Growing Up on YouTube

My daughters are perhaps among the first who will grow up seeing much more YouTube than POTV (my newly coined acronym, “Plain Old TV.”) Esther, now 2½, has still never seen anything on a television (recorded, broadcast, or cable). (Havi, a week old today, may not have seen anything at all at this point.)

In addition to frequently watching videos from her own blog, Esther loves YouTube. Her most requested videos are embedded below, thanks to the excellent recently-installed Viper’s Video Quicktags.

Thus Esther may never know anything but on-demand and user-generated culture. At least those will be her basic assumptions about how it’s supposed to work. It’s possible that this next generation will spell the end of network-scheduled and traditional advertising-interrupted media. I can never understand why anyone would bother to arrange their schedule to watch a show on TV and sit through commercials when they can rent it from Netflix or buy it from Amazon or iTunes and watch it when and how they want — and I grew up, to some extent, with the old TV model. Esther can barely wait for whichever video she wants now. I can’t see her putting up with content on someone else’s schedule as she grows up.

Now the videos, as promised (both strong indicators that Esther adheres to the Long Tail theory):



Actually, it turns out I didn’t coin POTV. It’s already defined here.

[Tags]Culture, Kids, YouTube, UGC[/Tags]

Sara Havah Rosi-Kessel

Born today 8:19am, 9 lbs 4 oz, 20 inches.

Multitasking and Classical Music

Two recent print-media articles begging to be linked:

First, the Autumn of the Multitaskers in this month’s Atlantic. Despite the age-of-Internet theme, the full article is only available to subscribers. The thesis is one I’ve seen before (e.g., in GTD). Namely: although we might feel like we’re accomplishing more when multitasking, we actually end up less productive, and eventually we’ll lose our minds if we continue to overload our sense. The writer takes the idea further than I’ve seen before, incorporating several astonishing indicators from the zeitgeist, including this NSFW quote from Jennifer Connelly that I won’t reprint, and several foreign policy and domestic political examples of how multitasking is failing our culture and our country.

There is a generational divide at work here. Most in previous generations (say, people over 40) didn’t come online until the Internet was nearly full-blown with spam, entertainment news, popups, advertising, streaming stock quotes, rich media services, IM, Facebook, Flash, etc.. These people generally deal poorly with information and sensory overflow because they had no incremental introduction.

The younger generations (people under 25) don’t remember the world before the Internet and multipurpose portable devices, and thus think it entirely normal to watch TV, surf the web with a few open windows, talk on the phone (perhaps VoIP), and IM at the same time. At least. And they’re bored if they don’t have at least have three or four tasks going simultaneously. This isn’t to say that these gen-Yers are actually doing a good job at it — I find myself often answering computer-related questions from my younger siblings because they can’t actually read a focused page or two of dense text on the computer (e.g., a readme file) in one sitting — but rather that they don’t experience the flow as psychologically overwhelming.

That leaves my (in between) generation, generally people born in the 1970’s. Those of us who grew up with early low-bandwidth wide area networks — I started on BITNET, USENET, and BBS’s in the early- to mid-1980’s — have better mechanisms for coping and prioritizing. Perhaps because our multitasking options were relatively limited, we haven’t leaped on the bandwagon to the same extent as others. I personally don’t mind two simultaneous tasks — e.g., perusing RSS headlines and listening to MP3s — but more than that doesn’t interest me. (I don’t count it as “multitasking” in the same sense where one of the tasks is just waiting, e.g., for code to compile or a large upgrade to download).

Please feel free to destroy my broad generalizations here in the comments.

While we’re on the subject of multitasking, I fall into the “subtle exception” category described in Getting Things Done:

The Multitasking Exception

There’s a subtle exception to the one-item-at-a-time rule. Some personality types really need to shift their focus away from some task for at least a minute in order to make a decision about it. When I see this going on with someone, I let him take two or sometimes three things out at once as he’s processing. It’s then easier and faster for him to make a choice about the action required.

I find this trick particularly helpful in getting unstuck. Frequently, when drafting briefs, I’ve rewritten a sentence eight or nine times and it still doesn’t seem to get across the necessary idea efficiently and without making the reader do any hard work. Switching to another (usually simpler) task, if only for one or two minutes, is often enough to come back and do it right in one swoop. In this situation (and probably only in this situation), multitasking actually saves me time.

Second, the Well Tempered Web (by Alex Ross, music critic with a blog) in this week’s New Yorker. This one is more naturally available in complete form online. Ross manages to weave together Wagner, Snakes on a Plane, the Long Tail, and Rick Rubin. Worth reading. (And while you’re at it, check out Adam Gopnik’s piece on abridgments, which unfortunately is not available online.)

Lest you all think all I read is the New Yorker and the Atlantic: it’s not true. I’m just not at liberty to disclose my other sources at this time.

Opened Pandora

Via Eric Goldman’s recent recommendation, I decided to give Pandora another shot. The short version: Pandora is an intelligent predictive personalized Internet radio service with an arguably sustainable and protectable business model. And by “intelligent,” I mean there are real human brains at work. As Eric explains:

Pandora’s main competitive differentiator is its “Music Genome Project.” 50 trained musicians with at least a college degree in music (called “music analysts”) listen to songs all day long and rate each song on 400 different musical attributes. See the 2005 WSJ article discussing them. By profiling songs this way, the system can predict that a person who likes an artist’s song might like other songs with similar musical attributes. From listening to Pandora for many, many hours, IMO the system isn’t perfect, but it does a pretty good job, and it has definitely hooked me on music that I wouldn’t have listened to otherwise.

They have apparently cataloged approximately half a million songs and the database continues to grow apace. There is also a collaborative-filtering aspect, similar to Netflix and Amazon. I suspect this hybrid between the “wisdom of crowds” and the “wisdom of experts” will be the future of most large content projects (including wikipedia).

My first few hours have returned excellent results. I created a for-working “station” called, lazily, “The Bad Plus Radio” (described as “Avant garde and angular funk/jazz, but not so dissonant that you can’t do mind-taxing work while listening”). You are welcome to listen as well. (See also my Pandora Profile.) The “artist seeds” for the channel include the following:

  • The Bad Plus (of course)
  • Bill Frisell
  • John McLaughlin
  • Medeski Martin & Wood
  • Thievery Corporation
  • Bred Mehldau
  • Oliver Nelson
  • Ornette Coleman
  • Keith Jarrett

Pandora has played several tracks by these artists, but is increasingly mixing in other artists that match up on some axis of preference. I’ve thumbed-up and thumbed-down several tracks from beyond the “seed” set (and will continue to do so), thus driving the predictive engine. I look forward to creating some entirely different channels and publishing the URLs here.

Although supposedly the “free” version is ad-supported, I haven’t heard any ads yet. Maybe that is still to come. In any case, it is probably worth the $36/year subscription cost.

Beyond the specific content I’m enjoying here, it is nice to see a Web 2.0 (or pick your favorite version) business model that doesn’t require a leap of faith to see how it can work.

Of course, they have a Facebook app as well.

Useful Email Disclaimer

Unlike some email disclaimers, this snippet recently observed in a signature block could actually prove useful:

Please consider the environment – do you really need to print this email?

MBTA Responds

To follow up on yesterday’s MBTA philippic, I received a response from the T’s customer service regarding my complaints. Although it doesn’t give me hope that things will improve, it’s nice that they have at least hired someone to write personalized, polished replies. At least they can do that right:

Dear Mr. Kessel,

Thank you for your email concerning service on the Needham Line.

The past couple of months have been difficult for our passengers, and I want you to know we are very sorry for the inconveniences this has been causing. The causes of these delays have ranged from signal and mechanical issues to long stops boarding passengers at stations, and even track work on other lines.

I know that it may seem odd that trains on other lines can impact your trains, but I assure you that is true. The Franklin, Needham, Providence, and Stoughton lines, as well as Amtrak all share the rail between Hyde Park and Boston. All it takes is one delayed train in this area to cause a cascading effect that delays other lines. There’s also the fact that trains may come in from one line to go out as another. For example, a train on the Worcester Line comes to Boston, and either the train set, or the crew (sometimes both) head out as an outbound Needham train. If the inbound is late from Worcester, then the outbound Needham will be late, which also means that its “turn,” the next inbound, will be delayed.

In response to your comment about the doors not all being opened, even with a full compliment of conductors, crews are not able to staff every door, and especially at ground level stations we want to ensure that all customers are able to board and detrain safely. This is why conductors do not open all doors to the train.

I contacted our Mechanical Department, asking that the PA system on train 625 be checked out to make sure everything is working properly.

Please know that delays in service are not something that we take lightly, and all departments are committed to working together to ensure that our customers receive timely, safe, and reliable service.

Once again, I am sorry for the inconvenience this has caused you. Thank you for writing.


Linda Dillon
MBCR Customer Service Manager

Hilarious Geek Comic of the Day

Via Steve:

Why didn’t I think of that for my kid?

MBTA Out of Order

Steve points out that the T has been falling apart lately. My own experience gives it a solid D minus as well.

Over the three years I’ve lived in Roslindale, I’ve been quite satisfied with the commuter rail. Unlike other lines (e.g., Worcester), the Needham Heights line does not share tracks with other carriers, and thus does not regularly get tens of minutes off schedule waiting for freight or other traffic to pass. (Why freight gets priority over passengers is a question for another day.) I live about 90 seconds walk from the commuter rail station, and I could calibrate my departure to be within one minute of the train every time.

Over the past few months, however, it has been a steady downhill slide. None of these complaints are novel, but I’ll enumerate them anyway: Trains have been canceled without notice (you didn’t really need to be at work by 9am, did you?). Nearly every train is late — I’ve started thinking of the 8:23am as the “8:30” because it hasn’t arrived before that time since early in the summer. Many trains are missing cars, so the remaining cars end up being standing-room only. Almost every day the train needs to wait for a free track at South Station, no matter which train I’m on. (I’ve never understood why this happens with 12 tracks, many of them empty.) Trains are often short conductors, which means not all the doors open at stops, which further exacerbates delay. And my personal favorite complaint: the PA system is often so loud that passengers have to cover their ears. Except when it’s broken and you can’t hear any announcements.

I hate to kvetch, but there must be something wrong here beyond technical glitches. Perhaps the most frustrating part is having no clue about the inner machinations that provide this result.

Other complaints from today (about different parts of the system).

Facebook Encounters

I’ve recently spent some time on Facebook, primarily out of professional interest (all the cool attorneys are doing it). (I’m also on LinkedIn, but that seems less cool.) Among other odd results, I’ve been getting lots of friend requests from people I’ve had no contact with in ten — and sometimes twenty or more — years. I’m surprised by this because I’ve always been so easy to find. I started my first “home page” in 1994, and as long as the idea of search engine rankings has existed, I’ve been at the top in searches for my name. I’ve also never made any attempt to hide my email address, and retained all addresses for nearly 15 years.

Yet, people contact me on Facebook who never before did.

I have two nonexclusive theories:

  • Facebook just induces more searching for old friends than “the web at large.”
  • Facebook allows you to reconnect with people for a minimum activation energy. You don’t have to write them an email, tell them about your life, or engage in conversation. You just click “add to friends” and you’re done. Maybe these people had found me in the past but just didn’t bother to let me know. In fact, in the case of some of these people with whom I haven’t communicated since middle school, I still haven’t communicated with them. We’re just Facebook friends.

Other ideas?

I should add that I have made some genuine connections through Facebook as well. Earlier this week, I met a college friend (whose website promises to return to service soon) for dinner whom I hadn’t seen in nearly ten years. I found out he was in town through Facebook.