Thursday, January 31, 2008

How To: Metacafe - Unbelievable! Paper Toy Transformer, By Golics

Metacafe will pay producers for their videos if they generate a lot of hits at the site. The videos that always seem to do well are the crafty and "how to" videos that show you how to to tricks and make gadgets. They are very easy to produce when you consider how well they can pay. This particular one, made by producer Golics, shows you how to make a paper toy. It has made $1300 so far with 277,27 views since October 2007. Golics has made $6,600 off all his videos there so far. All of them show different kinds of tricks with paper.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Examining the FISA Bill

The Real News Network
presents this analysis by Republican constitutional lawyer, Bruce Fein of the proposed modifications to the FISA bill (AKA "The Protect America Act") and the resulting controversy, as it has been going through congress. Anybody that has been following Glenn Greenwald's excellent coverage of this issue knows how corrupt the situation has become. Bruce Fein does an excellent job of explaining this and also pointing out the failures, if not outright compliance, by people like speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi to stop the administration's lawless posture.

The "short" version:

The Bush Administration asked companies like AT&T and Verizon to open up their access to American electronic communications of all kinds, with people outside the country, without warrants. Millions of calls and emails and internet hits were tapped by the government over a 2 or 3 year period with no oversight. If you spoke with or emailed someone outside America, it might have been you.

Some companies, such as Quest, refused because their team of lawyers told them it was grossly illegal. This cost them millions in government contracts. This wiretapping without warrants is a violation of our right to privacy and the companies are now being sued for breaking the law, which is very clear about what is required in these situations. Meanwhile, the law of the land which has protected us from both terrorists AND government abuses is up for "modification" in congress. Dick Cheney has pulled some allies together in congress to get a provision put into that new law that these telecommunication companies should be immune from any legal action as a result of their wiretapping on behalf of the government.

This immunity would serve two purposes: It protects AT&T and others from millions, maybe billions, worth of lawsuits by citizens who'se rights were violated. It also prevents any investigation at all into exactly what was going on during all that wiretapping and who actually got tapped. If the government was good and appropriate with it's power, we will never know. If the government grossly abused it's power, we will never know. The whole thing would be completely sealed.

The administration and it's allies claim is that these lawsuits would expose national security secrets to our enemies in the public record and that it would discourage companies from cooperating with the government in the future, which would, in turn, help the terrorists win. Both of these claims are false. The existing law that has been on the books all these years allowed trials with sensitive evidence to be tried in special courts that were designed specifically to protect that evidence. Companies like AT&T are also not in a position to refuse a legal request by the government for wiretaps with a warrant. THAT would be break the law. These warrants could also be obtained within 72 hours AFTER the tap took place, so there is no concern about expediency which is another administration claim. We have always been able to spy on terrorists overseas talking to people in America. The modifications needed because of technology were very minor and, like a corrupt auto mechanic, the administration made a bunch of bogus claims and jacked up the price, in liberty, that we must now all pay.

This is called "Trust Me Government." The exact kind of thing that every Republican I know has been against for as long as I have known them. Yet there they are, the people who came into power promising that scariest thing they could ever here was "I'm from the government and I'm here to help" telling us to trust the government, it's here to help. This time, though, it isn't a social worker or a welfare check. It is guys with headphones, laptops and digital recorders sitting in an AT&T hub in San Fransisco.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Music: Preston Reed - Life

I found Preston Reed while browsing around at the Broadjam Website. It's pretty cool solo guitar riffing. Broadjam is also a cool independent music site where you can upload your songs and get reviewed by the community. They also do videos and let you sell your songs as downloads for 99 cents. One of the downsides is that you can only acess the content on the broadjam website. There doesn't seem to be any way to embed their content into blogs so I can share a direct link to the material. I had to find the YouTube version to share it here. Looks like YouTube gets the clicks this time until Broadjam can work it out.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

People at Current TV

[UPDATED BELOW and the body has been edited for more clarity]

"Well, as you know, viewer-contributed content is essential to our mission, which is about democratizing television. We're about telling stories that aren't being told right now. We're about giving the audience a complete voice and a complete role in what we're doing. Our mission statement begins with working with the audience, to create a new category of content.

So I don't think you're ever going to see us increasing the amount of professionally produced content we offer. But I think what you are going to see is that the quality level of viewer contributions is going to get better and better."

-David Neuman, President of programming, Current TV

As some of you may know all of us here at Media Crashers are citizen video producers who have been past supporters and contributors to Current TV , Al Gore's cable network. Over the past few months, many of us have been very troubled by the changes at Current which seem to be taking away the essential genius that the network represented: putting citizens in control of what they see on TV.

Originally, members of the Current website had two options: those who had production skills could submit "citizen journalism" videos for consideration as TV content and those who didn't could still participate, in a very real way, by becoming "citizen programmers." Any member could contribute their vote to "greenlight" submissions and this would push the videos they liked up the ranks. The heart of this voting system was was called "the leaderboard" which was like a top 1000 list of the videos as ranked by the voters. There was a unique, dramatic, thrill to watching your video, or a video you voted for enter at about 200 or 300 and slowly rise and fall through the ranks, depending on how well it did. To win the number one spot was the ultimate rush and the greatest validation a producer could receive. The process was also very open. Just like a democracy where citizens can watch the votes being counted, the web interface displayed the greenlight voters, the scores, and the value of each person's vote so that it was possible to go back and do the math if someone wanted to.

Unfortunately, this whole system of bringing the people directly into the programming choices was done away with as the final stage of what appears like a slow takeover by the Current staff. Ironically, this was right about the time Al Gore won an emmy for "interactive television"

The "redesigned" website has no leaderboard and it looks more like a social networking meets DIGG/Delicious page where staff and members blog their thoughts. People can still upload videos but they are all buried in the mechanics of things like collecting each other's profiles, sharing links with each other, answering staff questions with webcam videos, following staff "assignment desk" projects rather than making up their own, and collecting links to viral videos they like. These things in themselves are not necessarily bad additions to the website. The problem is that all of this stuff goes into a giant blob of "content" which also includes in house staff videos mixed in, with no separation or distinction. The "leaders" in the community seem to me much more staff centered than member centered. As a citizen producer, you can't even find a list of your own videos in your profile.

So how has this all worked out?

Someone just sent me some interesting research they did about Current TV.

Here is a screenshot they took of the "People" page at It is the front page of this section where the most popular and most active people can be found.

Here it is:

Click on it for a larger image:

This next picture shows the exact same screen shot but the researcher went through the profiles of each person and anyone who is on the Current Staff has been marked:

Click for Larger Image:

I'll let the images speak for themselves.


Apparently some in the comments believe that it is the ability to pitch stuff to Current that makes it democratic. I would submit that every network in the world accepts pitches from people, even ordinary people which is what all feelance TV producers start out as. Listening to anybody who wants to talk is not what makes something democratic. It is the process people can use to put their voices forward that defines "democratizing the media." I don't believe that a cable network staff is an underrepresented minority when it comes to deciding TV content. I also don't believe an "assignment desk" where staff tell the people what kinds of productions they want submitted is a brave new approach to making television. Democritizing the media means that people can start the conversation, submit their ideas and then look at everyone's ideas and vote, in an open and verifiable way, for the ones that should go on TV. The Current staff have always made their own content along side and they have also made their own choices from the submissions. I don't have a problem with that. The difference today is that the audience is no longer bypassing staff and choosing content independently as a way of balancing out staff picks (or vise versa). That is the heart of the problem for me. The voting today has no transparency and it is a "recommendation" not a final decision.


I my recent contacts with Current I have been informed that they understand the problems with their website and have changes coming including a "bigger and better" leaderboard. I'm not sure what this means. It was the "improvements" they made to the old leaderboard that led to it's dysfunction and eventual termination in the first place. Despite my lack of confidence, I will remain hopeful. The community that they inspired is still there trying to make a difference.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Not a big fan of Front Page picks usually

I'm one of those guys that just thinks YouTube picks some downright crappy videos for their front page, there is the shining exception from time to time. I give you: ANXIETY ATTACK.

Looks to be shot with a webcam or small camcorder, all stop frame animation, an original soundtrack/song - it harkens back to when MTV was sorta good. Chalk it up to a nice 2:52 of eye candy to enjoy. Don't let it be said that we can't enjoy a good video that's not serious material. This might be the latest meme.


Red State Update

The comedy duo Travis and Jonathan at YouTube has taken the notion of blue state vs. red state politics to a level of comedy heretofore unseen on YT with their show "RED STATE UPDATE". Claimed to be shot in Los Angeles, the two hosts are from Murfreesboro and Huntland, Tennessee, in deep south territory. Their beer drinking, on-screen political antics have been delighting viewers for about a year.

Before you dismiss their show as a fluke, or a neer-do-well Jeff Foxworthy ripoff, I implore you to stay tuned. These two are producing some biting political satire at it's best, and their weekly comedy show has traveled from the Iowa Caucus to the debates, and comments on all things in the political realm have been drawing a large audience.

Here is their latest video, a farewell to Joe Biden & Chris Dodd, as a music video:

And here is a atypical episode of theirs where they discuss Hillary & McCain Winning in New Hampshire:

I like these guys a lot. They spoof red-state politics with sophistication that's just under the radar.


Video Activism: Brave New Films take on Bill Oreilly and Michael Savage

Fox Attacks "Non Existant" Veterans:

Michael Savage hates Muslims:

Robert Greenwald is at it again with his fantastic work over at Brave New Films. This time he takes on Bill Oreilly who claimed there were no homless veterans sleeping under bridges and made fun of John Edwards for pointing out that there are. They did something Oreilly apparently never thought of doing. They took a camera to a homeless shelter and asked if there were any veterans who wanted to comment.

In the next video they are trying to expose the bile that is being spewed on the national airwaves by the radio talk show host, Michael Savage. They have created a companion website where you can contact his sponsors and donate money toward The Interfaith Alliance who Savage is suing because they used his attacks against them on their website while also asking for donations. I'm not sure exactly when such behavior could actually be considered inciting violence or unrest over the public airwaves but this certainly seems like a candidate to me.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Mark Day Comedy

Mark doesn't get enough credit for his timely vlogs covering topics from current events, sports and politics along with everything in between. The Scottish born, San Francisco resident performs stand-up comedy, and has a large web audience through which he plies his observational humor with ease. Add in a cafepress shop, and he's making a few bucks along the way. He remains one of the shining gems I found on Current TV and I wish him lots of success on YouTube.


24 hours on the new site

Current TV is the brainchild of former vice-president Al Gore and Joel Hyatt to "democratize the media". If they only knew what it's become...

So who am I?

I'm a veteran of the original website, a former community moderator, I've gotten 3 pieces picked for airplay and one actually made it on TV - the other 2 died in the approval process (pods on the film Jesus Camp and Death of A President never made it to airplay because of their legal dept. and various other reasons). My story wasn't unique, dozens if not more of the pods picked for TV by the Current.TV community never made it to airplay.

But let's start from the beginning.

Current.TV started out as a noble experiment to empower everyday people, from video producers to webcammers to produce stories called "pods" which would make up 30% of the content of Current TV, a station formerly known as NewsWorld International (NWI) owned by Vivendi. Al Gore was looking to form a station that was based on grassroots organizing, a savvy army of footsoldiers with camcorders -- and would, in time, take back the airwaves from a glut of corporate media. Gore was looking for something that would make up for the failures of conventional media, and give young people a voice.

"You must become the change you wish to see in the world," was the mantra for Current TV's army of independent producers, armed with the knowledge that their stories would be published online at Current.TV. The online community at Current's website would serve as citizen programmers for the channel, and through a "Greenlighting" process would vote for a winning piece of video week, and have it put on the air. This would be their model for media democracy. Citizen producers and citizen programming, it was a fantastic concept.

A pay scale was established for every story you got on television, $500 for the first 2 stories, then $750, then $1000 for every story from there on in. It was a dream - you could conceivably make a living producing a few pods per month for the network, and we were all excited at this prospect and mobilized everyone we knew to tune in to Current TV to see this revolution in media take place.

"The problem with online democracies is people", you can quote me on that. At least this is what Current's staff was learning. Issues constantly arose in their online community, much of it about their programming, or lack of it, by the community.

Some of the many issues raised by Current's online community:

1. Pods were getting voted on the air by the community and not ever showing up on TV.

2. Video pods that were showing up on TV were hand picked by the staff over other pods, seemingly based on superficial criteria or topics. (eg. fashion/style over news/journalism)

3. The staff picked plenty of stories per week from the producer pool, but the ones voted for by the community, which equaled 52 stories per year (eventually we fought for 2 per week, or 104 per year), were often heavily scrutinized and sometimes rejected for on air play.

And so it went on and on.

Then people noticed a pattern where stories picked for and commissioned by the network began to show up on TV with an eerie similarity to regular old media: fashion over politics, hot cars over community activism, beautiful models (current hottie) over feminist issues, Paris Hilton's cellphone hacking vs. well... anything else. Current seemed to be programming a channel that was contradictory to their mission. A channel that was supposed to free the airwaves up for 18-34 year olds was rapidly becoming a vapid channel of pretty people selling clothes, music, celebrity gossip, and hot trends.

All of this was a glaring inconsistency with Current TV's original mission of democratizing the media, and their community spoke out time and time again in their message boards about the superficiality of everything; from the stories picked for TV each week, the refusal to air community picks, down to the fact that every on-air host was a walking advertisement for everything wrong with TV with a touch of ageism and anorexia thrown in for good measure (even MTV had Kurt Loder). Current was so obsessed with their image they were missing the point of the channel's creation: to democratize TV. In the process they became part of the problem they were supposed to be solving.

There were a lot of problems, but the online community was vibrant, many spoke out about these issues in the forums, and at the very least, we felt the feedback we provided would be heard and acted upon. If we only knew what was in store.

About a year ago, without any input the community of users I was familiar with, the new (formerly was launched, and the veterans of the website kind of looked at it and said "what the f**k is this?" Many of us said it looked like their former Youtube model was abandoned in favor of a new website that was Facebook meets a Digg/Delicious link-sharing model with a touch of Stickam thrown in for good measure. Neither concept was original, nor were their merging compelling enough to be truly innovative.

The new emphasis of the redesigned website would utilize in-house staff to provide daily content as links, and encourage the community to do the same. The previous model where users produced and submitted video pods & had them voted upon by the users was now given a back seat, in both prominence and attention.

The existing community was stunned as we watched the leaderboard, the long standing method of community participation to get a video on TV abruptly removed.

The contentious message boards where frustrated producers argued with staffers that they were ruining the network and the website, was deleted.

And in the process of all of this happening, many of us felt that the noble experiment where we would democratize the media - abruptly ended.

Yes, Virginia, Current TV still takes user contributed videos, but it seems to almost be an after thought. The pay scale was thrown out. Current claimed removing the payscale would allow them to pay their community contributers more money for their videos, but the opposite is what actually happened. Producers were consistently now offered less than the $1000 per story they were previously getting - given a 'take it or leave it' attitude. And those stories that were getting on air were heavily edited, re-edited, and in some cases had the context they were originally shot in removed.


The site's relaunch, which removed much of the emphasis from their original battle cry of "democratizing the media" and attracting people to create Current TV's content showed me one thing, there's no one steering the ship anymore at Current TV - it's a adrift in a sea of media look-a-likes, pretty much what many feared was going to happen. Gore and Hyatt turned a promising idea of a real revolution in television over to the same media insiders that have dominated the industry for years, and much to the channel's detriment.

Stage 1 of the website, which is over, netted Current TV a large list of hungry media producers that can make them cheap content -- just as long as they're "on the same page as them". 30% of their content would come from their viewers, even if those viewers were a list of producers that would create content the programming department required and the stories they assigned or commissioned now.

More than a few producers have left the current community on their own out of disgust (plisko), some producers went back into the commercial field (yours truly), and others have flocked back to YouTube (markdaycomedy) and other video sites where they can try to make a living. Many more simply just never came back a month or two after the new site launched.

Stage 2 of the Current TV website appears to have minimized the focus on building a unique community of video producers and citizen programmers who want to change the way TV is made and shifted to a more inclusive model where people talk about TV and submit their ideas as links.

Many of us flocked to Current TV at the start because we were from the old media model, we hated that model and we wanted to see fundamental change in the industry. Current seemed to be the answer to what we were looking for, but it left many of us wishing for more.


A few parting thoughts, for those who think I'm only concentrating on the negative. I think the Current Journalism dept. at the channel is actually one of the better things to come from their efforts, they've produced some fine pieces and worked with many producers, including myself, to help get some timely ENG/News style stories on the air. My main gripes are with some of their webdev and on-air programming decisions, and the disconnect with their online community and TV audience.

As of 1/29/08 many new changes to the video section and front page rolled out, and some issues raised by myself and other users at the website were addressed. The leaderboard seems to remain a holdout. It's months later and no progress has been seen towards returning to some type of a transparent voting model for citizen programmers - if it returns it will be a good day for Current's VC2 community of producers who felt left out of the new website. But frankly, I doubt message boards will ever return. That being said. I think this company has made some pretty bad decisions, and I'm fairly certain nothing is going to change in the short term, at least not without public criticism of what they're doing. Criticism seems to be the one thing that moves them from their slumber -- loud public criticism.

These words are written in the hopes that Current sees the error of their ways and becomes a legitimate force for change in media, instead of emulating all the problems and things that are wrong with it now. If it can't change, show the people running the place the door and bring in people who will make it work the way it was supposed to.

We seem to have come a long way since this was said in 2005:

"Well, as you know, viewer-contributed content is essential to our mission, which is about democratizing television. We're about telling stories that aren't being told right now. We're about giving the audience a complete voice and a complete role in what we're doing. Our mission statement begins with working with the audience, to create a new category of content.

So I don't think you're ever going to see us increasing the amount of professionally produced content we offer. But I think what you are going to see is that the quality level of viewer contributions is going to get better and better."

-David Neuman, President of programming, Current TV

Someone recently asked me if I'd ever produce a pod or story for Current.TV again. That's a question I'm not sure how I'd answer. Current managed to get me, a born cynic, excited about their channel at first, which led to me jumping in and for 2 years donating hundreds of hours of my time there. But, and there's a BIG but, let me just say when participating in the experience of democratizing the media and seeing it become reduced to a trite marketing phrase, it leaves a taste in your mouth that is hard to wash away.

former VC^2 producer,

This article is in it's 4th revision.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Politics: Mike Gravel - Bomb Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib

Mike Gravel really cracks me up. What he is saying here is so gutsy that it is appealing in a blockbuster movie climax sort of way. I don't know that it would ever happen but wow:

1) Clear everybody out of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and bomb them both to dust to show the world we are serious about our regrets.

2) Get all the prisoners lawyers and give them due process to determine their guilt or innocence.

3) Turn the justice department loose on all the government contractors and think tanks in the military/intelligence industrial complex so that they are so busy covering their own asses that they don't have a chance to attack him.

Unfortunately I probably have a better chance of doing it than he does. Although I would probably do it without the cheap, amateur special effects slapped on my videos.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Politics: Trust Your Heart

It's Time To Stand Up For Your Man

Michael Moore sent me a letter just before the NH primary where he went over the positives and negatives about the leading democratic candidates. He said that he wasn't officially endorsing anyone and then went on to list mostly negatives about the others and mostly positives about John Edwards. . . not that it was an endorsement.

I was listening to Air America the other day and Mike Malloy was saying how the field looks good and the show is not endorsing anyone but they are leaning towards John Edwards. A Huffington post article I read recently Said very much the same. I could go on. It seems like lots of people aren't really endorsing anyone. . . but they want to point out some good things about John Edwards.

Well you know what? There's this little thing called "the establishment" and they most definitely DON'T like John Edwards. Keep playing footsie with his candidacy and you will "not endorse but like" John Edwards right out of the Primary.

This is not a time to be some kind of "neutralbot" public Democrat who doesn't want to tarnish the primaries by actually making a decision about someone. This is not the time to drop hints about who you like while the other candidates clearly have an advantage. This is the time to take action and stand behind your man! This is the narrow window where your opinions and your influence actually mean something to the election. Don't wait till Hillary's democratic machine and Obama's Martin Luther King road show tips the scales completely.

If you like John Edwards then stand up and say so! The last thing he needs right now is a bunch of public figures who secretly like him but don't want to show "bias" in the election by actually standing up and saying so. This is not the time to play that game! This is the time to make change happen by getting in there and fighting for it!

So. If you are a blogger, or a radio/TV personality, or a documentary film maker who has the ear of Democrats around the country and you actually like John Edwards then now is the time to actually stand behind him rather that talk about him!

Please stop fiddling around while the real candidate of change (or the at least the closest to that of the 3) gets beaten because everyone's talking about Obama's speeches and Hillary's tears!

Stand up and be counted!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Alternative Fuel: The Air Car

A French inventor has developed a piston engine that operates much like an internal combustion engine but it uses compressed air as the force to push the pistons. It get's 120 miles on a tank of air and will refill at gas stations with compressors (the fast way, 3 minutes) or by plugging in the on board compressor (the slow way, 4 hours) The hybrid version uses gas to run the on-board compressor. One tank of gas can then get the car from New York to LA.

Meanwhile, an inventor in Australia has created an air powered rotary engine that also uses the air to create a cushion that drastically reduces friction on the moving parts. It is also incredibly small. He first created it for forklifts and golf carts but it is also viable in cars and other motorized vehicles.

Imagine the possibilities! I wonder how long these motors would make an electric generator last with the gas being used to compress the air? Or what if the onboard compressor used the energy from breaking to put more air in the tank, like hybrids do with electricity? What if the motion of the car tirned a wind turbine attached to the compressor?