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Friday, April 27, 2007

Clear Channel and NPR hold hands

Yesterday, lawmakers introduced a bill intended to prevent the drastic increase in royalty payments targeted at internet radio in the coming months. The "Internet Radio Equality Act," introduced by Reps. Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Don Manzullo (R-IL), would overturn a ruling by the Copyright Royalty Board which by some estimates could result in fee increases on Internet radio operators ranging from 300 to 1200 percent between 2006 and 2012 driving popular internet radio sites like Pandora out of business. Naturally, this fee increase is opposed by NPR, Clear Channel, Pandora and pretty much everyone else with a soul. Keep your fingers crossed slobsters!

In somewhat related news, a federal court ruled Wednesday that there is no artist performance right in a digital download. Royalty collection agency ASCAP (to whom radio stations, bars, and coffee shops shell out fees to play their music, spawning the creation of Muzak) had been lobbying hard for the royalty right, which up until now had been overlooked. This ruling could have a serious effect on the future of music, effecting the bottom-line of many artists and music providers. But, it'll probably be appealed anyway.

story 1 via Benton Foundation

Story 2 via Digital Music News

See also

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

tonic closes; Ribot and Moore arrested

Lower East Side avant garde mainstay Tonic was forced out by soaring rent last Saturday. The venue held its last concert, a John Zorn and friends improvisational performance and the following day protesters arrived.

The protesters claimed that the condo being built on Tonic's remains was not culture and that Tonic deserves to stand. In the comments on Brooklyn Vegan's post, somebody speaks to the new real estate trend of "go where the artists are." It has been super successful in NYC (see Williamsburg and LES) and Chicago (see Wicker Park/Bucktown) too.

It is sad to see culture-seekers move to hip neighborhoods and eventually destroy it by forcing rent up. I suppose that is just the way real estate works. Simple supply and demand...

Is there a solution for this? Probably not seeing as real estate gurus have already made millions and would do anything to repeat their gains. I'll tell you one thing, all of my friends from college want to move to New York and I'm not sure I want to go with them. With no experience in the job market, I'm afraid I can't afford the city that never sleeps.

In protest of Tonic's demise, Marc Ribot and Rebecca Moore stayed in the space until they were pulled out by police. Bob Arihood was inside.

Tonic was a great venue and I'm glad I had the chance of catching a Sexmob show there a few years back. Tonic, CBGB, Sin-e, who's next?

And on another note, what new neighborhood will the hipsters infiltrate? I hear they're moving into Pilsen, a beautiful Mexican neighborhood in Chicago. I heard that Harlem has gentrified. I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

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sweet origami flag/bland friedman article

The New York Times asked 10 artists to make "green" flags to illustrate Thomas Friedman's article "The Power of Green", published in this weekend's New York Times Magazine.

The coolest was the origami flag, designed by origami guru Robert J. Lang. See the video here.

By the way, in case you're wondering, Friedman's article is the same rehashing of similar arguments he's been making for years, which are essentially all plagiarized from real thinkers--he just adds his own self-impressed, obnoxious branding to it. There is no doubt in my mind that this article is the precursor to a book filled with stories of chatting about ethanol over a couple of beers with corn farmers in Iowa. He's got some really insightful gems in this piece, like: "Soaring oil prices are poisoning the international system by strengthening antidemocratic regimes around the globe." kidding.

In other words, you can probably skip it. But check out the origami.

via The New York Times

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Monday, April 16, 2007

leader of free world almost blows himself up; no one notices

This is an old story, first running in the Detroit News April 7th, but the fact the story is still noteworthy makes it all the more ridiculous.

Fearless leader George W. Bush, VP Dick Cheney and Ford Motor Company CEO Alan Mulally were recently nearly consumed in a blazing hydrogen inferno. After a sort of auto company alternative fuel summit, Mulally wanted Bush to demonstrate the simplicity of Ford's new hydrogen-electric plug-in hybrid. However, an absent-minded aide had left the electric cord too close to the fuel tank.

Fortunately, Mulally was there to save the day:

"I just thought, 'Oh my goodness!' So, I started walking faster, and the President walked faster and he got to the cord before I did. I violated all the protocols. I touched the President. I grabbed his arm and I moved him up to the front," Mulally said. "I wanted the president to make sure he plugged into the electricity, not into the hydrogen This is all off the record, right?"

Have you heard this story? I sure haven't. How can the two most powerful people in the world nearly microwave their internal organs and no one talks about it? I did a bit of research, and while a few satire mags did Hindenburg jokes (like the one I was formerly so proud of), there were no "Hydrogen cars are an Al-Qaeda Plot" jokes on Colbert, or "Nancy Pelosi was a spark away from becoming President" gags on the Daily show (that I know of).

Hell, when the President tried to open a locked door in China, it was front page news for a week.

However, if the explosion occurred it would have been a fitting swan song the Ford Motor Company.

Via The Detroit News

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

miranda july is so cool

Speaking of authors, Miranda July (you may remember the avant-artist from her movie, Me You and Everyone We Know), is releasing her book of short stories on May 15.

The collection of stories entitled, No One Belongs Here More Than You, has received critical acclaim from a number of hip authors and her site promoting the book was just posted on Gawker.

The site, that carries the same name as the book, is a fantastic DIY approach to the web and you should check it out.

Also, check out her personal site. She does all sorts of art in many mediums. My favorite is a site where she hands out strange assignments. People totally respond seriously. The Internet is incredible!

No one belongs here more than you.

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R.I.P. Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Today, Slob would like to salute Kurt Vonnegut, 84. A novelist, essayist, and cartoonist, Vonnegut has been close to our hearts for decades.

His characters have made us laugh, his introspection has made us cry, and his insight has made us think.

Thank you, Mr. Vonnegut, ala v'shalom, for opening our young eyes. You will be missed.

NYT Slideshow

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

the cyborgs are upon us

Researchers at the University of Tsukuba (in Japan--where else?) have developed a robotic suit that amplifies the strength of the user and potentially allows the user to lift up to 10 times his normal capabilities.

The suit, known as the Hybrid Assisstive Limb (HAL), has already been used to help a parapeligic man almost summit a mountain. Rumor has it that the developers are getting the device ready for commercial production.

See it in action:

via Weird Asia News + Engadget

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lego cufflinks

The Green Apple's Lego Cufflinks are made from discarded Lego pieces. The company sells them in a number of color combinations, and they can also be made to order.

England-based Green Apple specializes in ethical, environmentally friendly fashion and living accessories. Their clothing is primarily organic cotton. Other interesting products include a necklace made from recycled tin and a recycled newspaper wallet.

via The Green Apple

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Monday, April 9, 2007

lenovo > apple

Greenpeace's newly released Guide to Greener Electronics names the Chinese company Lenovo as the greenest electronics company, with Nokia, Sony Ericsson, and Dell coming up behind. Apple ranks at dead last on the scale.

Is the scale accurate? Call me skeptical, but as Slob's resident Sinologist, I'm going to go out on a limb and bet that Lenovo's environmental practices probably aren't as good as they claim. Inhabitat agrees with me, and goes further in its criticism of the Guide:
"There is something suspect in Greenpeace’s latest installment of the Green Electronics Guide, as the guide rates electronics brands on their web-based chemical policy reports, rather than on [their] environmental impact...Lenovo, the China-based PC maker that bought IBM’s PC business, jumped from last place in August to first place in the most recent report...The company’s actual environmental impact record could not have made such stratospheric change in that time frame. Lenovo is being rewarded for directly responding to Greenpeace’s campaign. Meanwhile, Apple is singled out for not responding to Greenpeace’s demands, ranking last on the list....The problem with Greenpeace’s campaign is the focus on toxicity and recycling while excluding one of the major contributors to climate change – energy expended during manufacturing and use."
Indeed, Greenpeace's Green My Apple campaign has been running for some time, and it points out that Apple's products are chock full of many non-biodegradable substances that competing electronic manufacturers have abandoned. At the same time, Apple's notebooks outrank Lenovo's according to the EPA's EPEAT ranking, which is far more thorough than Greenpeace's "standards." What's the moral of the story? Greenpeace's Electronics Guide is another one of their typical, attention-grabbing campaigns--high-style, low substance. Anyone else remember them crashing their boat into a reef that they were supposed to protect in 2005?

via Inhabitat + Greenpeace

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google language tools

I will not make a joke about something being lost in translation, I promise.

Google's relatively new Language Tools can search foreign language web pages and translate text and web pages in a whole host of languages, including text that does not translate electronically very easily (such as Arabic, Japanese, and simplified and traditional Chinese).

I used the software to translate simplified Chinese text today, and it works surprisingly well. Unlike Apple's useless Sherlock, which supposedly also translates Chinese, Google's translation was actually comprehensible and reasonably accurate, and with a bit of finessing, one could easily use the software as a foundation for more accurate translations.

Here it is (clothed in Baby Blue for Firefox 2.0, in case anyone is wondering). Click on the image and you can see it full-sized.

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Friday, April 6, 2007

the end to expensive import albums?

As most rockers have probably noticed, great albums are often released overseas months or years before they are available here. (reference countries are intentionally left vague. where's here? who's there? i dunno!)

Say, for example, you read a dazzling album review on the current "it" music blog. The record comes from Sweden, and it's nearly impossible to get your hands on. Record companies don't like to have one time, pan-universe, album releases. This practically makes sense, especially for indie-albums. Release the album in one country, see how it goes, then spend the money to make a push in the next country.

While this is all well and good, it has never been satisfactorily explained to me why you can't go online and buy the album from iTunes. You adjust the little country setting at the bottom of the homepage, input a phony credit card billing address that says you live in Göteborg, and try (and fail) to download the song. Then get busted for attempted fraud. So, most likely, you just illegally download the song. Now you're imprisoned for fraud AND the RIAA is your cellmate.

I hope the length of this narrative adequately expresses the depths of my outrage. Apparently, Apple is just as puzzled by the whole situation. On Tuesday, the European Commission slapped Apple (iTunes music store more specifically) and the Major Labels with an anti-trust suit.

The suit didn't address DRM. Instead, the point of contention is the price iTunes charges for downloads in each country. In London, it costs 99p ($1.56) to download "My Humps" while on the continent it costs a mere €0.99 ($1.32) to jam out to Fergie. The European Union has laws against territorial restrictions like this, bad music should cost the same in France as it does in England.

An Apple spokesperson responded by saying; "Apple has always wanted to operate a single, pan-European iTunes store, accessible by anyone from any member state, but we were advised by the music labels and publishers that there were certain legal limits to the rights they could grant us. We don't believe Apple did anything to violate EU law. We will continue to work with the EU to resolve this matter."

I had the grand scheme of figuring out exactly what these legal limits were, and maybe i will, but not today. So this suit MIGHT signal the beginning of the end for territorial releases. Majors will respond to the lawsuit by releasing albums across all of Europe simultaneously, then throw in the US for good measure.

Actually, they'll probably just figure out a way to make the price consistent. Or settle. But that's far less exciting.

Via Billboard.

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Thursday, April 5, 2007

invent a terrorist plot; win a prize?

Bruce Schneier's blog, Schneier on Security has announced its second annual Movie-Plot Threat Contest.

Schneier is asking readers to "invent a terrorist plot to hijack or blow up an airplane with a commonly carried item as a key component. The component should be so critical to the plot that the TSA will have no choice but to ban the item once the plot is uncovered." Readers are invited to post their scenarios on Schneier's blog. Schneier is looking for "a plot horrific and ridiculous, but just plausible enough to take seriously." The winner gets an autogrpahed copy of his book (lame) and possible a sit-down with a movie producer (cool).

There are already a bunch of hilarious plot's on the website, including one about an Islamic girl band called "Unveiled" and one in which a terrorist replaces talcum powder with anthrax. Another plot forces the FAA to ban water from all flights due to its explosive interaction with sodium metal.

I like that Schneier has the balls to ask people to invent terrorist plots and post them online. During the climax of Bush administration power and post-9/11 absurdity, this would have been unthinkable and may have even caused a few FBI investigations (although we can't say for sure that it hasn't). He also deftly points out the pointlessness of current air travel regulations in the U.S.
We screened for guns and bombs, so the terrorists used box cutters. We took away box cutters and small knives, so they hid explosives in their shoes. We started screening shoes, so they planned to use liquids. We now confiscate liquids (even though experts agree the plot was implausible)...and they're going to do something else. We can't win this game, so why are we playing?
Post your entry here, Slob readers.

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world's best cities

Mercer Consulting has released its 2007 Quality of Living Survey, naming the world's top 50 cities for quality of life. So where are we going to move?

According to the survey, the top 5 cities in the world are Zurich, Geneva, Vancouver, Vienna (tied with Vancouver), Auckland, and Dusseldorf (tied with Auckland). The highest ranking American city is Honululu at 27, followed by San Francisco at 29, Boston at 36, D.C. and Chicago tied for 44, Portland at 46, New York City at 48, and Seatlle at 49.

The survey does not name a single city in Africa or Central or South America (or Antarctica for that matter). The only Asian cities named are either Singapore or are actually in Australia, which is rumored to be its own continent. The world (pictured inaccurately above) apparently only consists of Asia, Europe, and the Americas. And Australia is now part of Asia, and the Americas are actually just Canada and the U.S.

Obviously, some high-ranking cities like Calgary, Ottawa, and basically everywhere in Canada, are pretty boring, especially when compared to grittier cities such as Shanghai, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, or São Paulo. But as the report notes,
"A city with a high Quality of Living index is a safe and stable one, but it may be lacking the dynamic je ne sais quoi that makes people want to live in world-renowned cities such as Paris, Tokyo, London or New York. Sometimes you need a little spice to make a city exciting. But that "spice" may also give a city a lower ranking."

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Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Josh Wolf released

The world's most controversial blogger, Josh Wolf, was released from prison yesterday after handing over the raw footage of the video that landed him the 8-month lock-up. Judge William Alsup was finally content as he had “all the materials sought in the subpoena.”

Wolf's raw footage was subpoenaed last February as part of a federal investigation of damage caused during riots at a G8 summit protest in San Francisco. Wolf captured the riots on tape and posted them to his blog, The Revolution Must be Televised. You can watch the video here. While it doesn't highlight the alleged damage to a police car, it displays police brutality that sent a shiver up my spine.

In addition to the scorn received for his ethics, the media continues to question, even after his release, if Wolf is in fact a journalist. However, the Society of Professional Journalists, Reporters without Borders, and other advocacy groups stand firm in their position that Wolf is a journalist.

“Josh gave up his freedom for 224 days because he believes that a free and independent press cannot exist without a trusting relationship between a journalist and his information sources,” said Lucie Morillon of Reporters Without Borders.

In his first post back from prison, Wolf maintains that his case was more than an investigation about damage to a police car. In a previous phone interview with Democracy Now!, Wolf termed his case a "witch hunt." He claimed that the federal government has targeted the anarchist community of San Francisco and intends to try them as terrorists.

Though he had been stripped of his freedom for 8 months, Wolf believes he was released on his terms. He did not testify nor appear before a grand jury, which he considers a victory. He wrote:

"After two rather strenuous sessions of mediation, we at last came to an agreement that not only leaves my ethics intact but actively serves the role of a free press in our so-called free socieity [sic]."

via NYTimes

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Tuesday, April 3, 2007

i'm ready for web 3.0

Check out this Web 2.0 Logo Generator. Unfortunately, it's not as good as this Emo Band Name Generator, but still clever. It makes its point, too: the plethora of homogenous "next-YouTube" sites are all basically the same crap (see TechCrunch for ongoing coverage of the same ideas repeated over and over with different venture capital each time).

On the flipside, now I have an excuse to label this post as follows:

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compostable plates, trash bags, etc.

Recyclaholics produces %100 compostable food service ware and trash bags. The company's products are certified compostable by the U.S. Composting Council and leave no known residues in the ground or water supply when composted in the right conditions. The company produces cellophane made from cottonwood trees farmed for specifically for cellophane production.

Recyclaholics' product line includes plates, cutlery/flatware, "to-go" packaging, napkins, cups, and similar items. The goods are are aimed primarily at the food service industry but are also available to the consumer.

via Recyclaholics

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Monday, April 2, 2007

DRM-free music from EMI

Alright. I'm not a Steve Jobs fanboi. I'm just not. I love Apple's products; I hate Apple's pricing; I don't mind iTunes DRM because I use an iPod. But I get it. DRM sux0r and all that.

So it's a pretty big deal that EMI (one of the Big Four) is dropping DRM from all of their digital offerings. You know, just like when you buy a CD. It means a lot for digital content distribution. iTunes users can put their music on the Zune. Of course, Zune users can just buy it from the Zune store, but they'd have the option of putting on an iPod. You get the picture.

But the real reason this is a big deal has nothing to do with devices. It has nothing to do with El Jobso carefully dodging European litigation. It means that someone in the music industry, somewhere, has finally figured it out. Whether or not Steve had any effect on the eventual decision, EMI has finally agreed that the people who buy music online are more interested in paying for a product than pirating it:
Q: Is this a green light for piracy?
Eric: no, we take the view that we have to "trust consumers." Some will disappoint us. The idea is to give them the best music experience to grow sales and not diminish them.1
This is a big deal because someone, somewhere, finally got it right. Now we'll see if the rest falls into place.

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muji coming to america!

Muji, the Japanese small-box retailer of high-design, low cost household products, furniture, and other fun stuff, is finally coming to the United States. The company's full name, Mujiriushi Ryohin translates to "no-brand quality products," and indeed, all of Muji's products are unbranded (which, it could be argued, is a brand in and of itself).

According to BusinessWeek:
[Muji's] post-industrial designs tap into the less-is-more esthetic visible in Japan's temple gardens and haiku. Larger Muji outlets carry more than 7,000 products that run the gamut from $4 striped socks to a $1,170 front-loading washer-dryer combo. There's even a line of prefab houses that start at $115,000.
Many of Muji's items also come from recycled materials, such as the cute stuffed bunny pictured here. Muji will have outlets in 35 countries once it opens its 5,000 sq.-foot outlet later this year in--you guessed it--New York City. Stores in Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco may follow. Expect to see many SoHo apartments mixing and matching Swedish particle board aesthetic with Japanese Zen.

via BusinessWeek Online

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first blood from DRM

In the first strike against DRM, Apple and EMI have agreed to a deal that would offer digital downloads from iTunes without management restrictions. The tracks will cost $1.29 alongside the traditional DRM protected files still priced to go at $0.99.

EMI is one of the mammoth, self-aware, super-record companies; which has the power to reproduce on it's own and controls the nuclear launch capabilities of the United States, Russia, and Fiji. Its labels include the Capital Music Group, Astralwerks, DFA, and a little artist called Radiohead.

See the story on Billboard.

a dorky april fools

The Internet had a ball with April Fools this year. Google posted two new Beta services that offer totally ridiculous services and even Facebook got their laugh in:

Google Paper

Ever want your e-mail in a physical form? Take your electronic mail and make it real mail with their new service. The testimonials are pretty funny. They quote a "Lifecoach" and the Google CEO. They'll even put your photos on glossy paper!

My friend, and fellow slob-ster, Anna totally believed this one, but not every April fools joke was this clever:

Google TiSP

The other Google April fools joke is more obvious. Free broadband through your toilet?!? Why didn't I think of that? The pictures are amazing. Dorks are funny.

Facebook thinks they're pretty goofy, so they jumped in on the whole mess:

Live Pokes

Today Facebook claimed that their poking system would be carried out live. The first 100 pokees in each network would recieve a real live poke. Boy, I wish this one was real...

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