8

Posted: under Online Video, Video.
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I’m feeling a little New Media biz overstimulated, a result of spending the weekend at BarCampLA, and then segueing directly into the Digital Hollywood conference.  Apparently, you can get too much of a good thing … if by “Good Thing” you also include in that little Venn Diagram:

  • Marketing directors who name-check “Minority Report” more than once per panel session when asked to ruminate on “Whither Advertising?”
  • VCs desperate to invest in anything with the word “mobile” in it (hey – my cat is mobile when she prowls the yard, hunting crickets, with a strong social aspect as she tries to catch the sparrows that twitter at her – the line forms to the right for those ready to dump $3M in Tier One Angel Funding on us)
  • Angry movie/TV producers, eking out a living from creative projects 15 years out of date, desperately searching for someone to write them a check to produce the script that every agency in town has rolled their eyes at
  • DRM technology salesmen who “guarantee” that their solution will prevent the video industry from following the music industry down the toilet (but who go silent when asked what major releases, specifically, can you not find on Pirate Bay?)
  • having to park in the “overflow” lot at the Santa Monica Civic Center, thus making we walk past the Rand Corp. headquarters repeatedly, thus probably landing me on a list of those to be rounded up & waterboarded by Information Retrieval Services and Michael Palin, sometime in the near future

So the weekly round-up of the best/funniest viral videos on the web is little delayed this week.

First, one that was sent to me because it stars a distant relative – Don LaFontaine aka “The Voice” aka “That Guy in the Movie Trailers Who Always Says ‘In A World…’ ”

The Five Biggest Voices in Hollywood – All in a Limo

This is a few years old, but I’m posting it because it’s funny, it gathers together the best voices in Hollywood with a pretty decent storyline, and because Don was The Man.  I can kinda do an imitation of his voice, and I have done so for many of my indie-film friends who want a sarcastic Don LaFontaine-esque big scary voice to underline the over-the-top aspect of their parodies.

Best lines: Don: “Nick Tate …”

Nick: “…a voice sixty-five million years in the making.”

Don: “Ominous.”

John Leader: “Mysterious.”

Nick [line delivered with a smirk as the camera does a close-up]: “Hung like a horse.”

OnionTV: Trekkies Revolt Because New Movie Isn’t Cheesy

This is worth watching if for no other reason that it reminds you how transparently awful 60s-era sci-fi was.  A while back, I watched the DVDs of the original series on a friends gigantor home theater, and was shocked to see how bad the makeup was, how the alien-world backdrops were clearly visible painted walls, and how everyone was sweating under the hot lights, even the Red Shirts (probably because they’d had a couple of stiff drinks over lunch to make them properly enthusiastic as they yelled “AAAgggh!” while off-camera prop artists chucked rubbery tentacles at them.

Play Him Off, Keyboard Cat

OK, this is one of those strange web videos that goes viral every once in a while for reasons that passeth all understanding.  I’ve been seeing it crop up on all the video-sharing sites, and blogs are starting to embed it on their pages.  Including this one.

I’m guessing that the dingbats over on 4Chan are somehow behind this one, and that there is some strange cosmic significance to the cat doing the Paul Schaeffer schtick, but I don’t really have time to delve deep down into it.  Or it’s just random & st00pid, and the point is that there is no real point, and we should all go back to reading our Sartre.

Enjoy.  Or endure. Whichever.

Lord of the Rings Look & Feel on a $5,000 Budget

This is impressive.

I can’t embed this here, so click on the link above, or go the the page “The Hunt for Gollum” to check this out.

The sidebar on Daily Motion claims that this film was made for less than $5,000, and the end credits make it clear that nobody was paid to appear in this film, nor is anyone making any money out of it. This is pure fanfic – and a strikingly good example of that.  The costumes and the travel budget to the various woods & gardens that they used for sets in this film alone would add up to far more than $5K.

Somebody loved this movie.

I hope that Peter Jackson, New Line’s assignors & HarperCollins just let this one be. If they’re smart, they will.  This film is not a copyright infringement.  Well, it kinda is … but what it is really, is a brilliant piece of marketing for all the fans of the LOTR trilogy, to keep them engaged with Tolkien’s world.  And yeah, the acting is a little stiff at points, and the pointy ears on the elf-chick are not good, but for all that, this is an enjoyable cinematic experience.

At some point, we’re going to figure out that the copyright laws actually are more of a hindrance to the creators of intellectual property like this, than they are of a help.  It took George Lucas a couple of decades to learn that the best way to communicate with his fan base was not via “cease and desist” letters, but through actually talking with some of the amateur fimmakers who felt so touched by his art that they wanted to make their own art so they could keep playing in his wonderful sandbox.

Just as newspapers are having to learn that they don’t own the news anymore – as if they ever really did – so too are TV and filmmakers going to have to learn in the years ahead that they don’t really “own” content that connects with, and inspires the audience in the way that the LOTR franchise so obviously connected with, and inspired these filmmakers. Check out this article for more on the prosumer impresarios.

Kudos, guys.  (And howinhell did you get all those people in the end credits to sign up to slave away for you for no $$ whatsoever?)

This is a huge hit over on DailyMotion, and some real effort went into making this.  I think that some of the early shots are "machinimation" from the various LOTR videogames.

This is a huge hit over on DailyMotion, and some real effort went into making this. I think that some of the early shots are "machinimation" from the various LOTR videogames.

Dirty Sexy Money

And last in the lineup is the NSFW entry, which shows what our money gets up to in its spare time.

This is apparently an ad for banks in Germany, and it shows the US Dollar getting busy with the Pound (that hussy!) who is apparently quite the little tramp…

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May 06

Wm. Marc Salisbury: The Annie Liebowitz of LA’s Digerati

Posted: under Uncategorized.
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Everywhere I go that’s fun, interesting & tech-oriented, I run into Wm. Marc Salisbury, toting his Canon DSLRs and an enthusiastic grin.  He’s assigned himself the task of covering all the meetups of the smarty-pants computer geek/film nerd/tortured writer clique(s).  He was at the BarCampLA7 over the weekend, and yesterday I ran into him at Digital Hollywood, where we traded snarky quips in the back of the room about the panel basically “reading from the brochure.” After all the sessions Mark has had to endure of us dot-com types explaining our Plans For World Domination, I figure some company somewhere should snarf him up and install him as CEO, since he probably knows more about what’s going on in the digital universe than pretty much anyone else I can think of.

Now that rock stars are no longer rock stars, CEOs are pretty much headed for either an extended relaxation stay at Danbury Federal Penitentiary, or stuffing sacks of cash into their LearJets on their way to an extradition-free country … I guess us former propellorheads can start to take our rightful places as idols to be given the Annie Liebowitz/Rolling Stone treament. Only maybe without quite so much Vaseline on the lens.

I took this picture later in the day (well, actually at about 8 p.m.) after the final session, where Battlestar Galactica director Mike Rymer (pix and quotes from that session to be posted in a bit) held forth on his experiences trying to invent a coherent cosmology for the Cylon race, pretty much yanking details out of the cast & crew’s collective fundaments.

Anyway, here’s the shot of Mark, now complete with his very own virtual Play and Fast-Forward buttons.

If we hit the Rewind button, will he go all Benjamin Button on us? (click for larger size)

If we hit the Rewind button, will he go all Benjamin Button on us? (click for larger size)

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May 01

The Cure to Swine Flu Hysteria: Laughter

Posted: under Amusing Nonsense, Friday Noon Videos, Online Video, Video.
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The swine flu pandemic – er, ahem H1N1 virus (now the officially gov’t sanctioned name for the Aporkalypse) – has generated hysteria in the news that rivals the Deadly Y2K Bug That Was Gonna Kill Us All (if you don’t remember – a sample headline from Wired at the time was “Head for the Hills!”).

So I’ve kinda amended the “Friday Noon Videos” format a bit to include some of the best snark available on the web, in the hopes on contributing to a general relaxation from the End of Days-level media converage this illness has been getting.

So first, this LOLCat-esque picture is making the rounds:

Next has to be the parody of Twitter’s “Failwhale,” which is a pretty decent homage to the way that the “pandemic” has been dominating online conversations this past week:

…and now for the videos.

First, got this gem from Gentleman Jim Breiner, who particularly liked the way it mimics the breathless reportage of some TV commentators.  I particularly like the set for this “underground newscast” — it looks like someplace that only a member of the “Trailer Park Boys” would find appropriate for a TV studio.

Next, I gotta go with this bit from an “Actual victim” of the swine flu, revealing how it was that the virus made the porcine-to-human jump (hint: he was a little drunk at the time, she was dressed provocatively, hormones were running high).

Last, I’d love to show off this series of unintentionally funny 1975 ad for swine flu shots.  Pay attention to the cheesy 70s synth score in the background. Whoever that composer was, he obviously moonlighted on porno movies up in Northridge.  Straight outta Boogie Nights.  I think some of the moustaches on these guys could thatch the roofs of an entire Amazon jungle village.  

Oh, and here’s an obligatory serious link to commentary on where newspapers and indeed, the entire publishing industry, is headed — and why.

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