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


Nov 10

Ukrainian Professors Play with New iPad 2s

Posted: under Digital Migration, new media, Online Video, Ukraine.
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…in the courtyard of the Institute for the Digital Future of Journalism

I’ve got great video of everyone having a blast, experimenting with the new guerilla-style video production tactics I’ve been teaching them — I showed them how to use the front and rear-facing cameras on their iPads to shoot video. Here, they are working on producing “establishing shots” using whatever equipment is available to you at the time; in this case, it means holding the iPad up in front of your face and doing slow 360s, talking to the camera, so the audience can see for themselves what the landscape around you looks like.

journalism professors playing with ipads

They absolutely loved their brand-new iPad 2s. It was like seeing little kids getting handed Magic Mirrors. They were polite enough for most of the day, but about mid-afternoon, I just lost them in the wilds of the App Store. Also - I will never understand how the Ukrainian women manage to walk down these uneven, treacherous ancient cobblestone streets in stiletto heels.

I also taught them the basics of shot selection, framing, the Rule of Thirds, and some basic stuff about editing and shot sequencing as a means to create emotion. It was about a semester’s worth of material crammed into a one-day lecture, but at least I opened them up to what is possible, and where they can go to try to learn more on their own.

This is still a beautiful city, even if the sky in unrelenting slate gray, and the wind from Siberia knifes right through you after the sun goes down…

At night, the streets of Kiev are filled only with the rumble and clatter of Dr. Zhivago trolley cars, and the whistling north wind. The architecture here is like the people; kind of battered, but still full of character. Resilient.

I haven’t gotten to see as much of this city as I would like; I’ve always been working too hard, or pretty much exhausted & creaking from the demented flight schedule it takes to get here from Los Angeles. Still, the little I have been able to discover on my own has been delightful.

ukrainian student concentrates on the screen

This time around, my students arrived in my classes with significant New Media skills. Some of them were already creating infographics, and this girl is already ghost-blogging for big financial companies. As you can see, she is quite determined; meanwhile, behind her, another of my more active and vocal students gasps in horror at the convoluted assignments I have inflicted on the class...

One of the greater joys of this class was seeing my students help each other out. When they got stuck with some of my more technically challenging exercises, they reached out to each other, and shouted advice back and forth across the classroom.

There is no better feeling for me. I am only here for such a very short time; I keep wishing that I had an entire semester to really reach deep into these young people, to help them draw out their skills & refine them. But seeing their willingness to follow me down these strange multimedia pathways, and to help each other out along the way … leads me to believe that they will continue to help each other out after I am gone.

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Jul 07

How Africa Sees the Attacks on Obama

Posted: under new media.
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I found this painting in a humble little clothing stall in the merkato in Addis Ababa, during my last day there, when I finally got some free time to wander around and explore this fascinating city a little bit.

obama surrounded by the ku klux klan

It surprised me to find such an accurate depiction of the garb of the KKK in faraway Ethiopia. I guess movies or popular culture have exposed even the ordinary people around the world to our more sordid side...

Amongst all the funky art & tchotchkes, this painting caught my eye for obvious reasons.

What you can’t see, of course, are all the other exemplars of Obama’s presence here in East Africa. People walk around with Obama’s face on t-shirts, bumper stickers, hats … his face is pasted onto the clear glass shelves in the jewelry shops, and to the sides of the little “blue mule” micro-buses.

This is a good thing.

Invisible to just about everyone in the U.S., we are in a struggle for influence in Africa, which more and more people are calling “The Last Frontier.” China is spreading around the oceans of money (that we gave them in exchange for cheap plastic consumer goods, but that’s another story), and they are doing it in a very tricky, manipulative way. The U.S. and Western Europe have had decades of work, trying to figure out ways to actually benefit countries with their foreign aid. It has not been the easiest process.

However, we have figured out that nation-building takes time. Lots of it. And the investments tend to be gradual, building up infrastructure, institutions, ecosystems. The kinds of things that people really don’t see all at once – but if you take a snapshot of a country 10 or 20 years apart, you see the radical transformations. I know I did when I went back to both Colombia and Venezuela after 20 years absence in 2007-8.

modern catching up with the ancient

In Addis Ababa, the modern struggles to catch up with the ancient.

Meanwhile, the Chinese are throwing up big, showy projects. Roads, bridges, dams, buildings. And slapping their branding all over them. Ordinary people see this and say, “Well look, the Chinese are actually doing something for us. What do the ferengi leave behind? They talk a lot, but what do we have to show for it all?”

In this kind of environment, having an African-American as President of these here United States is a definite advantage.

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Jul 01

Ethiopia New Media Training

Posted: under Digital Migration, journalism, new media, newspaper crisis, Online Video, Video.
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The clash of ancient and modern is never more stark than in these developing nations

I’ve been in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the last week, training the local journalists and government information officers (aka PR flacks) on how best to take advantage of the way that “New Media” is creating new ways of connecting with each other, and the world at large. I’m here as part of the same US Embassy program that has sent me to places like Chile, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Costa Rica, etc., to try to bring people the benefits of experience (aka the way newspapers & TV news has imploded in the U.S.), so they can start planning for the Great Digital Migration.

dave lafontaine teaches video editing to tv journalists in ethiopia

This is my class of TV journalists at Addis Ababa University (AAU). I tried to cram as much about online video and sharing into my short sessions as I could. Here, I'm showing how to use both professional tools like Adobe Premiere Pro CS5, as well as free alternatives like Windows Movie Maker.

The one thing that everyone here agrees on is that Ethiopia desperately wants to change its international image – c’mon, admit it. When you think of Ethiopia, what images come to mind? Deserts, starving people, vultures, Live Aid, right?

Well, it’s not like that any more. In fact, if you look around at the Addis Ababa skyline, you’ll mostly see cranes and highrise towers under construction. The real-estate bubble that burst and devastated the rest of the world never took hold here.

cows in the streets of addis ababa

There are still many reminders that the ancient ways of living are still very much in existence here in Addis, but please also note all the other markers of modernity in this shot.

However, they are facing many of the same challenges as the rest of the world, at least when it comes to the emergence of the internet, and the struggles of newspapers, radio and TV stations to come to grips with social media, and the ability of anyone to become a publisher/broadcaster/internet troll.

dave lafontaine and the owner of sheger fm

The very first place I visited was Sheger FM, the one independent radio station in Ethiopia. This is the courageous owner, who is really struggling to walk the razor's edge here in Addis.

 

I’ve found many of the same behaviors and attitudes I’ve encountered in the other places that I’ve done web/online video/social media training sessions – stubborn insistence that things will never change, toxic skepticism, and even outright hostility.

After a bit of a rocky start, these guys really came around and appreciated the hands-on lessons I gave them on how to do live video stand-up reports and how to compress video into the best codec to upload to YouTube. The Nelson Mandela building is a challenge, though; between the thin air at this 8000-foot altitude, and having to haul my big carcass up 5 (five) steep flights of stairs, the first few minutes of every class were mostly spent huffing and puffing, and hoping that someone in the class had a particularly insightful comment.

 

dave lafontaine and his tv production class in front of the nelson mandela building at addis ababa university 

Dave LaFontaine and his tv production class in front of the Nelson Mandela building at Addis Ababa university in Ethiopia.

 

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Jul 06

Tbilisi Journalist Training: Graduation Day

Posted: under Digital Migration, journalism, new media, Online Video.
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Tbilisi Journalist Graduation, originally uploaded by Wordyeti.

These are the journalists from the smaller cities & towns outside of Tbilisi, Georgia. They’re all grinning happily, because they’ve managed to survive my intense one-week course, where I set them all up with their own blogs, and then sent them into the field to shoot, edit and post online news videos.

A crucial part of every learning process is making mistakes. They learned not to try to take on too ambitious a project when using makeshift multimedia tools. I learned not to use Adobe’s Premiere Elements 8. That has got to be the buggiest video editing system ever inflicted on an unsuspecting public. I use Premiere Pro all the time and love the rest of Adobe’s various iterations of the Creative Suites … but Elements is Satan on a CD. My students were throwing their headsets across the room in frustration as it crashed … lost work … necessitated a hard reboot of the system … crashed again … corrupted the footage … (rinse, repeat).

I finally installed Sony’s Vegas Video on their systems; not as user-friendly for beginners as the “Grandma-ware” that Elements is known as … but it at least would make a J-cut or an L-cut without locking up the system. Unfortunately, Vegas Video wouldn’t import the footage from the Flip cameras with the audio attached. So we had to export the audio tracks from Premiere, and then import them into Vegas and sync the audio with the visuals.

I was told that this was actually a quite valuable experience, because real-world conditions for indie journalists in Georgia are pretty much like this. Working on cobbled-together secondhand equipment in sweltering offices, where the electrical power is subject to sporadic outages. And when the wind shifts to blow in over the nearby market … well, you want to close the windows, no matter how hot & humid it is.

I just noticed – my arms look inordinately long in this photo.

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Feb 09

Newspapers to TV, Movies: “We arrived in separate ships, but we’re in the same boat now”

Posted: under journalism, new media, newspaper crisis, Newspapers.
Tags: , , , , , ,

Signs were there that DVD sales were about to implode; industry ignored all warnings

To anyone in the newspaper industry, the parallels are eerie. The disruptive technology is introduced, and people with the ability to look beyond this quarter’s P&L statement say, “Oh-oh. Something’s in the wind. We gotta take a look at this, maybe start shifting some resources into R&D, or we could blow up in a couple years.”

To which the guys at the top of the company, whose fat year-end bonuses are tied to keeping costs to a bare minimum, while sucking off as much spare cash as possible, say, “You’re out of your mind. Things are going great. You wanna break them? Siddown and shut up – we know what we’re doing – look at all the money we’re making. Instead, we’re going to double down on our bets, and buy up & consolidate our monopolistic position.”

And then the day arrives. The P&L shows a massive die-off in the one area that the whole house of cards depends on as a crucial revenue stream.

The guys at the top immediately point fingers at the internet & start screaming.

That day arrived last week at Sony Pictures, and The Media Wonk has a great write-up, running down all the relevant stats and the various time-wastes along the way.  He points fingers at Blu-Ray as a massive time, money & effort Black Hole that hasn’t stepped up to replace the revenues that are being lost via plain old DVD sales going bye-bye. Viz:

The need for a viable post-DVD digital strategy has been blindingly obvious for most of the past decade. But instead of focusing on that existential challenge, the industry wasted four years on Blu-ray, an absurd format that addressed no identifiable consumer demand that could not have been met years earlier, more cheaply and with less consumer confusion with readily available alternatives, like HD DVD or even red-laser DVDs.

The industry is still wasting time and resources trying to invent uses for Blu-ray to justify the time and cost sunk into it.

Hitting the snooze button when the alarm goes off doesn’t mean that what happens in the meantime is beyond your control. It means you’re asleep.

If I can extrapolate from the behavior I’ve witnessed in my friends, some of whom are the greatest TV & movie aficionados I’ve ever met; the type of people who can go one for an hour about how David Duchovny’s characterization of Fox Mulder owed more to John Wayne in The Searchers than, as is commonly (and erroneously) thought, the seminal Darren McGavin in Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

When DVDs came out, they were such an improvement over the jittery, fragile VHS tapes that we loaded up on them. All the extras – the audio tracks, the Easter Eggs – oh, they were sah-weet. We’d have parties where we’d go through our favorite movies and break it all down – because now, when we freeze-framed, it was a perfect picture, not that damned bent image with static bars at the top & bottom, the way VHS shafted us.

And then something happened. We had a whole shelf – maybe a coupla shelves. Maybe even a whole room – full of DVDs.  Alphabetized, categorized.

And we didn’t watch them anymore.

Why should be drag out a DVD, fire up the player, switch the Video1 to Video2 – just to sit through something we’ve already seen … when the TiVo has something fresh & new?  There has to be a real dearth of new material that’s any good before we’ll go to the archives for some nostalgia.

The success of the studios & networks in setting up all these TV channels & alternative means of distribution of content has also been its undoing.  If I don’t have to shell out $24 for a movie – when I can just stream it over Netflix, or better yet, see something new on my DVR – then why would I spend my increasingly scarce hard-earneds?

Technology alone didn’t change consumer behavior. It wasn’t the internet’s fault. It’s just that when alternatives opened up – when true competition arrived on the market – all of a sudden, the old Walled Gardens, with their high price to enter and their restrictive DRM – those places became not so fun to hang out it. So we all left. Gradually, but in increasing numbers.

The crisis that newspapers have faced for the last 5-10 years — the TV and movie industry is about to fall into that same Black Hole, for the same reasons, and apparently is determined to attempt the same half-measures to turn the clock back to where it used to be.  Look for a lot of appeals to Congress for restrictive legislation, blaming “piracy” and “content thieves,” and then resorting to a death spiral of cutting costs and putting out shoddier products.

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Jan 23

Bookworms love the new Nook e-reader

Posted: under E-ink devices, new media.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Setting a couple of bookworms loose to play with the next generation e-readers is like setting Augustus Gloop loose in the Wonka Chocolate factory.

The first thing that strikes you about the Nook is how much *faster* it is than the Kindle. And Janine loved the touchscreen. More video to come on Digital Family.

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Dec 16

The Music Video Is The Advertisement: Lady GaGa Goes Post-McCluhan On Us All

Posted: under New Marketing, new media, Online Video, Video.
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Her “Bad Romance” music video features prominent product placement for stuff she designs & sells – and has garnered 38 million views.

The song itself is kinda beside the point – it’s bubblegum synth-disco-pop, about as bland and processed as the stuff the taxi drivers in Moscow used to subject me to on the way back & forth from my gig there. Which may be why it’s getting so many views – this is the kind of stuff that works internationally, since the thumping beat and lyric structure make it sound pretty much interchangeable with everything else on the radio.

Can't wait until she starts marketing the exploding bustier shown here; Madonna's Wannabees all wore their undies over their shirts. Wonder if GaGaEttes are going to be lighting their smokes off their flaming boobs.

Can't wait until she starts marketing the exploding bustier shown here; Madonna's Wannabees all wore their undies over their shirts. Wonder if GaGaEttes are going to be lighting their smokes off their flaming boobs.

But the real action here is in the video to the song. Blew my mind. Didn’t think that people had budgets like this anymore. Costumes that would make Gaultier sick with envy — white latex with “Where the Wild Things Are” shiny plastic crowns, some kinda homage to LeeLoo’s orange strappy outfit in The Fifth Element and a Eastern European mobster/white sex-slave buyer with a steampunk-ish articulated brass chin. Looked to my eye like about a week in production, probably about $500K in total costs of models, locations, crews, lighting, post-production.

The plot seems to be that Lady GaGa wakes from her sleep the way normal people do – by sticking her hand out of a gleaming white Tylenol-shaped coffin – getting forced to drink high-end vodka and the gyrate for & be sold to a bunch of strange pervy dudes.I half expected to see Liam Neeson kicking someone’s ass in the backdrop and telling her, “Here’s the scary part. You’re going to be taken…”

Nobody does these kinds of elaborate music videos anymore, because there is no way to recoup that kinda cash from the moribund music industry.- at least, not until now.As Dan Neil points out in the LA Times

the “Bad Romance” video, which features placements for no less than 10 products: a black iPod; Philippe Starck Parrot wireless speakers; Nemiroff vodka; Gaga-designed Heartbeats earphones (via Dr. Dre); Carrera sunglasses; Nintendo Wii handsets; Hewlett-Packard Envy computers; a Burberry coat; those crazy, hobbling Alexander McQueen hyper-heels; and enough La Perla lingerie to choke an ox.

This isn’t a music video so much as the QVC Channel you can dance to.

I had thought that Madonna and Michael Jackson were about as sophisticated as you could get when it came to figuring out ways to build up a juicy public image, and then squeeze it until rivers of cash started running out. Not so. Lady GaGa has rightly recognized that selling CDs if for chumps; anyone can pirate them, and pretty much does.

No, you need to sell things that people can’t copy – or at least, if they do, it kinda defeats the purpose. So Lady GaGa’s come up with the list of high-end commercial goods to do “Hero Shots” of in the video and obviously done revenue deals with them.

As a business model, I have to say hats off to the Lady. She’s adapted to the draining of value from the content (i.e. nobody actually buys music anymore – at least, not like they used to), and migrated over to where the money still lies.

When advertising no longer works, when information is a commodity in which we all drown for free, then the only things that are left that have any value are physical objects that we can wear, eat, drive or plug in, as well as what cultural anthropologists call “fetish objects” that bestow special status because they signify that we hae enough disposable income so as to be able to waste a couple grand on some gaudy sunglasses.

I’m not sure if this is the way that all news & entertainment is going to have to go in the future. All of it sponsored, with big shout-outs to the guys footing the bills worked into the info-stream every 10 seconds or so.  I do know that if this works, we’re going to see a lot more of these “branded videos” online.

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Oct 17

Happy Students in Astana, Kazakhstan

Posted: under new media.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

This is the last class I taught in Astana – they were very engaged with the idea of moving from traditional media to “New Media,” particularly with blogging.  The main question on everyone’s mind was “How do I drive more traffic to my site?”

I didn't know the Russian phrase for "Group hug, people!" So I just stood in the back and spread out my arms.

I didn't know the Russian phrase for "Group hug, people!" So I just stood in the back and spread out my arms.

I showed them some of the very basic tools to promote your content – the simplest being the blast e-mail alert to people you’ve signed up on a subscription list.  A couple of people in the class were already up on Twitter, and I sang that particular gospel, as well as the advantages of setting up Facebook groups or using the same functionality in the Russian equivalent, which is a Classmates.com-alike.

As always, the skill level in the audience was very uneven. Some people were way out in front of the pack, others seemed to be lost. I tried to deliver a wide variety of tools to hit everyone. I got just a couple of hours to do some very basic tourism after this session.  The scale of the construction going on here is truly awe-inspiring.

It's pretty chilly here; not snowing yet, but it's thinking about it - thus the heavy clothes. Also, behind me is the new Presidential Palace.

It's pretty chilly here; not snowing yet, but it's thinking about it - thus the heavy clothes. Also, behind me is the new Presidential Palace.

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Sep 24

Digital Family Meet-up at Wokcano

Posted: under Digital Migration, New Marketing, new media, Online Video.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

It was a cinematic night, as event organizer Brad Nye looked like he was making an entrance in a James Bond film, and Jason Calacanis did a Q&A (thanks for taking my question first, BTW), and looked a little like Citizen Kane.

It’s late and I’ve got a lot more post-processing to do on the photos, so here’s just a couple of the images that I shot.  The video of the discussions can be found at This Week in Startups.

Before the lights were adjusted, standing on the platform over the audience made the speakers look like they were either making a dramatic entrance - or having their identities concealed in some "60 Minutes" tell-all segment.

Before the lights were adjusted, standing on the platform over the audience made the speakers look like they were either making a dramatic entrance - or having their identities concealed in some "60 Minutes" tell-all segment.

The energy of the old VIC was certainly present – a little too much, as techies on the make back at the bar made it a little hard to hear the speakers at the time. This, despite the overt threat by organizers to find the yapping networkers and toss them out.

Anyway, here’s Calacanis discussing what the future of social media sites is going to look like, and what smart companies should do in the next couple of years to try to adapt to the increasing pace of innovation.

As I said in an email to Nye, Jason would probably be secretly pleased at the whole Citizen Kane-esque imagery here. And then, of course, he'd feel conflicted about it and make a self-deprecating joke.

As I said in an email to Nye, Jason would probably be secretly pleased at the whole Citizen Kane-esque imagery here. And then, of course, he'd feel conflicted about it and make a self-deprecating joke.

One of the more interesting areas of discussion – particularly since I just got back from Costa Rica – centered around virtual currency as being “the next big thing.”  Certainly seems that way in places like Costa Rica, where you’re getting an increasingly large, tech-savvy and connected labor force.  A lot of people either work in the internet gambling industry there – or have relatives/friends that do.  The speed of internet connections in San Jose – and even out in the jungles on the Pacific side – stunned me. I’ve had much worse connections in the small town U.S.A.

One of the things that has stuck in my head the last week or so has been the stories coming out about how spammers are getting around the Captchas by simply hiring dirt-cheap human labor to fill in the blanks on the pages to stuff spam onto our hard-constructed sites.  I’m not sure what the next step in trying to get rid of the spam is going to be – Calacanis lamented how from the very first days of blogs, spam started becoming a problem, and it has kept pace with our attempts to try to get rid of it.  Now it’s starting to get into the social networking world (viz today’s Phishing attacks on Twitter), where the level of trust that we have for our social circle is going to make the impact of a malicious click that much heavier.

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Aug 28

This week in the paid content debate: Aug. 24-28

Posted: under Digital Migration, new media, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This week’s debate is not as acrimonious as in the past (although there are exceptions to that, of course), and in the wake of the biz models released by the Aspen conference, some people are taking building new revenue streams seriously.  At least, they say they are.  It turns out that a lot of what has been reported in this paid content debate is a little like Microsoft software releases: trial balloon “vaporware.”

Page design at Rue89.com looks a little like what splatters on the side of the carny Tilt-a-Whirl after you load it up with a buncha 10-years olds who've spent the day eating cotton candy and mystery meat hotdogs.

Page design at Rue89.com looks a little like what splatters on the side of the carny Tilt-a-Whirl after you load it up with a buncha 10-years olds who've spent the day eating cotton candy and mystery meat hotdogs. I think the boxes up & down the sides are supposed to be clickable ads, but they were inert when I tried them... (click for larger)

The illustration here is of a new French news site that is apparently taking off at Rue89; I can’t decide whether the chaotic design is totally off-putting, or intriguing because it basically violates every rule of page design.  Also, I can’t hear the word “Rue” in a title without flashing to “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Or some B-movie villain twirling a moustache and chortling, “You’ll rue the day, Rex Manly!”

As a bonus, this week I’ve broadened the focus a bit to include some big-picture thinking from some of the unusual suspects; Doc Searls has a post wherein it is posited that what we think of right now as the internet is just a finger pointing in the direction of what this thing is actually going to grow into.  Which should fuel a couple of late-night dorm-room debates, if nothing else…

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