A Quetzal in Prospect Park

In the last few weeks, I started watching television again. I stopped because most of my television watching was with Sarah, and in my new living situation, watching “my shows” was going to be a solitary affair. And, lately, I have been in no mood to do much of anything by myself.

One of the programs I’ve started to watch again is Broad City on Comedy Central. It is an absurdly funny series featuring Ilana and Abby, two twenty-something–year-old women living in New York. Not only is the second season as pee-your-pants funny as the first season, Andre is also a fan. Over the last few weeks, we have watch each episode of the second season with each other.

The most recent episode, “The Matrix,” involves Abby and Ilana leaving their phones at home to escape the digital matrix enabled by their digital devices. To aid in their pure, unmediated experiences, they decide to ride their roller blades to a dog wedding at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. (I told you this show was absurdly funny.)

Broad City, The Matrix, Ilana and Abby roller blade through Prospect Park

Almost immediately, I noticed on Abby’s helmet a sticker bearing an image of a familiar flag. A subsequent, close-up shot reveals that the image is of a Guatemalan flag.

Broad City, The Matrix, Abby wears a helmet with a Guatemalan flag on it.

Whoa! Coming from a Guatemalan family, I couldn’t help but notice it and point out this easter egg. After all, how can I not notice a quetzal?

A quetzal

I imagine that this is a nod to Arturo Castro, the Guatemalan-born actor who plays Abbi’s roommate Jaime on the series.

It’s nice when I see more of us.

And Now, the Apple Watch Makes Sense

Remember how I seemed pretty cool to the whole Apple Watch thing? As certain as I was that this new piece of technology would be expertly designed, well-constructed, and very user-friendly, I could not figure out what function it would serve that my iPhone wasn’t already doing. After all, the wonderful thing about a smartphone is that it is the computer you always have with you. Reaching for it, I reasoned, will always be easy.

Or so I thought before going on a bike ride today.


Last Saturday, I had planned to ride to the Panera Bread in Northvale, New Jersey with the cycle club.1 But, bitterly cold temperatures, icy roads, and the closure of the George Washington Bridge pedestrian/bicycle path kept me off the bike for the entire weekend. Feeling restless, I rode to my various jobs this entire week, which I had not been able to do since mid-December, and, today, I scheduled a makeup ride to Northvale to eat that long-awaited soup–and–half-sandwich combo.

Not sure why I find biking 50 miles to a Panera in New Jersey so amusing, but we have to train for beer rides #irodemybikehere

A “Bicycle for the Mind” for the Bicycle

It was on today’s ride through Bergen and Rockland counties that I recognized the utility of a smartwatch. I could care less about monitoring my heart rate, my speed/cadence, and elevation gain during a ride. At one time, that mattered to me, but in the last few years, I don’t consider it as important. No, as someone who likes to explore new routes and brewery tap rooms, it’s really important to not end up horribly lost. An Apple Watch would actually be really helpful as a navigation aid because, even on group rides, we often have to stop to find directions.


Decades ago, Steve Jobs called the computer a “bicycle for our minds” because he saw it as a tool that can elevate the human mind above its natural ability. Similarly, applications elevate the computer from a machine to a tool. What made iPhone different from all other smartphones and PDAs before it were all the apps developed for it. Although I never had a smartphone before getting an iPhone 3G in 2008, I did have a series of Palm PDAs. Those were useful personal organizers and decent notetakers. However, each one was really limited—not because it had a crummy screen or required a stylus to use, but because it simply didn’t do very much. Today, I have about 200 apps loaded on my iPhone, including task managers, an array of readers and writing apps, and apps for dozens of other functions. I may not regularly use all 200+ apps, but having them gives my iPhone purpose, especially compared to the PDAs and smartphones of yore.

Palm Vx

For the past two cycling seasons, I’ve been using a Garmin Edge 200 on my long bike rides. I can track my speed, my distance pedaled, the time of day, and if I load my course before heading out on the road, which I almost always do, I can follow a route. I know I could use my iPhone with some app, such as Strava or Ride with GPS, to function like my Garmin, but there are a lot of drawbacks to this. On a warm day, the battery can power my Garmin for over 12 hours; the battery inside my iPhone might not. If I get caught in a rainstorm, my Garmin is water-resistant, whereas soaking my iPhone would be devastating. And, the plastic-and-rubber Garmin sits on my handlebars taking various shocks and shakes from our bumpy potholed roads: I’m not certain my glass-and-metal iPhone would fare as well.

The Garmin is only useful because of the various websites that communicate with the device. The stock Garmin Connect is fine for beginners, but the third-party apps are much, much better. For example, Strava is for those who obsess over every esoteric metric imaginable, and Ride with GPS is for those who love to plan routes, as I do. In due time, I can see the latter two making apps for the Apple Watch, just as they do for iPhone and other smartphones. Their smartwatch apps could communicate with an iPhone, securely stored in a Ziploc bag and safely tucked away in a jersey pockets. In fact, I’ll bet dollars to donuts that both of these companies have at least considered developing for the Apple Watch. Sorry, Garmin.

Free to Escape

The great thing about going on a long bike ride is to escape life for a few hours, which is why I rode a lot during the latter half of 2014. Though I keep my phone stashed away in my pocket during a ride, I can still hear it dinging and feel it buzzing whenever I get a new message, phone call, or some other notification. Today, I heard a series of alerts as I pedaled through the relatively quiet suburban streets of Bergen County, New Jersey. I tried to put those distractions out of my mind, but as a product of the digital age, I simply could not. As soon as I encountered a red traffic signal, I hurriedly pulled out my phone to check who had been messaging and calling me. Fortunately, none of the callers had anything pressing to tell me, but right there, I recognized the value of having a smartwatch. Instead of kvetching about "who could be trying to reach me right now," I could have just glanced at my watch, saw that it was a doting relative, and continued on my way.

Part of me is bothered that I have cannot have a few hours on a bike without being interrupted, but I realized today that a smartwatch is a piece of technology that allows me to do what I want without being disconnected. Twenty years ago, when mobile phones started to become a thing, one of my mentors said that she would never carry a cell phone because she wanted to preserve the freedom from always being reachable. It was a sensible argument at the time. A few years later, after I got some Nokia candy-bar phone, I realized that the mobile phone didn’t tether me to work or other obligations, as I had feared. Instead, it allowed me to do whatever I wanted—and to go wherever I wanted. I didn’t have to sit by the phone waiting for someone to call me or, worse even, to keep calling my answering machine at home checking for any incoming messages.2 With a cell phone, I gained a new freedom from my landline telephone.

Maybe that’s what this new piece of technology—the Apple Watch with its plethora of apps and seamless connection to an iPhone—is supposed to do: ever-so-slightly liberate us from our older devices, even if one of those devices is only about eight years old.

  1. It’s something we did last year, and I thought it was funny that we were biking all that way just to eat at a ubiquitous bakery chain. 
  2. Kids today—who probably never use voicemail—must presumably consider the practice of calling your home answering machine to retrieve messages a positively antediluvian ritual. 

HBO Now and the Technology We Need

Monday’s Apple event wasn’t just about an ultralight notebook computer that I really want and a watch that I don’t. There were also two announcements regarding television that were quite interesting.1

  1. The price for the current Apple TV dropped to $69. This third-generation model has been on the market since 2012 and was available for $99 as recently as this past weekend. I imagine that this is an intermediate move on Apple’s part. There are clearly better options for OTT streaming devices, even for die-hard Apple nerds, and I would hope Apple plans to release an improved version in the near future for the $70 same price. (Or not… what do I know?)
  2. HBO Now will launch exclusively on Apple devices for $15 per month. In some ways, this move is big because it marks the first time HBO is available without a multichannel TV subscription and could be a threat to multichannel TV as we know it. Consumers begged HBO to offer something like this, and now we know that it will be a full-featured service, not a crippled version that only the pay TV subscribers get.

In my most recent New Media class, I addressed the second announcement as an example of a technology adapting to our needs. We were discussing how social network sites were great for, you know, networking socially. Facebook has been great for sharing with your nearby friends, distant classmates, and obsessively doting relatives. After a while, though, we learned that our unsavory activities, such as our party pics, can be found by a potential employer, a college recruiter, or that human you are trying to date. The sharing aspect of Facebook is great, but the permanence is not. So, we now have something like Snapchat, and that is where we share indiscriminately because of its evanescence. We found a technology that better suited a particular need.

HBO Now is intended to provide stream HBO to those without pay TV subscriptions. But a lot of people I know already stream HBO programming with HBO Go. They just use someone else’s credentials to access it. As intrepid cord cutters, we already figured out how to get the product we need without HBO offering it. I’m not going to guess whether HBO Now is going to succeed. It could be a decade-long lifeline as iTunes was for the music industry or it could be as negligible as News Corp making an iPad-native Daily newsmagazine.

The Technology We Deserve

Net Neutrality plays an important role with this OTT service. Chris Morran at Consumerist speculates about the power of an ISP without net neutrality rules, where one could theoretically “throttle HBO Now while still allowing HBO Go to get through at full speed, effectively saying that the only way to get a decent HBO streaming service is if you have a cable package.” But with net neutrality rules, the two services should operate at the same level of performance. I won’t need to have my TV polluted with reality TV shows and shitty reruns in order to watch The Wire in 1080p.

The only not-neutral thing about the HBO Now service is that it will initially launch on only Apple devices, such as Apple TV, iPad, and iPhone. Roku, Amazon Fire, and Chromecast users will have to miss out on Game of Thrones until midsummer. Perhaps Mark Cuban was right when he said that we shouldn’t worry about the power of ISPs and that instead we should “worry about Google and Apple” because they make the operating systems of our mobile devices.

The Technology We Don’t Need

A few years ago, only the most devoted Internet libertarians were cognizant of that an ISP could potentially throttle or block a service it didn’t “like.” Today, even casual Internet users are skeptical about the control their ISP could potentially wield. For example, after the HBO Now announcement, Comcast subscribers were unable to access the http://hbonow.com website. It turns out that it was a technical problem caused by a DNS issue on HBO’s part, not some sinister shenanigans at the hands of Comcast. But because everyone hates their cable companies and because Comcast is as big as a cable company gets, the Internet reflexively blamed Comcast.

It’s hard to shed a tear for Comcast though. As I mentioned earlier, when a technology fails to meet our needs or desires, we move on to something else. Cable television as we know it evolved from two converging technologies: Community Antenna TV and satellite cable.2 CATV was a demand-side technology. Starting in the 1940s, CATV operators piped TV signals to TV set owners living in areas where an over-the-air signal wasn’t available. CATV was almost a necessity for people living in a valley, such as in rural Pennsylvania, or in densely populated and overbuilt area, such as Manhattan, because the terrain blocked the radio signals necessary for TV reception. Satellite cable, on the other hand, was a supply-side technology. Beginning in the 1970s, it allowed national distribution for emerging television channels, such as Ted Turner’s WTBS-TV in Atlanta and the Manhattan-based Home Box Office. In both cases, CATV and satellite cable—eventually merging as the modern cable TV industry—enabled TV viewers to get what the broadcasters were failing to provide them. Today, however, the cable companies are the ones failing to provide us what we want, and that’s why we’ve migrated to something that does.

And, I’m sorry, Apple. As of right now, I still can’t figure out why I need a smartwatch.

  1. All that health stuff was not interesting. 
  2. Read Megan Mullen, The Rise of Cable Programming in the United States: Revolution or Evolution? (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003) for a great account of the evolution of the cable TV indusry. 

This is Why I’ve Waited to Replace My MacBook Pro

As a bonafide Apple nerd and someone who spends no fewer than five hours a day tapping away at a computer, I’ve been surprisingly passive in upgrading computers over the last decade. My current MacBook Pro is from mid-2009, replacing a late-2004 Powerbook G4 that measured 15 inches, weighed nearly five pounds, and was the object of ridicule from an undergraduate student. In the course of a decade, I’ve had only two Mac portables. That really would have surprised the twenty-year–old version of me.1

Mid-2009 MacBook Pro 13"

My Mid-2009 MacBook Pro still gets it done six years after hitting the market.

The 2009 MacBook Pro was the first 13-inch notebook in the Unibody design, and it has aged well. It not only looks like a recent computer, it preforms reasonably well. It’s responsive, and I almost never get those dreaded spinning beachballs. Undoubtedly, upgrading the RAM to eight gigabytes and replacing the spinning-disk hard drive with a solid-state drive have forestalled its obsolesce.

As I’ve chronicled here, this computer has taken some lumps over the years, and I constantly dread its inevitable demise. I’ve not only spent quite a bit of time and money upgrading this computer, I’ve also sacrificed dollars and hours repairing it, including soldering the fan to the logic board and replacing the keyboard. I’ve stubbornly continued to do so because I knew someday Apple would release something fundamentally different to my six-year–old MacBook Pro.

Yesterday, along with a cheaper AppleTV and the new HBO Now streaming service, Apple announced the new MacBook. I am almost certain it will be my next computer. It has everything I would want in a portable. It is light and thin, it has a Retina display, and it promises all-day battery life.

The new 2015 MacBook

So svelte!

Of course, there are some sacrifices to making something so light and thin.

  • The display is an inch smaller than my current 13-inch MacBook Pro and, in 2x mode, will have fewer pixels than my current 1280 x 800 resolution,
  • There is no SD card slot, which I regularly use to import photos from my DSLR and mirrorless camera,
  • There is only one USB-C port,
  • The only other connector is an audio port,
  • The Intel Core M processor is not an i5 or i7,
  • The maximum storage is 512 GB, and maximum RAM is 8 GB.

These are not deal breakers, though. I rarely work with anything connected to my Mac other than the power supply and maybe a pair of headphones. Aside from connecting my cameras or SD cards to import photos, I usually only plug-in a VGA adapter for work and my Garmin Edge GPS for play. I’m sure that in due time I will find a cheap USB 2.0–USB-C adpater to upload and import my bike ride data and photos. And as for presentations, I can go back to presenting from my iPhone or iPad until Monoprice releases the requisite VGA/HDMI adapters.

I look forward to getting my hands on a MacBook on April 10, because, unlike the Apple Watch that also ships next month, this new MacBook makes sense to me.

Or maybe I should see what they do with the MacBook Pros later this year…

Update: If you’re looking to sell your old MacBook Pro, Gazelle is offering a $20 bonus on any MacBook Pro valued at $50 or more. As an affiliate, I get a commission on your transaction.

  1. I also bought an iMac in 2009 that I sold in aftermath of my “divorce”. 

That Time I Had to Reset My MacBook Pro’s SMC to Slow Down the High-Speed, Whirring Fan

Last night, I came home after a long day and found that my MacBook Pro would not wake from sleep after I took it out of my backpack. This is an occasional problem with my aging notebook, but after a reboot, it usually operates as it should. But this time, after I rebooted the machine, the fan spun to full speed, making that disconcerting whirring sound, despite the fact that the computer was not running any applications and was cool to the touch.

I opened up the computer and found that the outermost RAM DIMM had popped out of the slot. That would explain why, after letting it boot earlier, it reported only 4 GB of RAM. After reseating the RAM and securing each connection, I rebooted the machine again, but the fan kept spinning at maximum speed. Fuck!

This computer has been through a lot. I not only spilled seltzer on it, followed by black coffee. Eventually, the liquids damaged the keyboard, which I had to replace. And, let’s not forget about the time I had to solder the cable connecting the fan to the logic board. I suspected that whatever dislodged my RAM must have damaged the temperature sensor, and I dreaded that it would finally be beyond repair.

But then I noticed that MagSafe Power adapter, which was connected to my computer, was not illuminated—whereas it is always either green or amber. Moreover, the battery status lights also did not illuminate to show the charge level. Those additional symptoms led me to the underlying problem. The System Management Controller was corrupted, and I needed to reset it.

Key sequences: Resetting the SMC and Zapping the PRAM

Resetting the SMC is the new Zapping the PRAM. Image from Chickaboo Designs.

I’m old enough now to remember when our Macs would develop unexplainable problems, someone would advise us to zap the PRAM. In my over twenty years of working with Macs, zapping the PRAM never once fixed any mysterious problems. Would resetting the SMC do any good?

The Apple Support page outlines the steps for resetting the SMC for particular kinds of computer, such as portables with removable batteries, portables with sealed batteries, and desktop computers. In my case, I needed to shut down the computer, hold down ShiftControlOption with my left hand and depress the power button with my right hand at the same time. Once I did that, the lights on the MagSafe adapter came on.

Once again, I rebooted up the computer with baited breath. This time, as it had done countless other times, the fan came on at the normal speed.

While zapping the PRAM was for me pretty ineffective, resetting the SMC had a different result. It did indeed fix something!

Title II > Title I

It’s been an exciting week for Internet advocacy in the United States. To put it in crude, succinct, and kinda androcentric-and-infantilizing terms, the Federal Communications Commission grew a pair and ruled to…

  1. regulate ISPs as a Title II Common Carrier instead of a Title I Information Service Provider.
  2. prohibit restrictions against community broadband, such as those in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina, where they get faster and cheaper Internet access than in New York City.

Everyone has gone gaga over the first ruling, but I think the second one is just as crucial. Why? If net neutrality is “Obamacare for the Internet,” community broadband is the “public option” we didn’t get with the Affordable Care Act. It subjects commercial ISPs to competition that is primarily concerned with serving its citizens rather than enriching its shareholders.

The commercial ISPs have complained that if they were subject to Title II common carriage regulation, they would be less inclined to invest in their infrastructure. They would be less likely to expand access, and they would be less likely to increase broadband speeds in the coming years. In other words, they would act like a telecommunications monopoly with little incentive to improve their product. Guess what? They already behave that way.

Most of the country lacks access to viable broadband. For many of those who do have access, they face a Hobson choice when selecting Internet service providers. As for average broadband speeds, at 11.5 Mbps, the United States is hardly in the lead. We rank somewhere between Taiwan (9.5 Mbps) and Singapore (12.2 Mbps) among Asian nations and between Israel (11.4 Mbps) and Finland (11.7 Mbps) among EMEA nations.1

Throughout the twentieth century, AT&T, the telephone monopoly in the US, improved the technology to connect local and long-distance calls more efficiently, but the end-product was more or less unchanged for seven decades. AT&T held a monopoly over US telephone service beginning in 1913, under the Kingsbury Commitment, until 1984, when it was forced to fragment and sell its local exchanges into seven regional Baby Bells. In that time, there were very few functional improvements to the telephone receiver.

Comparing two receivers—one from the 1930s and one from the 1980s—it’s hard to tell what specific improvements there were. Both receivers consisted of a dial and a corded handset, and you could have one in any color you wanted… as long as you wanted black. Why was there no speakerphone? Where is the touchtone keypad? Why couldn’t someone put a call on hold or mute the receiver? If someone missed a call, why couldn’t the phone indicate so with a notification? And, why could someone not walk around any further than the length of the receiver’s cord?


The Carterphone from the late 1960s allowed telephone users to bypass the telephone cord.

The key reason why AT&T did not innovate and improve its product for the consumer was not because it was closely regulated as a utility and that it had to provide universal access, it was because it was a monopoly and no had little incentive to innovate. It was not until the 1980s that consumers were finally able to connect foreign attachments to their telephones, such as answering machines and modems, purchase their own phones, including cordless and touchtone devices, and choose their own long-distance telephone provider and calling plan.

Touchtone telephone

Touchtone “dialing” finally arrives in the 1980s. Was that really so hard?

In other words, with viable competition in underserved markets, commercial ISPs will be forced to, in the words of countless entrepreneurial free-marketeers, “innovate or die.”

Updated because the new WordPress for iOS app turned my Markdown into HTML. Yuck.

  1. This is based on Akamai’s State of the Internet report for the third quarter of 2014. http://www.akamai.com/dl/akamai/akamai-soti-q314-infographic.pdf 

A Little Secret About Me and Laura Mulvey

Teaching this past semester has been a bit different than it has been recently because I’ve been teaching two non-intro classes: New Media and Media Criticism. Although New Media is technically called “Introduction to New Media,” I’ve always run it like an undergraduate seminar with a lot close readings. The same goes for Media Criticism, where the students and I criticize criticisms of media.

One of the results of doing so many close readings this semester—especially ones that I have not read since being an undergraduate, if at all—is that I’ve become self-reflexive about some academic practices and rituals.

For example:

  • Why does seemingly every essay start with a premise that the author immediately challenges? I prefer the illustrative case study.
  • Why must we literally turn a page before we get to the author’s central method for challenging that premise? My advisor indoctrinated me that a reader should know your topic and approach before turning a page.
  • Why does seemingly every argument take a twist or turn about 60-70% through the text? What’s wrong with sticking what you outlined in the methodology?

One of the stranger practices in academia, especially among film scholars, is to say…

I’m not sure I’ve seen that film all the way through.

Allow me to decode that. That’s academese for…

I haven’t bothered to watch that film, and I’m too ashamed to admit it. Also, I can’t have a conversation with you about it because I must have missed the part of the film you’re describing.

Why not just admit that you haven’t seen it?

It’s a clever trick, and I’m guilty of having used that once or twice. In fact, I kind of did that when, back in November, I announced that filmmaker and scholar Laura Mulvey was coming to Pratt. I said that I had wished I had scheduled her film, Riddles of the Sphinx, for my experimental film class, but didn’t because it was “too long” for our class. Truth be told, I didn’t schedule it because I never bothered to watch it “the whole way through,” which is to say not at all. But, in my defense, no film we screened in class was longer than ninety minutes, and I was not going to speed up this film.

Laura Mulvey Riddles of the Sphinx

To atone for my scholarly and pedagogical sins, I’ll be heading to Pratt on Tuesday, March 10, for the screening of Riddles of the Sphinx, with introduction and Q&A by scholar-in-residence/filmmaker Laura Mulvey. You should go, too.

She will also be giving a public lecture, Gleaning, Détournement and the Compilation Film: Some Thoughts on Un’ora sola ti vorrei (Alina Marazzi, 2002) the following day. Alas, I won’t be able to make the lecture because I teach a class at that time.

Riddles of the Sphinx Screening and Q&A

  • March 10, 2015
  • Pratt Institute, Higgins Hall
  • Info

Viewing Experimental Film is Hard Enough

Kristin Strayer, a volunteer at the Carnegie Museum of Art and a lecturer of Film Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, wrote something about the nature of curating experimental film that caught my attention.

She criticizes contemporary curators and scholars who write about experimental film and generally only address “those already converted” at the expense of less-knowledgable but receptive viewers. She writes:

The authors address a rather small group of filmgoers: scholars, filmmakers, artists, and occasional cineastes. Whether amateur or professional, these are viewers who haven’t just seen particular films but know the historic details surrounding the films, or which filmmakers worked with other filmmakers, or stories of how so many films were made by circles of friends with little money or resources.

This was one of my chief complaints about the recent screening of Gil Wolman’s L’Anticoncept at Light Industry. To “get” this film, I needed to be fluent in French and well-versed in Lettrism and the mid-century French avant-garde. I confess: I am neither. This is where a curator can really shine, explaining the importance of this film and suggesting an approach for watching it. Curating a film involves more than just selecting it. You need to describe the work—sometimes overly pedantically—so your audience can appreciate it as much as you do.

Another challenge experimental film faces in contemporary exhibitions, according to Strayer, is the gallery setting itself. She notes that “the exhibition gallery is radically different from a theater that shows [a] traditional cinematic text.” Whereas “a theater expects a stable subject who watches and the consistency of a darkened room,” a gallery accommodates the visitor’s physical movement around the space. This poses a challenge for any experimental film or video longer than five minutes because people can’t stand still much longer than that.

As I wrote last week, the staff at Light Industry mitigated some of the major challenges of screening this work. They procured an appropriately sized white ballon for a screen, instead of simply projecting the video on to a white wall as they do for their other screenings. They distributed printed copies of the English-language translation of the narration. And, to their credit, they seated us in a darkened room to watch in a theatrical setting. As a testament to that last bit, a patron even shushed us and asked us to leave for ruining his experience.

And because we didn’t know how to watch this film or how to contextualize it, we left as quickly and as quietly as we could.

A Sad Journey through My Web Browser’s Bookmarks

As a man of a certain age, I have been an active Internet user for over twenty years, beginning with email and USENET. I have also been using the graphical web since about late 1995 or early 1996, around the time I figured out how to set up a dialup SLIP connection at home. As someone initially intimidated by computers, getting my Quadra on the Internet via a phone line—without a commercial service like AOL, Prodigy, or Compuserve—was an initial step in becoming the lonely, over-inquisitive technophile that I am today.

Over that time, I have collected (and lost) a bunch of web bookmarks. We all have. In my days of doing desktop support, my users bemoaned getting a new computer because they feared losing their documents, which we diligently transferred, and their bookmarks, which we also migrated to their new browser.1 Each user’s bookmark collection was like a box of digital heirlooms.

Some of my own bookmarks are really, really old. They have migrated from one browser to another—Netscape to Internet Explorer to Safari—and outlasted about a half-dozen Macs, starting with a PowerMac G3. Over the weekend, I was typing some address in the Safari web location bar. After a few keystrokes, the auto-complete feature suggested something long-forgotten, though kinda-familiar: The Standpipe Gallery at http://standpipegallery.com. Don’t bother following that link because it’s dead. In fact, after clicking through my other bookmarks, especially those dating from when I still organized them into folders, very few sites still exist today. That was kinda depressing.

Here’s a sampling:

Site What was/is it? Status
NZ English to US English Dictionary My friend Nina, a Kiwi, talked funny. I used this to understand her. Alive
Pulpculture Don’t remember Dead
Voice of American Pronunciation Guide I once thought I was a cosmopolitan and wanted to learn to pronounce everyone’s name right. Alive
Plan 59 Cool midcentury commercial art. Great for slide decks. Alive
Geneva and Aron’s Wedding Page A website for my friends’ wedding. Dead, though they’re still happily married
Baseball Strategy Guide for baseball strategy, I guess. Dead
Dodger Blues A frustrated Dodger fans making me laugh. Alive, but dormant since 2012
Bike Summer NYC A group/event I followed back in 2003. Dead
Pike 2 Bike Tunnel Trail A bike trail in Pennsylvania that Sarah and I were going to ride one day Dead, and we never rode it
Cosmic Baseball Association: Bolex Poetics An imaginary baseball team comprised of experimental filmmakers Alive, shockingly
DVDxDV Handbrake before there was Handbrake Alive
Independent Student Media Project It might have been related to the Iraq War Dead
Commanderson Communication Studies professor Tim Anderson Dead, though the professor still lives
Count Smokula Accordion-playing clown for the hipster set Alive, but dormant since 2005
Contaminated Records A record label, I guess Dead
Dot Dash NYC Rock ‘n’ roll music promoters Dead
Siberia Bar Dive bar and music venue near Port Authority Bus Terminal Dead
dINbOT Musician Dead
Quarterslot Music performer named Jessica-something. Also, I was her TA Dead
Bloody Panda Dark metal band that had its day for a while. Dead
Nineteenth Century Slang Dictionary A fun resource, probably where I looked up the term “grass widow Dead

I’d go on, listing more of them, but I already feel old and sad enough without plunging any further. At one time, my bookmark collection, and the sites collected therein, meant something to me. They either provided some utility, some insight, or even a laugh, but now, years later, they’re gone. And had I not impulsively followed one of them, they would all have been forgotten, too.

There’s some truth to the claim that the Internet never forgets, a fact that makes me think twice before I post something here. But there’s something else that’s also true about us and our digital artifacts. Someday, we will all be dead. And once our domain registrations expire and our hosting plans don’t renew, our web sites will be dead, too. Just like us.

As for the Standpipe Gallery that initially piqued my curiosity and triggered this post, I figured out that it was a gallery founded by Alison Pierz, the wife of a grad-school colleague. Much like the website, the gallery no longer exists. However, there’s an “archive” available of the work shown there over the years. It survives as a Facebook page.

  1. If I remember correctly, for a time, there was even some issue with browser lock-in. Your Netscape bookmarks would not easily transfer to Internet Explorer, or vice-versa, or maybe, I’m just making that up. 

Speed Doesn’t Always Kill

Yesterday, I linked to a Wall Street Journal article criticizing television networks for speeding up movies and television episodes to squeeze in more time for commercials. While an informed first-impression might react in horror at such a practice, I argued that it’s no big whoop for two reasons.

  1. TV broadcasts and in-class screenings are, at best, proxies for the original work. No one should expect these viewings to be the canonical version of a film or a first-run broadcast.
  2. Whereas time and pacing might be crucial for some films, speeding up a film by 2-4% doesn’t really matter for other works. An educated expert in film history and aesthetics like me should be able to determine when it’s appropriate and when it’s not.

All of this was before I had read Marco Arment’s defense of letting people listen to podcasts at whatever speed he/she wants, published on Tuesday. He has an interest in the matter because he developed Overcast), a popular podcatching app for iOS. One of the unique features of that app is Smart Speed, which allows listeners to skip moments of silence to reduce the overall listening time of the program. In his nuanced argument, he distinguishes between certain podcasts, where timing and pauses are essential, and other podcasts where it is less relevant. He notes:

Podcasts (and video) are impossible to skim effectively, but we can vary our listening speed. Just as not every article is worth reading slowly and completely, not every podcast is This American Life. Even most episodes of This American Life aren’t as timing-sensitive as the Mike Daisey retraction. Some podcasts are painstakingly crafted, artistic “storytelling” shows, but most aren’t, by far.

The same is true for most feature films and television programs. There are some works where pace and tempo absolutely matter and others where it does not. As I wrote yesterday, I would never speed up a Hitchcock or Maya Deren film—or an episode of The Wire—because speed and tempo absolutely matters in those works. The same is true for even less artistic works, but it takes a trained and experienced viewer to know when it does matter. For example, in college, a well-respected film professor—I won’t say who—confessed that she “skimmed” certain silent films at double speed because, in her expert opinion, the time saved outweighed the original intent of some long-dead hack studio filmmaker making five films a week (my words, not hers).

One of the unique aspects of Overcast is its approach to reducing listening time. Most other podcatching apps simply allow listeners to speed up playback. For example, Downcast for iOS allows listeners to audition a podcast at 1.5x and 2.0x speed.1 I have used Downcast for years but never used its 1.5x/2.0x feature because it altered the pitch to such a degree that l simply couldn’t enjoy the content. Smart Speed in Overcast, on the other hand, is a compromise. It retains the same pitch, a crucial aspect of sonic fidelity, but also allows listeners to “skim” the content. Reducing the moments of silence might be terrible for a chilling interview on 60 Minutes, but it might not matter as much for a group of journalists discussing the television industry, despite the fact that both are excellent, informative, and well-produced programs.

You can be doctrinal about screening and auditioning things at their original speed, but as with everything good and holy in this world, it is more complicated than you might have initially thought. That’s why we have to make our own decisions about balancing our precious time, in-class discussion (or advertising minutes), and the integrity of a work.

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  1. Remember, that I have only sped up fewer than ten screening and only at 1.02x–1.04x.