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Who’s a podcasting insider?

Filed in: projects, SXSW2005, vent, Mon, Mar 21 2005 11:26 PT

I’ve had enough. Dave Winer has taken enough sideswipes at SXSW over the last week, and its “insider” nature, that I can’t let him get away with it any longer. If anyone is a podcasting insider, it’s Dave Winer.

I was a panelist on the podcasting session at SXSW, and although I don’t necessarily feel that I need to, I can explain why (your favorite podcaster’s name here) was not on the panel.

I was approached to be on the panel about three weeks before the conference. They knew I was going to be at SXSW because I was speaking on another topic, and they knew I was a podcaster because I put it in my bio. Others on the panel were exhibitors (such as Dannie Gregoire) and/or locals. So, to those asking why Eric Rice or Evan Williams were not on the podium, there’s your answer. It was a last-minute thing, and the organizers didn’t pore over the attendance list with a Certified Podcasting Expert. That’s all.

Now, let’s deal with this “insider” crap. The podcasting session was held on the show floor of the conference, which was free and open to the public. Dave should know this, since I told the podcasters list about it. At the time, though, he was more interested in getting into the conference for free because he was a podcaster. Which strikes me as something an insider would try to do.

Speaking of. Winer talking to Robert Scoble about “insiders” still has me tickled. Who better to talk about them? Winer is the ultimate insider. He’s been in nearly all of the hundreds of mainstream media articles about podcasting — and moans incessantly about it when he’s left out. He has the phone number of anyone (he thinks is) worth talking to in podcasting. When he issues a command from the Holy See of Scripting News, and finds that it has not been done his way, whoever is responsible will find their Winer Number reduced in due time. He has his favorites, and his favorite villains, and makes good use of both lists when it suits him. (In the interest of full disclosure, he once shouted me down at a Seattle blogger Meetup for daring to have a view on the role of music in podcasting that wasn’t both in line with his and composed of two or fewer sentences in length. He also got his digs in at me when I went to the Berkman blogger meetup, apparently for no better reason than that I work for the W3C. For someone who talks so much about openness and exchanging ideas, his ability to handle such an open exchange is laughable.)

I did record our session, and I plan to make it available as soon as the SXSW people, now possibly recovering from their final hangovers of SXSW Music, give me their blessing to distribute it. I know that time is of the essence here, but I want listeners to have a clear enumeration of the rights they have to the final MP3. More on that soon. But let’s bury this “insider” bullshit once and for all.

Panel: future of podcasting

Filed in: SXSW2005, Fri, Mar 18 2005 09:20 PT

Tiff Ting did an excellent job of capturing the SXSW session on podcasting that I took part in. I have nothing to add.

Panel: remix culture

Filed in: culture, rights, SXSW2005, Wed, Mar 16 2005 12:19 PT

Eric Steuer of Wired moderated a panel on the rise of remix culture. Mashup artist DJ Reset started off by talking about the work he’s been doing, and the kind of feedback he’s received from the original creators. Most have been very positive, including Lynyrd Skynyrd. He’s also working with U2. But it’s not all wine and roses: AC/DC has shut down one of his mashups.

Glenn Otis Brown of Creative Commons talks about some of the legal history. One decision stated, essentially, “unless you have a license, do not sample.” Another case, in which the Beastie Boys’ “Pass the Mic” was the subject of a lawsuit by the publisher, over three notes that had already been cleared by the label. That one went the other way. Still, labels are “gunshy” over samples, and some won’t touch them at all. DJ Reset says that the first thing out of a label’s mouth is, “is there a sample on (the track)?” And if so, they often try to get an artist to take it out.

Interlude: a mashup of Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain, where both the music and his choreography are remixed.

What are the prospects for this genre? Reset says it depends on the music. If it’s good quality music, people will keep it going. If it’s marginal, this could be a flash in the pan.

Reset mentions a “poor me, somebody likes my music” attitude among artists who see a mix of their music made available, and see only the imaginary dollars they lost.

Another mashup: “This Place Sucks“, where the Superfriends act out scenes from Office Space.

Brown mentions the merger of the real and imaginary, documentary and narrative, etc. He mentions the real and acted-out Larry David in “Curb Your Enthusiasm” as an example. Then he discusses the Creative Commons Sampling license which was the basis for the Wired CD It allows sharing, remixing, etc., for the tracks. They worked with Negativland, who insisted that advertising be excluded from the new license. Eric Steuer describes the process of the CD as being anywhere from no response at all, like it was a concept so foreign that it wasn’t worth a response, to some serious questions, to some real collaboration. Bands like Le Tigre, Dan the Automator and Cornelius, who already work with samples, got it right away.

CC Mixter was mentioned, along with the Fine Art of Sampling contest. The remix album is now available (and featured in Staccato 13).

Question: A documentary filmmaker wants to open-source his interviews. He wanted to first release all of the transcripts, then when the DVD is released, also release the audio and video. Wants to know how to collect micropayments for the interviews. Brown says that it’s good to provide some direction for consumers. He mentions “Outfoxed”, a film which did release its source material. And also Magnatune, the netlabel that offers clear commercial licensing terms.

Reset says EMI and Apple Records put a premium on the brand over the content. Bands, however, often aren’t opposed to the concept. He has one freely-available track featuring Paul McCartney (with permission). But sometimes, the music is just something the artists don’t like, and they don’t want to be associated with it.

Question: Someone puts a Sampling Plus-licensed track in a movie, and wants to use that song in the ad for the movie. Is that a problem? Brown says that appears to be a hole in the license. But it probably wouldn’t be a problem to remedy.

Question: What if I wanted to remix various sorts of text from political views? Brown says that’s essentially what syndication software does. If you’re still linking back to the original source, that should be fine. But how would it be to reprint something from Wired in another magazine? That would certainly be problematic, says Steuer. Brown adds that it will get harder and harder as time goes on to find out what is the original source of certain items. William Gibson says in Pattern Recognition that it will take archaeologists in the future to find the actual origin of some given work.

How to help a podcaster

Filed in: accessibility, media, SXSW2005, Web, 12:06 PT

Eric Rice interviews me on his audioblog, from a hallway at SXSW. I talk about the accessibility issues with podcasting, as well as a new concept designed to help the situation, which I will explain in some more detail here.

I have done thirteen-ish episodes of Staccato, and while I have tried to find time to transcribe the spoken parts of my show, I am, it seems, hopelessly in arrears. Right now, ten of them remain untranscribed.

This leaves me with a dilemma. I have a limited number of waking hours available to things like the show, eating, and talking with people. So, given the time I have to allocate to Staccato, my choices are to continue to produce the show untranscribed, or stop production of the show while I transcribe two or three old episodes per week. I know I’m not the only one in this position: it’s usually the number one issue that’s brought up when I talk about transcription.

Transcripts are good, and not just for accessibility. They have other attractive properties, such as the possibility of searching and scanning, and the ability to deep-link and cite what is going on. I think a lot of what is out there (most notably what is on IT Conversations) would be able to reach many more users with a searchable transcript, without losing those users who, like Steve Gillmor, prefer the human voice and its untranslatable properties.

So I have a request that I think would help any podcaster in a similar situation to mine. Staccato has several hundred listeners per episode (not bad for a fifty-meg file). What I’d like to ask is for just of those listeners to get in touch with me. Here’s what I ask of you: I’d like you each to volunteer to transcribe one episode every three months. In exchange, I will credit you with a link of your choice in the transcript, and thank you in the following show. You can email me at (my username is mattmay) or put your email address in the comment area. (Only I will be able to see it if you also enter a URL.)

I’m calling this concept fanscription. (Yay. My first neologism.) This would be a great way to support your favorite podcasters by doing something that helps increase their visibility, while also making their work accessible to users who can’t hear them. And I think it would work for any podcaster with more than, say, fifty regular listeners. But there’s really only one way to be sure. I would estimate that a show like mine, which really has only five to ten minutes of talking, would take about a half-hour to transcribe. Shows with interviews are likely to take longer. (Music lyrics don’t need to be transcribed.) And it doesn’t really require an expert to do — just a text editor and a good MP3 player. Once I have a few fanscribers, I will post some tips on how to do it.

This interview cut out about 30 seconds before the end (reason: dropped phone connection), but I did say this to him before we realized it was lost:

So, you’re going to be transcribing this, right?

It shouldn’t be that bad for his first experiment. 🙂

Staccato 13 (and 12)

Filed in: music, projects, SXSW2005, Tue, Mar 15 2005 08:45 PT

The thirteenth episode of Staccato, from SXSW 2005, is now available, featuring the winners of the Fine Art of Sampling contest, and a very tired host. (It was voiced last night at 12:30am.)

See also Staccato 12, which was recorded on Friday from the very same conference.


Filed in: SXSW2005, Mon, Mar 14 2005 12:11 PT

Wonkette? Totally hot. Her married status is of no importance to me. I have to leave this session early, so instead of hyperblogging her keynote session, I’m just going to sit here and stare a while.

Panel: Accessiblity (sic) Standards

Filed in: accessibility, SXSW2005, Web, 08:56 PT

The irrepressible Joe Clark liveblogged my session, so I don’t need to try to remember any of what I said. (Like everyone else, including the moderator and one co-presenter, Joe copied the misspelled panel title. Accessibility: hard to type. Not so hard to do.)

Yes, I said “validates against WCAG.” No, I didn’t mean to say that. I had blown my buffer when I said that. There is no validation against WCAG. It is, of course, a process of evaluation. I could blame everyone who has used that phrase to the extent that it is apparently burned somewhere in the back of my brain, but instead I will take the hit myself. Do as I do, not as I say.

Keynote: Malcolm Gladwell on snap decisions

Filed in: SXSW2005, Sun, Mar 13 2005 13:17 PT

Malcolm Gladwell gave keynote #2. I didn’t know anything about him before this keynote. Which I guess makes me lame, but at least I got to see him talk, so that gets me make-up cool points. Anyway, I now get what the buzz is about.

His book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, is about “rapid cognition.” He tells a story about the Munich Philharmonic, and a woman trombonist named Abby Conan who applied, not knowing that the Philharmonic was anti-… hmm. Anti-not-white-German-male. (I hear there’s a word for that.) They do their audition behind a screen. She blows the maestro away, to the point that he sends away the rest of the trombonists and demands to see his new first chair. On discovering that this first trombonist was a woman, the maestro, after a period of science, was heard to utter: “Mein Gott.”

All kinds of theories exist to explain superiority based on prejudice. But when controls are in place to mask those prejudices, you will often find that those theories and their undermining prejudices are false. When that screen is put between the maestro and the performer, you find that rather than 5% of the winners being women, it turns out to be more like 50%. (Toward the end, he adds that he thinks juries should never see the defendants. If they take out all of the information from which prejudice is drawn, the racial bias found in our present criminal justice system would melt away. More applause.)

He says listeners can tell almost immediately what they like. Sometimes, they can even tell whether they’ll like a performer while they’re practicing. If you split the room in half, and say, you on the left are taking a semester of a class to review the professor, and you on the right are going to watch an hour, and do the same review. What happens? Same results. Even a half-hour, fifteen minutes, five seconds — before the professor even opens his mouth, many have made their decision.

The issue at hand is that we’ve built up mechanisms to defend our snap prejudicial opinions. If you were to challenge the maestro on his gender bias, he would defend himself furiously. How dare you, a classical neophyte, say he’s a sexist? He makes his decisions on his skill, not his prejudices. And he’ll believe that.

Gladwell called a number of companies and asked how tall their CEOs are. In addition to being traditionally very white and very male, they are also very tall: 30% are over 6’2″, compared to 3.8% of the general population. So they’re considered to be leaders from a young age because they’re taller. He doesn’t put much into that assumption. But there may have been a time when being tall was a physical asset you wanted in a leader. Thor, he says, at 6’6″, is a better leader, better with a club, etc., when the rest of his tribe was 4’9″. So, putting these arguments aside, if he were to speak in front of a group of boards of directors and told them they had a selection bias, what would they say? Nonsense! We spent months doing this and that, finding the perfect candidate. “We’re not very good at knowing when our snap decisions have been hijacked.”

Back to the maestro: “We took a bad decision-maker and turned him into a better decision-maker… by taking information away from him.” We often say that more information is better. If someone makes a bad decision, we immediately assume they didn’t have enough info. When it comes to making these quick calls, we get more from less. Doctors don’t actually know a lot of the time whether someone is having a heart attack. It’s a snap judgement. If you limit the info to their EKG, blood pressure, fluid in lungs and whether they’re stable, and take away everything else that seems totally relevant, “the doctor becomes an astonishingly better decision-maker.”

So, we’ve solved the problem for us, but there’s more than just us. Do we wait for all of the entrenched prejudice in the world to die off? “Maybe the answer… is rather to change the context in how the decision is made.” “The (gender) problem in the music world was solved the day they put in screens.” One symphony was hiring four violinists, and hired four women. That was the “my god” moment four times over.

He mentions Amadou Diallo, the man who was shot 41 times by New York police. In the book, he reconstructs the scene from beginning to end. From the time they find him until he’s killed, seven seconds. How do we attack that problem? Target racial profiling? No. Make it easier for the police to make a better snap judgement. Police in groups make worse decisions than they do individually. “Groups of cops, groups of young men in general, do stupid things.” Making individual decisions means they’re less of a risk to themselves and others. Having one cop in the car while the other handles the issue, and communicating to reason out the process, would be far more useful.

Question: how do you decide which information to take away? In the case of the heart attack, it took a computer and some data. But there’s another school that says, it doesn’t matter what you take away, it’s that you take away. If you look back at Pearl Harbor, the American intel community had no clue, but if you looked at what American newspapers were reporting, you’d have a much better idea as to the intentions of the Japanese.

Question: how to take information away from voters? (Left slant fully intact.) Gladwell: “Well, I’m Canadian.” Laughter, applause. He mentions a discussion in which he was talking about the dumbest president, and some thought he was hinting at Bush. “I was thinking about Chester Arthur.” He dodges the question deftly.

Question: How many of the things you advocate are actually adopted? In the case of chest pain, he says that it’s “only a matter of time” before the medical community (or the legal community) figures out that this is something to adopt.

Question: Harvard requires SAT, GPA, letters of recommendation and an essay. Is that too much info? He says “the whole system is so intellectually bankrupt.” In Canada, he got a list of the colleges available, and he marked them by preference, and got a letter back telling him which one he got into. He much prefers that system.

Panel: getting along with accessibility

Filed in: accessibility, SXSW2005, Web, 10:20 PT

Glenda Sims of the University of Texas moderated a panel titled “Accessibiilty: Can We All Get Along?” It was not filled with nearly as much controversy as the title implied, though there were high points where less-friendly panelists might have knocked one another’s teeth out.

Question: What is the accessibility standard of choice? Ian Lloyd proposed WCAG 1.0 level AA, to nods from the others. Ian says that he tries to do as much of AAA as possible, but AA is an acceptable level. Glenda says AAA is idealistic (true), but wants to “encourage people with a standard they can easily understand, and don’t need a year of accessibility training.” (Ouch. It doesn’t take that long to understand it. All it takes is the will to learn it, and some brilliant and concise accessibility training resource which doesn’t yet exist.) She’s settled on 508 at the University of Texas because it’s easier to explain and more objective. (I was on a task force to come up with objective measures for 508. It was not as successful as it appears. The main advantage of 508 is that people can point to it, and say, it must be cut and dry. It’s law! Any lawyer would happily disabuse such people of such a notion.) How achievable a high level of accessibility is on the high end, with a large organization, is a point of discussion.

Long descriptions were discussed. Ian says he’s never used long descriptions: it’s much more useful to make it so that everyone can benefit from that content. Derek Featherstone concurs. He’s seen cases where the tabular data from which a pie chart was drawn is in the longdesc attribute, so few people can actually access it. (This is, of course, why the infamous D-links surfaced. Longdesc is an attribute without a presentation mechanism, as John Slatin hints from the audience.)

Question: Can I just have an accessibility checklist and be done? At Nationwide, Ian has about 20 developers, and he had to unlearn them on bad traits they had learned. He built a small site to line out the issues, and nobody would read it. So then he distributed a laminated page that he attached to their foreheads desktops to check things. Derek counters: “clearly you’re not a consultant…” He goes on to describe how people with checklists just go through the motions without understanding the underlying principles. They just don’t think about why they’re doing things, just that they’re doing it. (As I’ve mentioned before, this is why the law is not the best mechanism for pushing accessibility. You can make people do, but you can’t make them care.)

Question: Why in the world should an art museum Web site be accessible to people who can’t see? James mentioned his experience with AIGA, and he told them that the site is about articles on design. The AIGA site is essentially a blog. And art museums are full of information on the craft involved in the creation of the artworks. Derek adds that it could be a parent helping their children with homework. (Or, they could be someone who used to be sighted, and an artist. The greatest PostScript and PDF expert that I know is someone who lost his vision later in life.) Glenda adds Google, smaller devices and outdated browsers. James says that the Internet is based on the exchange of ideas, not images or video or whatever. “It’s about the information itself and not the graphics that are in front of that information.”

Question: How would you convince a startup company to spend precious resources making their product accessible from the beginning? Derek says that on one of his projects, he didn’t try to sell them standards. He just did it, and they learned that this was how they were doing things from now on. James says that at Frog Design, they’ll make it as accessible and standards-compliant as possible. They don’t even mention it unless it comes up.

The alt text game show: Glenda shows the audience an image, and the panelists write alt text. The description of a black-and-white photo from Yosemite Park. The panelists agreed in principle that it needed a description of about 20-30 words based on its detail. Then the image was put in context, supporting a line item in a stock image site. Two then said that the image itself should have no alt text in that situation. Derek disagreed, saying the supporting text there says nothing about the image. Another image, of three petits fours, was reasonably easy in itself, but then was shown in context on Ian’s company’s site. It was a link to different mortgage offers, so the alt text in that case should be “mortgage offers” or something like it.

Last question: Accessible = Boring? James: “That depends on if it’s a designer doing accessibility, or an accessibility guy doing design.” Laughter. (Still true.) They showed the Zoot Suit Culture site, which is done in Flash. James pushed back: Flash is not as accessible as HTML, though it is improving. They showed off a few good sites each had been associated with. (I think the key thing to bring out here is that, if you’re not a great visual designer, looking to accessibility standards isn’t going to help you, but it’s not necessarily the first thing to blame, either.)

Saturday night wrap

Filed in: SXSW2005, 07:10 PT

SXSW mornings are the hardest mornings.

I started last evening at Buffalo Billiards for a little prefunc. Given that this month in most college towns is pronounced “basketball,” both men’s and women’s tournaments were on the screens above the bar, and I situated myself under the women’s Kansas State/Baylor game as I sipped my Newcastle. What I saw on that telecast set me on an evening from which I may never recover. When they went to a shot of a free throw, “Municipal Auditorium” appeared on the baseline below.

In Comic Sans. Three feet tall.

This was, plainly, too much to bear.

Ten minutes and two shots of what may have been drain cleaner later, still reeling, I backed out of the bar and made my way through the streets of downtown Austin to the Frog Design opening party. This was a perfect opportunity to extend my surrealist reformation of my cerebrum. (Comic Sans? How is that possible?) Amid the rich wood tones of the Frog Design offices and the freely-flowing libations, I found pirates and indoor-safe fire performers spinning on pedestals as a Latin band seemingly as large in numbers as the gathered crowd played on.

By now, the drain cleaner was kicking in. Picture one of those tight crowd shots you usually find in a movie about clubbing, complete with go-go dancer clips spliced in, and that was the next two hours of my evening. Oh, and Halo. There was Halo, I think. My eyes, twitching involuntarily as I stuggled to recognize faces in the dark and the noise, managed to focus on a light at the front, and I directed another tight crowd shot for the door.

Stumbling down 6th with some co-conspirators, I was introduced to complete strangers on the street, who could clearly see in my eyes why cool kids don’t do Drano. Details after separating from them are sketchy, though I do remember wandering the streets, musing about the clear decline in the quality of modern fontography, while fellow derelicts nodded wisely. I specifically don’t know the details of how I mounted 22 stories to my room, but I am missing the shirt I was wearing, one of my socks, the phone number of that lovely blonde from the Maritimes, and the bead to my captive-bead ring.

Come to my session on how to use accessibility guidelines today at 3:30pm, in room 16A!

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