A photo a day

Well, I’ve already blogged about this over at the new envy creative blog, but I’m excited enough about it that I figured I’d post it here too. I’m not going to be duplicating posts very often, if at all, but I do want to point to other things I’m doing online from here at the very least.

In any case, I’ve decided to start posting a photo a day. I’ve already posted the first photo. If you want to see it, you’ll have to click over, or check out the post at the new envy creative blog. BTW, I relaunched the site recently – it’s not completely ready to begin promoting yet, but a link or two here and there won’t hurt.

have i none theatre review

Last week I attended Have I None, a minimalist play set in a post-apocalyptic world. Taking place in the bowels of Captain John’s Harbour Boat floating in Toronto’s harbourfront directed by Lary Zappia and starring actors Dusan Dukic, Martin Julien and Dragana Varagic, this is a play for those who enjoy serious and intense visions that come to life not just on a stage, but around you. An interesting foray into the human need for memory, and the paraphernalia we take with us throughout our life related to memories, to exist to keep us grounded, for us to hold onto our identities.

Having read a review on BlogTO, I was expecting something different. From the description, I imagined the audience as set pieces within the play, with the actors moving around us all, and some grand light show to create drama.

Instead, upon entry into the world set up for this play, one finds oneself amongst a set of chairs – granted, set up around the main performance area in a horseshoe, and so less like an audience in front of a stage – on the outskirts of a minimal set: a toilet, a couple of hooks, a stairway leading down, a dangling overhead light, a table and a set of two chairs. These few items, combined with the inherent dinginess of boat around you and enhanced (rounded out?) by occasional lappings of waves against the hull provide all the atmosphere necessary to transport you to the land of stripped-away memory, illegal nostalgia, and madness that ensues.

Once the audience is seated, the play begins with a loud bang – a perhaps imagined, perhaps real – knocking at the door to this “home” the audience has invisibly invaded. The intensity only builds from this first moment, and one is captivated by the actors interacting with one another, with themselves and with their very few posessions.

The performance is intimate. Not only because it is a small space, but because one wishes to be close to the characters so as to be drawn into their ravings, and at the same time to draw a self-protective distance from them for the same reason.

As Have I None unravels, one struggles to understand what sort of apocalypse has gone on in the world outside the door we are not privy to see. It is interesting to watch how the so-called “untouched” inhabitants of this particular home react to the outside world, turned mad from the actions of a totalitarian government that has stripped everyone of all their memory-related belongings.

The theme is powerful: in a world where everything we relate to is becoming digital (photographs, music, art, to a lesser extent books – but the trend is there), what happens when all our paraphernalia is gone, and our digital memories have been erased (through data loss, or as is perhaps suggested in this play, through government regulation)? Where does our identity come from when our memories are gone? One can see how it affects the senile, those who’ve lost theirs already. Imagine a world in which this affects all ages: Have I None provides one with a chilling theory of what could happen in such a situation. Highly recommended, if only it were still running.

digital media ruminations

This week my work hosted a conference specifically addressing technological issues in the book industry. It was a fantastic forum for harvesting ideas and, I believe, if publishers were open-minded and fore-thinking enough to look at some of the panelists’ presentations in metaphorical terms, could stimulate some interesting new directions for marketing the creation of content and the promotion and dissemination of digital publications.

As the end of the day approached, my perspective began to sharpen. I’d previously held the idea that illegal digital distribution, piracy, would in the end ensure that the content output into the market, the stuff that actually receives funding to become a full-fledged film or novel or television program, would increase in quality until the only content being produced professionally and distributed to the masses legally, would be stuff you’d want to pay for, because it would be that stimulating, that beautiful, that thought-provoking.

Instead, since piracy began, I’ve seen only a decline in quality in popular culture goods – yet an increase in quality in more underground content. I can’t say if it’s always been like that or not; I’ve only really been fully aware of mass-produced and distributed content versus independent content for the past five to ten years or so anyway, and I like to think my tastes are constantly improving. I might just be expositing the usual nostalgia for the a better, fictitious past.

I think I can say, though, that the frequency of really exceptional films being brought to market is far, far lower than it was even five years ago. It’s becoming increasingly more rare for me to be impressed by a popular film. I would argue that it’s true – that piracy is actually reducing the quality of content being produced for the masses, therefore aiding in the lowering of our collective IQs.

When I thought that piracy would ensure that only the best things get funded, instead in reality what appears to be happening is that only the worst, cheapest projects get funding, as if the content creation industries are casting a wider, more cheaply made net to capture a larger audience – who cares if the net rips in various places and many fish fall through? Overall, because the net is covering a much larger area, the parts that aren’t ripped will capture more fish.

So, if your goal is to sell as many copies as possible, then they’re probably doing a good job. If you want to fulfill the consumers of your content, and ensure their return time and time again, then the content creators are failing miserably.

Why don’t the people in charge of content creation want to take more risks? Why are there so few who would prefer to put out one heavily funded, well-produced, inspiring and intellectual product a year that did even just well enough to break even, than to put out fifty mediocre, formulaic, stereotypically conserving the status quo films a year that make me rich. Which category’s going to be remembered? Which category’s going to contribute to culture? Which category is likely to be shown time and time again to people with a certain underlying value structure?

This is not really a new debate, I suppose. It was just struck me how wrong I was about my assumption. Funding is not going to better quality content. The people producing quality are still doing so; but it’s remaining independent. Only passion can and will always be the driver of magnificent content. Not money.

What the lack of money being put back into the content creators’ industries seems to be doing is ensuring lower-quality content, in greater amounts, is pushed out to popular culture. That’s just too bad.

libraries versus publishers

Working in the publishing industry and being particularly sensitive to publishers, I’ve often wondered how they felt about libraries when I’ve passed them during my rides on public transit throughout the city.

Now I have a clearer idea. Taken, of course, with a grain of salt.

cataloguing books

A service has emerged called LibraryThing. For free, you can list up to 200 titles from your own private library. For a fee, you can join the site and list as many books as you like – from your library, your wishlist, ones you want to read but not own etc.

Apart from the fact that I cannot imagine having enough free time to do such a thing with all the titles I feel those various things about, I find that a combination of my Amazon.ca wishlist (woohoo, sneaky ploy) and my wonderful memory does a good enough job of a) keeping track of the books I want to own, b) keeping track of the books I want to read and c) what I thought of the books I have read.

Another tool I used was the Toronto Public Library’s online My List. I mistakenly trusted this tool to retain the information I entered into it, and therefore moved a whole whack of titles from my Amazon.ca wishlist (those I did not wish to purchase, but wanted to read at some point). Much to my dismay months later, when I tried to retrieve the list, I saw it was blank.

Horrified at having lost a huge chunk of my reading list, and unable to remember most of the titles, I fired off an angry email to tech support at the TPL. They kindly informed me that no, their servers do not retain those lists after a certain (short) period of time (I think two weeks) and do not retain backups either. My reply informed them that they should consider their users and either retain that information or inform users that the information will be discarded within that time frame. In this day of information architecture, I’m actually surprised that such a terrible mistake was made on the part of the developers of the system. In fact, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.

In any case, what I have recently found effective is to enter the book I want to read into the library’s holds system, and place a hold on it. I don’t mind that I end up in a queue of sometimes up to 600 people. I’ll wait that long, because I don’t have time to read 15 books at the same time, and it’s kind of fun to wait and see when it’ll pop up (this was actually recently mentioned on BlogTo).

It’s fairly good. But I’m finding that, that added to the books I purchase and the ones I get occasionally (more frequently these days) through work for free (I work in the publishing industry, though not at a publishing company), that my pile of “books to read” is getting awfully high. And not necessarily with books I want to keep either (those free ones…).

I’ve been trying to get rid of the ones I’ve read and don’t wish to keep, but it’s difficult. And that, my friends, is a rant for another day, so I’ll wrap this up by saying – stick to your Amazon.ca wishlist, and hey, if you happen to have a cool online library system with a holds feature, then totally use it when you don’t think you want to own a book forever. In fact, I’m going to start using it to test-drive any book, then buy really nice copies of the ones I enjoyed for my own library. Except for Charles Dickens. I’ll buy any of his without having read them first.

this is a book everyone must read

I first read about Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning, by George Monbiot, on several of the book blogs I keep up with. I heard about the marketing associated with the book: how Random House shipped free copies of it along with fluorescent lightbulbs to reviewers. I heard about how everyone should read it because it offers practical implementation guidelines on how to save energy.

After reading the first quarter of the book, I was agreeing with this point of view wholeheartedly. It’s not often you can find such a practical book offering solutions to climate change that address all humanist, environmental and economic aspects of the problem while attempting to allow us to retain our comfortable lives.

By going at the problem honestly, directly and with references for nearly every statement he makes, Monbiot exposes the outright lies put out by corporations and governments, by organizations that sound grassroots but are really not; he discusses how to fix up our homes, what energy sources we could turn to, and how to revise our transportation to reduce emissions. The entire book is a case study on how to fix our planet. Never mind that the book claims he is “one of the world’s most influential radical thinkers” – anyone with any sort of power to influence the masses must read this book and begin implementing the changes he proposes.

It won’t be easy. It’ll still make us a bit uncomfortable. But following these guidelines (ie: self-restraint), we will be far less uncomfortable than we will be well within the century when the worst of the climate change effects finally begin to hit the wealthier nations (which up until then will actually “enjoy” the effects of global warming with its milder winters and summers).

Make no mistake. Global warming is happening and we are the only ones who can exercise self-restraint – something the Western nations are not well-known for. Nevertheless, it must happen soon or we’ll be suffering a lot worse than our epidemic of overweight.

dove’s commercial on faked beauty

This issue of over-photoshopped images has been on my mind since I saw the insanely faked image of Pamela Anderson in a Mac makeup ad. I didn’t recognise her and only later knew it was her when I saw a photo of her, the way she looks in reality at about 40 years old, standing beneath the poster. I’ve also started to see photos of Mila Jovovich using the same techniques of erasing all personality from the model’s face.

The video can be seen at danah boyd’s blog in her post about it. I link directly to her post, and not the video on YouTube, because I appreciate her article and the comments written on it also.

Other insightful and interesting posts about this can be found at the Proactive Living blog, and another over at the SmartCanucks blog.
My final point is… we’ve seemed to have hit a sort of breaking point in this issue. It’s beginning to get a lot wider coverage and I’m seeing it all over the blogosphere. Truly, awareness is key. But, in fact, is this really going to change anything? I doubt it. It’s just a further example of what’s been happening in video games for ages: the pixel is far more instantly gratifying than reality. Society has an addictive personality, and is easily addicted to new things. I don’t see this as something that will go away.

audiobooks

I’m always a proponent of free stuff. That being said, with the rise of mp3 players, e-readers and non-traditional book formats I thought some of you might be interested in this.

Whether you want to see what it’s like to listen to audiobooks on your mp3 player or already enjoy them regularly, you can head on over to Audible.com and get a free audio book. These are high quality and include new releases, classics and educational texts. Be sure they’re good to listen to on the subway, or wherever you should want to listen (with the Audible software, you can listen on your pc as well).

You can get a free one month trial membership with one free book by visiting the site through http://audible.com/bzzpassalong.

The offer’s good through to December 31st, 2006. Once you’ve downloaded your audiobook, you have no more obligations – you can just cancel your account.

Have fun! I got myself a copy of There and Back Again: An Actor’s Tale by Sean Astin and Joe Layden. A title I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time – but now have in a more convenient format for traveling. Excellent.

funny post plug!

Bookseller Chick has a hilarious post about people talking on hands-free sets in bookstores. I was laughing out loud almost soon as I began reading it. Moreover, I love the reference to Borg. Check it out.