Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Eduard Khil 1934-2012

Eduard Khil, the Russian singer from the Brezhnev era who has become known as Mr. Trololo to the English-speaking Internet world (at the very least), died on Monday at 77, several months after suffering a massive stroke.

It would be really easy to post That Video again (which is what the American news is doing...and why they're doing it, of course), but behind the meme lies an artist.

A lot of things have been said about Khil himself, but I'd like to touch on one of the side-issues of his You Tube "discovery" if I could. My understanding is that a few Russian onlookers have scoffed at the type of attention That Video has been getting from the outside world. But even before the Internet, "OMG LOL" was one of the ways we processed new things, at least in the first stage. And yes, for many people a relationship with a piece begins and ends at "LOL", but a few of them continue on to the next stage: "Wait a minute, what did I just see?" And that's when the interesting part starts. That's how a man named Paul Killiam went from making sarcastic hash of silent films on early television to being one of the key figures of silent film preservation. 

Yes, seriously, this guy is the reason you can actually see Rudolph Valentino and not just read about him.

At the time, that was the type of thing I was hoping to see (and am still hoping to see eventually) come out of the Trololo craze, the peeling back of the curtain to the rest of the world, bit by bit, for those curious enough to do some exploring on their own...or at least a DVD of the Cheryomushki film that doesn't cost $40. And if we're still waiting for that...well, sometimes these things take awhile.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Today in Esperantoland!

From last week: According to Libera Folio, Warsaw's new city-wide bike rental system will be named "Veturilo", according to an Internet vote from a jury-chosen best five. With 35% of the vote, "Veturilo" (meaning "mode of transport") beat runner-up "Wawabike" (oh, heaven help me) by 6%, which makes up for the fact that the people have chosen a name containing a letter ("V") which isn't even in the Polish language.

Still, Wawabike? Brrrrr...

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The NBC Community Panic Bunker!

Will it be six seasons and a movie or should we just pray for 13 episodes and a show that isn't broken? To be the last one on the dogpile, the day after the season finale of the TV show Community and barely one week after the network finally put us out of our misery by giving the show an abbreviated fourth season, showrunner/cult leader Dan Harmon was relieved of his duties. Of course, the Internet went insane, because that's what the Internet does.

There have been a lot of opinions on what this means for the future of the show, some more coherent than others, and most throwing some three-cameras-and-a-studio-audience-of-idiots show in our faces. Something that wasn't getting nearly as much play as it probably should have in the early going was that the Dan Harmon incident isn't exactly a unique situation in the history of television: the AV Club hit the point on Monday, and Ken Levine, a man who's done the sitcom (and showrunner) thing for a few decades, gave us his perspective in a two part post.  And finally--or somewhere in the middle of all this, to be more honest--Vulture's Josef Adalian laid some down some "hard truths". Actually, all of these articles have "hard truths" in them, a few of which set my teeth on edge but which make perfect sense if you take a breath and count to ten. There are many, many more, but these are the ones that I actually noticed.

My feelings on the topic are fairly simple: Stay optimistic about the fall, but keep one foot pointed towards the door. Cool cool cool?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

G.I. Dunno: Remuneration

via the L.A. Times (among other places): If you were waiting for G.I. Joe: Retaliation to light up the Fourth of July weekend, you might have to wait a little longer...like a whole year.

This last-minute mega-delay, after blowing millions in promotion (which they're going to have to do all over again in 2013, since you can't unspend ad money), was because some jerk looked at the movie and asked "Why isn't this in 3-D?" Not because some jerk looked at the movie and said "GAH! BRUCE WILLIS!"

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Quick Hits! May 17, 2012

And now, a few things that went up on my Google+ feed that you might have missed because you don't trust the privacy policy:

  • REDD: The Most Bad Ass Indie SciFi Adventure Movie, EVER! (a Kickstarter pitch in search of some sugar daddies, 16 days to go at this posting):  Okay, I admit it. I watched the trailer first, and after I picked my jaw up off the ground, I asked myself, "Is this anything?" Then I hit play on his pitch and the answer was self-evident: "Yes, it is." I'd also love to see what this guy could do with a budget larger than what a used car costs.
  • "Grand Old Party" is a data visualization project. It is also a series of butt plugs." If you're foolish enough to click on that link, Matthew Epler has made latex representations of polling results over the active campaign period, and yes, they can apparently go right up your butt, which is where early polling results belong. Just like in real life, the Bachman is much ado about nothing, while the Santorum looks almost impossible to dislodge.
  • Perfect lead-in for a True Pixar Story (via Mike Elgan), a jolly tale about the day Toy Story 2 was almost completely wiped because of bad backups and one poorly-executed Linux command.

  • A reminder of things you miss when you go to bed at a decent hour: Craig Ferguson telling Mila Kunis to not skip through the Glasgow Necropolis.
  • And the final one is more of a CONSUMER REPORT: Have any of you seen the mysterious ad about "this man" who predicted the end of GM and Fannie Mae and how he's going to tell you how to make money while the world markets collapse? Turns out he didn't predict a $1.5 million fraud fine from the SEC for peddling a $50 newsletter "replete with lies", if this writeup from Antemedius is to believed. So he's a crank, but fortunately he's a well-known crank, and this summary from last year of his too-long-didn't-watch video lays out the snake oil he's peddling.  It's just as true with Amway as it is with anything else: if your rep is so broken that you have to hide what you're selling (and your own name, for that matter), you're in trouble before you open your big mouth.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Is That 'Fifty Shades of Grey'?

Time for a quickie before bed: until a Saturday Night Live sketch made multiple references to the E.L. James book Fifty Shades of Grey, I'd never actually heard of it. Sue me, I'm not up on "mommy porn" trends.  The history of the story that became Fifty Shades of Grey, however, is absolutely fascinating...or is it alarming?

Either way, if you're curious, MediaBistro's GalleyCat posted (a few months ago) "The Lost History of Fifty Shades of Grey". As remarkable as the tale of the road to publication is, the takeaway of this success is "The future of literature is on Fanfiction.net."  That doesn't exactly put me in a place of serenity.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Back (And To The Side) Revisited: Were Our Dogs Chasing The Wrong Rabbit?

Local issues update: Sears closed its Oak Hollow Mall store for the final time last weekend. By the time I made it to the mall this week, all the Sears signs had been stripped off the building. Things are looking dire. There are more bald spots on the directory than you'd find on a dog with mange. It'll be baffling if it's still open for business in its current form at this time next year, but looking at the number of other ghost malls that dragged out the inevitable for years, it wouldn't be entirely surprising.

The last time I spoke to you on this topic, I declined to answer the question "Why did this particular retail venture in this particular time period go belly up?" In part, that was a polite way of saying "Since I don't actually live in the city, I don't get a say in city issues."  However, I'd like to expand my line of questioning to something that isn't being asked nearly enough: Was the city even chasing the right goals in this particular space?  Triad area freebie The Rhino Times, covering the end-of-March visit of architect/city planner AndrĂ©s Duany, made me wonder if the answer is the Magic 8-Ball's classic "Don't count on it."

Rhino's Paul C. Clark characterizes Duany's talk at High Point University as "a series of humorous but all-out assaults on city planners, environmentalists, architects, bureaucrats, road and highway designers and even High Point itself."  Duany's concept of sane development is basically going back to the way cities used to be laid out before cars took over, basically walking-around urban neighborhoods with a mixed zoning development (his ideal Carolina city is Charleston). So predictably, in spite of "high-quality humans" living here ("against all odds"), the town itself is a sprawling mess. That's no surprise; this town is not made for pedestrians, and hasn't been for quite some time.

What followed took a little time to sink in, but when it did, it was a real smack in the chops (my emphasis):

Duany pointed out one thing he said was "fantastic and odd" about the High Point University Campus – that it has a steakhouse, other restaurants, a movie house, stores, a swimming pool at its student center and a host of other amenities that are usually provided by the private sector off-campus in a college town. 
"What this university has had to do, and I'm sure it was conscious, is internalize what a college town usually does," he said. "There is zero college town out there, so they have to internalize everything. Even the housing."
High Point University, which as High Point College has been a part of the city landscape since 1924, has been on an ambitious growth streak in the twenty years since it upgraded to university status. The latest completed addition, the $50 million University Center, was among some people the most controversial. It includes the aforementioned student housing, movie theater, steak house, and a "two-story state-of-the-art 'gaming and restaurant' concept," whatever that means. Rhino Times again: "High Point University has been criticized for fencing itself off from the community, but there are, as Duany said of other cities, few amenities to which its students can walk. [HPU President Nido] Qubein has created his own city[...]"

That, in a nutshell, sets up tonight's study question: While the city boosters were chasing malls and major league baseball bids (the part I referred to in January as "aspirational spending"), what's suddenly starting to feel like the real future of the city felt compelled to build all those "college town" amenities without us. Putting aside for a moment the things we touched on in January, I've become convinced that the question of "Why did Oak Hollow Mall fail in under twenty years?" is a twin joined at the spleen to the question "Why did Qubein have to build his own city behind a fence?"

(While you're mulling that over (and I doubt I'm entirely done with the topic yet), it's worth looking at the Sky City blog entry on Oak Hollow which inspired my first post on the topic. Be sure to read the comment thread, where people who love this town as more than a place to sleep and eat when they don't have to be somewhere else start getting real. Feel free to ignore my input there, though. You've read it already at twice the length...except for the part where I mention that developers started putting out feelers to build yet another mall, even further north, and thus ever-so-slightly closer to the killer Hanes Mall than even Oak Hollow was. This town is impossible to figure out sometimes....)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

SOPA/PIPA-Related UPDATE: We're Still Doomed (International Edition)

Just because SOPA and PIPA are over doesn't mean our online rights are safe by any means, and in fact are being assaulted on all sides and in all nations. The same entertainment industry groups that think you people are deluded fools for complaining about the "not-dead-only-resting" bills are pumping insane money and influence into trade treaties negotiated in absolute darkness (thanks entirely to the American representative at the talks) that not only will cram all of their goals into every corner of the free world, but also would also effectively override the existing laws of all the countries who sign (including the US) in the process, all because they're afraid you might steal a movie.

This is a disease that the MPAA, the RIAA, and the IFPI want to make into a pandemic. And it might actually happen.

Read up on these. They're guaranteed to ruin your day...but hopefully they'll also motivate you to never stop defending your rights.

ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, EFF link) has been in the works since 2007, and representatives of the executive branch (i.e. the White House) have already signed it, although Sen. Ron Wyden (the same man who is behind the saner OPEN Act and a potential fillibuster if PIPA hits the floor) claims that if ACTA is ratified without going to the Senate, it might violate the Congress' Constitutional authority to regulate international trade, and thus it might be possible to throw it out on a technicality. "The executive branch lacks Constitutional authority to enter a binding international agreement covering issues delegated by the Constitution to Congresses' authority, absent Congressional approval." The European Parliament hasn't signed yet, but intends to before the deadline.

TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement; EFF link): Again, we're dealing with leaked drafts here, but this treaty takes everything that terrified you about SOPA and PIPA and adds an extra dollop of scary clown on top of it. Do you live in a country that passed laws which went out of their way to try and avoid all the mistakes of US intellectual property laws in the Internet age? Well, this is a direct assault on your country, because every last one of those mistakes is entrenched in this treaty, and if signed, they will be compelled to comply.

The real jawdropper from the EFF brief: Countries are obligated to "treat temporary reproductions of copyrighted works without copyright holders' authorization as copyright infringement." "Temporary reproductions"? They're talking about time-shifting, aren't they? The right guaranteed to us in America after the Sony vs. Universal Supreme Court case? Forget about rolling back the tech industry to a pre-Internet state, they want to roll it back to a pre-VCR state.

How is any this acceptable on any level and compatible with the things Americans claim to stand for? It isn't, which is why it's being done in absolutely secret non-disclosure way in the hopes that we won't even know what hit us until it's far too late. The only conclusion I can come to: The entertainment industry is openly hostile to individual liberty and national sovereignty. They must be stopped at all costs. The old business models are dying in a hurry, and the moguls figure if they're going down they're taking the rest of us to Hell with them. If we don't draw a line in the sand, they're going to keep taking and taking until they've taken everything, because the past decades have proven they won't be happy with anything less than everything they've ever asked for.

The tech industry--which on these issues is our industry--needs to stop rolling over for these shenanigans before they roll into a grave. And the next time you catch somebody making a self-congratulatory speech about how progressive Hollywood is, you owe them a punch in the mouth.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Oh. My. GOD.

Quick update to hang a lampshade on a Techdirt headline from this afternoon:

Senate Minority Leader McConnell Tells Reid/Leahy To Kill PIPA

On the one hand, this could actually be the point of no return that we've been looking for. On the other hand, you're asking me to believe in an election year that (at least on this issue) Michele Bachmann is more progressive than Al Blankety-Blankin' Franken, and damn it, that's how brain aneurysms get started!

(x-post from G+ (with additions))

Strike's Over...Time For Phase Two

The Internet strike against SOPA/PIPA has been called a success, even by media outlets who tried to ignore the issue before, but one of the most baffling things was that pretty much the vast majority of the confirmed "flips" in Congress were on the GOP side of the aisle, with a clutch of Democrats clinging to the idea that this bill (and presumably their Hollywood campaign money) can be saved.

These are Rep. Mel Watt's (D-NC 12) words during the infamously lopsided SOPA hearing, the one during which they proved what a bad faith law this was going to be by choosing to only invite one witness for the opposition (as reported by HuffPo).
"In my experience there's usually only one thing at stake when we have long lines outside a hearing as we do today, and when giant companies, like the ones opposing this bill, and their supporters start throwing around rhetoric like, 'This bill will kill the Internet,' [...] That one thing is usually money."
If his words possibly stand for the suddenly inflexible Democrats who stuck to their guns during today's action (and Watt made a point of saying "I don't think the bill is dead" before the end of the day, so he obviously hasn't budged an inch), they've fatally misread this situation as a case of one set of companies vs. another set of companies. As with anything involving intellectual property and the Internet, it's the legal arm of the American entertainment industry vs. everybody outside of their bubble. That's you. That's me. That's everyone we know.

I am deeply ashamed of Chris Dodd, who threw decades of public service goodwill away with a nasty snarl against us and our motivations that you wouldn't expect from a guy who claimed to carry a pocket Constitution with him every day, but is depressingly familiar to netizens as being within the capability of someone who heads the MPAA.  A man who sells his soul to one of the most widely reviled industry groups in the United States has surrendered his moral right to call anybody a "corporate pawn." So yeah, he's dead to me.

I put a gadget in my sidebar which links to a Demand Progress action site, where you can send your reps a pledge to vote against anybody who backs SOPA/PIPA, regardless of your party affiliation. This isn't anywhere near over, and if we go back to sleep now we're guaranteed to lose everything we gained in credibility today. Dodd's statement snidely refers to strikes and blackouts being Internet "pranks". Let's prank a few jerks out of office.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


If you are reading this message on January 18, 2012, then you're one of those clever kids who figured out how to defy the picket line in the anti-SOPA/PIPA Internet strike. Be assured that the Internet will not pelt you with rotten eggs for your insolence, and "the boys" with lead pipes will not be around to break your routers (or your kneecaps).

Since you're already here, could you do us a solid anyway and take a look at the page you were supposed to see today? It is kind of important, seeing as how the continuing health of the American Internet is still hanging by a thread. Don't let the ridiculously optimistic headlines from the weekend fool you; plans are still in place to try and push all this garbage through the legislative process. These bills are not dead, only delayed.

Both your Senator and your House Rep need a reminder that the will of the people should not be taken for granted...especially during an election year.

And for you (a-HEM) outlanders: sorry that you had to get caught up in local politics. Just remember that American IP law sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of the world.  We're fighting this for everybody.

One more note before bedtime (or after the blackout): if you made @herpderpedia's retweet list, you should be sad right now.

Monday, January 09, 2012

A Look Back (And To The Side): Oak Hollow Mall

(Warning: this is strictly op-ed noise about hometown stuff. You may be bored to tears, and (as usual with these long pieces) I can't promise coherence, but you can't say I didn't warn you.)

Oak Hollow Mall, which opened in the summer of 1995, is a 1,262,440 sq. ft two-floor enclosed mall built for $75 million on the north end of High Point, NC. The initial proposal was approved in 1988, but massive grass-roots opposition centering around environmental concerns killed the plans for a few years. The city council went out of their way to bring CBL & Associates back to the table, and their modified plan is what threw its doors open that summer. And today, barring an end-of-the-game miracle, it's pretty much done for.

Oak Hollow Mall
(source: daysofthundr46 via Flickr, CC 2.0 license)
To go back and read the local news articles in the years immediately after the mall opened and comparing it to the current reality is an exercise in watching a city's heart being broken. There was a story in the paper at the time of the opening about a woman bursting into tears of joy after a sneak preview tour, and I remember saying to myself, "Oh, this cannot be good." A mall or (God help me) a Walmart is going to save the bacon of a city? The expectations were so hyperbolic, it seemed like wishing on a star.

You see, Oak Hollow Mall wasn't just going to be a retail space when it opened, but was a symbol of a community desperately trying to escape the shadow of Greensboro and Winston-Salem as the weaker partner in the Piedmont Triad community. The enthusiasm for development of Oak Hollow could imaginably be chalked up to 1990s aspirational spending--the same enthusiasm led a community group to try (and fail) to get a major league baseball team--and for the first few years it seemed to work fairly well, with first-year sales beating the projected goals at at $85 million, and pulling in $134 million at the end of 1999, with occupation at 95% capacity. Eventually, they put in a 7-screen theater and a Target for people who still bore a grudge against Walmart. A multilane road was laid down for easy accessablity so that all you had to do was make a turn off of Main Street and it was a straight shot from there.

There were casualties of course. In the space of a year it killed off the city's already-wobbly Westchester Mall once and for all, which, as the Triad's first enclosed shopping mall (opening in 1970), killed off downtown retail. The circle of life and all that. And in what should've been a bad omen in retrospect, once-ubiquitous regional fixture Will's Bookstore walked away from Oak Hollow over a dispute about plans for an outparcel Barnes & Noble.

A number of things have eaten away at Oak Hollow, not the least of which were the continuing strengths of Greensboro's Four Seasons Town Centre and Winston-Salem's massive Hanes Mall, both of which maintained an occupancy rate in the high-to-mid 90s even as the recession kicked into sudden-death overtime, and both of which had the hit-the-offramp-and-you're-there access from major interstate highways that Oak Hollow didn't get for a long time. However, a few friends and family (and this is strictly second-third-and-fourth-hand, you understand) seem to think that the point where Oak Hollow's fortunes took a fatal turn was when CBL started jacking up the rent on the stores once the century turned. Whatever the reason, the smaller merchants began walking once the initial leases ran out. The recession didn't help, of course, but all of this started before the bank bailouts and the real estate collapse.

But the major body blows were still around the corner.

A few of the major departures of the 2000s can't be pinned on bad mall planning or bad mall management. Steve & Barry's, the clothing store which replaced the financially troubled Goody's, went bankrupt. Same with Circuit City, which was run into the ground by corporate management who, in a cost-cutting spree, didn't see the sense in keeping the experienced people around who actually made the store's reputation in the first place. But The Gap came and The Gap went in just a couple of years, and since some people think a mall that can't float a Gap store is a bit funky, that was one failure you can't really shrug off. Likewise, when Dillard's, still a reasonably healthy chain overall, turned their two-floor store into a bottom level clearance outlet in 2009...well, you can't hang that on Dillard's. Anybody who has read deadmalls.com more than a few times got a sinking feeling from that maneuver.

Oak Hollow Mall - JCPenney
(source: daysofthundr46 via Flickr, CC 2.0 license)
And then, at the beginning of 2011, JCPenney decided to massively scale back its longtime High Point presence from a two-level store to a Catalog Center desk at the back of a uniform shop. It couldn't have come at a worse time for CBL, since during the previous year the group had finally put the mall up for sale for $15 million at a time when the occupancy rate had dropped to a dire 56%. Thanks to the ongoing turmoil (and with some prodding from the mayor) High Point University picked up the property for $9 million, retaining CBL to manage the property. The University, which has been on a runaway real estate spree in recent years, announced that they intended to run the mall as a retail property in the short term, since they had as much of a stake in the city's economic health as the rest of us did. Pretty much all of the uni's acquisitions eventually turn into another piece of University, and thus would join the furniture market showrooms which comprise a massive part of downtown as yet another section of the city cut off from the general public, so it was a necessary reassurance. All that was before 2011's other bombshell dropped: Sears decided to cut a few under-performing locations after Christmas, and Oak Hollow is on the chopping block. After April, or maybe as soon as February, Belk is the last anchor standing, and even they seem to have one eye directed towards the open road. The writing is on the wall. I'm going to sing the Doom Song now.

When the baseball campaign fell through--primarily due to the failure of a bond issue that would impose restaurant taxes to build a stadium which wasn't even guaranteed a team at the time--one of the leaders of the group who had busted his hump trying to hustle up support rather petulantly said "There is no plan B," flatly stating that we blew it. That's us, you understand, not a strategy (MORE TAXES!) with its own built-in backlash. It's as if the "influential" part of the community hasn't got a clue what the rest of us are actually like. In a similar fashion, when "the mall war" was declared over last summer, an editorial in the High Point paper, after bringing up the lack of a focused advertising push as a potential culprit, decides the primary reason that the mall has failed is that "for whatever reason", we didn't shop there. The column, which didn't reassure me at all by including "get over it" in the headline, mainly because (as stated before) a sale to HPU was guaranteed to have a jeering section trailing behind it, ended with a rather sour "Our long community mall wars are over. Live with it."

That "for whatever reason" is the most troubling part of trying to scrape together something substantial about the Oak Hollow decline and fall. If you actually talk to people who live around here, everybody's got a theory, so when you run a search through ten years' of online newspaper archives, why is it that the best you can find is "You people are the reason the rest of us can't have nice things"? Yeah, I get it, it's a retail center, and if people don't show up the merchants pack their bags, but why did it  happen the way it did? What turned the so-called jewel in the crown into Carolina Circle Mall II: Electric Boogaloo? Aren't you even curious?

Somebody who actually knows what they're doing (and before you ask, I'm pretty sure that isn't me) needs to be curious enough and brave enough to perform a malltopsy, asking the hard questions so that maybe the community can learn from mistakes and figure out what the future needs to look like. Jabbing fingers at somebody else's rib cage can be fun in the moment, but come on, that's the reason we can't have nice things.

Your thoughts are always welcome. Please throw them at the comment field to see if they stick.