What this blog is about

It's an art blog.
Mostly about theatre... but also a healthy dose of pop culture, politics and shameless self-promotion.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Big Buzz about Apple's new iTouch Tablet

Apple logo

Apparently Apps will eventually replace websites

Before now, I had never heard of Apple's iTouch Tablet, but Jason Schwartz has. He's an investment strategist with a pretty good record on predicting trends in the tech world.

According to Jason, the soon-to-be-released iTouch Tablet -- basically an iPhone that has devoured an Amazon Kindle -- is going to start (yet) another revolution in how we utitilize the World Wide Web.

To wit:
The iTouch Tablet is about to change society as we know it. The demand for this product is going to overwhelm Apple.
(Sigh... and I haven't even started a Twitter account yet...)

Jason provides 4 reasons for his hyperbolic conclusion. The one that interested me most was his prediction that people will start to prefer Web Apps over websites to access the Internet. He says:
We are witnessing a transition in the way the Internet is used. Mobile content requires a tailor made user experience that is not efficiently delivered by the traditional website model. Although we have grown accustomed to navigating the Web by browsing websites on our PC, consumers are showing an affinity for the App Store model...

The trend is in place that shows consumers will desire an app rather than visit a website. Perhaps we will one day see that apps are more popular than actual websites.
You can read Jason's full blog post here.

I have no idea whether he's right or wrong... I can't afford an iPhone, and I'm pretty sure the iTouch Tablet will be waaaayyy out of my league.

Before Apple ignites the Web 3.0 revolution, maybe it can start by addressing issues of affordability first.

Happy Harbour Comics EdmontonIn a totally unrelated story, a big congratulations over to Jay Bardyla and Happy Harbour Comics in Edmonton for being nominated for the 2009 Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award at the San Diego Comic Con. This is a world wide competition, and Happy Harbour has been nominated for this prestigious award twice!

Happy Harbour produced the 2007 production of Superhero LIVE! at the Edmonton Fringe festival, and is a huge community organizer. It's not question of why such a fantastic company has been nominated, but rather of when they're finally going to bring the hardware home.

Congrats guys!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Even though we've seen this before... WTF!!!

So blatant, so appalling, so... typical

I haven't really been inspired with righteous political anger on this blog since parliament was prorogued last winter. Time to fire it up again.

Montreal's Divers/Cité festival was denied a $155,000 grant from the federal government's Marquee Tourism Events Program (MTEP), part of the economic stimulus plan.

Divers/Cité features international performers that are homosexual. This year, the festival is scheduled to run July 26 - August 2. Festival organizers found out about losing out on the stimulus money on Tuesday. Yeah... this Tuesday.

This, after festival organizers were assured by federal civil servants at Industry Canada that the Divers/Cité application had met all the MTEP criteria, and was only waiting for final approval from Industry Minister Tony Clement's office.

Clement, who just recently took over the reigns of this program from Tourism Minister Diane Ablonczy, claims that issues of "regional fairness" were the reason why the festival lost out. Since approximately $42M has already been awarded to festivals based in Quebec, he felt he needed to spread the money around.

Couple of things:

1) MTEP is a $100 Million program. The 150K that Divers/Cité requested was just a drop in the bucket. Even if nearly half of the kitty had already been spent in Quebec (about the same amount that has been allocated in Ontario, BTW), would funding Divers/Cité really have made all that much of a difference? But, like I've written before, insignificant amounts of money seem to make no difference to this government when comes to matters of ideology.

2) Clement took over the MTEP file in a flurry of controversy when it was suggested by a Conservative backbencher that the PMO wanted to punish Ablonczy for allocating $400K to Toronto's Pride Week. Conservative MPs vehemently denied it. Even Suzanne Girard, director of Divers/Cité, sprung to the defense of the PMO, saying that right wing elements of the Conservative Party were trying to undermine the government. She said, “It could do exactly what the right wing does, which is block the whole thing and it stops.” Then, Clement confirms everyone's worst fears by yanking funding 4 days before the festival is set to begin.

3) Regional allocation for funding is nowhere to be found in the eligibility criteria for the MTEP. Criteria outlines that only events or festivals that can prove that they attract large numbers of tourists could apply for funding. By the government's own regulations, most of that funding would be streamlined to Ontario and Quebec... which shouldn't be an issue since the demise of these provinces' manufacturing sectors are at the core of the recession, they need the most help.

To me, Clement's claims for trying to check stimulus funds earmarked for Quebec under the guise of "regional fairness" reads like CPC code for "we're just trying to avoid another sponsorship scandal." Which is a sad cover for a blatant appeasement of the Conservative base. Not only does it financially slewfoot an openly homosexual festival, it also addresses other key CPC base points: less public funds for the arts and less money for Quebec.

But really, $150K is nothing. It's really hardly anything to the government's stimulus budget. The stimulus program for infrastructure alone is $12 Billion. GM's Canadian division got a $10.5 Billion bailout.

To me, this is just another sad attempt to appease those in the CPC who have been alienated by the government's... well, governance. But pulling $150K away from one gay festival, when a much larger, more prolific gay festival in Toronto got nearly triple that amount just a few weeks before... seems to me a pretty weak gesture.

That... and a totally disgusting and shameful way to conduct business.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Great Expectations

What does Josh Bell on a street corner teach us?

Recently I got a chain email about taking the time to appreciate art. The email referred to a social experiment that the Washington Post conducted in 2007.

In a nutshell, the Post commissioned violinist Josh Bell to play classical classics on his $3.5 million Stradivarius in the middle of a subway station for change. The question was: would anybody notice?

You can read about how the experiment played out here.

The email got me thinking about theatre producers and our choices of venues when we want to make new work. It made wonder about taking audience types into account.

For example, whenever the Fringe comes into town, I invariably see a Chekov or a Moliere in the program. But is this the right venue for this kind of show? A typical Fringe audience is looking for a specific type of experience. But the same goes for a Soulpepper audience, or a Stratford audience, or a Tarragon audience. Each is particular, and each is looking for something different.

(The wonderful thing about the Fringe is that you can produce anything you want -- I get that. I'm only using it as an example because it's current.)

In Washington, no one stopped to appreciate Bell's music precisely because of the choice of venue. That doesn't make his playing any less brilliant, but I believe the experience of the art is an integral part of the art itself. The audience's expectations are a huge part of that equation.

It's the paradox of community or "amatuer" theatre. Some of the most wonderful theatre can be created in this setting because both the company AND the audience wills it to be brilliant.

Choose your venue; choose your tribe. Knowing your audience means knowing what its expectations are predisposed to be.

If you can connect with your audience, you can both mould those expections and you can exceed them.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Update on "throttling" hearings

Key points of the CRTC Hearings thus far

Check out this great summary on Michael Geist's blog about six key revelations to come out of the CRTC hearings that I mentioned in my last post.

This one surprised me:
The rate of network traffic growth is slowing.
This one enraged me:
Each day brought new and surprising revelations about how little ISPs tell their customers about their traffic management practices. By far the most egregious was Rogers, which admitted that it charges tiered pricing for faster upload speeds but that all tiers were throttled to the same speed when using P2P. In other words, the Extreme subscriber who pays $59.99 per month and is promised fast upload speeds (1 Mbps) actually gets the same upload speed as the Express subscriber who pays $46.99 per month and is promised upload speeds of 512 kbps.
And this one made me laugh:
The ISPs seemed surprised that the Commission regularly asked about the privacy impact of throttling and deep-packet inspection.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Making Money on the Web

Indie artists, new-media journalism and DPI

Yes, the Internet is changing everything.

Following up on last week's post, my buddy Adrian emailed me to discuss some of the ideas in the post in more depth. He writes:
I think things are also in transition, and the piece speaks to that in a way - the 'answers' have not yet come out... the problems and opportunities in the democratization of the arts via the web. It's kind of exciting to be working at such a turning point; it's tough, but exciting to see the conversations happening, people inventing and creating ... like that indie singer/songwriter who managed to make 19k in 11 hours using Twitter, and basically just being creative. But she ended up making the money on merchandise - shirts mostly. Not selling her music. This seems to be the bottom line - the art is a promotional tool - you have to sell something which is not in endless supply (ie: an mp3). But, these can still be creative products which are an extension of your art.
Is this new arts business model? Selling items that are associated with your art while giving your art away for free? Then, magically, Trent Reznor weighed in on the same topic, in entirely different conversation elsewhere in the blogosphere:
The point is this: music IS free whether you want to believe that or not. Every piece of music you can think of is available free right now a click away. This is a fact - it sucks as the musician BUT THAT'S THE WAY IT IS (for now). So... have the public get what they want FROM YOU instead of a torrent site and garner good will in the process...
What's interesting to me is how everyone is trying to rethink traditional models of monetizing their practice in the age of the Internet... and I'm not just talking about the culture sector.

Case in point: journalism. Rebecca over at The Art of the Business points out an insightful article about the future of arts journalism today by András Szántó. He notes:
Amid the doom and gloom about arts journalism [...] innovations offer a glimmer of hope. There is no going back to the cultural and advertising dominance that newspapers once enjoyed. We should be mindful that the emerging landscape offers asymmetrical odds for art criticism (which can survive by the labour of individual writers) and arts reporting (which requires institutional firepower and protections). Writers will struggle to reclaim the access and influence they achieved with the backing of prestigious journalism brands. Even so, the faint outlines of a new system are starting to emerge.

This is a great article about the future of one sector of journalism. Everyone knows that this industry is under tremendous pressure, and a "new model" needs to be created. Although, nobody is quite sure what that model needs to be. There are various theories -- Jeff Jarvis recently wrote a book about basing all new economic models on Google's business model. In short: focus on networks rather than traditional distribution models and shift to an economy of abundance rather than one of scarcity.

An economy of abundance assumes that you can charge the least amount for a product or service by making it available to a nearly unlimited source of buyers (or users) via the World Wide Web. Very interesting theory. But... what if the access to the Web itself becomes limited?

This brings me to Deep Packet Inspection or DPI, an Internet issue garnering so much attention that the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has dedicated an entire website to it.

What is it? Essentially it's technology that allows Internet Service Providers' (ISPs), or anyone else I suppose, to examine web transmissions to figure out what kind of content is being sent. Today the Big 3 Canadian ISPs (Bell, Rogers & Telus) are defending their positions to the CRTC to use DPI technology. From what I understand, they want to disuade peer-to-peer file sharing. Their arguement is that it allows a small share of users to eat up a disproportionate amount of bandwidth.

Now, privacy issues aside, why would this affect artists', or anybody else's, attempts to monetize their practice on the Web? Well, DPI technology basically allows ISPs to "throttle" users at their own discretion. In other words, if your ISP believes you are using too much Internet, they can and will slow down your connection. And, apparently they can do this even if you bought a package marketed as "unlimited" or if you are using a small indie ISP, like TekSavvy or Execulink. If you want to know more about why and other politics surrounding this issue, check out this cool, informative post on Technology, Thoughts and Trinkets.

And, if you were planning on producing a play that, say, required you to upload a large amount of data to the Web in order for a variety of users to stream the production live... well, you'd be concerned about ISPs limiting users' access to the Internet too.

On the other hand, there are ways around everything, it seems. For you hackers out there, this is a link you might find interesting...