Vol. 4 No. 5

December, 2004



iTOONS on Christmas Treed and Santa's Download

THE REAL NEWS * * * * *





Our tech guru, Rocky, still has too much time on his hands. As an educator, he is on a quest of knowledge, which means that he has plenty of time to dabble in the video game arts. In his quest for the other knowledge, he had previously created alter ego Sims but to little affect except for burning down kitchens and dying of starvation. When Sims 2 hit the shelves, Rocky picked up a copy to reprogram his virtual life with yours truly:

So he sends me the above graphic (which I have changed to reflect the surreality of it all) and some liner notes on his/our new adventure. He likes the new gameplay, there are many more options and more goals for his little Sims to accomplish. He also said it took a couple of hours to peg his main characters with the characteristics necessary for mayhem, lust, wealth, material goods, more lust and an occasionally kitchen fire.

People are taking the Sims experience to extremes. Many go on-line and interact with their simulated community more than there real neighbors. It is an addictive concept for many gamers: you control the virtual lives of your creations; you have god-like powers over them and their basic needs. If your virtual social life is better than your real social life, then there is hometown dateline in the overset drawer with your name on it.

In the 1960s Star Trek world that should be today, society should be all virtual, all perfect and all interconnected in space and time. We are just enhancing old technologies. We still are a Ma Bell telephone wire connected to each other but with a clearer signal.

Just ten years ago with the java soaked napkin business plans of Silicon Valley, there was the promise of a perfect virtual world: virtual medicine, where any patient could be connected to the top specialists in the world for diagnosis and treatment; virtual employment, where you would work from home, conference with colleagues around the globe, and code your 401(k) into early retirement; virtual entertainment, where any vice, game of chance, movie, song or other form entertainment would be available 24/7; virtual purchasing, where you could order on-line everything from groceries to dog walking services so you would never have to leave your home to run an errand; virtual banking, where your paycheck would direct deposit to an e-bank account which would e-wire funds to pay all your bills automatically.

Sounds great. Also sounds boring after a while. Never leave your home? Unless there is a huge underground cult of hermits, society doesn't like to operate in a vacuum. It's good to get out in the car, burn some petrochemical chains, motor around the expressway like a NASCAR driver, wander the stores and actually touch and feel merchandise before buying anything, and actually talk to another human being than one of those nasal impersonal computer phone voice mail machines.

The average daily virtual day is surfing the news, doing research, writing/sending emails, and sneaking a peek at the portfolio. There is still the vital telephone, the original documents that arrive via post or overnight mail, and the non-stop fax machine. There is the radio in the background rereading the headlines hour by hour. Then there are the meetings and office conferences. So the old communication ways are still very much in the forefront. And most deal with interpersonal communication; one to one contact.

Just like the dreaded holiday errands of rushing from store to picked-over store for the last minute gifts you forgot to get, it is the real experience of real events that keeps real people from going really nuts. The Game of Life is only part game; but it is mostly experience, learned skills, opportunity, socialization skills and chaos dynamics. That's the theorem of this month until something better comes along.

So Rocky has created his own simulated world of characters to compete for his attention with the hundreds of satelite channels and iTune libraries. But he is only one of millions. The Sims is one of the top game sellers. People's lives like addictions revolve around each and every upgrade. Things have to get pretty far off the home range when the average techno American has to create his or her own entertainment packages instead of habitually crashing in front of the boob tube nightly. On the other hand, that is empowerment. No wonder television ratings continue to fall; besides more choices, we now have the choice to play mind escape on the computer instead of listening to the Hollywood rehashed storylines.


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How long ago was it? When people were all abuzz about the number hits (the non-mobster kind). The world revolved around the new media, the new medium of infotainment, the internet. The grease to keep the gears moving forward was old school advertising. But without circulation, ratings or audible information, advertisers were unsure what amount of bang they were getting for their advertising buck.

So the programmers had to devise methods of making sure the net eyeballs would actually see the adverts. Banner ads across the top of the page. First to load, static, harmless. Then when the yawn was over, there was the pop-up ad which froze the viewer in mid-read. But people learned to quickly click them off as fast as shooing a fly. Then there was the guerilla ad, the pop-under. It was under the current window until you closed the main window. The pop-unders would fill RAM faster than a sailor on a two hour shore leave. Then, there was that annoying flash animation across the top of the content page, like a floating balloon or race car with a sponsor's message. Next, the live commercial intro would be the pre-home home page. A financial site would have a broker's television ad squeezed into a letterbox presentation. At least there was some “skip intro” tag hidden on this page. So one did not have to listen to the entire ad.

Over the past year, there has been a rare, in your face pop-up ad. This type of ad box would pop on the screen, but there was no way to get rid of it. It was frozen over the content you were viewing. It literally froze the page. A back page click, then forward page click would get rid of it . . . for a second or two then it would pop back in. Those ads are the most frustrating type because they interfere with your surfing.

On a recent surf, I was navigating through a news page when I heard the squeaky rumblings from my computer. I thought it was a hard drive squeal, but since it was only a year old machine, it could not be a hardware problem. The noise was whispering annoying constant. I had to figure out what it was; it was bugging me. So I went the volume control slider which was low. I pulled the volume up toward MAX. The noise cleared up quickly.

It was an audio advertisement! The news site was streaming an audio ad over page after page; a constant loop of marketing. Now, from in your face net advertising, we have now dawned upon in your ear advertising era. Well, the way to counteract that negativity is to pull the volume slider to zero to surf in peace.

But what will the direct marketers do next? Give us a neurostim bracelet with each burger meal like in a Max Headroom episode? Products are being placed in movies, television shows, video games and event sponsorships. Since television content is getting so poor, maybe advertisers will abandon network programming and just begin showing wall to wall ads. It must be working for the home shopping channels. But subliminal advertising sandwiched in-between bland shows must have a more palatable quality to purchase begging.


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Film at 11 update: all eleven rolls of film are still sitting on the counter. Can you say busy November?

Election update: the post election battle to the death only lasted a day when Kerry figured that Ohio was really lost. Colorado voters shot down the prorata popular vote for electors which muted this year's must-have constitutional crisis. Electronic voting will continue to be debated on the grounds of accuracy and paper verification of results. There was a report that one Indiana county's straight ticket voting mistakenly wound up as votes for the Libertarian party. Election officials said the mistake did not change the overall election results; but how does the Libertarians feel about losing votes as time passes?

Sat radio update: Within a month of his announcement that he is bolting to satellite radio, it was reported that Howard Stern is being pestered by his current employer's legal and management teams. It would appear that his employer is unhappy with the prospect of a $100 million man leaving the company in two years, and pushing his listeners daily to his new medium, satellite radio. So add his bosses to the FCC on his show's anti-holiday card list.

Theatre of the Mindnumbing: A casual jaunt onto the Amazon home page left a stunning impression. The lead was called Amazon Theatre. The bookpeddler is showing several limit edition mini-movies on its website. The kicker is that Amazon is teasing the fact that the products contained in these mini-movies is for sale at Amazon. Now, we are all aware of product placement. The James Bond movies took product placement into the mainstream, and the overhyped-cross-promotion-to-the-death has numbed our senses to the point of involuntary dry heaves. But really--- a mini-movie of product placements under the guise of entertainment??

Stocking stuffing: everyone knows that the iPod is neat, but who can argue that the special U2 pod is not cool? Jet black with red dial. Now the iPhoto iPod for pictures is for sale. Steve Jobs is turning the digital lifestyle he hinted about years ago into an army of marching podpeople. Music, photos.... next contact/notes/calendar/old Newton functions/games . . . can you foresee, iPhone iPod?

Four More Years? Not a political battle cry, but a question on whether a four-year old home iMac needs to be replaced with a price-point new G5 model. The estate is full of old computers in each room so the museum analogy is wearing thin with visitors.

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