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]

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?

Hilarious Geek Comic of the Day

Via Steve:

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

Targeted Spam

There should be some name for spam blog comments are actually relevant to the entry to which they respond. Might we someday reach a point when spam becomes so relevant that we actually like it?


Solid State Kitchen Linux Box

Dear LazyWeb:

Our kitchen laptop is on its last legs. I’d like to replace it with a standalone LCD and a cheap, quiet, low-power CPU with just one or two gigabytes of storage for the operating system (music and other data are stored on a server in the basement). Can someone point me in the right direction? This is an instance where Google doesn’t provide an obvious leading/consensus solution. Most searches for solid state computers point to laptops, which isn’t what I want. The closest thing I’ve found is the Zonbox, but I’m not interested in their network/subscription storage model. Ideal specs:

  • Total cost less than $300 (preferably less than $200)
  • High-end Pentium III or lower-end Pentium IV, or equivalent. Should be able to play ogg files and browse today’s overactive websites at the same time without user latency. No need to support graphics-intensive applications like gaming or video editing.
  • Built-in wireless networking. Support for a PCMCIA wireless card would also be acceptable. Most data will be accessed via an NFS share on the WAN.
  • 1GB or 2GB of Flash memory for storage.
  • Standard VGA out, preferably at least 1280×1024 (although 1024×768 would be okay).
  • USB ports for keyboard, mouse, possibly external hard drive storage when needed.
  • Painless Debian/Ubuntu installation, including out-of-the-box suspend/resume functionality.


Email Disclaimer Enforceable?

If you’ve received email from an attorney in the last five years, you’ve probably seen some version of a boilerplate warning/disclaimer in the message footer, indicating that the message may be privileged (or in some cases, asserting that the message is privileged!) and telling the receiver to destroy and/or return all copies if they are not the proper recipient. In the last couple of years, almost everyone has also added a statement to the effect that this email does not contain illegal tax advice (or if it does contain such advice, you shouldn’t use it!) Cumulatively, I’m sure we’ve used gigabytes if not terabytes of bandwidth attaching this text to every email sent.

My question to the world: is anyone aware of such an email disclaimer ever being enforced or held enforceable?

The Modern Day Curse of Being Adam

…is the number of calls you receive from cell phones sitting in pockets and purses.


Via Tikirobot, reCAPTCHA. Brilliant:

Over 60 million CAPTCHAs are solved every day by people around the world. reCAPTCHA channels this human effort into helping to digitize books from the Internet Archive. When you solve a reCAPTCHA, you help preserve literature by deciphering a word that was not readable by computers.

Why didn’t I think of that?