Sunday, July 29, 2012

NBC you later: network comes in last in Olympic coverage

So, how's it goin' so far, NBC?

NBC, how do viewers hate thee? Let me count the ways...

As many have pointed out, the best sport going on at the Olympics might very well be the NBC-bashing event, happening now on Twitter at the #nbc and #nbcfail hashtags.

Among the network's perceived crimes: delaying coverage of what everyone else on planet Earth is seeing live, providing poor commentary, cutting content, showing too many commercials at inopportune times, and hiring Ryan Seacrest (in no particular order).

In Canada, this discussion is mostly academic: we can see the NBC Olympic coverage if we like, but we don't need to, because our own CTV is showing it live (on TV and its iPad app, which I've been using regularly to catch up).

Who is the audience? Hint: look online

There isn't a lot that offends me, but at the top of the list, among incompetent managers and bad customer service, is traditional media trying to preserve its old business model at the expense of its audience.

You remember the audience? It used to be the silent, passive people sitting at home on their couches, happy to lap up what the gatekeepers fed them, when it fed it to them. In that way, TV was a one-way medium: what other choice did we have?

But new media changed TV into a real-time, worldwide, two-way medium and made information impossible to control. It lifted the veil from the old system - just like the Wizard of Oz! - and gave us a voice with which to complain to and about our former media overlords.

Now TV networks and stations are scrambling to figure out how to best serve audiences and advertisers. NBC's strategy is to choke its content into prime time, so that it can sell commercial time to advertisers who can be guaranteed that the audience will be watching it at once.

The trouble with this approach is it requires everyone to pretend that events aren't happening live and to say away from Twitter. Are we OK with that? Memo to old media: this might be how you gain viewers in the short term, but it's how you lose them over time. 

It also looks bad to pretend that things are great because ratings are up when millions of people are slamming you online. Every PR student knows that ignoring a crisis doesn't make it go away, and that numbers don't necessarily mean "success." Nielsen says that ratings are up, but it doesn't measure viewer satisfaction.

And how does NBC explain spoiling its own Olympic coverage yesterday when Brian Williams led the NBC Nightly News with the day's top story about the results of a certain swimming competition, sans spoiler alert, before his own network showed the event?

How could one of the biggest media conglomerates on the planet not coordinate its news and sports divisions? That's just incompetence.

Here's what other media outlets are saying:

1. Forbes: #NBCfail gets Olympic Size: Is It Going Any Better in Canada?

2. Business Insider: #nbcfail Economics

3. USA Today: #NBCfail: Olympic lead-in spills results ahead of broadcast

4. Twitter: the Tweetwally scroll at the top of this blog is tracking the #nbcfail hashtag

5. LA Times: NBC defends blackout of opening ceremony

Gatekeeper: tear down this wall

NBC's response to not showing the opening ceremony live? The LA Times quotes an NBC spokesperson in the article above: 
"It was never our intent to live stream the Opening Ceremony or Closing Ceremony. They are complex entertainment spectacles that do not translate well online because they require context, which our award-winning production team will provide for the large prime-time audiences that gather together to watch them."
It's the classic mistake of the old-school gatekeeper: "the news doesn't happen until we say it happens" and "the audience doesn't have the faculties to understand unfiltered media on their own." So, audience, get back on your couch, shut up, and just be thankful you're seeing anything.

It reminds me of the time the school at which I teach brought in a well-known TV reporter as a guest speaker. Told in advance that the reporter wanted to talk about new media, it became instantly clear that this person distrusted and disliked social media, and wanted to convince people to go back to the good old days of the "I'll tell a story while you listen" model.

The conversation went along these lines:
Famous person: "Don't you want trusted sources?"
Student: "The people you follow on Twitter are your trusted sources."
Famous person: "But we're the storytellers."
Student: "But so are we."

How much longer, I wonder, until the rights to the Olympics will go not to NBC, but to Apple or YouTube or Twitter?

One day soon, we'll look back at this time and chuckle about how NBC just didn't get it. It might even make a great movie (or whatever replaces movies). Might I suggest a title?

Friday, July 27, 2012

11 new words recommended by four out of five dentists

The aspiration of word #1.

1. Amanamel - The toothpaste dedicated to cleaning your teeth without pay or formal training.

2. Bumk - A teenager who likes thrash tunes and dresses like a homeless person.

3. Calmputer - Your mobile phone: it makes you feel good when you can see it or feel it in your pocket, and makes you freak out when you think you've lost it.

4. Cellophone - A mobile phone wrapped in protective plastic.

5. Garbarge - A ship that hauls trash.

6. Gross-up - A tightly framed and disgusting photo of your lunch posted on Instagram. 

7. Membrain - The substance that controls your mind's power to remember things, whatever it's called.

8. Pastcast - Yesterday's weather.

9. Tourewery - Exploring the history and heritage of a beer manufacturer.

10. Twittercraft - Analyzing and using the techniques of the acclaimed tweet writers.

11. Nwerd - A person who knows how to write, and is mocked as being boringly studious by the boneheads who don't. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

I stream, you stream, we all stream for USTREAM

Video streaming by Ustream Irritating ad in 3...2...1...

Everyone looks better with microphone headgear on.

I wanted to prove that and test USTREAM - a web channel and app that lets you watch and record video podcasts and stream live online.

You can invite your friends in advance of your broadcast, chat, interact, ask questions, show off your fire-breathing Godzilla toy, or do most anything you like, as long as you stay away from stuff that's, let's say, "not for mom."

There's local, like the Winnipeg Police Scanner, breaking national news, like CBS, and breaking alien news, like NASA.

USTREAM gets you going with 10 gigs of storage space, and you can upgrade to pro if you need more. The downside to not going pro: it embeds a little ad in your podcast when you least expect it. Booo!

I haven't yet used the app to stream, but the site has a good tutorial on how to become a citizen journalist. Why, I'll be a younger Morley Safer in no time! (Disclosure: everyone is younger than Morley Safer).

How is it that I haven't used this video podcast tool before? I blame the headgear.

Monday, July 23, 2012

You're so vain, you probably think this blog post's about you

You're special.

Odds are that you don't need me to tell you, because we are living through the great narcissism epidemic of the new millennium.

The culprit most often blamed for this epidemic: the Internet. At this point, it's probably a cliche everywhere but on the Newsroom to call out the Web for bringing Andy Warhol's 15 minutes of fame to life "in a way that probably even Warhol couldn't imagine."

Mr. DeVille, I'm ready for my close-up  

It's a running gag that a new reporter with a camera crew is a dangerous thing. In media classes, you can simply flick on the TV cameras and watch perfectly normal and well-adjusted students become transfixed by the most wonderful image they've ever seen on a monitor: themselves.

I call this the "RadioShack Effect." Years before the Internet, the electronics retailer figured out that if people saw themselves in the TV monitor in the window, they'd stop and look into it. "Look: I'm on TV!"

I once saw a guy (who happened to look just like William H. Macy) fall out of his chair at a Vancouver Canucks game in the excitement of seeing himself on the JumboTron. That makes one of him. 

The Internet is a TV and a telephone, of course, which means it takes the ability to see yourself on a monitor and puts "you" in charge of the button that makes it go live. The vamping-in-the-mirror photos on Facebook and Instagram are just the tip of the iceberg.

As is with all media, the thing that makes it great is also the thing that makes it terrible. No more gatekeepers? Great! Everybody talking and no one listening? Bad, Internet, Bad!

Advertisers were on the forefront of this trend. In advertising, it's a given that "you" is the most important person in any ad. "They" doesn't sell, but "you" does (an approximation of George Carlin's "your stuff" versus "other people's shit").

Which explains Time's cynically calculated Person of the Year in 2006, around the same time the entire magazine business collapsed at once: You. "Me!? I'd better buy that thing!" The cover came complete with a mirror. A little less journalistically challenging, we can agree, than Time's Man of the Year in 1939.

Narcissist? Moi?

If you're a narcissist, congratulations! According to these articles, you may be either:

1. A leader.

2. A killer.

As Dr. Learner writes the National Review (link #2, above):
"A narcissist is a person who never progressed beyond the self-love of infancy, one who learned superficial social skills - narcissists are often charming - but never learned to love another and, through love, to view others as separate persons with an equal value. To the narcissist, other people have no intrinsic worth; their value is purely instrumental. They are useful when they satisfy his desires and enhance his self-esteem, disposable as bottle caps when they don't."
I'd written most of this blog post before the gunman shot up the movie theatre in Aurora. Perhaps the best articles on the topic so far are this one by film critic Roger Ebert on his blog, and this one he wrote for the New York Times. He concurs with Learner:
"Like many whose misery is reflected in violence, he may simply have been drawn to a highly publicized event with a big crowd. In cynical terms, he was seeking a publicity tie-in. He was like one of those goofballs waving in the background when a TV reporter does a stand-up at a big story."
It's an open reality among teachers that the easiest way to motivate students is by blowing smoke...their way by saying things like, "The cream always rises to the top." Of course, everyone in the room thinks, "That's me!"

The opposite - giving corrective advice - has become harder in the echo chamber of "you." A low mark or negative feedback is an ego threat that "you" simply can't handle, being the most important person in the room and all.

When everyone is rewarded for being special, the ones who end up being punished are those who have actually worked harder and/or achieved more than anyone else, but hey: the great thing about overachievers is that they rarely complain. 

I wonder what would be of the creative-writing teacher today who once wrote on my classmate's term paper, "I won't give you a mark, because you might think that I consider this to be writing."

In stand-up comedy, it's well known that the more negative feedback you get early on - "you're not funny" - is inversely related to how funny you will be in the future. 

If the Time Magazine article was the start of this trend, maybe the high school commencement address that went viral (top of this post) is the beginning of the market correction.

As Dr. Lerner concludes in her article:
"Many...experts...focus only on self-esteem, not on esteem for others, and they obsess about the methods parents use to teach their kids, ignoring the content, the moral lessons they are trying to teach, insisting that any physical punishment, however infrequently and judiciously applied, is child abuse. These experts have no real solutions to offer, when the problem is overindulgence rather than abuse, as it now so often is. They are part of the problem. And the sooner we recognize that, the better."
Maybe we can start by posting seven vamping photos of our friends for every one we post of ourselves.

Friday, July 20, 2012

What makes a great partnership? Ask Shane MacGowan.

1 + 1 = 3

We live in a new era of collaboration, where the value of a strategic partnership should be greater than the sum of its parts. According to Deakin, "partnerships provide the capacity to achieve what might otherwise not be achieved."

For inspiration and demonstration: I give you the duets of Shane MacGowan, the drug- and booze-addled lead singer of the Pogues and the Popes.

My friends and I once saw MacGowan play First Avenue in Minneapolis, and he was so loaded he could barely walk. He'd stagger up to the mic, sing a verse, plunk himself down on the drum riser (beer in hand), stare off into space, and struggle back up when another verse came around. 

Musically speaking, however, MacGowan's duets are some of the best ever recorded. I've spent more time than I care to say pondering the greatness of these tunes and what they say about partnerships (especially ones in which a collaborator has issues).

Here's what I've come up with:

1. The optimist/pessimist, sober/loaded, beautiful/ugly dynamic works.

2. Showing up counts for a lot.

3. Survive.

4. Authenticity and honesty go a long way.

5. The ability to sing on key isn't a requirement to creating harmony. 

Did I miss anything?

Shane and his friends collaborating:

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Encyclopedia Brown made me Dictionary Larsen

I've always believed that one of the best predictors of a student's success is "books at home."

And research backs it up. More cash! Higher education! Break the ice at parties!

For me, the books that really made me the rich, entertaining Brainiac that I am are The Great Brain, anything by Judy Blume, and - maybe more than any of them - Encyclopedia Brown.

So, it's sad that we learned yesterday of the death of Donald J. Sobol, the creator and writer of Encyclopedia Brown, a series of 20+ books that launched in 1963.

Sobol's talent was writing, as the Globe and Mail says, books for "kids who hated to read." I don't know that I ever hated reading, but there's no doubt that Encyclopedia Brown was the literary equivalent of "I'll eat just one more potato chip." Just one more mystery before bedtime!

In the stories, Encyclopedia Brown is a boy detective for hire, a bargain at "25 cents per day, plus expenses," who also helps his police-chief dad solve mysteries too complicated for the police force. Assisted by the plucky Sally Kimball and plagued by arch nemesis Bugs Meany, Encyclopedia's solves mysteries with a keen eye for detail and ability to uncover factual errors in his suspects' stories.

The best part: you could solve the mysteries yourself. You flipped to the back of the book to get the solution, and generations of young kids (present company excluded) learned the thrill of reading the solutions before the mysteries in order to feel a little bit smarter (the equivalent of watching Jeopardy! earlier in the day to impress people with your "knowledge" later on).

However, one of my proudest moments is figuring out the Case of the Flower Can all by myself. There are two kinds of cans: flour and flower.

Where do I collect my quarter plus expenses?


Celeste Holm died yesterday - her role in the Tom Sawyer film musical (Jodie Foster's first movie!) was another childhood cultural touchstone (and underrated!).

That's Holm singing "uncouth, irreverent, wild..." in the opening line. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Would an iPhone by any other name be even sweeter?

The iShoe, perhaps?

I get this line a lot:
"Hey, Larsen, you said you hated cell phones, but now you're the guy who loves his phone!" 
To this I respond:

1. Nobody told me that a "cell phone" was mobile Internet until I actually got an early iPhone and discovered it myself.

2. I rarely use my "phone" to make phone calls. Doesn't that make it something else?

3. The thing I hate about "cell phones" is boneheads talking on them loudly in restaurants, on the bus, at movies, or anywhere else other people go for quiet, downtime, or conversation. The ability to text and email essentially removes the loud-talker issue (though don't get me started on the iPhone glow at the movies).

4. Shut up.


My personal beefs aside, I've been wondering when we'll come up with a better and more suitable name for "smartphone," "mobile phone," and/or "iPhone."

Wouldn't Apple stand to sell more iPhones if the last, few people on Earth who don't have one got the message that this thing isn't for phone calls? I mean, yeah, it's for phone calls - but that's the least of it.

Last week, Jeff Jarvis asked the same question on his blog: "It's not a mobile phone. So what is it?"

Jarvis cites research from the Telegraph that shows people use their smartphones for Internet, social media, music, and games - in that order - followed by phone calls, emails, and texts. Downloading porn and sexting aren't mentioned - courtesy bias, I tell you!

Jarvis doesn't like "mobile" (because we mostly use these devices at home). However, he does say that he likes "iHändy" which is a variation of what they call their portable devices in Germany.

I dunno. Looks a little Mötley Crüe to me.

I have another suggestion.

This week, a friend told me that he was sitting with his young daughter by a kids' pool. She was having a good time throwing stuff into the water and my friend didn't notice until too late that one of the objects that made its way to the bottom was - you guessed it - his iPhone.

He pulled the device from its watery grave, feeling the panic of a person who has become accustomed to using a mobile phone to do absolutely everything. (But, sure enough, a couple of days sitting in rice was all it needed to start working again.)

That's the third or fourth story I've heard this week about people having panic attacks when they think their phone is dead or lost. On his podcast this week, Joe Rogan said that he was pulled over by a cop on suspicion of drunk driving after he swerved his car in a blind "where's my phone?" panic.  

Inspired by that insight, I put forward my entry to the mobile phone renaming sweepstakes:

The Calmputer. 

Apple could just add an "i" to the front of the word, and they'd be good to go.

Then again, the New York Times suggests our phones are more tracking devices than anything, so we could also go with:

The Tracker.

Ahh, a job well done. Unless, of course, you have better ideas. Do tell.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - content curation meets magazines

Expert, curate thyself!

A lot has been said about online content curation, which is the practice of collecting, filtering, and sharing online content in your area of expertise. Long story short: one person's "online content curation" is another person's "lifting online content."

Done well, curation is about great research and investigation, and making sense of a wide body of work. Done badly, curation is a fancy word for plagiarism.

Controversy aside, curation has become critical in business, and for advertisers, journalists, and communicators. Rohit Bhargava does a nice job of breaking down content curation into these models:
  • Aggregation - collecting everything and putting it in one place.
  • Distillation - collecting only the most-important information.
  • Elevation - bringing insight to the information you've collected.
  • Mashups - bringing together two (or more) aggregations of information.
  • Chronology - organizing information based on timeline.
This is why I believe curation should be part of school curriculum: there's a big opportunity here for teachers to pose questions and research problems and give students the curation tools that encourage self-directed research, thinking, and contemplation.  

The issue for me has been finding the right online curation tool, so that my students can conduct research while they construct an online, digital magazine in the course subject matter. As it is, students already write, design, and produce an original magazine, old-school paper style. As I see it, the online curation tool would supplement that existing knowledge. - the website and the app - might be the one.

Like Delicious (social bookmarking) and Instapaper ("read it later") meets Flipboard (social media becomes a magazine on your iPad), lets you publish cool online magazines by curating content on the topic of your choice.

Your topic could be about anything. I, for instance, just started a page on one of the most important issues facing society: Star Wars figures. Or, you could go meta like this gentleman and curate curation. 

You can add as many resources as you like by "scooping" sources with the site's bookmarklet, "rescoop" from other scoopers, or scoop from the site's "suggested content." You can filter and share your topics on social media and build up followers and networks, just as you would on Twitter or Facebook, or by RSS feed.

I'm new to the site, so I don't have any followers and precious few scoops - however, I can see how this could grow into something larger. My only beefs: it doesn't seem possible to scoop tweets (I suppose I could use Storify or Tweetbot for that) or search within a particular topic.

I recommend giving a shot. There's a good chance my students will be using it next year unless, of course, you have a better suggestion or something even better comes along. Do tell!

Monday, July 9, 2012

My first podcast is about my favorite podcasts

It may not be pretty, but it's a podcast. And it's the only one I've got!

If you're interested in hearing it, just press play. If you're not interested in hearing it, just press play. 

If you're interested in recording a podcast of your own, here's how I put this baby together:

1. I recorded the theme music and "chipmunk intro" on my iPad using the GarageBand app - a most impressive app that's well worth the $5 it costs. Get it!

2. I saved the theme music to iCloud. However, when I signed in to iCloud on my computer, the files were not there - it looks like you can save the files to iCloud to save space on your iPad, but not to access them from the Web (unlike other Apple apps).

3. So, I emailed the files to myself, saved them on my desktop, clicked on them, and they opened in iTunes.

4. I launched the GarageBand program on my Mac laptop, and imported the files from iTunes. 

5. I plugged in my USB headset (Logitech) into the laptop and recorded the rest.

6. I selected "export to iTunes" in GarageBand and the file opened up in iTunes, as promised. In iTunes, I selected "Advanced" from the pull-down menu and "Create MP3 Version." iTunes generated a copy, and I dragged it from iTunes onto my desktop.

7. I imported the file into my account on Box. I selected "share" in Box, got the embed code and pasted it into the HTML view on this blog.

8. Then I posted my blog, and that was that.

Next time: I stop smacking my lips, saying "umm," and letting GarageBand automatically set the recording levels. I start singing the theme song, cursing, and saying what I really think. Or not!


Apple's new Podcasts app. Nifty!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

I'm telling you for the last time: the Acropolis is being eaten away by acid rain!

Papa George's - slowly being eaten away by acid rain.

 A great lesson bears repeating.

When I was a kid, my favorite restaurant on planet Earth was Papa George's in Osborne Village, where I'd regularly meet my folks for lunch.

(Now, I refer to the restaurant as Pa Oge's, thanks to the florescent letters that burned out 10 years ago and will, apparently, never be replaced).

Back in the day, Papa George himself walked you to your table, lit your candle, put down the Island of Chios placemats ("The history of Chios is quite old..."), served you up your food, and left you to ponder a painting of the Acropolis on the wall.

On one of these fine occasions, my father gestured up at the painting and asked, "Did you know the Acropolis is being slowly eaten away by acid rain?" I nodded my head knowingly and ate my souvlaki.

Little did I know that we would meet there for lunch 15 or 20 more times, and each time he'd ask, "Did you know the Acropolis is being slowly eaten away by acid rain?" Along the way, the line morphed from "serious fact" to "running joke" to "slow torture."

So, on the 21st visit, I jumped into action and said, "Yes - yes - I know: the Acropolis is slowly being eaten away by acid rain," threw my meal against the wall, and ran out of the restaurant screaming.

Long story short: now we meet for lunch at Pony Corral. Did you know the pony statue is slowly being eaten away by acid rain?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Is retro the future of music?

Keep telling yourself that, Neil.

Is that all there is?

Yesterday, I wrote a blog about remix culture and where to draw the line between mashup and copyright infringement.

Having settled nothing, I'm on to tackling the other big, unanswered question: why is pop music, and our culture itself, so fascinated with what's come before?

The question has been on my mind a lot since reading Simon Reynolds' great book, Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to its Own Past. In the book, Reynolds tracks rock's fascination with itself from the 1960s to today, and makes the case that we're living in a post-everything world in which music is no longer a catalyst for cultural change, but shallow nostalgia.

For evidence, look no further than the mashup, YouTube, the cover version, the iPod shuffle, the return to vinyl records, tribute bands, and the Stone Roses reunion.

Reynolds admits that he himself's not immune to nostalgia and I'm guilty of the same crime. Maybe we all are! Among the latest "new" music that I've bought: Men Without Hats, PiL, Dexys, and Joey Ramone. The new bands I've bought are practically retro tribute acts: Edward Sharpe, the Cribs, the Raveonettes, Field Music, The Shins, Oberhofer, the Hives, Hot Chip, and Fun.

Don't get me wrong: I love all of these bands. The Dexys' new album, for instance, has already been heralded as the best record of Kevin Rowland's career. It's just that I wonder the same thing as Reynolds: shouldn't all art "be constantly pushing forward into new territory?" I have a nagging feeling that it should.

Being about my age, Reynolds recalls the punk invasion of 1977 in which some of my favorite bands - the Ramones, the New York Dolls, the Clash, and the Sex Pistols - burst onto the scene and made the rest look like they'd been sleeping (you're well advised to read his other great book about what happened next, Rip it Up and Start Again).

Of course, you can make the case that these bands, for all of their promise of endless cultural rejection and change, were throwbacks too. Lest we forget: even the Beatles were a skiffle band. And on Nirvana's hit that brought grunge to the masses, the band cribbed from the Pixies and Boston (Gouge Away + More Than a Feeling = Smells Like Teen Spirit).

The Who's Pete Townshend has been complaining about rock and roll getting boring since at least the early 1970s. As he's quoted in Dave Marsh and Kevin Stein's 1984 the Book of Rock Lists:
"Above all pop desperately needs a new messiah who will take things right back to the glamor, power, and insanity of the Elvis Presley age." 
Is he talking about Bieber? Wah, wah, wah.

It may just be that it's harder than ever to break through now that everyone's music collection is the same. There's no longer a musical generation gap, because the music of yesterday and today is all mashed up in the iPod. "What's new" doesn't much matter anymore, because it's mixed up with what's old.

My friend's nephew listens to music on his iPod, as compiled by his uncle. His favorite artist is David Bowie. My young niece's favorite artist is Led Zeppelin: shhhh, she doesn't know they've broken up or that one of them is dead. She also wishes they'd tour with the Pixies.

The unspoken question: why don't these damn teens reject what's come before and create their own culture? Or is the new culture defined by historical ignorance and malaise?

If that sounds a bit harsh,  Reynolds also considers the possibility of nostalgia as protest. By buying old clothes, vinyl records, and magazines from 1970, could it be that you're sticking it to the man? A tantalizing possibility.

In a rebuttal to Reynolds' book in Q Magazine, musician Billy Bragg suggests yet another possibility: if you hate what the kids are listening to, "it could just be a symptom of middle age."

Where does a mashup end and copyright infringement begin?

Don't settle for second best, baby, you were born this way. 

When we define "creative" in advertising class, we say it can be one of two things:

1. Coming up with something completely new.
2. Bringing together two, existing things to make something new.

The first is self-explanatory. My favorite example of the second: Pizza Hut (the restaurant) + Jabba the Hut (the Star Wars character) = Pizza the Hut (the Space Balls Parody)

Pizza the Hut is a parody, but it's also something we haven't seen before. Therefore, it's "creative." However, what if Pizza Hut and/or George Lucas, doesn't think so? Should Mel Brooks fork over the dough?

It's complicated

We live in a remix culture, in which mashups of pre-existing works are one person's "art and a reinterpretation of history" and another's "stealing."

I'm not sure how I feel about it. It's complicated.

As a teacher, I wish I had a nickel for every time a student has asked me, "How much of this photo am I allowed to use in my ad?" or used someone else's tagline or logo.

This is fueled by the Internet, of course, and everyone's favorite "visual samplers:" Photoshop and Google Images.

My favorite "wish-it-wasn't-true, but-it-probably-will-be" joke is that we're just a couple years away from teachers saying, "Be sure to have your papers plagiarized for next Tuesday!"

Creative Commons has tried to reign it in by assigning attribution licenses to websites like Flickr, but the variety of licenses, how and when you can use them, and how to attribute them when you do, aren't as straightforward as one might hope.

This leads to people doing online what they see others doing online, which is: help yourself. Individuals aren't the only culprits, either. I've written before about YouTube's hypocritical copyright policy.

Not ha-ha funny

On one hand, I understand what it's like to be ripped off by someone else, having my stand-up material "sampled" by a young host at Rumor's. On the other, I understand why it was tempting for that comic to build on the work of someone else - it's easier to perfect what someone else has started then to do the heavy lifting yourself.

While I was angry at the time, I now see it as also my fault - my jokes should have been more specific to me, and then no one could have taken them.

As well, I wonder if it's a North American thing to write a joke and believe that you own it, as opposed to other cultures, like The Borg on Star Trek, who all work toward the same common goal for the betterment of all.

Long story short: letting it go has been better for my health and well-being.

As well, every comic has told a joke that he or she thinks is in "the public domain" only to find out that it's someone else's "creative." For me, it was "an old family joke" that another comic revealed to be a Garry Shandling original. I never told it again.

Another time, I told a Howie Mandell joke onstage - intentionally, believing it to be an ironic in-joke - only to find out later that the irony may have been lost on the crowd, who knew nothing of Howie. The sure way to kill the irony, and the joke, would be to say, "I'm being ironic. I know that this is a Howie Mandell original." Does tone and intent matter?

There are other comics who get angry when you tell a joke about the same topic. This is pretty clearly not copyright infringement: if Tom and Katie are getting a divorce, you can bet that every comic on Earth will have something to say about it.

Learn the rules: whatever they are

I've used photos on this very blog from Google Images without so much as a thought from where I got them. I'm not a photographer, so I've never considered photographs to be anything other than "pretty pictures from the Internet that help make your blog look good." Which, I know, is wrong!

But is it also wrong that I embedded the YouTube video at the top of the post? And is it really wrong, because the person who mashed up the Lady Gaga/Madonna hits didn't get their permission? And is it really, really wrong because Lady Gaga's "Born this Way" is reductive of Madonna's "Express Yourself?"

Maybe it's a harbinger of things to come that we now hear people speak of ""aggressive samples"(watch the great - and pirated! - Copyright Criminals for the full discussion) and "progressive copyright."

As Copyright Criminals points out, no one was very much concerned about sampling until artists started making money by doing it. As the old adage goes: "Where there's a hit, there's a writ."

If there was no sampling, we wouldn't have legitimately great albums with uncleared ("illegal") samples, like Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique, Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions...", and De La Soul's Three Feet High and Rising.

Of course, Rick James' biggest record was by MC Hammer, for which James was paid. However, the song was terrible. So was Puff Daddy's butchered - but legally obtained - sample of the Police's "Every Breath You Take." So was Vanilla Ice's unholy remix of Queen's "Under Pressure".

But what of Clyde Stubblefield, who played with James Brown from 1965 to 1970? There's evidence that Stubblefield wrote "Funky Drummer," which Copyright Criminals says is the most sampled song of all time - Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane, N.W.A., Sinead O'Connor, and Prince among them. Stubblefield got paid a fee for being on the original record, but got no writer's credit, and makes no money in royalties.

Is his beef with James Brown? The artists who sample the song? Samplers? All of the above?

The classic example: is Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe print copyright infringement? What about the Obama Hope poster? What about my links to both?'s complicated indeed.

As they sing in Rent, "The opposite of war isn't peace, it's creation." The big question: how much of another person's creation can you use in yours?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind.

I didn't write that line: (Dylan, B. (1962). Blowin' in the Wind. In The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. Retrieved July 2, 2012, from'_in_the_Wind.)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The best lines from Euro 2012 TV commentators

The thrill of victory and drinking beer at noon.

I watch soccer for two reasons:

1. I appreciate an excuse to drink beer at noon.
2. The scintillating play-by-play commentary.

No, I'm not drunk. I've written before about the Brits saving soccer at the last World Cup, if not with their game play then with their often hilarious commentary. Same goes for Euro 2012

I now watch soccer with pint of Carlsberg in one hand and a pen and notepad in the other, the better to make note of a particularly deft touch with a word.

This year's best lines:
"If you can lip read as well as me, you can tell the German coach is not impressed."

"Seventy eight years is even longer than what I've been around - just."

"He's survived the scare."

"Not exactly thrilled to the core."

"We will not tire of seeing the quality of that strike."

"He's rather dispossessed."

"It's all rather sporting at the end."

"Hardly a hair out of place."

"There's a German in the way."

"Dagger through the heart."


"Germans can start booking hotel rooms in Gdansk."

"A lesson in the artistry of passing a football."

"Spain has its party tricks, but French are the party poopers."

"There's a rip in his shirt - he'll need a new one."

"It's a delicious contest so far."

Enjoy the delicious final, and happy Canada Day!