Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Voice & Videocams of the People

Having recently carped about the limitations of user-generated content, I gotta give it up for the phenomenon of all those Real People asking the Democratic candidates their questions in the "CNN/YouTube debates" the other night. (That YouTube link is to a page with the entire debate, clip by clip, featuring tiny, animated thumbnails of the questioners, and the candidates full-frame; and some might say, full of it in general.)

It was exciting, and you got the feeling that this is what democracy was really supposed to be about. If you missed it, the candidates were asked to raise their hands only once, unlike previous rounds where they were set up to look like schoolchildren.

Jon Stewart was complaining last night that the answers were the same old pablum, but I thought it looked like the too-many, too-soon candidates reacted differently than they do to the usual Respected TV Journalist. After all, the RTJ delivers his questons with this tremendous gravitas, his mighty brow furrowed, and, being human, the candidates respond in kind. (I’ll yield to the temptation to say Monkey See, Monkey Do, but I’m scratching my side as I do. After all, this is how humans learn.)

So, yes, this was a genuine Voice (and grainy image) of the People, and will probably set the mark for televised debates from here on. But my point’s never been that there’s anything wrong with giving us commoners a direct voice; it’s simply that you can’t build a website just with free content.

Note that the user-generated debate still had the Gatekeeper: CNN picked which of the thousands of video questions submitted actually got on the air (or rather, on the cable). It’s a good thing, too – can you imagine what kinds of amazing incomprehensibilities would have been heard if they’d picked the questions at random? Kind of like the variety of comments one finds in unmoderated forums.

And, of course, they also had 360 degrees of Anderson Cooper repeating, “Time… time,” all night, attempting to corral the gathering winds of the Looking Presidentials. Now there’s a tough job.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Small-time Internet radio granted reprieve @ 11th hour

Hopefully the imminent wiping out of small-time Internet radio will be avoided: while Sunday (7/15) is the deadine, with the emphasis on the “dead” part, for payments under the new and preposterous rates, Wired reports Thursday night that SoundExchange told Congress they “will not enforce the new royalty rates.”

“Webcasters will stay online, as new rates are hammered out,” Eliot Van Buskirk writes, while concluding the “news qualifies as a reprieve, but internet radio won't be truly saved until negotiations result in a workable royalty rate.”
Earlier (with the RAIN newsletter quoting the Hollywood Reporter), the House Commerce Committee formally called on the webcast and recording industries to meet “to discuss a settlement “that would provide Internet radio operators with a workable alternative to the proposed CRB rates scheduled to go into effect Sunday,” July 15th. Encouragingly, the Reporter reports that “the Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over the Internet.”

RAIN credits Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), chairman of the House Commerce Committee's Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee. He “actively voiced concerns in Congress regarding the CRB's disastrous effects on the webcast industry,” calling Copyright Review Board’s damning decision “"a body blow to many nascent Internet radio broadcasters.”

I know from having lived in the Boston area for the last 10 years that Ed Markey is a Good Guy, a genuine champion for fairness and people’s rights. He’s been crusading for privacy rights for a long time, which is pretty forward-thinking.

Isn’t it unfortunate that these kinds of concerns seem “forward” thinking? Those are just the kind of conditions that you need laws for, you see; so this makes him a good “lawmaker.”

Ed Markey has “global warming” in his meta-tags, for cryin' out loud, and a YouTube video of him applauding “the expected passage of legislation that will make the most sweeping safety and regulatory changes to the Food and Drug Administration in years,” including a bill he helped write “to establish public databases of clinical trials and their results.” Need I say more?

Let’s hope he can work something out that’ll allow Web radio’s Lone Rangers, duos and other small partnerships a level playing field and a fair shot at a loyal following.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Valuing Trees, In Dollars and Sense

Appreciating the value of trees is not something I’m generally moved to assign a dollar value to.
This being mid-summer in New York’s verdant mid-Hudson valley, it’s usually because I’m looking for some shade, or just enjoying the wonderful effect on the human nervous system of the subtle sights and sounds when they interact with the wind.

So it was a pleasant surprise to see this post in the Boston Globe’s Business Filter, where that blog’s evergreen Maura Welch pointed to an Economist story, "Green Gold," on this particular branch of cost/benefit analysis.

“Following the trend of putting the 'eco' into economics,” she writes, “New York mayor Michael Bloomberg recently did a tree census. The value of the city's nearly 600,000 trees? $122 million.”
Hizzoner the Mayor arrived at that number by adding up estimates for filtering pollution, saving on air conditioning, stemming storm-water run-off, and even for “aesthetic benefits” (which I think would be expressed more convincingly by my proposed "nervous system relief quotient," above. In order to get that one to fly, though, I should really acronymize it, i.e., as "the NSRQ"… but I won’t).

More “shady” numbers are offered in The Economist’s story: a sign spotted at a University of Texas construction site announces,
“The replacement value of this oak tree is $90,000.” The Economist writes, “The trees in American backyards may be worth far more than the cars in the front drive,” and that, “the Forest Service values the urban canopy in all of America at $14.3 billion.”
They summarize the value of these price-per-leaf exercises with, “By claiming that every $1 put into New York's trees returns $5.60 in benefits, (Bloomberg) may find it easier to galvanise New Yorkers to plant more and chop down fewer.”

You know, if that’s what it takes to get people to understand the truly incalculable worth of trees, then by all means, fire up that spreadsheet!

Ironically, I saw this Associated Press story on the same day, in the same "paper" (since this was online Globe) --
Man disguised as tree robs bank

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP), 7/8/07 --A weekend bank robbery involved multiple branches -- of the leafy variety.

According to police, a man with tree branches duct-taped to his head and torso walked into a Citizens Bank just as it opened Saturday morning and demanded cash from a teller. Police said the disguise was the most bizarre they'd ever seen.

"He really went out on a limb," Sgt. Ernie Goodno said Sunday.
Related, here:
15 Houseplants Can Reduce Indoor Pollution

The "Greenest" Cities