Sunday, January 25, 2009

Media and Technology: An Interests Showdown for Obama

Last tuesday, like most people at Syracuse, I watched elatedly as Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States.  It was a historic moment any way you slice it, and all eyes are on Obama now as he attempts to live up to the hope over 66 million of us placed in him last November.

There's been no shortage of news speculation as to how he will handle one pressing issue or another.  However, being me, I've been wondering about another angle.  Perhaps not the most important or pressing, but one which greatly interests me.

Aside from the pomp of the ceremony itself, two things about President Obama's inauguration day struck me. First:  the new website at, which went live before he had even finished taking the Oath of Office.  Second:  The star-studded "Neighborhood Ball," hosted by ABC, which kicked off the string of events he and Michelle danced at.  These two events stood out to me because they highlight two "interest groups" among which Obama has strong support;  the wired world of the internet, and the glitz and glamor of Hollywood and the entertainment industry.

Barack Obama ran what is widely hailed as the most technology-savvy campaign in history.  With the small but passionate exception of Ron Paul supporters, the "internets" as a whole loved him for it, and looked forward to a presidency that understands and embraces new technology.  So far, signs that Change has come to the members of the executive branch are good.  The new White House website is every bit as fancy as the Obama team's previous online works, and having a weekly video podcast of sorts sounds like a great way to engage the populace.  Later in the week, we heard about the complaints staffers have been voicing over the archaic I.T. infrastructure in the White House - a lament all to familiar to any geek who has found themselves thrust into the bureaucratic technology morass that typifies most established institutions (50 meg mailbox quota for Syracuse students' e-mail, anyone?).  Heck, even the fact that the president fought to keep his Blackberry shows that he's a new breed of president - one who "gets" technology.  Let the Tubes rejoice!

However, the "Neighborhood Ball" I saw tuesday night on ABC demonstrates Obama's clout with another group: the entertainment industry.  During the campaign, one of the first widely-talked-about attack ads from McCain was directed at Obamas "celebrity" appeal.  His life up to this point reads like an Oscar-winning screenplay, and like most Democratic candidates, he had his fair share of supporters among the Hollywood elite.  That ABC would get together with chart-topping recording artists to throw the first of his presidential balls further proves Obama's appeal among the entertainment industry,

Clearly, both groups are looking forward to a plethora of wonderful changes our new President will bring.

One problem though:  These two groups are currently at war.

Media piracy is one of, if not the biggest issue facing the content creators in the film, television, and music businesses.  It is also at the forefront of the freedom-loving culture of the Internet.  Media companies view tech-savvy consumers as criminal scum, and brilliant programmers worldwide take pride in cracking every new protection scheme the entertainment industry can come up with, either out of belief, necessity, or (I suspect most of the time now) out of sheer spite.

In the last decade, this issue has become the defining conflict for both sides, and both no doubt would like to look to Obama as their savior.  I'm very curious as to how he will navigate these waters, not least of which because I often find myself straddling the same fence.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Christmas 2008 and New Year's 2009

Monday night I got back at Syracuse for my last semester of my undergraduate career. After that, it'll be time to face the Real World.

Side note: Aaaaaaaaaah!!!

Classes don't start until next week, so for now I have some time to sit around in my apartment, get work done, and... oh yeah! Update this blog!

Winter break went pretty well for me. I sat in on a meeting with Fitting Group, the design firm for the revamp, and that appears to be moving forward rather well. The design looks great, and I think the Joomla developer they hired understood the issues I raised that need to be addressed before we go live. By the end of this month or next, I should be helping the DUQ staff with porting over content.

I played with my new N64 a fair bit, and picked up The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for it, which seems pretty great so far.

Christmas was good as always. As always, my family cut our own tree at a tree farm in Butler County and, also as always, it was rather large.

My presents were nice, including a very nice TERABYTE external hard drive from OtherWorld Computing, and a new 250 GB internal drive for my laptop as well, both of which should be very useful. Although tearing my current laptop down and replacing the non-user-replaceable hard drive does seem to be turning into an odd holiday tradition for me...

However, as should be expected, the highlight of the break for me was Christine coming to visit again. This time around, I deliberately left the schedule of "things to do" a little more open so we could spend more time just hanging out together, but there were a few fun excursions, not least of which being New Year's Eve.

Yes, for the first time I decided to go "out" with my girlfriend for New Years' eve. Not for a fancy black-tie dinner and play, but to a club on East Carson Street. Specifically, the "Bliss" New Year's Eve party at Diesel Club Lounge. I've been to a couple small clubs in Syracuse, and more than a couple bars, but this was the first time either of us had gone to an all-out Club with the focus on a big dance floor and whatnot. Needless to say, we had a great time. The DJ was pretty good, the alcohol wasn't too expensive (with one exception noted below...), and the lighting system was very well put together. (even Christine thought so, and she's the expert!) Naturally, Christine looked beautiful, and I think I pulled off a respectable outfit as well, given my usual inability to properly dress myself. (We both wisely decided against trying to keep track of our cameras in the crowded club, so I unfortunately have no pictures from the night.)

As I said before, the drinks weren't too expensive considering it was a New Year's Eve party at a popular nightclub, except for Christine's ten dollar appletini. (Which, she points out, wasn't even the best appletini she'd had. That honor belongs to the eight dollar appletini she got at Ohm in Syracuse last semester. The only other nasty surprise that night came when we realized that, as this was the only club or bar we'd been to outside of New York State, smoking was permitted! It didn't bother me too much, although our clothes definitely needed a good washing the next day!

Getting to and from Diesel went pretty well, all things considered. I knew from the start that I didn't want to drink and drive (just say no, kids!) so transportation came down to busses or taxis. The busses in Pittsburgh don't seem to run much past midnight, so I knew we'd have to get a cab home, but we tried to save a little money by taking the bus system downtown. This was a success in that we only ended up paying $2.50 a piece (actually, my mom payed. Thanks for passing us the bus passes on the way out the door, mom!) but we did have a little trouble find the right stop downtown for the transfer to our second bus. Aside from some very cold feet, no harm done there.

Getting home was more interesting. We left diesel at around 1:30 AM, and I tried to call a cab. When I finally got through to a dispatcher, we were told that the estimated wait to have a cab sent to us was over 3 hours... but that "we're sending a bunch of taxis through that area tonight, so you're best bet is to hail one." Sounded good, but there were a few hundered other people trying the same thing within a few blocks of us, so our odds didn't seem so great. Fortunately, there was a great pizza place across the street where we could eat and pass the time while the crowds thinned out.

After that we tried again for a cab to no avail. Christine randomly contracted a case of the hiccups, so we stopped in another small restaurant to get some water. This happened to be the "Cambod-ican Kitchen," a decidedly strange little place. They served up oriental food of some description, but had a running joke throughout the establishment about serving cat. I doubt this was the case in reality, but there it was nonetheless. Over the ordering counter there was a Garfield stuffed toy with "Eat Me!" cleverly scrawled across it's belly in permanant marker.

The owner of Cambod-ican kitchen (or at least we assume he was) was a sight. Orange camo-pants with a Leatherman strapped to his belt, and a cowboy/Crocodile-Dundee hat started off an image that finished with a witty t-shirt touting "The Best Pussy You'll Ever Eat!" After getting two bottled waters, Christine asked where the restroom was. She was then handed the ladies' bathroom key... which was chained to a huge black rod, vaguely reminiscent of The Club. He instructed her on how to most usefully hold said ludicrous object while unlocking the door (Answer: like a shotgun). The key to the men's room, it should be noted, was tied to a simple wood block, easily held in one hand. Don't ask me.

We eventually returned outside around 3 AM, and teamed up with a guy in an ugly red and white striped shirt to hail a cab. He and a girl from the group he had gone out with went back to their hotel, and gave me more than enough cash to cover their part of the fare. (thanks, Red Shirt Guy!) We then continued back to my parent's house, where we collapsed into bed and pretty much didn't get up until the following afternoon.

In the end, it was an incredible night in my opinion. For the rest of Christine's visit we went out to eat, spend a fun day at the Carnegie Science Center acting like 7-year-olds, saw another couple laser shows (not as good as the ones over the summer, but still fun), and spent some much wanted time just sitting around the house spending time together. I've alluded to it before, but I don't think I've ever come right out on this blog and mentioned how much I love this girl. (Hai bb!) Next week we'll have been dating for a year, and I couldn't be happier.

However, one thing I'm not incredibly happy with is how long this post has become, and especially how late I have been up writing it! Time to sign off for tonight. Have a great 2009, everybody!