Sunday, August 31, 2008

Fighting the RSA at the RNC

Occasionally I ask friends of mine to contribute a guest post to D&R. This one comes to you courtesy of my good buddy Ronald Walter Greene, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Minnesota and resident of the Twin Cities, a.k.a., ground-zero of the Republican National Convention (RNC). Things seems to be getting pretty dicey up there in terms of how authorities are dealing with the protests and the protesters. What follows is Ron's report from the front.

by Ronald Walter Greene

Starting first with disrupting the Poor Peoples Campaign on Thursday ( and targeting the RNC Welcoming Committee on Friday and Saturday ( the repressive state apparatus (RSA) has been busy arresting, intimidating and shaking down folks throughout the Twin Cities. The most visible act of the RSA is the preventive detentions of Monica Bicking, Eryn Trimmer, Luce Guillen Givens, Erik Oseland, Garrett Fitzgerald, and Nathanael Secor—The RNC 6—on probable cause holds. Show your solidarity by phoning the Ramsey County Jail at 651-266-9350 and demand their release.

Today (Sunday August 31) Twin Cities IndyMedia along with the National Lawyers Guild and Communities United Against Police Brutality filed a motion for an emergency restraining order against the police for intimidating and confiscating video equipment and cellular phones used to document police misconduct: Refusing to yield to a climate of fear, the Vets for Peace march took place today. Nine were arrested after some left the main march and climbed a security fence to “point out the utter failure and futility of war and the suffering that results from it":

To join in the fight against the RSA at the RNC Call St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman at 651-266-8510 and the Mayor of Minneapolis R.T. Rybak at 612-673-2100 in Minnesota, or 612-673-3000 outside of Minnesota. And join the September 1 March on the RNC to Stop the War: Folks gather at the State Capital at 11am. Be There or Be Square!

Friday, August 29, 2008

A memo to the Republican party


TO: The Republican Party

FROM: Ted Striphas

RE: Gov. Sarah Palin (R, Alaska), VP Candidate

Congratulations, Republican Party, on choosing your first female Vice-Presidential candidate in Alaska Governor Sarah Palin! You've managed to catch up to where the Democrats were twenty-four years ago. Good show. Clearly you are the party best suited to lead us into the future.

Hari Puttar takes Bollywood by storm...maybe

From Monday's BBC Entertainment News:
Warner sues over Puttar movie
Warner Bros says it wants to protect intellectual property rights.

Harry Potter maker Warner Bros is suing an Indian film company over the title of upcoming film Hari Puttar - A Comedy Of Terrors, according to reports.

Warner Bros feels the name is too similar to that of its world famous young wizard, according to trade paper The Hollywood Reporter.
With thanks to Simon Frost at the University of Southern Denmark for passing on the story to me, the complete version of which you can read here. I'm in the midst of finishing up a project right now, but some commentary on the suit should follow from me soon, hopefully.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Print may be dead...

...but that doesn't mean it can't be repurposed. Case in point: this intriguing Re-Nest post, via Lifehacker:
Weblog Apartment Therapy Re-Nest shows how to repurpose a pile of old magazines or vintage books into a small table in just about 10 minutes. Pulling it off is a simple matter of tucking every 10 pages or so back into the spine of the magazine--you don't even need glue or any additional supplies.
I'll admit that the long shot of the plant stand appearing on Re-Nest (not the one appearing here) makes the piece look a little unstable, though I still do like the concept. In any case, at the rate things are going you should be able to decorate your whole living room with old books or magazines pretty soon. Take this post from BoingBoing, for instance, which talks about a chair made out of books that otherwise would have been discarded.

Books and magazines have long been used as furniture, or at least as accouterments, as Janice Radway's A Feeling for Books, Henry Petrowski's The Book on the Book Shelf, and Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins' Reading National Geographic all have clearly shown. Still, I wonder if the mass digitization of printed matter, combined with an upsurge in feelings of environmental responsibility, will hasten the transformation of books and magazines into furniture proper.

Then again, all this just as easily could be a passing fad.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

CFP: Media in Transition 6

Media in Transition 6: Stone and Papyrus, Storage and Transmission
International Conference April 24-26, 2009
Massachusetts Institute of Technology


In his seminal essay "The Bias of Communication" Harold Innis distinguishes between time-based and space-based media. Time-based media such as stone or clay, Innis agues, can be seen as durable, while space-based media such as paper or papyrus can be understood as portable, more fragile than stone but more powerful because capable of transmission, diffusion, connections across space. Speculating on this distinction, Innis develops an account of civilization grounded in the ways in which media forms shape trade, religion, government, economic and social structures, and the arts.

Our current era of prolonged and profound transition is surely as media-driven as the historical cultures Innis describes. His division between the durable and the portable is perhaps problematic in the age of the computer, but similar tensions define our contemporary situation. Digital communications have increased exponentially the speed with which information circulates. Moore's Law continues to hold, and with it a doubling of memory capacity every two years; we are poised to reach transmission speeds of 100 terabits per second, or something akin to transmitting the entire printed contents of the Library of Congress in under five seconds.

Such developments are simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. They profoundly challenge efforts to maintain access to the vast printed and audio-visual inheritance of analog culture as well as efforts to understand and preserve the immense, enlarging universe of text, image and sound available in cyberspace.

What are the implications of these trends for historians who seek to understand the place of media in our own culture?

What challenges confront librarians and archivists who must supervise the migration of print culture to digital formats and who must also find ways to preserve and catalogue the vast and increasing range of words and images generated by new technologies?

How are shifts in distribution and circulation affecting the stories we tell, the art we produce, the social structures and policies we construct?

What are the implications of this tension between storage and transmission for education, for individual and national identities, for notions of what is public and what is private?

We invite papers from scholars, journalists, media creators, teachers, writers and visual artists on these broad themes. Potential topics might include:
  • The digital archive
  • The future of libraries and museums
  • The past and future of the book
  • Mobile media
  • Historical systems of communication
  • Media in the developing world
  • Social networks
  • Mapping media flows
  • Approaches to media history
  • Education and the changing media environment
  • New forms of storytelling and expression
  • Location-based entertainment
  • Hyperlocal media and civic engagement
  • New modes of circulation and distribution
  • The transformation of television -- from broadcast to download
  • Backlashes against media change
  • Virtual worlds and digital tourism
  • The continuity principle: what endures or resists digital transformation?
  • The fate of reading

Abstracts of no more than 500 words or full papers should be sent to Brad Seawell at no later than Friday, Jan. 9, 2009. We will evaluate abstracts and full papers on a rolling basis and early submission is highly encouraged. All submissions should be sent as attachments in a Word format. Submitted material will be subject to editing by conference organizers.

Email is preferred, but submissions can be mailed to:

Brad Seawell
MIT 14N-430
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139

Please include a biographical statement of no more than 100 words. If your paper is accepted, this statement will be used on the conference Web site.

Please monitor the conference Web site at for registration information, travel information and conference updates.

Abstracts will be accepted on a rolling basis until Jan. 9, 2009.

The full text of your paper must be submitted no later than Friday, April 17. Conference papers will be posted to the conference Web site and made available to all conferees.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Pushing 30

From the Wired Listening Post:
On this day [August 17th --TS] in 1982, Sony and Philips Consumer Electronics released the first CDs to the German public, forever changing the way music would be distributed, marketed, consumed and appreciated. Now would be a great time to change it all again.
Does this mean I'm officially getting old? In any case, you can check out the full article here. It's worth the read.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Kindle vs. Itouch: The throwdown


I can't believe it's been nearly a month since I last blogged. I'd resolved early in 2008 to post a couple of times a week whenever I could, and until June or so, I pretty much managed to stick to it. But for a variety of reasons July and now part of August got away from me. I thank you all for your patience. I'm glad to be back.

I've blogged off and on over the past several months about's e-reading device, Kindle. Well, I finally acquired one in early June and have spent my summer travels field-testing it in preparation for a paper I'll be presenting at the American Studies Association convention this October. I also happened to purchase an iPod Touch this summer, and despite Apple CEO Steve Jobs' claim that people don't read anymore, I've been indulging in Plato's Parmenides using the device's Stanza e-reading application. My experiences with both devices have been striking. Because their differences seem to me more acute than their similarities, I figured now might be an appropriate time for a Kindle versus iTouch "throwdown."

I'll be honest: I'm pretty surprised by the reported success of Kindle and its rosy prospects for the future. The device does what it's supposed to do, more or less, but as sophisticated as it may be, Kindle still strikes me as fairly primitive.

For me, Kindle's "wow" factor comes mainly from the built-in EVDO wireless technology, which allows you to download any Kindle edition in the Amazon catalog anywhere, on the fly, without a separate laptop or mobile phone. As a researcher and writer, there's something alluring (and potentially, economically draining) about having instantaneous access to a library consisting of 125,000+ titles, many (although not all) of which cost less than their printed counterparts. No doubt Amazon wants users to second-guess making trips to the library or to nearby bookstores.

Still, I find title navigation to be awkward and unpredictable. It's easy enough to find my way to a Kindle book's cover, title page, interior chapters, and other major landmarks , but making my way through the highlights, notes and dog ears I've made rarely results in my ending up where I'd meant to go. The highlighting and note-making functions work well enough; their precision is limited, however, by the fact that you can only highlight entire lines rather than individual words, and only then on a single page at a time.

As for the much-heralded e-ink screen, it reminds me of an Etch-a-Sketch, only crisper. The latter, incidentally was first released in 1973--around the time that color TV really began to take over in earnest in the U.S. from the old black and white system. I wish Amazon had taken a cue here and aimed for a color screen, although I realize that their doing so could have resulted in an undesirable price point for Kindle. The screen renders text quite well, although it still seems vaguely pixelated to me. Word spacing and character tracking could be improved. Images are another matter, though. A colleague to whom I showed my Kindle told me he was "disappointed" by the device's ability to render images. I agree.

Then, of course, there's Amazon's proprietary e-book format and its use of digital rights management. I've already blogged about these at length, so I won't belabor the point here except to say three words: open content, please!

iPod Touch
Talk about "wow" factor all around. The device looks great, it fits in the palm of your hand, and it's not a single-use device. (Kindle, incidentally, comes with an experimental web browser and plays mp3s.) This last point is especially important. I'm a fan of The Food Network's Alton Brown, who insists that kitchen devices dedicated to a single foodstuff generally ought to be avoided, for they too easily become superfluous. (Salad Shooter, anyone?) With a proliferation of high-tech gadgetry ranging from laptops to mobile phones, e-readers, and more, getting a device that can do more, and do "more" exceptionally well, should be the order of the day. That's what the iTouch delivers.

There are a bunch of e-reading applications available for the iPod Touch and iPhone, but for now, I prefer Stanza. It's free, as are the books associated with the software. The free content is both an advantage and a drawback. The advantage, of course, is that all Stanza books are available gratis, brought to you courtesy of the public domain using the non-proprietary, Open E-Book formatting standard. On the downside, Stanza only offers "classic" works of fiction and non-fiction. Anything current will have wait for decades to make its way to Stanza, a result of the egregious extension of copyright terms.

Text on the iTouch version of Stanza renders beautifully, and the tactile navigation's a breeze. The screen is bright, clear...and in color. The major limitation I see is the application's inability to mark text and to record annotations. Here Kindle is the clear winner. I realize, though, that not everyone reads books like me; I plod through text, underlining passages and making notes as I go. But for those who simply read, there shouldn't be much of a problem.

Bottom Line
If someone would only synthesize the best features of Kindle and the iTouch, then we'd have an exceptional e-reader on our hands. For now, Kindle wins on the number of available titles and annotation features, while iTouch/Stanza is ahead on just about everything else. On balance, I suppose that I'm more impressed with the latter than I am with the former.