October 17, 2011

It was “a moment of mass credulity on the part of the nation’s media”

Filed under: Britain, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:59

Cory Doctorow points out that no “adult content” filter is a replacement for parental guidance and supervision:

Last week’s announcement of a national scheme to “block adult content at the point of subscription” (as the BBC’s website had it) was a moment of mass credulity on the part of the nation’s media, and an example of how complex technical questions and hot-button save-the-children political pandering are a marriage made in hell when it comes to critical analysis in the press.

Under No 10’s proposal, the UK’s major ISPs — BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin — will invite new subscribers to opt in or out of an “adult content filter.” But for all the splashy reporting on this that dominated the news cycle, no one seemed to be asking exactly what “adult content” is, and how the filters’ operators will be able to find and block it.

Adult content covers a lot of ground. While the media of the day kept mentioning pornography in this context, existing “adult” filters often block gambling sites and dating sites (both subjects that are generally considered “adult” but aren’t anything like pornography), while others block information about reproductive health and counselling services aimed at GBLT teens (gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender).

[. . .]

The web is vast, and adult content is a term that is so broad as to be meaningless. Even if we could all agree on what adult content was, there simply aren’t enough bluenoses and pecksniffs to examine and correctly classify even a large fraction of the web, let alone all of it (despite the Radio 4 newsreader’s repeated assertion that the new filter would “block all adult content”.)

What that means is that parents who opt their families into the scheme are in for a nasty shock: first, when their kids (inevitably) discover the vast quantities of actual, no-fooling pornography that the filter misses; and second, when they themselves discover that their internet is now substantially broken, with equally vast swathes of legitimate material blocked.

What’s in a name?

Filed under: Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:22

Jean-Louis Gassée contrasts what was expected and what was delivered:

On 4 October, after months of speculation, Apple finally launched the iPhone 5. The commentariat were ecstatic and approvingly listed the new smartphone’s strongest points: twice the processor speed; seven times the graphics oomph; a new camera with an Apple-designed lens, 8MP and improved image processing; the power of the new iOS 5; iCloud integration and synchronisation with iDevices; a new smart antenna; Siri, the innovative intelligent assistant. And, courageously resisting the temptation of capricious cosmetic changes, the iPhone 5 stayed with Jonathan Ive’s elegant, timeless design.

The preternaturally modest Apple execs cringe at the gushing praise, but what can they do? It’s their cross to bear.

That’s what we expected. Now let’s consider the reality: Same phone, same features, same design, but it’s now called 4S instead of 5. This changes everything. The pundits are indignant: The iPhone 4S is a lame, evolutionary product; the bosses’ presentation (video here) is flat, uninspiring. This dog won’t sell. Apple has lost its mojo.

(Regarding the “flat” presentation, Apple executives knew Steve Jobs was just a few breaths away from his last, but they got on stage and delivered anyway. When news of Jobs’s demise came out the following day, many critics, such as blogger Robert Scobble, had the good grace to apologise to Cook & Co for railing about their subdued performance.)

Nostalgia for the monoculture that never was

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:58

Steven Hyden points out that waxing nostalgic for a mythical time when “we” had a monoculture is farcical:

Like Touré, I get nostalgic for the monoculture. It certainly seems like an alluring idea. The monoculture reinforces the belief that what we as critics spend so much time thinking about really is a central part of the way our society lives and breathes. Otherwise it might be hard to believe in the primacy of pop music when millions of people are out of work and our government is crippled by deep systemic dysfunction. But the best thing (or the worst thing, if you’re writing a think piece) about the monoculture is that it exists safely in the past, where it can live on in our imaginations as a mythical place where, as Touré recently wrote in Salon, “an album becomes so ubiquitous it seems to blast through the windows, to chase you down until it’s impossible to ignore it” — an all-powerful communal unity that comments on the shortcomings of the present.

[. . .]

I’ll remember going back to my junior high school that afternoon and talking about the video with all of my classmates. We knew instantly that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” signaled the dawn of a new era in pop music; it expressed our joys and fears, and pointed the way to a new future. We pledged to commit all the details of this moment (sorry, Moment) to memory, so that when our children asked us what it was like When The World Changed Forever, we would be able to pass down the tale.

Oh, wait a second: It didn’t happen that way at all.

Yes, I saw “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video over lunch, but nobody seemed to know who Nirvana was when I got back to school. It wasn’t like my friends could just punch up the video on their iPhones after I told them about it; the clip was in heavy rotation on MTV, but you still had to watch the channel for an hour or two (and at certain times of the day) to see it. Once my classmates did see it, a number of them purchased “Nevermind,” as I did. But many of them didn’t. Some preferred Pearl Jam. Some liked N.W.A.’s “Niggaz4life.” Some didn’t care about music at all; they’d rather play Tecmo Bowl. Then there were the millions and millions of Americans who bought Garth Brooks’ “Ropin’ the Wind,” the best-selling album of 1991. If anything, that was the album that we as a culture were united behind — it sold 14 million copies, though I never heard it once blasting through people’s windows.

The Vikings’ litany of mistakes, miscues, and brain farts yesterday

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:52

Vikings stink up Soldier Field, losing 39-10 to the Bears

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:11

The difference between this loss and the earlier losses is that the Vikings were never in this game. Chicago jumped out to an early lead, and never looked back. The normally great first-half defence didn’t show up tonight, and the offence was its usual anaemic self.

The Vikings had done well to avoid injuries so far this season, but lost several players to injury over the course of the game, including safety Jamarca Sandford, offensive tackle Phil Loadholt, and centre John Sullivan. With two offensive line starters out, Donovan McNabb was running for his life back there.

On the good side of the ledger, after a quiet start, Jared Allen got a sack and stripped the ball from Jay Cutler. The Vikings turned that into 6 points on an Adrian Peterson run. Late in the game, Christian Ponder took over at quarterback for Donovan McNabb, and showed some nice situational awareness (avoiding the pass rush) and good accuracy and distance downfield. Other than that, there wasn’t much for Vikings fans to cheer.

After the game, coach Leslie Frazier was careful not to commit himself about who will start next Sunday’s game, but Andrew Kulha at Bleacher Reports is sure that we’ve seen the start of a new quarterback era:

It may be time for former Philadelphia Eagles star, former Washington Redskins mistake and current Minnesota Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb to take his curtain call.

It’s been a great run for McNabb, but it’s probably best to stop digging while he still has a chance to get out of the hole that is the latter stages of his career.

Christopher Gates at the Daily Norseman agrees:

Statistically, if you look at Donovan McNabb’s line from Sunday night, it doesn’t look like he played all that badly. . .he only threw five incompletions on the evening, and put up 177 passing yards. However, as the fourth quarter started at Soldier Field on Sunday evening, Minnesota Vikings’ head coach Leslie Frazier decided that the time had finally come.

And, with that, the Christian Ponder era got underway in Minnesota.

Sure, by the time that Ponder got into the game, the Vikings only had five healthy offensive lineman. . .Phil Loadholt was out of the game with an (as of now) undisclosed injury, and John Sullivan suffered a concussion early in the second half. As the Vikings only had seven offensive linemen dressed on the evening, another injury probably would have seen Jim Kleinsasser lining up at tackle or guard. However, despite that, and despite spending most of the evening running for his life, Ponder was not sacked once in 18 pass attempts, and completed 10 of his passes for 99 yards in his quarter of work.

Update: Tom Pelissero sums up the brief (about a quarter) appearance of Christian Ponder:

Ponder made his NFL debut with 14 minutes, 43 seconds remaining in Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears, who led 39-10 and sacked starter Donovan McNabb five times.

“I don’t see it ending like this, as you say,” McNabb said. “But it’s tough. You’re one-and-five at this particular point. I felt like we did a lot of great things (Sunday). But I guess we’ll sit down to talk, but I still expect to be in there next week.”

Ponder was 9-of-17 passing for 99 yards (52.9%) and a 70.5 rating over two drives, both ending with fourth-down passes caught short of the first-down marker. But the rookie first-round picks’s skills were on display as he repeatedly escaped pressure and made several rhythm throws into tight windows.

He scrambled for 8 yards and a first down on his second snap. His first throw was a swing pass to Adrian Peterson for no gain and his second a touch pass to Percy Harvin for 20.

“I thought he did a good job under the circumstances,” Frazier said. “We’ll go back and look at the tape and fully evaluate it. But it seems like he moved around pretty good.”

Ponder was 5-of-10 passing for 58 yards on his first drive, which went 69 yards in 12 plays before a fourth-and-10 throw to Visanthe Shiancoe gained only 9, stalling the Vikings at the Chicago 12-yard line. The Vikings’ next drive went 40 yards in eight plays before stalling at the Chicago 30.

“I was very grateful for the opportunity that Coach let me go in,” Ponder said. “I thought I made some plays, thought I missed some plays, missed a couple throws. But I definitely had fun. It’s always hard to have fun when you’re losing that bad, but I was grateful and I definitely had fun.”

Update, the second: In his column at the Pioneer Press, Tom Powers suggests it’s time for a fire sale:

Vikings for sale! Vikings for sale! Cheap!

Not the team, but individual players. Hey, all you NFL general managers out there, get your very own Minnesota Vikings player. Take him home to play with your kids. Let him tend to the petunias in the garden. Have him wash the car. All we ask for is a seventh-round draft pick in return. And, of course, you take over paying his salary.

The NFL trade deadline almost always passes unnoticed. It’s not a big deal the way it is in other sports where there is a flurry of last-minute activity. The Vikings desperately need to change all that.

The 2011 deadline is Tuesday. It should be a very big deal. There ought to be balloons, parades and free hot dogs at Winter Park if Rick Spielman, the Vikings’ Invisible Man, can partially salvage a lost season by dumping veterans for draft picks. Even very low draft picks would be swell. So would a bag of Doritos.

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