Friday, 30 September 2011

On fans and social media.

So there's this group work thing going on and word on the grapevine is that one of the groups is going to present on the connection (importance?) between fans and social media, or more precisely on the importance of fan support for social media.

Cool? Of course. :P So let's get started then shall we?

First of all there's the point of "Why?". Why did we choose to work on the connection between fans and social media? The obvious answer is because we had to for class, but actually the way the selection was done we were able to select our topics individually and happened to end up being in the same group by chance. I think this reflects that all of us see and have an interest in the connection in the first place, and it makes sense when you realize that there are many kinds of social media today that touch many people in many different ways, so no surprise when something like this happens and you find a ragtag bunch of people coming together for an awesome group effort (a-hem).

So fans and social media. A question to ask would be, "What kinds of connections exist between them?" I'm sure we can get down and dirty with the details but our group found a grand total of...(drumroll please) 2!: Commercial and casual. Let's take them in order shall we?

The commercial connection. Twitter, MySpace, Flickr, just look around today and you'll see so many people connected almost endlessly to a whole range of social networking services (SNS). But wait, what does "staying connected" mean? Technically it just means that you're receiving, or open to receiving new information doesn't it? No wonder many companies these days have proper accounts on sites such as Facebook, as noted by our group member Seira. "Welcome to ZARA's official Facebook page," it says, and note in particular the word "official". ZARA thinks Facebook is serious business and while it may seem a bit strange at first, just think about the kind of connectivity, the ability to "share", to "like" posts and the commercial potential of these fan-based social networking sites suddenly becomes blindingly obvious; it's almost like ZARA gets you to do their marketing for them...for free!

The above makes it seem like "fans" are getting the short end of the stick, but social media actually works both ways, empowering the average user to publicly approve or disprove any commercial product. Take for example the case of musician Lupe Fiasco. As described by our other member Caio, Lupe was all set and ready to release his album "Lasers", and even Tweeted that all the work was done and was simply pending release from his record company. Well, the people there didn't for some reason, making Lupe's fans antsy enough to generate buzz via blogs and petitions, which eventually led to the release of the LP. How democratic!

But enough about business, how about you and I have a seat on the couch and watch some movies? Today's selection comes courtesy of our members Yuki and Ikue so sit back and enjoy. Like Star Wars? How about some Disney?

How was that? We good to go? Cool but you know what, we've already moved onto the next topic: The casual connection. Didn't notice didja? Gotta watch out for those ninjas. Sneaky little buggers...

So yeah, be on the lookout. But seriously, if we look at the casual connection between social media and fans you're likely to stumble upon gems like the above 2 videos before long. It used to be that the kind of technology and connectivity required for Hollywood-quality special effects and broadcasting your amazing vocals were restricted to professional companies (like Lucasfilm and Disney), but with the cheapening of software technologies and video sharing sites like YouTube, basically anyone can make movie magic in the comfort of one's home...and be famous too!

Here's another question though: What happens then? Maybe you're greedy and being famous isn't enough for you. Well, social media to the rescue. Ever heard of Vocaloid? It's basically a voice synthesizer program from Yamaha, but here's the catch: It owes much of its success to massive fan support. There are details, and it goes a little something like this:

  • Vocaloid folks promote in Japan with mascot character Hatsune Miku. No surprise, this is "Cool Japan", with manga, anime et al. It's a cheap and easy means of cultural recognition that taps into existing fanbases and tastes. Smart.
  • This isn't enough however, so next comes the fan reaction. Miku proved extremely popular, spawning original creations in several mediums, most notably in the form of songs and music videos shared on video sites like YouTube and Nico Nico Douga (Japanese YouTube).
  • This layer of fan support is multiplied when others take the songs/videos and make "covers", fan art, figures etc. and by this time what you have is the creation of a kind of sub-culture, which as Rimi points out is how memes are created, with self-sustainability and cultural resonance creating an endless loop that multiplies the fan input further.

The thing about this example though is that the Vocaloid folks were totally cool with recognising this user-generated content, in turn adapting them into new commercial products such as CDs, games and even Toyota cars!

But wait the magic doesn't stop there (but if you call now we'll throw in a free bath towel...). Vocaloid-related content also helped kick-start some fan careers, such as music group Supercell, which became famous by using the Vocaloid program in their tracks:

"The composer, ryo, and several creators joined together to form this super entertainment unit, whose songs posted on NICO NICO DOUGA...counted more than 20 million views.
In 2007, ryo (supercell) created songs such as “THE WORLD IS MINE”, “Melt”, and “BLACK ★ ROCK SHOOTER” using vocal synthesizer software for Windows called “Hatsune Miku” and posted these songs on NICO NICO DOUGA website. His world views expressed through his melody and his lyrics were quickly accepted and his songs became a huge movement on NICO NICO DOUGA which led him into the limelight.
In 2009, their 1st album “supercell” featuring the VOCALOID, Hatsune Miku, made a stunning debut, selling more than 150,000 copies."-Supercell website
In short, Vocaloid is a good example of how fans can and do interact with social media, in casual as well as commercial terms which I guess sums the above-mentioned points in this post up nicely. It continues to be popular and viable because of fan support, with both sides sharing a symbiotic relationship. Without its fan-base (or Lupe's fan-base etc.), it would be nothing more than a simple voice synthesizer, but instead it is a flourishing brand, spanning mediums, crossing national boundaries (remember "Cool Japan"?) and influencing pop culture the world over.

So maybe next time you check your Facebook, your Twitter feed, view something on YouTube or use any other forms of social media, maybe you'll be a part of the next big thing. Maybe you'll be the reason why we have virtual avatars holding live concerts. Or actually, maybe you'll "be there" yourself, in person or in the comfort of your own home.

UPDATE: Here's a video I came across recently on kids' reactions to the virtual concert :)

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Project 1QAD

Took a shower; had an idea, with inspiration from The Daily Shoot and recent class ponderings about pop culture.

Here's a proposal: Quotes. A word, a sentence; they represent an idea, personify a theme, a memory. In turn, quotes referencing pop culture have the ability to resonate with a large group of like-minded people, to take you down memory lane or to identify yourself as a member of some particular group.

So what am I proposing? Simple:
  1. Think of a quote (a line, a meme; any memorable text) that is somehow related to or derived from pop culture
  2. Go to Twitter
  3. Tweet your quote, adding the hashtag "#1qad", and today's date

Anyone looking at 1qad Tweets will theoretically see a list of quotes, hopefully with some that they know and can identify with. If you think you know where a quote is from, Tweet the person back to see if you're right.

Here's an example:
The Captain is in.
I Tweet: #1qad "By your powers combined..." 21/09/11
Someone searching "#1qad" sees my quote and sends me a message: Captain Planet, or alternatively completes the quote with, "...I am Captain Planet."
Both parties can then rest easy in the knowledge that they aren't the only ones who used to watch a blue man in red tights and green hair wax lyrical about being eco-friendly.

How's that? I'm currently planning to start the project after getting 4 co-conspirators, so if you think you like Project 1QAD (1 Quote A Day, for those of you who haven't figured it out yet) and want in, send me a comment after this post!

Monday, 19 September 2011

Push-button publishing

Is a dangerous thing.

We have the power to broadcast anything and everything to the world at the click of a button, but how much thought goes into something that anyone, anywhere can see and be affected by? How much does that promote a fire-and-forget kind of media culture where consequence and responsibility, even personal restraint comes second to whatever it is one might want to say, no matter how insignificant?

Printing, publishing used to be a laborious, time-consuming process; a barrier to the spread of knowledge.

But not everything in your head is knowledge. A lot of it is trash, and there's a lot more of it floating around right now than ever before.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Thursday, 15 September 2011

On pop culture

Pop culture. What is it? Well I'm sure it means a lot of things to a lot of different people, but hey the way we're going with media today we should really expect nothing less. Media; there's just so much of it, and in so many mediums.

So back to the question: What is it? Literally it's pretty easy to decipher: Popular. Culture. i.e. Whatever the masses are into, or as Wikipedia says:

"...the totality of ideasperspectivesattitudesmemes,[1] images and other phenomena that are deemed preferred per an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture."
Thank you Wikipedia (and as a side note it's interesting that they specifically mentioned "meme").

As the quote mentions though, popular culture in its broadest sense encompasses a whole lot of what's going on, and when you consider that many forms of media today involve some kind of interactive component (the Internet, Wikipedia, fan-made playlists on YouTube, even Forum pages in "old-school" newspapers) then you come across the problem of a whole lot of information coming in, and a lot less processing of that information by the individual person.

Is that bad? Mm...well I'd say it's debatable either way, but in that sense it's interesting to consider that when we speak of defining popular culture each and every person is probably going to define it in his or her own way, or alternatively in such a superficial sense that it barely scratches the surface of any one facet of the topic. I guess if you have the time then the positive effect is that you get a swathe of unique results...but then again in this day and age of instant uploads, instant messaging (and instant...noodles?), who has the time?

Good question? Maybe. But here's the point: I personally think that the best way to describe and represent popular culture is to...
  1. Bear in mind that there's both huge breadth and depth involved, and then to...
  2. Disregard part 1 and just go deep into one aspect alone. If you have the time after that then you can look up other peoples' opinions, which will invariably provide another side to the metaphysical coin.
So. Now with all that out of the way, you're probably asking me: Hey, what aspect are you gonna talk about? Curious? Take a look:

Aaand welcome back. So don't kill me because I kinda cheated. The link I sent you on wasn't to a specific page, but to a YouTube. Playlist. You with me so far? That's 2 levels we're on now. Firstly, YouTube is a popular video sharing site that has anything from serious, official channels from movie and TV companies to promote their works, to fan-made videos (i.e. that fat kid next door who decides to find out what happens when you mix Mentos and Coke). No kidding.
Told you so. But actually in the broadest sense this kind of fan-made pop/media culture opens doors to some potentially amazing places because it runs the gamut from silly facepalm-worthy moments like the one above, to astounding pieces of...well art like in the case of the following musically-talented dynamic duo:
Fan-made. Professional. Stuff. But that's not all, and those of you who remember my original YouTube link in this post will realize that I haven't even touched on those videos yet. Ready to go deeper down the rabbit hole? As a wise man once said, "Here we go!" (you want 0:20)
So that video playlist. They're all songs, but the question is: From where? Well the simple answer is Vocaloid. The not-so-simple answer? Vocaloid is actually a voice synthesizer, that has gained immense popularity in Japan for its use of virtual "diva" characters to promote said program. All the songs in the playlist were created by fans.

But it doesn't stop there. See, once the songs are made some people take it upon themselves to replace the program's voices with actual singers. Here's a quick recap: People covering songs sung by machines made by people. Have I lost you yet (I'm certainly trying :P)?

But wait, there's one more level to this yarn. See, after all the songs are made someone has to go through and decide what fits where (remember what Wikipedia said about "informal consensus"?), kind of like how Google puts similarly-grouped searches together when you look for por-..I mean scientific studies on dentistry in the search box, except it's an actual person doing the work instead of a set of pre-programmed algorithms designed to hand you your much-needed dental information on a silver platter.

It's basically putting together an album. For free. That you get to watch and listen to. For free. And if you want to copy that playlist and edit it some more you' to do so (Vannevar Bush's ideas on Memex trails anyone?).

Or maybe you'd rather copy it to your blog and tie it in to some post on pop culture and social media usage instead, where it subliminally spreads through the minds of your unwitting readers. You're free to do that too.

Thank you and good night.

Sunday, 11 September 2011


So hi. Been a few days. How you doin'? Cool. So hey, see the big blob of black and white squares above? Yea don't worry, it's not gonna bite. But here's an idea: Whip out your handphone, go into the camera settings and try to find something that says "QR Code Reader" (or Barcode Reader), then bring your device's camera over the picture and watch the magic happen. Go ahead.

Back? How was it, pretty cool huh? So apparently the thing above is called a QR Code (if you haven't figured that one out yet; stands for Quick Response code) and what it does is it essentially brings you to a web page much like clicking on hyperlinks does if you're clicking around on the Internet. Now some of you may be very familiar with the codes already (especially if you live in Japan, Korea or the UK, according to Wikipedia) but some of you might not have ever seen the things before in your life. Like Flying Spaghetti Monsters.

Well I stand corrected.

But about those QR codes. Neat huh? Here's a site you can go to to make your own. Have fun.

So apparently this kind of linking to sites from the "real" world is called "hardlinking", which is kind of surreal if you think about it. It's basically the same as copying down a URL and entering it in your computer when you get back home but there's just this whole "breaking down borders" kind of feeling that you get when you're not dealing with a string of numbers and letters that end in .com. Right? Feel that? Just snap a picture (and you don't even need to press the shutter button).

I think it's cool. But you know what else? It also looks cool. Not like those ugly barcodes from the supermarket (barcode fetishists would object but hey, whatever floats your boat), QR codes are even specifically designed to work if partially corrupted with intentional errors. I call that bad-ass and you know what? I think these folks do too:
Now this may just be the art major talking, but that kind of technology? Is awesome. Especially if it gets people to my art site.


Friday, 9 September 2011

On Douglas Engelbart, and "Naturalness"

So this guy, Douglas Engelbart. Apparently he invented a bunch of stuff that we use in tandem with the computer and Internet today, from the computer mouse (personally I rarely use a mouse these days, opting instead for touchpads and pen tablets but..) to hypertext.

Also according to this website his ideas were probably inspired in large part by Vannevar Bush's "As We May Think", which makes sense when considering that Bush's ideas, while revolutionary were also stuck in the realm of the "What if?" No surprise then that Engelbart was able to take Bush's theories and apply them to a much cleaner, sleeker input format, even if his original mouse design did look rather ghetto:
Still, a mouse definitely provides a less cumbersome means of interacting with a computer than Bush's desk-hogging assortment of levers and cranks (if you really stop to think about it operating a machine like that would probably take some coaching in itself...although given the various keyboard shortcuts and accessories available for computers today we've probably come full circle in terms of complexity).

An interesting question posed to Engelbart in an interview contrasts the mouse with other forms of navigation, such as touchscreens and "light pens" where he discusses the merits (and specifically precision) of a mouse as compared to the other devices. Certainly this is something that has held true till today, even in the field of PC gaming where professionals tout the advantages in precision by using computer mice.

Conversely however it is also interesting to note how the times and technology have changed since Engelbart's time, as we see devices such as touchscreens and "light pens" (e.g. Wacom's range of casual and professional pen tablets) come into their own in specific or even mainstream uses such as the Nintendo DS, or iPhone/iPad. Of course, this doesn't mean that Engelbart's work and promotion on computer mice was wrong, but it is interesting to note how various factors promote and restrict certain types of interfaces and media, and how these perceptions change over time (as they will inevitably change again after our's). Maybe it'll look something like this:
Oh wait..
Nevertheless, all of this belies the fact that Engelbart's overall purpose was less interface and more an attempt to "augment human intellect":
          "By 'augmenting human intellect' we mean increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems. Increased capability in this respect is taken to mean a mixture of the following: more-rapid comprehension, better comprehension, the possibility of gaining a useful degree of comprehension in a situation that previously was too complex, speedier solutions, better solutions, and the possibility of finding solutions to problems that before seemed insoluble. And by "complex situations" we include the professional problems of diplomats, executives, social scientists, life scientists, physical scientists, attorneys, designers—whether the problem situation exists for twenty minutes or twenty years. We do not speak of isolated clever tricks that help in particular situations. We refer to a way of life in an integrated domain where hunches, cut-and-try, intangibles, and the human "feel for a situation" usefully co-exist with powerful concepts, streamlined terminology and notation, sophisticated methods, and high-powered electronic aids." -Internet Pioneers
What this basically comes down to is an attempt to aid people's attempts at knowledge, understanding and the very human desire to think, which  may sound familiar because it was exactly what Bush was trying to achieve, in concept, with his mimicry of human thought processes and association via the Memex (remember: Memory Index). Never mind that the actual form and mode of interaction between the Memex and Engelbart's mouse (or even modern devices today) ended up being so very different, the central, repeating concept was to aid what they saw as the natural pursuit of knowledge and understanding (an understandable viewpoint and carry-over from the post-WWII backdrop in which they envisioned these ideas).

The thing is, it's all well and good to want to aid human thought processes, but the question to consider when you actually get down and dirty with it is, "How?" It's here that it becomes interesting to look at the myriad forms of interfaces again and something you get from that is that so many people see "the solution" in so many ways. So maybe there really isn't one answer, but in place of that there may be "one concept" to keep in mind: Naturalness.

What I mean by "naturalness" is the feel of an interface, the feel that whatever way you interact with, the motions, buttons, thought processes involved becomes second nature and more or less an extension of your body and natural range of motion. Note however that a means of interaction that is lacking in naturalness may be re-examined upon the introduction of new technologies (or even improved, cheaper versions of existing ones). One example of this would be the "impractical" use of touchscreens during Engelbart's time (and even a few years ago when Microsoft first unveiled their Surface platform to a lukewarm reception). However, take what is essentially the same technology, shrink the size of the device and you basically have a best-seller in what is essentially the iPad. An interface has gained sufficient "naturalness" to work.

The Voder

So just read through one of the links on the class blog, about this early (1939) voice synthesizer called The Voder, which reminds me of Darth Vader but that's a different story.

So anyway it's a really interesting approach to simulate English speech, especially after living in Japan for a few years now and realising what a phonetically-complicated language English is compared to its Japanese counterpart. I mean, look no further than Yamaha's Vocaloid line, which I suppose is much better known in pop culture via fictitious digital "divas" such as Hatsune Miku and co. Like seriously, these guys hold concerts. Word.
You go Japan.


Oh hi. I've just come out of the shower (and don't all great things come from the shower? Just look at Psycho):

And well yes, what's my point? Well I was thinking about the whole mechanical versus digital Internet thing and started wondering if AI would have ever been invented had we gone the mechanical route. Just imagine: No Terminators from the future, no army of machines to put us in an artificial Matrix while they farm us for energy...hey wait a minute, this is starting to sound pretty goo-NO WALL-E! Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo~

See also: An excuse to post videos. :P

Thursday, 8 September 2011

As I May Think

So about this guy, Vannevar Bush. After reading his As We May Think I still think that his ideas of the Internet (or what eventually became what we call the Internet today) are remarkably accurate for his time (1945).

On the other hand what wasn't such an accurate prediction was the form in which his "Internet" would take. The multiple gears, levers and other mechanical components of his "Memex" were less MacBook Air and more Steampunk. An accurate description? Maybe. But more importantly it gives rise to the question of physical form. Ideas can be as batshit crazy as you want (and even then those ideas might become tangible sometime later), but what will the future look like?

Here's where you roll your eyes and go, " major.." Done? Cool.

So, about that future thing. What will it look like? Well think about all those movies and other media that you're bound to have seen somewhere or other (maybe at home, maybe at the theater, maybe off a download site; I won't tell..). So maybe you go off into Star Wars and think space ninjas (see: Jedi), or maybe you go dystopian and recall Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Or maybe you're crazy and you have something else in mind I dunno, but the idea that I get from the difference between Bush's "steampunk" and our modern Internet is that whatever the future will look like, it will probably be less cumbersome, less mechanical and more...shiny than whatever we can and do conceive of now.

Maybe, it'll even be something like this..

...which just so happens to be the first piece of concept art I'm working on for a semester-long art project. Shameless self-promotion? Too sci-fi? Maybe, but hey I've actually got a point here.

Here's the point: Go crazy; your crazy might actually be true. A few years ago who would've thought that carrying a PC without a keyboard around would take off (the iPad)? Go wild.

So actually yea that's it, I'm done. Go play outside or something because what I intend to write about next is "nothing" but a brief rundown of this make-believe world that sets the backdrop for my afore-mentioned art project. ... Still with me? Ready? Here we go.

Imagine a world that is filled with ambient energy all around you. Now imagine what would happen if such energy could be "programmed" to act in different ways, from image projection to audio, even physical barriers. Out without a brolly on a rainy day? punch a few buttons and you have a "force field" above your head that does the same thing. You never need to charge your phones, laptops or other devices again, as long as you have the permissions, or licences to translate the ambient energy for such purposes. What does this mean on a political level? Everything's fine as long as you pay your bills, which doesn't sound too different from the daily grind today save for the fact that in such a society the energy company would also serve as the de facto government. You don't want to skimp on the bills.

Maybe such a world will never exist, or maybe it will eventually, or maybe it will in parts. Maybe you think that such a world only has its place in science fiction, or maybe you realise that the concept of "ambient energy" is not all too dissimilar from the concept of free and uninhibited wi-fi signals that some cities have right now. Programming? The access codes to such wi-fi networks. Charging your devices without chargers? We already have ones which charge without the need for wires. So think again.

Admittedly a lot less time, effort and insider information is going into this vision of the possible future than Bush's work. This project is, after all, intended specifically for fiction rather than an informed guess at future fact. Still, one thing that dawned on me when realising what went right (and what didn't) with Bush's predictions was that you can never really tell. So think again, and maybe this time instead of pondering what's not possible, perhaps it would be more apt to consider, "What if?"

Lost & Found

So hi. I wanted my first "proper" post on this blog to be something about technology, the Internet, maybe even something about Vannevar Bush and his wacky steampunk ideas of what he conceived the Internet to be (i.e. This is a blog made for a university class). But no. Maybe later.

See, I lost my laptop yesterday. Left it on the train and just plain forgot when getting off. Hey, cue heart attack. Haha.

But no really, see I'm an art major who works primarily on the computer. I'm also a lazy dumb-ass who didn't back-up his work (well, along with my computer, I also had my pen tablet in there so it wouldn't really have made a big difference). Screwed is screwed. So yea, heart attack.

Don't worry. There's no funeral; I'm still here (I hear you cursing in the back there..). Made a call to JR and apparently someone returned it to Lost & Tsudanuma (Chiba). Go Japan. So yea it's over an hour's train ride away and I'm kinda wishing it was found somewhere closer to where I live but hey, I'm actually having the best day of my life now. Why? Perspective and context. It's funny, and I probably wouldn't be saying so if I didn't manage to get my stuff back but yea losing and then finding my all-important laptop's the "best thing" that's happened to me in a while. I'm bouncing off the walls right now, no caffeine...or weed. Oh sh-..

So what's this gotta do with...anything? Well it made me think, about technology, about us and how we interact. I was thinking about someone berating me for being so attached to my laptop (or other myriad devices pocketwi-fiisthebestthingever), but then (and you may call bias on this) I realised: Doesn't it all work out anyway? If we're so attached (too attached?) to our devices and technology, doesn't that mean that we use it, need it, want it somehow? It's like saying you're too attached to your shoes because you wear them everyday, but seriously how many people are gonna go barefoot after reading this (maybe the wise-asses would say flip-flops but yea)?

So maybe some would call me too "attached" to certain forms of technology. Some people have a Facebook addiction. Some people drink too much coffee. So what? Technology is a part of our lives; the Internet is, Wikipedia is. It's not gonna go away unless someone starts WWIII over...I dunno a stolen doughnut or something but even in that scenario we'd probably have other stuff to worry about over our dependence on technology. Like stolen doughnuts. And lost laptops.


And hey, maybe I brought this post back to technnology after all.

A page from my original manga series EXE. Maybe related.