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Month: September 2005

Over the wires

Long distance relationships have gotten a lot easier since I was in college.

It’s all technology, right? But I cast my mind back, and I remember when phone calls were a huge deal. You had to ration them, because there’s nothing you want more than to talk to your girlfriend for a long, long time, but an hour of phone conversation is awfully expensive. Ramen or voice contact. Hard choice. So you get a call a week, maybe two, and you have to keep it reasonably short, and letters are very nice but not quite the same.

Email letters, not paper letters. I’m not that old. And fortunately, by the time I got to college, AT&T had already lost the monopoly so competition had driven prices down. But still, man, phone clutched to ear and distance audible in the phone lines and yeah. Plus the sizable phone bills at the end of the month. You don’t really want to feel guilty about talking to loved ones, but when you know you’re spending their money, it can suck.

Well. If the big romantic revolution of the 60s was the Pill? The big revolution of the 00s is night and weekend minutes. Free phone calls make conversation what it ought to be; easy and fluid and without impediment. If you want to talk every night before bed, you can. It makes a difference. No guilt about two hour phone calls, time to talk things out, time. Time’s a gift, right?

And this isn’t even getting into Vonage and Skype and Google Talk. Those get you free conversation any time, at the cost of being tethered to a computer. (But think Bluetooth headsets.) Life gets a bit easier. But really, night and weekend minutes make the big difference; that’s the practical leap. I imagine in the next five years or so, voice over IP (aka computer telephony) will come closer to being consumer technology. Right now, cell phones already are consumer technology, and it doesn’t count as a revolution until my aunt can use it. Disclaimer: as far as I know, my aunt isn’t having an LDR.

It’s just another facet of the Information Revolution, obviously. Decreased difficulty of communication, which has all the same effects you’d expect from decreased friction. (Including the whole “decreased difficulty of pissing each other off,” in the general case, aka flame wars. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.) It makes any form of communication easier. You could write a thesis about it. One of Rob’s students probably will. Relationships are one of those forms.

Which is not a surprise, if you think about it. Go read a self-help book about relationships. What’s key? Communication. So of course, LDRs are hard because it’s hard to communicate; and of course, they become easier when communication becomes easier. Obvious in retrospect.

Long term secondary effects, eh. I wouldn’t make any sweeping predictions. I do kind of think that sense of place, like sense of identity, will become more fluid in this century. Location is a state of mind? Maybe. But I’m not completely sure of that; the technology isn’t that disruptive yet. Yet.

Tell you, though. Voice is great; it removes much of the confusion and mixups you can get from the lack of inflections in text. Add webcams to the mix, for easy visual cues? Two out of five senses is luxury, especially when I compare it to the hour or so a week of free voice I got back in college. I like the Information Revolution.

Also: “You can’t solve social problems in software,” my butt.


The answer to the question “how does filmed entertainment reach the eyes of the viewer” continues to change, as per this article on direct to video movies. This isn’t anything new, of course; Disney has been doing this for years and years. Just ask any parent. Still and all, it’s significant that the direct to video market in the US is gaining… aha. Legitimacy is the word. Direct to video Disney releases is one thing; a direct to video sequel to Carlito’s Way is more interesting.

Huh, that movie had a great cast, didn’t it? Sean Penn, Al Pacino, John Leguizamo, Luis Guzman, and Viggo Mortensen. There’s some acting chops for you. Anyhow.

The sales figures quoted at the beginning of the article are probably misleading. Sure, only 35% of DVD revenue may come from new feature films, but the implication that the other 65% is direct to video stuff is wrong. Warner Brothers clearly finds their line of classic movies profitable, and DVD releases of TV series are huge. (Which is in itself a signal about how entertainment habits are changing.)

Bubble comes out soon. I’ll be really curious about the sales figures.

Long archived tail

The Complete New Yorker is pretty cool. Kind of easy to describe, too: it’s every single New Yorker scanned and archived on 8 DVDs. You can get a tour of the interface here.

Yep, I bought it more or less instantly. Come on — $65 on Amazon (or Barnes and Noble)? Sure thing.

It’s cool. The interface is a tad clunky on the Mac, but it’s easy to flip through an issue and it’s very very readable. The search is slowish. I’m not sure how well it’s indexed; a search on Red Sox for the last five years or so returned nothing. On the other hand, a search on Cronenberg was quite successful. I imagine each article is tagged with key words.

For Rob: yes, you can search on department and author so all the Anthony Lane movie reviews are at your fingertips. This is awesome.

I’m curious as to the copyright issues. I don’t know what kinds of contracts the New Yorker signed with its writers; right of first publication? Rights in perpetuity? This came up as an issue when Dragon did their compilation on CD, and I seem to recall an unrelated court decision that opened the door for this sort of thing regardless of the original contract terms. If anyone knows what I’m talking about, speak up and I’ll write more on it when I have some real facts.

Either way, this is a way cool product. Mmm, history.

Comic stylings

Sports journalism is often a pretty conservative field, especially when it comes to talk radio. Tank McNamara, the sports-themed comic strip — I say “the.” Maybe there’s another one, I dunno, but it’s the only one I know about. Anyhow.

The current storyline is about Tank McNamara infiltrating the Minutemen, that charming anti-immigration group that’s walking the thin line between citizen activism and vigilante activity. Cause the biggest threat to the United States today is illegal Mexican immigration.

The writer has some fairly stinging things to say about the Minutemen. “Well, some of these guys have gone over the top. They’ve become total whack jobs. And I should know. I’m one of them. A ‘Minuteman,’ not a whack job.” Interesting stuff. I dunno if the comic strip has been this political before, although I have vague memories of it being so from time to time.

I don’t really have much to say about this, I’m just thinking it’ll be interesting to read the strip and keep an eye out for fallout.

We win

The Massachusetts Legislature rejected an amendment banning gay marriage by the resounding margin of 157-39 yesterday. The margin is partially because the extreme right voted no as well — the amendment would permit civil unions, and some of the reps think that’s wrong too. But it’s mostly because gay marriage hasn’t ended the world here in the Bay State.

There’s been an election cycle between the court order allowing gay marriage and now, and gay marriage was an election issue. The opinion of the courts matches the opinion of the legislature, and the opinion of the legislature reflects the opinion of the people. Done and done, as they say.

Why the Roman?

Tacitus, when all is said and done, is honest. Do I disagree with him? Lots. Do I respect his integrity? Generally, yeah. He’s not perfect. Neither am I. Who is?

The world needs more Republicans like him and John Cole, and more Democrats who can tell the difference between John Cole and John Derbyshire.