Tag Archives: technology

LINUX MUSIC PLAYERS: RECOMMENDATIONS

A music player should serve to enhance the pleasure of how you perceive, collect, and connect with your music collection. When I used to use Macintosh computers, I exclusively used iTunes as it came directly installed with my iBook. I appreciated the ease of use, while not caring at all about the design of the interface. It was easy to use and neatly organized. That made me happy. Several years later (and several broken Macintosh computers later), I sensed a lack in the iTunes environment; a sterility and heartlessness. Looking for alternatives, I came across Songbird, which I still use on one Windows computer. The add-on features of Songbird were appealing to me. Giddy was the day when I found I could listen to music, write blog posts and watch Youtube videos all at the same time from within Songbird. However, that thrill faded as I began to yearn for a music player that was simply a music player and nothing more. I wanted simplicity. I wanted an application that would help pull my attention to the music, provide a beautiful and clean environment for listening and be neatly organized.

Jumping forward to 2007, I began running Ubuntu Linux and was impressed with the wide variety of music players available, all open-source and all varied in design and functionality. The Ubuntu Linux music players that I have used include the following:

1. Amarok
2. Audacious
3. Banshee
4. BMPX
5. Banshee
6. Exaile
7. Juk
8. Kaffeine
9. Rhythmbox

Of the above-listed nine players, and writing this now in 2008, only two have thoroughly impressed me and gave me that warm fuzzy feeling that has a tendency to get lost in listening to a music “file.” The first one, which I appreciate is “Audacious.” Audacious, with its simple light interface provides all I need to allow the music to come forth from the player, to lose the player. It doesn’t bog me down and it creates a nice atmosphere from which to simply listen. The second, apparently made by the same folks (correct me if I’m wrong) is BMPX. With BMPX, it seems that strict attention was paid to both the form and function of the player; the player comes alive. The typeface that the designers chose is sleek and clear, while the design is easy to manage and appealing. Everything seems to fit just right. Also, it makes adding your LastFM account a breeze and allows an easily accessible internet radio browsing function. Through applications like Audacious and BMPX, one is able to regain the sense of magic that comes with listening to music. Granted, listening to music files is definitely not the same experience as listening to a nice piece of vinyl or a cassette tape, but these programs provide a nice alternative for those of us who have amassed a large collection of music files and seek out a worth player, a player that will satisfy us.

Of course, my tastes and your tastes differ. I hope you find the best music player for your listening pleasure. Thank you for reading.

Audacious
BMPX

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Friendfeed Through a Systems Looking Glass: Feeding the Beast

love

The following is a systems approach to the increasingly popular website Friendfeed. Recently, there have been many articles written about this site (I will provide links at the end of this post). I have written what follows through a Media Ecology systems framework with the hopes of “fleshing out” the system known as “Friendfeed.” The inspiration from this piece comes from various writings by Neil Postman.

Where Lies The Purpose

The purposes of Friendfeed are to accumulate and aggregate shared content from different social media websites. In turn, the aggregated content can then be re-shared, commented upon and “liked.” One can find purposes in this such as tracking brand popularity and public opinion, finding other relevant sources that may relate to content that you like or creating a network of information (a “feed”) as deemed relevant by certain “friends” that you subscribe to. Also, there is the purpose of oneself pushing likable or relevant content into the stream.

The Roles

People are assigned the role of “feeder” and “subscriber.” If one achieves a large amount of subscribers, then one’s shared content will potentially reach more people, which then could possibly be fed again back into the system creating a ripple effect of information flow. Subscribing to a large amount of people also results in a dramatic increase in one’s daily information intake depending on the social media activity of the person (or people) whom you are subscribed to.

Assumptions, Keywords and Change

The underlying assumption is that the information that others feed is of importance to themselves, their world, or to those in their knowledge-network. Some keywords that could be assigned to Friendfeed are the following: aggregator, aggregation, social media, lifestream, information-network, media accumulation, sharing and perhaps responsible browsing. The system is changing to the extent that users are starting to post comments about the shared content directly on the Friendfeed stream and not on the particular blog post or shared item’s page. This has upset some bloggers who wish to have their community gather and comment directly on their own blog. Also, it seems that the system will continue to change depending on the social media feeds that are available for feeding. Finally, with the development of various Friendfeed applications, the site is beginning to act as a nexus from which one need not stray too far from. Firefox has already created the “MySocial” Add-on, which neatly integrates Friendfeed into the Firefox Browser.

The effects

The actual effect of Friendfeed on users could be an increased willingness and openness to share content in a public space, the ability to keep track of others through their online activity and even as a search engine function whereby one can search fed content. On a different note, Friendfeed creates a mixing spot where the content that one feeds and “likes” are grouped together under the same feed. Friendfeed works against fragmentation by opening the stream flow of social media, while at the same time creates fragmentation by allowing others to comment on fed material directly through Friendfeed and not through the actual article’s site.

Alternatives and Otherwise

As of writing this post, I am not aware of an alternative to the service that Friendfeed provides and perhaps it is because of this that it has gained so much attention as of late. This leads to the next question: Can we do without Friendfeed? The answer would be “yes, but…” What I mean by this is that due to the fragmention that occurs through the stretching out of oneself via social networking and social media, there is a lot of switching to different websites to keep track of friends and others. Through Friendfeed, one can gather the activity of certain others and monitor activity from a centralized location. Through a Friendfeed application, one can even Tweet through the Friendfeed website itself. While we can do without Friendfeed, it does create an interesting spot from which to perpetuate interesting web media.

This is system is related to other systems of knowing and behaving in a couple ways. First, with the proliferation of social media, there seems to be the desire to “keep in touch” with others, and by keeping in touch I mean, following their web activity. At this point, Friendfeed serves the purpose of being able to stay updated on one’s friends’ social media activity. Also, Friendfeed allows the anonymous tracking of certain others by the creation of an “imaginary” friend, a kind of online social media peeping, in which one can feed the “imaginary friend’s” content. Moreover, this site is a social networking site stripped of its symbolic overload of images and personal self-identification. That is, one’s Friendfeed page is minimal and based solely on streamed content.

Finally, the million dollar Neil Postman question “To what problem is Friendfeed the answer?” It seems that Friendfeed answers the problem of social media fragmentation, information-desire and the interest in anonymous tracking. Also, it acts as a stripped down social networking service constructed solely by one’s and other’s fed content. In this system, the human user is the food that sustains the site, food largely gathered from afar…and shared.

Some articles relating to Friendfeed include, but are not limited to:
Why You Should Use Friendfeed
Ten Friendfeed Visitors Beats 1,000 StumbleUpons Any Day
Friendfeed is This Year’s Twitter, But Why?
Friendfeed Applications
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Deepening Web Communication (Fragments)

Steve Rhodes

Communications theorist Lee Thayer once wrote, “We ‘dilute’ the world by having an idea of it; and the intent of our words is, more often than not, to eliminate the world as resistance (Thayer 190).” As languaging creatures, our comprehension of the world is at once in direct contact with it (with certain spatial areas, horizons, surfaces, humans) and at the same time a part from it via language, creative expression, technology and so so on. That is to say, our ways of grasping the world is usually, most of the time, extending beyond the immediate here-and-now concreteness of reality, projecting ourselves onto things and others. Even when we are engaged in the concrete and ever-flowing “now,” we almost without control cover it over and lose what it could be with our self-talk or with symbolic complexes about how it should be. In the above quotation Thayer is calling us to think about the ways in which we understand our worlds, the ways in which we conceptually apprehend the concrete (via language) and how, perhaps, our talking serves the purpose of watering down the absolute harshness of the physical world.

Isolation

To use one example, in my current life situation I interact with computers everyday at home and at work. Just this evening, standing outside, I opened up my mobile phone, connected to the Web and checked my email. To some extent, the sense of aloneness, of isolation is swallowed up by the thought of being connected to a larger non-physical network of others. Moreover, for some of us, how much have we come to completely rely on Web communication for a large amount of the “real” communication that we crave, that we fail to engage while at work or even with friends? The temptation of connect may be seen as the temptation to substitute the “real” world for a virtual one, but I don’t think that things are this easy. Sure, it is nice to partake in micro-blogging or facebook updates, in order to keep relevant others “updated,” but what happens when one steps away from all of it? Moreover, how have our conversations changed…do we converse in 140 characters or less, I wonder?

I think that for those of us that engage in various forms of social media, the spreading out and fragmenting of ourselves, while creating small pockets of self-identity and self-representation have the consequences of widening the sense of isolation instead of eliminating it. Spreading oneself across the social media spectrum for research purposes or curiosity may be beneficial if put to good use, but even then, too much talk about nothing, too much reliance on Web communication creates a false sense of togetherness. No matter what, the computer still sits on the table, in the room, in the house, in the city, etc…The objectness of the computer disappears while we are engaged with it.

The Deep

In the same essay as the above mentioned quotation, Thayer writes, “What has happened is that we have come to mistake our reach for our grasp. With the modernization of consciousness has come belief that information is a reasonable substitute for knowledge, and that knowledge, rationally accumulated, is a reasonable substitute for wisdom (Thayer 183).” Too much self-fragmentation into the voids of social media may serve to satisfy a temporary hunger, a quick fix on news, technological advances and so on, but what is happening in the accumulation of quick fix knowledge? It seems to me that the self that consists of a diet of aggregated feeds, comes to accumulate more information than necessary and, as a result, not really use that accumulated knowledge. Reaching too far and pulling everything in is tempting, but wasteful and shallow. When I say “shallow,” I mean quickly reading something for the purpose of simply taking it in without making it a part of oneself, without spending time with it and allowing it to work its magick on you. Reading an aggregated feed is much different than reading a book just as “tweeting” on Twitter is much different than engaging in a conversation while sharing a bottle of wine. The depth of communication is at stake in both examples.

Pondering

If ours is a situation in which we language the world, in which the world becomes the way it is talked about and made sense, then what are some ways that we can strive to create and enact the most beautiful possible world? Moreover, if ours is a technological world, how can we deepen our communicative grasp through the social networks which we use? Finally, if ours is a fragmented world, what are some ways that we can stitch some vital fragments back together, ways in which we can come to deepen and enrich our human lives through the technological? Perhaps, these too, are some of my hopes for Web 3.0

*The two quotations were taken from the essay “Communication: Reach vs. Grasp,” which is in Lee Thayer’s book “Pieces: Toward a Revisioning of Communication/Life.”

Photo by Steve Rhodes (CC)

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Web 3.0: Social Hybrid

Complex

Today, I read the following article which discusses speculations regarding Web 3.0 and asks the question, “What would you like Web 3.0 to be?” The article is from Soshable and can be read here: Soshable: Web 3.0

Webster defines “hybrid” in the following way:

1: an offspring of two animals or plants of different races, breeds, varieties, species, or genera
2: a person whose background is a blend of two diverse cultures or traditions
3 a: something heterogeneous in origin or composition : composite b: something (as a power plant, vehicle, or electronic circuit) that has two different types of components performing essentially the same function

The idea of two different species of websites merging together interests me very much, but beyond this I am weary about centralization, worried about the flow covering over my discovery of potential useful information. After having read about FriendFeed from several social media blogs, I created my account and began “sharing.” What immediately struck me was the absolute minimalism of one’s profile page, the strict focus on the data-stream as opposed to the development of one’s self through the use of symbols (as greatly seen on MySpace). However, without any “friends” on FriendFeed to keep track of, I visited the “Everyone” page to observe the conversational flow. What immediately stuck out was the frequent Twitter feeds that wouldn’t quit and proved quite distracting, until I realized that I was essentially merely an observer. After sharing a link, I watched as it quickly vanished into the nether world, just another blip from someone on the other side of the world. This kind of fast-moving meaningless glimpse at the snippets of conversations, makes me realize the necessity of adding “friends” to the Friendfeed site. Ah, I have digressed. Where was I? Ah yes, Social Hybridity.

Under a Black Sky, Disconnected

As I was walking outside this evening under the black Japan sky amidst the industrial bleakness of the suburbs, I began to really think what feature I would like to see emerge in Web 3.0. I began thinking about the idea of more online literature, downloadable books perhaps merging with a literary networking site, but then I realized that I am still very much attached to a real book, the feeling of turning the pages, savoring the textures of the book…

Returning to the Tower of Babel

Then, I had a thought. What is it that would make interacting with others easier? What am I missing in the chatter that comes from languages that I have never studied and do not understand? The separation of tongues was also very evident on the “FriendFeed” “everyone” viewing experience. I saw random Twitters and blog posts in foreign languages appear and, upon refreshing the page, washed away. What may be interesting, although it is perhaps quite far-fetched, would be a social networking site with emphasis on international linguistic diversity and some kind of function which would translate the other’s language into the language of my choice and vice versa. Of course, this is far-fetched in that even with advanced online translators, we all know that the task of translating from one language to another loses something, there is something that the computerized translation software cannot grasp and cannot adequately express. The slang, the nuance, sarcasm and word-play tend to get lost when filtered through the computerized translator. In my dream space, this would be realizable. That is, I would like to see a site with emphasis on translatability, on being able to see a page in Chinese appear in English with 99% of its natural flare in tact. Moreover, through a chat function, my words would be instantly translated to the other and the other’s to me, in our mother tongue. Perhaps, this would be one of my hopes for social hybridity.

However, there is one obvious consequence of this idea of linguistic hybridity that comes to mind and that is a decline in the challenge to learn a language. Therefore, perhaps the site could also feature a rich translation tool that allows one to see just how words are being translated, online language lessons and the history of the development of the language (a kind of built-in Wiki). Of course, the site could also host various podcasts, international vlogs, downloadable educational content and the like. Eduction + Interaction.

Think Tank Create Tank

Another idea that comes to mind is a space that allows those wishing to collaborate on a project, brainstorm ideas visually and textually, working together to create some kind of multimedia project across the platform of a social networking site. For example, three musicians existing in three different countries come together through the site and are able to upload music files to their perhaps “private” group space online (on the SNS site), the site also provides a voice chat option/web cam option and spaces for sketching ideas visually and taking notes. In this way, the musicians at their own pace can work to collaborate on a piece of music, editing it in their own countries at the own homes, but uploading it and editing it through the social networking site itself. One may visualize this as a kind of think tank social networking site for professionals to meet, network and work together. Of course, not only musicians but video artists, online poets, fashion designers, architects, urban planners and virtual reality designers as well could use this page.

I realize that both of the ideas presented here are macro in scope devoid of any technical way of making these ideas happen, but they are just to get the juices flowing, so to speak. Social hybridity, social hybridity, social hybridity…

Questions

So now I pass it on to you….what are your hopes for Web 3.0 and what problems would you like see solved? The Media Ecologist Neil Postman asked the question, “What problem is this new technology the solution?” I am curious as to what your online “problems” are and how new socially minded applications could help solve them?

Media Uniforms and RFID Tags: The Future of Japanese Wearable Technology? (Interface Humanities)

Hand with the planned location of the RFID chipImage from WikipediaThe study of Interface Humanities is a form of study introduced by Osaka University president and published philosopher, Kiyokazu Washida among others. The basis behind Interface Humanities seems to be the study of our use of interfaces and how they redefine “self” and “other.” Moreover, I think it can be the study and criticism of our uses of these interfaces, technological critiques and ethical considerations. It is sad that most of the research done in Japan has not been translated into English. However, there is a relevant online journal with both English and Japanese called “Nature Interface,” which can be found here: Nature Interface. Given time, I will do my best to translate some Japanese articles into English. Today, I will be briefly talking about wearable technology as presented in an issue of “Nature Interface.”

The article that I read discusses the idea of “Media Uniforms,” which are uniforms with wearable computers or displays such as ID tags or RFID (Radio Frequency Identification). The article seems to take a very innocent and positive approach to the idea of “wearable interfaces” and provides no critique of its possible harmful consequences.

The first point made in the article is the gap between engineers and fashion designers, that is, the lack of a strong fashion point in the marketing of the computerized clothing. They seem to be suggesting that given the support of a good designer, the idea of wearable technology would become more appealing to youth culture. It doesn’t seem to hard to imagine wearable-computerized interfaces spreading through Tokyo.

Second, the idea that “RFID Tags Can Make Management Easier” is brought up. That is, the company that is being talked about in the article (CHIKUMA Ltd.) state that they recycle old uniforms using them to experiment with and/or transform them into usable material for projects in different fields (as they say: acoustic and heat insulators). Also, with the implementation of RFID tags, the person who disposes of a certain piece of clothing can be tracked and an evaluation of the disposal method can be made in accord with environmental concerns. In this way, they are apparently promoting responsibility and environmental care. It should be noted that they are apparently not talking about one’s personal clothing, but with uniforms, perhaps owned by a company (i.e. the disposal and re-use of a security uniform would be monitored).

The third point made in the article is the idea of “Uniforms with Real-Time Advertisement Display.” For example, Tommy Lee Jones recently did an advertising campaign here in Japan for BOSS can coffee. Imagine, you go to the convenience store and buy a can of BOSS coffee. Upon checking out, your can is scanned and lo-and-behold, on the chest of the part-time high school student working behind the counter, a computerized screen turns on and there is Tommy Lee’s smiling face thanking you for buying the coffee. Or, as is suggested in the article, upon renting a certain DVD, when scanned, a transmission is sent from a computer in the rental shop to your wearable interface giving you a free movie preview of an upcoming film by the same company that funded the film that you just rented.

In this way, CHIKUMA Ltd. is wishing to pave the way for a new form of wearable-computerized advertising technology. Instead of the static print advertisement, a moving full-color interactive wearable-computerized advertisement, portable and perhaps personalized to your consumer habits. What interests me is this positive approach to this article gives no form of criticism or concerns. Perhaps, if I read deeper into “Nature Interface,” I will find some answers, but for now I will have to create some probes of my own.

The idea of a track-able and monitored uniform further fragments the self while obliterating personal privacy. Not to mention, viral attacks, system errors or identity theft come to mind as valid possible problems. Moreover, how is the experience of self and other affected by this intrusion of privacy? With the RTAD, what possible consequences do you see? Could someone not perhaps track one’s consumer habits, store those habits while using them to collect data? Does this not already happen in our internet shopping experience? Furthermore, what are hegemonic consequences of what gets advertised and what doesn’t? What happens to the smaller companies with no capital to push their products on the wearable advertising market? I think that, being the visually minded creatures that we are, there is something much more alluring about a moving display as opposed to a static T-shirt advertisement. That is to say, there is a big difference between wearing a T-shirt of the band U2 and having one of their music videos being played on your wearable uniform? I can just imagine a store clerk at a corporate music store having to wear a uniform with an increasingly annoying two minute loop of “new and hot releases.”

I am an amateur when it comes to examining RFID tags. If you wish to share links, please do. Thank you for reading. The original article that I dissected today can be found here: Case Study: From Japan – Wearable Computers That Have Started to Approach Our Daily Life

A Virtual Partner: Questions and Concerns

I recently read an interesting article, the title: “More Japanese cutting out the middleman with dating sims and sex toys” published in English translation on the Mainichi Daily News website. This article discusses the rising use of “dating” computer software games, masturbatory aids and frigidity common among young Japanese men (and women). My initial thoughts on this come through Masahiro Morioka’s work and the concern that with the rise of the virtual (anime, comic books, AV movies) real “flesh and blood” women will become obsolete. That is, if men can find a suitable and stimulating virtual outlet for dating and romance, then the idea that one must be in a relationship with a real woman, obsolesces.

I wonder if the more public a society makes it’s pornography, the more men come to see the images of the women as being real enough, so as to not need interaction with a real person? That is, perhaps, as the image of woman as an erotic object increases, the distance between men’s interest in real women also increases. The gap widens. And, in Japan, it is hard to escape from the publicity of the scantily clad female image and the ease with which one can access such media. One only need to ride the train, visit any convenience store, certain districts in any big city or video rental shop, to see the prevalence of the erotic female image (not to mention the eroticization of schools, hospitals, authority figures and just about anything else you can imagine).

I also wonder if this preference for virtual women and virtual pleasure is a consequence of such a media driven country? What does it mean to be in a relationship with a virtual person who is programmed to respond to your typed input? How does one’s interaction with such a program influence one’s ability to communicate with real “flesh and blood” people? How does or how can a relationship flourish and be challenged under such conditions? Moreover, how is the idea of “pleasure” transformed through such media?

I would like to briefly turn to Alan Watts as he writes about what he wants in a female partner. From his essay “What on Earth are We Doing?” he writes, “I want a female companion who will, alternatively, melt into me and wrestle with me, obey me and object to me, admire me and then suddenly show that she can do so many things much better than I (Watts 137).” In what ways do simulated women and men wrestle with one’s existence and challenge one to achieve and imagine? What growth for relationships does the virtual environment offer?

Original link to article: http://mdn.mainichi.jp/culture/waiwai/news/20080304p2g00m0dm005000c.html