Net Neutrality is a Freedom of Speech Issue

on Thursday, Apr. 24th

Today you are seeing a lot of digital ink spilled over a Wall Street Journal report that says the FCC will allow the establishment of an “Internet Fast Lane.” Said “fast lane” would allow Internet Service Providers (like Comcast) to charge content providers (that would be your Netflix) for better access on their networks.

Today you are seeing a lot of digital ink spilled over a Wall Street Journal report that says the FCC will allow the establishment of an “Internet Fast Lane.” Said “fast lane” would allow Internet Service Providers (like Comcast) to charge content providers (that would be your Netflix) for better access on their networks.

Now one level of this is about commerce. Video streaming eats up a huge amount of bandwidth and the question of who should pay for the maintenance of the infrastructure is a legitimate question. If Netflix usage eats up more resources than other services it seems logical that there should be some kind of cost associated with that.

Unfortunately the law of unintended consequences means that the establishment of a tiered Internet is going to hurt the little guys the most.

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High School eSports Organization Offers Scholarships

on Wednesday, Apr. 23rd

As eSports continues to mature and follow in the footsteps of traditional sports the ecosystem begins to take on a familiar shape.

As eSports continues to mature and follow in the footsteps of traditional sports the ecosystem begins to take on a familiar shape. There are the big paydays, like the million dollars in prizes that were on the line in the recent CoD World Championships. Then there are the team marketing organizations, like Complexity, that are something like a Nascar racing team.

Now we can add college scholarships to that list.

Twitch, the leading game streaming platform, and electronics e-retailer Newegg are putting money into the scholarship pool of the High School Starleague (HSL) eSports organization. HSL promotes tournaments and inter-school competitions for high school aged e-athletes across a number of popular eSports (League of Legends, Starcraft 2, DOTA 2).

The $20,000+ scholarship fund has been raised as a way to promote high school eSports in the hopes of ushering “in a new era of eSports where excelling in cyber-athletics will be as respected as excelling in traditional sports,” according to the press release quote of Tomber Su, CEO of High School Starleague.

Who knows, maybe one day there will be as fierce of a competition to join the school’s DOTA squad as there is to get on the varsity football team?

Full press release after the jump.

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Skynet Watch: New Study Warns of Drone Arms Race

on Wednesday, Apr. 23rd

We’ve all seen this movie, heck, Hollywood is in the process of rebooting it right now: militaries, in order to keep soldiers out of harm’s way and stay ahead of the other guy invest in autonomous fighting systems.

We’ve all seen this movie, heck, Hollywood is in the process of rebooting it right now: militaries, in order to keep soldiers out of harm’s way and stay ahead of the other guy invest in autonomous fighting systems. Cue Judgement Day.

If only this were pure sci-fi. A new study by researcher Steve Omohundro published in the Journal of Experimental & Theoretical Artificial Intelligence warns of the potential for an AI arms race to get out of control.

From Kurzweil AI:

“The military wants systems which are more powerful than an adversary’s and wants to deploy them before the adversary does,” Omohundro writes. ”This can lead to ‘arms races’ in which systems are developed on a more rapid time schedule than might otherwise be desired.

“There is a growing realization that drone technology is inexpensive and widely available, so we should expect escalating arms races of offensive and defensive drones. This will put pressure on designers to make the drones more autonomous so they can make decisions more rapidly.”

Remember kids: there’s no John Connor and no time machine to warn us.

NPR: Searching The Planet To Find The Power of The Cloud

on Tuesday, Apr. 22nd

Tech coverage likes to talk a lot about “the cloud” as if it were a magical object, tucked away in a different universe.

Tech coverage likes to talk a lot about “the cloud” as if it were a magical object, tucked away in a different universe. NPR’s Steve Henn dug into the very real environmental impact of the cloud’s countless server farms in a piece for All Things Considered:

Researchers at Greenpeace estimate that if the cloud were a country it would be one of the biggest consumers of electricity on the planet.

“It would rank around sixth in the world,” says Gary Cook at Greenpeace. “That is right after Russia and right before Germany.”

Other estimates are smaller, but the figures are still staggering. The New York Times estimated that cloud computing consumed 30 billion watts of power a year in 2012. That is as much power as produced by 30 nuclear power plants.

Henn notes that while Greenpeace has successfully lobbied companies like Apple and Facebook to clean up their servers, not all cloud computing services are thinking green. Henn doesn’t name names, but Greenpeace does. They give Amazon Web Services an three Fs (transparency, renewables, and advocacy) and a D (efficiency) on a four point report card. While Amazon is just one company, its servers are used for a who’s who of Internet services: Netflix, imgur, Tumblr, Airbnb, Spotify, Dropbox, Vine, Yelp, Pinterest, and Soundcloud just to name a few.

Nothing beats “free” however, so who cares? /sarcasm

Image: MidAmerican Energy

Games For Change Festival Opens In NYC Today

on Tuesday, Apr. 22nd

The annual Games for Change festival, which focuses on games with social impact and educational uses gets underway in New York City today.

The annual Games for Change festival, which focuses on games with social impact and educational uses gets underway in New York City today. This year the festival is partnering with the Tribeca Film Festival, which is featuring the event as part of its Innovation Week, along with their own Storyscapes showcase.

Among the games on display is Foldit, which asks players to “solve puzzles for science.” Laura Parker of the New York Times explains:

Foldit asked players to take on the role of a biochemist and map out how proteins might be folded in nature. The game provided scores based on how well they performed. Three papers in the journal Nature have been published, based on Foldit discoveries, since the game’s release in 2008; the most famous, in 2011, explained how Foldit players had helped to decipher the structure of an AIDS-related enzyme, a problem that scientists had been trying to solve for years.

Planning For Something Other Than Obsolescence

on Monday, Apr. 21st

Perhaps the last thing the gadget world needs in another Jambox, the portable bluetooth connected speaker that has what seems like a half a million clones already.

Perhaps the last thing the gadget world needs in another Jambox, the portable bluetooth connected speaker that has what seems like a half a million clones already.

The videos marketing German manufacturer Binauric’s Boom Boom appear to position the device as exactly that: just another hyper-designed speaker. Wired’s Liz Stinson, shows that the Boom Boom is more than meets the eye–and ear.

When you purchase the Boom Boom, a polygonal speaker designed by French designer Mathieu Lehanneur, it comes with all the basic features you’d expect: audio playback, conference call capabilities, the option to sync up two speakers.

But in a clever move, Binauric loaded the speaker with excess components like an accelerometer, light sensors and microphones that allow the device to take on new functionalities as they’re developed. “These are like sleeping components that are waiting to be woken up,” Lehanneur explains.

This cuts against the grain of how consumer technology is designed and marketed in this day and age, but as sensors improve and even become commoditized is it possible that we will see more designs like the Boom Boom which attempt to “future proof” the hardware?

‘Avengers’ Director Joss Whedon Back To His Digital-First Tricks

on Monday, Apr. 21st

Television impresario and Avengers director Joss Whedon is no stranger to digital distribution.

Television impresario and Avengers director Joss Whedon is no stranger to digital distribution. During the 2008 writer’s strike he famously unleashed Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, a web mini-series that was sold directly to fans via iTunes during a period of time when Hollywood was barely getting any new material out the door.

Now the genre superstar is turning his attention back to digital first with the surprise announcement of the release of the latest film he’s penned–a “metaphysical romance” starring Zoe Kazan and Michael Stahl-David called In Your Eyes–directly to digital via Vimeo On Demand. The announcement came after the premiere of the film at the Tribeca Film Festival via a video Whedon recorded (on what looks to be the set of Avengers 2).

The film, directed by Brin Hill, is available as a $5.00 rental world wide “on any internet capable device” as the writer puts it. This is the latest release from Whedon and Kai Cole’s Bellwether Pictures, a micro-studio which previously released Whedon’s take on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

It is fascinating to watch one of the most successful creatives in Hollywood experiment with smaller, more personal work in this fashion. At the same time I have to wonder if those who don’t have multi-million dollar paydays can remotely begin to follow his example. (I would hope so, but I’m not sure if the marketplace will ever mature to that point.)

Does Crowdfunding Need A Sheriff?

on Friday, Apr. 18th

In the wake of crowdfunding’s latest scam-scare, the IndieGoGo campaign for all-too-miraculous seeming Healbe GoBe health monitor, crowdfunding activist Paul Spinrad suggests that something proactive needs to be done about researching campaigns with suspicious claims.

In the wake of crowdfunding’s latest scam-scare, the IndieGoGo campaign for all-too-miraculous seeming Healbe GoBe health monitor, crowdfunding activist Paul Spinrad suggests that something proactive needs to be done about researching campaigns with suspicious claims.

So, what if there were a loose body of makers, with some recognizable name and “seal of non-disapproval,” who take it upon themselves to vet all of the new hardware offerings posted to crowdfunding sites, and publish a JSON database or similar that associates each one of them with Pass, Fail, Maybe, Notes, Reviewer, etc.? What if there were a few such entities, expert in different domains? In terms of pro bono work, this seems like low-hanging fruit. In a crowd-powered future, so many would benefit so much from something that’s so easy to do.

Let me riff on Spinrad’s idea for a second: wouldn’t it be more powerful if there was an organization (or two) that was giving out seals of approval? An entity that inventors could go to before they launched their campaign and had their work vetted by. That way potential backers could look for the seal–which could be prominently displayed on a campaign page and in the campaign video–rather than hunting down a third party site?

The GoBe still obliterated its funding goal despite all of the bad word of mouth, which is a big piece of evidence that the “vigilante justice” model of crowdfunding curation doesn’t work all that well.

The body that does this work need not limit itself to questions of technological feasibility. There are plenty of creative endeavors that could benefit from having a third party look at their budgets and timetables in order to give a thumbs up to the business plan. As Spinrad hints at, perhaps one entity wouldn’t be enough. Different groups could pop up along the various crowdfunding verticals.

If such groups were to exist there would then be the issue of funding them. Any kind of public interest group vetting campaigns should have their funds come from a neutral source. While Spinrad suggests that this work can be done pro bono, I have to admit I’m skeptical of the sustainability of that model when the potential demand for seals of approval would be high.

 

Twitch Takes Two Big Steps Towards A New Identity

on Thursday, Apr. 17th

The integration of Twitch.tv into both of the new video game consoles released this past holiday season all but anointed the service as the one, true platform for streaming games.

The integration of Twitch.tv into both of the new video game consoles released this past holiday season all but anointed the service as the one, true platform for streaming games. This week the service has taken two steps towards its evolution into a game distribution platform.

First, the company is matching funds in the Kickstarter campaign for the game Choice Chamber, which uses a chat room based mechanic similar to the cultural phenomenon Twitch Plays Pokemon that allows the audience of the game to create the challenges that the player faces. In an article at The Verge designer Michael Molinari says that the game turns the audience into “torture artists” who have their fun by throwing the player into trouble at every turn. Choice Chamber is built around a concept known as “asymmetrical multiplayer,” in this case with the potential of thousands of audience members slipping into the role of sadistic game designers for a short while.

Twitch’s other big move? It is now possible to buy games on the service. Okay. A game. Indie studio Vlambeer’s Nuclear Throne. The pitch for buying it through Twitch as opposed to the other supported marketplaces, i.e. Steam and the Humble Store? Access to subscriber-only chats on Twitch.

This tiptoeing into game distribution raises a question: how will the distribution platforms that have already embraced Twitch–Sony’s PlayStation, Microsoft’s Xbox, and Valve’s Steam–take the streaming service’s moves onto their turf? Choice Chamber and Nuclear Throne are both indie efforts, but that’s a part of the marketplace that Sony and Valve have staked out pretty heavily. Can any of these platforms they tolerate partner/competitors who have an intense relationship with their users?

The Peer Economy, Profits, and The Big Picture Impact

on Thursday, Apr. 17th

All Tech Considered’s Emily Siner has a piece up today about the peer economy–companies like Uber, Esty, and Airbnb–told through the frame of a new D.C.-area based delivery company Postmates which uses freelance bike messengers for one-hour delivery service.

All Tech Considered’s Emily Siner has a piece up today about the peer economy–companies like Uber, Esty, and Airbnb–told through the frame of a new D.C.-area based delivery company Postmates which uses freelance bike messengers for one-hour delivery service.

Here’s the part that stood out for me:

Despite its success so far, the peer economy isn’t likely to replace the traditional model of gainful employment anytime soon. [CEO and co-founder Bastian] Lehmann wouldn’t say how much Postmates workers make in a week. [Josh] Gibbs made about $50 in his first week on the job. It’s nice pocket money, he says, but it won’t pay his rent.

The low barrier to entry also means there’s a low barrier to exit: People can stop working at any time with little or no consequence. So the success of the companies, [MIT researcher Denise] Cheng says, depends on continuously recruiting new workers.

The problem of what to make of the “new” economy in the shadow of the financial crisis keeps twisting about in my mind. Is it just a simple “disruption” story wherein the old guard of capital gets shoved aside for smartphone-wielding venture cap samurais? Is crowdfunding itself just a way for new middlemen to take the place of lenders?

Or is there something else under the surface? Should we be using the old metrics to guide our thinking, or should we be looking at the unexpected consequences and social effects that Uber and its ilk are creating? There are human and environmental costs tied into this reorganization of society, and merely adding up the dollars and cents isn’t enough to reflect that impact.

If you know of anyone doing research into this kind of thing kindly point it out to me.

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Tribeca’s Storyscapes Returns For An Epic Second Year

The Tribeca Film Festival leapt into the vanguard of transmedia art last year with the inaugural edition of Storyscapes, an event led by TriBeCa’s Director of Digital Initiatives Ingrid Kopp.

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Simple Machine Announces Micro-Festival Grants

We’ve been keeping up with Simple Machine, the independent film curation tool for festival and art house programmers, since running across their booth at South By Southwest last year.

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Transmedia Beat: Bernie Su’s “Emma Approved” Monetization Secrets

Disclosure: I’m one of the organizers of Transmedia LA, so take any excessive positivity with a grain of salt.

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First Ever Crappy Awards Target SF’s Tech Industry

Inspired by the sly tradition of the Razzie Awards, which commemorate the worst of Hollywood, San Francisco fair housing advocates are kicking off “The Crappy Awards” tonight in the city’s art’s district.

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Image Disruptor: Flag Looks To Upend Photo Printing Through The Magic of Free

Flag, a photo printing start-up that is holding a barnstorming 14-day Kickstarter campaign right now, turned up on my radar this week thanks to John Gruber’s Daring Fireball.

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