Friday, August 25, 2006


"Imagination is more important
than knowledge."

-Albert Einstein

One of the many buzz words used in describing the complexities of the "new" media is convergence. I think I got a good idea of what is meant this week. Oxford describes it as "a coming together or towards the same point." The guys at Google, however, have much bigger ideas. Simply put, they want to organise all the information in the world into accessible (through them of course) and convenient services. That's a big task. Personally, I enjoy turning the pages of a good book, and the feel it has in my hands. I don't really need to read everything online. I suppose some people do. That's what they are betting, anyway.

Because in farming I can spend hours sitting on a tractor, I like to be informed and entertained, and podcasts are a brilliant way of doing that. The concept of convergence dawned on me as I was listening to a BBC Archive documentary downloaded that morning, about what is actually going on in this fastest of growing internet companies, and enjoying the tour of their California facilities from my tractor in New Zealand by a British Broadcaster. That night, as I was channel surfing for a decent movie, I switched to the National Radio, where the same programme was being played over my satellite TV connection. That is convergence. The old model of having a "broadcast" pushed on us through one device is replaced by our ability to pull the content we want in a "narrowcast" delivery, i.e. when we like, how we like, and on what what we like. A growing number of different formats and distribution channels available on a growing number of different types of devices, all to reach a single point: the mind of the consumer. A quiet but very significant change in our media consumption patterns.

And don't think those admen aren't thinking of new ways to get you to consume more products as fast as they can in this new environment, either. That's why, when you do a Google search, your key words are sought out feverishly by companies who pay Google big bucks to have their ads come up in nanoseconds along with your search results, just in case you want to buy something related to whatever it is you are searching for. Pretty clever. Clever enough anyway to get the geek founders a few billion in their pockets.

A good friend and mentor once told me there was no shortage of information, only a shortage of attention. I think about that often, as I keenly take part in as many new media adventures as I am able. Not that I am addicted to information, it is more a fascination with the convergence factor that I am looking at. I like to stay informed in order to make personal choices that will best reflect my values and priorties. Social networking sites that have become so popular like MySpace and Facebook, have no appeal to me. I prefer to look someone in the eye and communicate, particularly if it is a matter of getting to know them for the first time. Typing in a social context? I don't think so.

And I am glad that those clever chaps that sit behind computer screens all day are coming up with useable gadgets, too. Like the record player that will play your vinyl, and convert (there it is again) it at the same time to a CD. I don't know, but I think the same is available for audiocassettes, another one of those anachronistic products from oh, so many decades ago. Although gathering from what the sage of sages Bob Dylan has to say in a recent Rolling Stone article, nothing much is worth listening to now anyway, because the recording is so poor. Having seen the Bob live in concert, I know what he means, but we have what we have.

In another universe, or one that exists outside of the digital realm anyway, the astronomers who seem to like to do this sort of thing, have decided Pluto is no longer a planet. I don't know what that means to my astrology chart, but hopefully they will find some more interesting science to report on in space other than nomenclature.

If that is a Mission Impossible, it won't be starring the overexposed and outspoken Tom Cruise, who has parted ways with one of the big studios in Hollywood, with all parties claiming the high ground. Never a fan myself, I recognise similarities to very cultish and arrogant behaviour in his shameless self marketing. What Scientology has to offer as a base of understanding has not been well served by his example in my opinion. Who knows, maybe they all did land here in space ships millions of years ago? Perhaps they could return and take their celebrity type converts back for some more relaxed re-programming. Converge, baby!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

All Things Considered

"We need to respect the fact that it is possible to
know without knowing why we know,
and - sometimes - we are better off that way".

-Malcolm Gladwell

Why do we know what we know? In Malcolm Gladwells groundbreaking social work Blink, he makes the case for intuition quite lucid and mainstream. More than a boook about snap judgements and "thin slicing, it goes to the core of the psyche as a valuable tool in the collection of life instruments to be respected and enhanced. Sometimes we just know. Most times we need to experience. The difference is what he explains so well with varied examples.

Feeling "winter" in New Zealand is an exhilarating and elemental exercise. The skies change rapidly, almost as if in synchronisation with moods. There are as many different types of days as there are moods, I suppose. I had a nice urban walk around downtown Auckland with a friend the other night, and it was invigorating not just because of the winter weather, but also because it is a vibrant and changing city. New people, new ideas, new architecture. There was the flea market in Aotea square, the Mexican Cafe, the Academy theatre, the library. All established stops on my downtown journeys. Yet the feel is that a change is underway, and the newer, ethnically diverse, and creative inhabitants (many of whom live in older buildings now as CBD apartments) are making their mark. Fashion, food, film, fun. All things a good city should have, and Auckland is well on its way.

Definitely not winterish (because it isn't right now in the Northern Hemisphere), is the kayak with the glass bottom from that famous store-that-has-everything, Hammacher and Schlemmer in New York, would be a must-have for the summers out here on Waiheke.

Another fascinating piece of design is the floating bed, which I can only presume, will give the user a new and uplifitng experience. Gotta love it.

Arguably the most famous footballer in the world, David Beckham, can now no longer count on a place in his national team. This is definitely the passing of an era, and although he has had his critics en masse, as the English press can so quickly become, I believe he still has skills that keep him at the top level of the game. At 31, it must be a difficult pill to swallow. He was one of the standout players for England at the failed World Cup bid (which is not saying much), but as the captain he took responsibility for the loss, and showed great character. He is not a bad businessman either, and with an annual income of well over $100 million in salary and endorsements, he won't be hurting. "Brand Beckham" still has a bit more in it. But for a professional athlete, it is the competition that counts, and under his leadership, they never achieved their potential. Later, Becks.

A couple of good pieces on my favourite subject, food and farming. One from the Worldwatch Institute on the Tipping Point for American agriculture, and the other on the popularity of old fashioned Food Markets in Britain. All this leads to consistently to the movement of people wanting to know more about what they are putting into their body. Where it comes from, who grew it and how, and what is in it. Not altogether an unreasonable request, given what can be fed to us in the name of food these days. Good reading.

If you are still travelling by air (and it is hard to avoid depite the mounting inconveniences), there are ways to get the seat you want for whatever reason. This NYTimes article shows you how. It won't tell you how to get past the endless security checkpoints, as they is here to stay, it would appear.

Great gallery of rainbows if you are so inclined. They are plentiful at this time of year down here, and enjoyable diversions.

And finally, from both ends of the sustainability spectrum, the Space Agency NASA has found something quite useful to do with all of its hi tech resources. That is, search for the elusive Ivory Billed Woodpecker, last seen in some of the Mississippi River valleys. Go guys! And then, the big automakers, who will do whatever it takes to sell more cars, are making sure their new models are equipped to easily fit iPods. I hope no one is driving near me while they are navigating their iPod playlist and surfing the web on their cellphone! Take a walk.

Friday, August 04, 2006

As It Is In Heaven

"Whatever satisfies the soul
is truth."

- Walt Whitman

The title of this post is the name of a extraordinary Swedish movie I just saw a couple of days ago, and have been thinking about ever since.

It is the story of a passionate and world famous conductor, who according to his doctors, has a heart that is simply "worn out". He returns to his childhood village for what he is not sure, and soon becomes involved in the local church choir. His life dream was always to create music that "opened people's hearts", and the willing group of singers under his guidance, come to realise what he is saying is much more than how to sing. His life is changed as his dream unfolds, and so is theirs. Well worth the time to see and hear this story.

Meanwhile, my favourite bike race has been plagued with more doping issues, and it is sad to cheer someone on for a month as they persevere through the Alps and Pyranees and all the lovely French countryside, only to find out they were hurting themselves more than they know for the spoild of victory. There is so much at stake from a financial perspective, that all these top athletes are constantly tempted with the "added edge". Too bad. A writer and amateur cyclist took one of the most gruelling climbs of "Le Tour", and tried it out just to see what it was really like, and the article in Slate is a good insight into what we mere mortals would endure on a race like this.

I am so over the Middle East and their endless wars. Israel doesn't seem to be able to play nicely with any of its neighbours, and the neighbours do not seem to want to play with them. If there weren't 2000 years of this hatred in all of their blood, I would suggest maybe setting up their country somewhere else. Oops, I suppose that could be anti-semitism. People need a home sure, but countries are overrated. Sorry, I don't think the Promised Land really exists. There is no ideal place.
But what about South America somewhere? Just a thought.

Anyway, what ever these young guys think up next on the net always fascinates me, and these guys on WeFeelFine.Com have a site that data mines all the blogs, and categorises all the feelings that are shared by people, who, evidently do that sort of thing online... Then it is turn it into art, which I think is pretty cool. They are no doubt looking right now if I express any "feelings", so they can add to their database. Go for it.

But then there are the gems of multimedia, such as this collaboration of Franz Lanting and Philip Glass, called A Journey Through Time, which is some extraordinary nature photography accompanied by music. Worth a look. The NPR podcasts are really a goldmine, and I enjoy their programmes immensely.

I don't really care what Mel Gibson does or does not do, and who he slanders, for he will have to deal with it eventually. I don't really even like his movies. But apparently alot of people do, judging by the amount of press his arrest got. Which incidentally was all about his alledged anti-semetic remarks rather than his driving under the influence of alcohol. What is more important? Anyway, the blogosphere lights up with these sort of things, and this YouTube video really sums up a bit of nonsense. Pretty funny. In a sad sort of way.

And the final little tidbit of rather useless, but interesting information gleened from my limitless curiosity, is this NYTimes article on the alchemists of old, and their somewhat dubious legacy that is now being re evalued by modern chemists and scientists. An open mind would probably solve the majority of our challenges in the world today, so well done.