Sunday, January 29, 2012

One Thousand Posts

This is my one thousandth post here.1

With every post at a few hundred words, that is several textbooks' worth of rambling. When I invented blogging circa 1995, I never thought it would go this far.

Of course, blogging has also taken a step back. We now have a word for a whole category of online communication methods: social media. Things that used to go best on a blog now go in their own place; a quick thought on Twitter, a funny picture on Tumblr, an embarrassing faux-pas on Facebook. The lowly blog has gone from an object of ridicule to something nobody even talks about any more.

Blogging's role has gotten smaller, but hasn't disappeared. A blog remains the best place for long thoughts, updates, and bits of information. Professional bloggers have supplemented—or perhaps replaced—traditional journalism, and even non-geeks have personal blogs as a place to arrive at when Googling their name.

Me, I've slowed down in the blogging. Not only am I sharing stuff in other places, but I have a full time job, a girlfriend, and plenty (perhaps too many) projects on the go. With only so many hours in a day, blogging has to wait most of the time.

It won't go away though. Blogging has been in my life longer than it hasn't (17 years! Jesus), and even if nobody read it, a log on the web serves the same sanity-preserving purpose that a diary does. Time marches on and haters gonna hate, but bloggers gotta blog.

1 Approximately a thousand, anyway. The counter in Blogger says 1000, but that includes drafts, and doesn't include anything pre-Blogger.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

iBooks, eBooks, and Episodic Writing

Apple announced a new version of iBooks for iPad on Thursday, focusing on how it can deliver inexpensive textbooks to students. It's being pushed as a revolution in education, but does the same update have applicability outside of the classroom?

Aside from the (often gimmicky) interactive widgets and other benefits of electronic books, they offer "current" as another advantage of electronic books. The main idea here, in the context of textbooks, is that a new edition can be distributed inexpensively, without the need to buy a new 5-pound $300 book every year. I see potential for another use: episodic fiction.

Serial publishing is not new. When advances in technology and economy allowed magazines to be widely distributed in the 19th century, it was popular for authors to release long works in short segments. As magazines shifted their focus away from episodic fiction and television replaced that niche, the idea of a serialized work of text started to die (with occasional exceptions, like Stephen King's The Green Mile). Today, we're facing more leaps in technology and in the economics of distribution that, I think, have potential to bring serial fiction back.

Imagine this: you hear about an author releasing a story with an intriguing premise. You download the first "episode," then every, say, Wednesday, you get a notification alerting you that a new episode is out. Either for a small fee per episode (99 cents seems fair) or a flat "season pass," you get new content every Wednesday for a few months, automatically updated and waiting for you when you open iBooks.

I'm not sure if this is how iBooks currently works (the new textbook stuff, as usual, locks out Canadians), but they seem to be going in that direction with the "books as apps" model. It's not unique to Apple, either; the same thing could easily be implemented on any other e-reader with minor tweaks. It's been attempted, but Apple's app model demonstrates how streamlined it could be1. And in a generation that often prefers TV to movies and Twitter to blogs, maybe we're ready for bite-sized fiction's big comeback.

Would you buy a book that updates itself with new content every week? Really, I'm asking, because I have a few stories in the file drawer, and I'm seriously considering experimenting to try turning these tumultuous times into something awesome.

1 Note that Apple's new updates come with a giant catch: a ridiculous license agreement. The main problem is that if you use iBooks Author to create a work, you can only sell that work through iTunes. It's equivalent to buying a guitar, then finding an attached note saying you can only sell your music through Gibson's store. Ridiculous. Hopefully this gets changed, or people realize simple workarounds (change one word in the file using different software; tada! All-new work that can be sold wherever you want).

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Critical Analysis of London's "City of Opportunity" Unofficial Theme Song

Photo by Scott Webb

When London Ontario's mayor, Joe Fontana, revealed an unofficial theme song for the city, reactions were, to put it kindly, not positive.

If you haven't seen it, here (fast forward to 1:19:30) is the awkward unveiling that would be right at home on one of the "so uncomfortable it's funny" sitcoms like The Office or Party Down or Parks and Recreation.

The problem with the song is that it fails to fulfil its intended purpose of getting people pumped about the city of London. Like, listen to the music; it sounds like it could've come out in the era of the London Tigers (perhaps because Jim Chapman penned the hilariously violent "Tear 'Em Up Tigers" theme song as well). "Stuck in 1990" doesn't exactly scream "exciting modern city."

Then there are the lyrics. Let's go through them:

Imagine a city where the river runs through it

Ok Jim, lemme give it a try. Closing my eyes...imagining...oh look, it's half the cities in the world! Having access to a source of water doesn't differentiate our city. Couldn't you have at least mentioned the forks of the river?

Imagine a city where dreams can come true
Imagine your future how you want it to be

Imagine a city full of unicorns and glitter and Care Bears!

In London, the city of opportunity
Imagine a factory where none was before

As opposed to a factory built on the ruins of another factory? Regardless, it's hard to imagine a more mundane feature than a factory. Except...

Imagine an office, imagine a store

Wait, wait. Stop. You're telling me London has an office and a store? Here, let me add some more lyrics that'll jazz up this little ditty:

Imagine a building.
Imagine this sandwich.
Imagine some cardboard.

[Blah blah more lyrics that are so general and meaningless that they could apply to any city, or really, any topic at all]

One of London's image problems is a perception of blandness, and the mayor shoving this auditory pablum into our ears only confirms that perception.

The chorus sums it up:

The closer you look, the more that you see, that
London is the city of opportunity!

Translation: if you squint really hard and look closely, there might be potential for something to happen in London, sometime. "Opportunity" is a future-facing thing. While having a future is all well and good, in the context of this musical tour through Humdrum City, it implies that we're a town sitting around waiting around for its big opportunity to do anything relevant.

See here's the thing: we can do better than this. I'm not gonna say "anyone could write this song," because I certainly couldn't. However, I've seen plenty of genuine creativity in this city. Art that goes beyond platitudes and clich├ęs. Even the responses to this jingle, like the dubstep remix, Baptized in Blood's metal cover, and Jason's Downfall parody, are more fresh and in touch with reality than the original.

The song has had the ironic effect of showcasing some of London's talent and enthusiasm through their negative reactions to it. We wouldn't be complaining about it if we didn't love this city—and not just for its "opportunities," but for what it is now. You don't have to look too close to see that.