Friday, January 29, 2010

Why The iPad Is Crap Futurism

(A great article by io9 about not just the iPad, but where our technology and us with it is headed. Personally I think it sheds a light on just how retarded most of Apple's products actually are.)

The real question about Apple's new multi-touch pseudo-computer, dubbed the iPad, is not whether it sucks or rocks. What all of us really want to know is whether it will change the future. The answer? Yes, but badly.

The iPad And The World Of Tomorrow

To break it down: The iPad looks basically like an iPhone, but with a 9.7 inch screen. It runs the same software as the iPhone, can connect to the internet, and seems to work nicely for reading books, newspapers and magazines, watching video, checking Google maps, reading your email, surfing the web, and casual gaming. Like the iPhone, it has no keyboard - you can touch-type on the screen. (It also has a keyboard attachment that you can buy separately.)

Why is this outsize version of the iPhone so important that the internet basically exploded over it yesterday? Mostly because Apple's last two new mobile devices - the iPod and the iPhone - changed the way people think about computers. They really did change the future, by making it glaringly obvious that computing devices are not all desktop PCs - they can be specialized music players, or telephone/internet toys that put the web in your pocket. They are the beautiful, cool poster gadgets for the mobile computer generation; they are what we imagine when we think of tomorrow's machines.

The Mythical Convergence Device

The iPad promises to be just as revolutionary as its predecessors, for one reason. It embodies, as much as possible, the "mythical convergence device" that technophiles have been craving for almost two decades. The convergence device, which people began to discuss seriously in the 1990s, would be a unified gadget where you could consume many kinds of media, especially TV and the web, with the same gadget.

This is exactly what the iPad does, helped along by the fact that so much television is available online already. And you can add books to this convergence, too (possibly even with a Kindle app). The iPad is also the perfect shape for a convergence box. Its screen is about the size of a quality paperback or small television set. There's none of that scrunching your forehead as you peer into the teeny screen of the iPhone to read a book or watch YouTube.

What I'm saying is that the iPad appeals to a very deep and longlived fantasy in the consumer electronics world: A device that does it all. At least, if all you want to do is consume media.

And there's the problem.

Reinventing The Television

Apple is marketing the iPad as a computer, when really it's nothing more than a media-consumption device - a convergence television, if you will. Think of it this way: One of the fundamental attributes of computers is that they are interactive and reconfigurable. You can change the way a computer behaves at a very deep level. Interactivity on the iPad consists of touching icons on the screen to change which application you're using. Hardly more interactive than changing channels on a TV. Sure, you can compose a short email or text message; you can use the Brushes app to draw a sketch. But those activities are not the same thing as programming the device to do something new. Unlike a computer, the iPad is simply not reconfigurable.

The iPad emulates television in another way, too: You can channel surf through the Apps Store, but you can't change what's playing. Every single app that's available for the iPad has to be approved by Apple first, just like apps for iPhones. That means censorship of "offensive" apps, no apps that compete with Apple (i.e., no Google Voice), and no random app somebody wrote to do whatever obscure shit you want to do. So you've got thousands of channels and nothing on. You can only keep flipping through the channels, hoping in vain to see something other than reruns of Cheaters and Alf.

If you want something new, there are very limited ways of getting it. You can write an app, and it might be accepted to the Apps Store. Or you can write your own (unacceptable) app and hand it out to a few friends, if you and they are technically savvy enough. But most users won't be in that position.

As futurist Jamais Cascio told io9:

This is Apple's big push of its top-down control over applications into the general-purpose computing world. The only applications that will work with the iPad are those approved by Apple, under very opaque conditions. On a phone, that's borderline acceptable, but it's not for something that is positioned to overlap with regular computers.

The iPad has all the problems of television, with none of the benefits of computers.

Back To The Shopping Mall

So if it's not a computer, what exactly is the iPad? It could be just a really tarted-up ebook reader, which would make sense if you consider that the iPad is competing with Amazon's Kindle. So it's a reinvention of the book, a fairly old technology, but in a gleaming new package. Except that package isn't even very new, as futurist and science fiction author Karl Schroeder pointed out. He told io9 that the iPad isn't about brilliant hardware innovation, and that in fact the device doesn't even use state-of-the-art ebook tech like e-ink.

Speaking to us via email, Schroeder said:

What Apple has done (again) is seize the moment with a combination of a device and a business model . . . even if e-ink provides a better reading experience for books (reading on an iPad will continue to literally mean staring into a lamp, just like reading on a computer screen), it doesn't matter because it's the total package of iTunes, iBookstore, 3G, games, apps etc. that will pull ebook readers along with it. Consider that the iPad is a closed platform that doesn't even multitask; if the technology mattered, those would be major considerations for the buyer. But they won't be, because when you buy an iPad, you buy access to the whole Apple business ecology.

Looked at from this angle, the iPad isn't so much new technology as it is a shiny, pretty doorway to a mall where you can buy everything from books to movies.

The iPad hasn't brought us forward into the future. It's taken us backward to a world of strip malls and televisions.

Another Vision Of The Future

So the iPad takes us back to the 1980s, or maybe even the 1950s. It's likely to be a device that changes our future, but what that means is we're facing a tomorrow where true innovation is sidelined by a device that represents a convergence of old media and shopping.

But as John Connor would say, we can change the future. That might be as simple as pushing Apple to change its App Store policies to make iPads less like TVs and more like computers. As Lifehacker's Adam Pash put it, "The App Store isn't exactly the problem-it's the way Apple runs and limits the App Store." He suggests that Apple could create a special "Restricted section" for its App Store. He continues:

Rather than reject applications that it feels may confuse the user (like they claimed Google Voice or Google Latitude might), or applications that allow users to access naughty pictures, or even applications that it hasn't had time to vet for the App Store proper, [Apple] put those applications in the Restricted section. Before a user is able to install applications from the Restricted section, that user has to agree that the application may confuse their feeble minds, offend their delicate sensibilities, or even slow down their device. Is this such a problem? . . . Even better, [the iPad] could work like the package manager it actually is and allow users to add their own trusted repositories as sources for other applications . . . The point is, users should at least be allowed to flip some switch, somewhere on the machine, that says, "Hey computer, I'm an adult, and I take responsibility over how I use this machine."

A convergence device that can also be reprogrammed the way computers can? Now we're in the twenty-first century.

Another possibility would be for developers and investors to focus on hardware that truly is innovative and futuristic. Schroeder says:

There's really nothing in the iPad that's new; if you want truly new, disruptive tech that would be at a similar price point if commercialized, look at Pranav Mistry's SixthSense and related projects.

SixthSense is a gesture-controlled mobile device with a projector - you can see its telephone app at work above. You project the phone onto your hand and press the buttons. You can also use gestures to take pictures. This is truly the next step in mobile computing, and will likely revolutionize computer networks in ways we can't yet imagine.

What Is To Be Done?

I know a lot of otherwise-savvy consumers and hackers who are already drooling over the iPad and putting in their orders. They hate the idea of a restricted device, but they love the shiny-shiny. I'm not saying that they should deprive themselves of this pretty new toy. What I am saying is that this toy represents a crappy, pathetic future. It is no more revolutionary than those expensive, hot boots I bought at Fluevog, and only slightly more useful.

The only way iPads can truly become futuristic devices is if we hack them so that we can pour whatever operating system we want inside. We need to jailbreak these media boxes so we can install the apps we want, not the ones provided by the Apple shopping mall.

Do not be content with a television when you can have a computer.

Do not be content with yesterday's machines, because the future is before you. Ready to be hacked.

(as a former employee of Apple, getting them to open their machines to tinkering like a PC is as far from reality as one can go. Apple's entire business model is 'were what is new'. Apple will deride its own former products to make way for its younger evolution. Not only to keep with its delusional aesthetic that it creates the future, but as a way to keep you buying a brand new machine, instead of just an upgraded component. Expect Apple to continue just polishing their junk and then expecting you to thank them for it.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

It's The Tomorrow Show with Conan O' Brien!

17 years later and still NBC hasn't learned a goddamn thing.

This week NBC announced that though they believed in their "experiment" to move Jay Leno into primetime was a good idea, the amount of pissed off affiliates was too much to bear and are pulling the plug, aaand shoving said plug into Conan O' Brien's face.

NBC announced that it will enact a clause in both Leno's and O'Briens contracts to allow NBC to move Lenos show to 11:35pm, and shorten to a half hour, while moving the Tonight Show to 12:05am. Away from the start time it's had for like, 50 years.

Why is this happening? Two reasons.

1) Your Local NBC station flipped the fuck out. Local affiliates make alot of their money from ad dollars from their local news broadcasts. So they need a strong lead-in show with high ratings to increase the amount of people who will watch the local news. Ever notice how within seconds of a 10pm hour long drama ending, the news starts up with some gripping headline of shock and crime? Now you know the reason. To try and suck all those viewers of the show that just ended into watching that news broadcast, including the commercials aired during it. OK. Well The Jay Leno Show did so poorly viewership wise, that the local affiliates saw upwards of a 50% drop off in viewership. Which made their local news adspace less profitable. Now even though the Jay Leno Show was making NBC money because its operating costs were still lower than the adspace revenue during its own broadcast. That doesn't do dick for the local WBNC's, KNBC's etc, around the country.

2) NBC is greedy. 17 years ago NBC created one of the most dramatic news stories of the past 20 years in TV by not only not giving Letterman the Tonight Show, BUT also trying to nail him to the wall with his own contract and keep him firmly at Late Night. Basically telling him tough titty we got paper with your ink on it. From that point it caused a year long battle over the Tonight Show, which ultimately led to David Letterman leaving to CBS and leaving NBC coming off like assholes. Today isn't much different. Instead of the plethora of options available to them, NBC has decided it would rather have 4 unhappy late night hosts, than 3 and one guy off happily in the hands of the enemy. Is it business? Yes. Is it also a dick move? Yes.

This isn't new for NBC. Back when Jack Paar left the Tonight Show, they gave him a prime-time show like Jay Lenos, except it only ran on fridays. It seems NBC has an almost devious inferiority complex when it comes to late night television.

Of all the options available to them,

-Give Leno a show just once a week like Paar from 10 to 11. Thus easing the pressure on affiliates.
-Give Leno a half hour during earlier primetime in any of the 4 slots between 8 and 10, 5 days a week.
-Give him a show on any of the other channels in NBC's lineup.

They decided on the option that speaks directly to how they will screw anyone to make sure no one else gets who they feel is theirs. The whole reason ANY of this ever happened was because when O'Brien was up for renewal, he asked for a guarantee of getting the Tonight Show at some point or he would walk, so NBC forced Leno to set a retire date against his wishes, because god forbid they lost Conan then, But God forbid they lost Leno too (who began talking with ABC about taking Kimmel's timeslot), so *poof* The Jay Leno Show.

Since the news, rumors have come in that O'Brien wants out of his contract, and FOX is courting him openly as they've never had a handle on late night and feel his demographic will play best there.

The smallest, sad little WTF part of all this is, if it happens as NBC wants it, "Later" now called "Last Call" will be canceled after 22 years. Was it the best show? No not at all, but the WTF moment is that NBC wont even let Carson Daly go either! They're keeping him there with no foreseeable job to do.

Now we VPAR have no qualms with Leno or his skills as a host, and we know its what he lives for, But Leno loves the Tonight Show and we expect he'll walk before he harms it, his friend Conan, or let himself be seen as an usurper once again, if even on the surface.

Good luck guys, and fuck NBC.

UPDATE: Conan O'Brien has since put out a statement saying the same thing. That the Tonight Show is too cemented as an institution to just shuffle around. Below is his full statement.

People of Earth:

In the last few days, I've been getting a lot of sympathy calls, and I want to start by making it clear that no one should waste a second feeling sorry for me. For 17 years, I've been getting paid to do what I love most and, in a world with real problems, I've been absurdly lucky. That said, I've been suddenly put in a very public predicament and my bosses are demanding an immediate decision.

Six years ago, I signed a contract with NBC to take over The Tonight Show in June of 2009. Like a lot of us, I grew up watching Johnny Carson every night and the chance to one day sit in that chair has meant everything to me. I worked long and hard to get that opportunity, passed up far more lucrative offers, and since 2004 I have spent literally hundreds of hours thinking of ways to extend the franchise long into the future. It was my mistaken belief that, like my predecessor, I would have the benefit of some time and, just as important, some degree of ratings support from the prime-time schedule. Building a lasting audience at 11:30 is impossible without both.

But sadly, we were never given that chance. After only seven months, with my Tonight Show in its infancy, NBC has decided to react to their terrible difficulties in prime-time by making a change in their long-established late night schedule.

Last Thursday, NBC executives told me they intended to move the Tonight Show to 12:05 to accommodate the Jay Leno Show at 11:35. For 60 years the Tonight Show has aired immediately following the late local news. I sincerely believe that delaying the Tonight Show into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn't the Tonight Show. Also, if I accept this move I will be knocking the Late Night show, which I inherited from David Letterman and passed on to Jimmy Fallon, out of its long-held time slot. That would hurt the other NBC franchise that I love, and it would be unfair to Jimmy.

So it has come to this: I cannot express in words how much I enjoy hosting this program and what an enormous personal disappointment it is for me to consider losing it. My staff and I have worked unbelievably hard and we are very proud of our contribution to the legacy of The Tonight Show. But I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction. Some people will make the argument that with DVRs and the Internet a time slot doesn't matter. But with the Tonight Show, I believe nothing could matter more.

There has been speculation about my going to another network but, to set the record straight, I currently have no other offer and honestly have no idea what happens next. My hope is that NBC and I can resolve this quickly so that my staff, crew, and I can do a show we can be proud of, for a company that values our work.

Have a great day and, for the record, I am truly sorry about my hair; it's always been that way.



Lets hope Jay takes the hint and steps up.

Addendum: Alot of sensationalist "news" outlets have been reporting this story as Conan O'Brien is leaving NBC and lets be clear, that is not true. He made clear he won't do the show at 12:05am. Right now its still on at 11:35pm which is why he's still doing shows. Its up to NBC to decide what to do with Leno, and frankly Leno isn't dumb enough to think he'll have much of a career if he took the Tonight Show back IF Conan walks, after all this. But given the higher ratings this is giving Conan, you can bet NBC will drag their feet in a decision so as to reap the benefits. Popeater is reporting that Leno is furious with NBC for staying silent while HE gets painted as the bad guy in all this and HE'S thinking of walking. But though it seems logical, it's Popeater so who can really believe it? Though Mike Ryan there wrote a piece about Leno that we VPAR DO NOT agree with in its ultimate point, but the reality concerning how Leno deserves some sympathy rings very true. More to come were sure.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

do I want the meal with that? FUCK NO!

Holy shit was a holiday season. We hope all you fellow action rangers had a great vacation. We werent due back until this coming Monday, but this bit of news had to be shared, given how much junk we our members consume on a weekly basis.

Didn't think the fast food industry could get any grosser? Well it can.

This time, it's not the food, but the soda fountains to be worried about. According to Tom Laskawy, a media and technology professional and blogger for, a team of microbiologists from Hollins University found that 48% of sodas tested from the fast food fountains contain coliform bacteria, which is typically fecal in origin. And most bacteria found were antibiotic resistant, as icing on the cake.

The microbiologists published their findings in the International Journal of Food Microbiology. They tested 90 beverages from 30 soda fountains. Their abstract states:

...Coliform bacteria was detected in 48% of the beverages and 20% had a heterotrophic plate count greater than 500 cfu/ml. [...] More than 11% of the beverages analyzed contained Escherichia coli [E. Coli] and over 17% contained Chryseobacterium meningosepticum. Other opportunistic pathogenic microorganisms isolated from the beverages included species of Klebsiella, Staphylococcus, Stenotrophomonas, Candida, and Serratia. Most of the identified bacteria showed resistance to one or more of the 11 antibiotics tested.

Laskawy notes that only one recorded outbreak linked to a soda fountain has occurred, and that was ten years ago. But on a smaller scale, these bacteria could cause sickness on an individual level that can go unreported.