A [Gmail] Aside

If you’re not already using the best web browser client in the world, perhaps now is a time to start. Why? Because Gmail’s just gone and released not one, but two great features in the last couple days. I know that a blog about politics, religion, and other cultural issues isn’t exactly the normal place to rave about mainstream technology, but the new stuff in Gmail has me terribly excited.

Themes:

One thing that gmail has always been lacking is visual flare. It wasn’t significant enough to make up for the fact that Gmail has much better functionality than all of its competitors, so I didn’t complain. But today as I entered my e-mail inbox, I was surprised to find a new look awaiting me… and a notice telling me to check out the “Themes settings” tab.

Well I did. And I had a ton of fun trying out most of the 30 themes they released. Yeah, that’s right. 30. Hotmail’s had themes for a little while now, but their handful of themes don’t come anywhere near the pizazz that Gmail has now! For screenshots of some of the most fun ones, as well as the full report, go on over to the Gmail blog.

As the Gmail team notes, some of the themes aren’t very practical. I found there was an abundance of “dark” themes — meaning white writing on black backgrounds, which I don’t like inside of an already colourful browser! Still, in a mailbox that was previously devoid of any cool coloration, the answer has been received!

Voice and Video Chat:

Although I admit I have had way more fun with the themes than this innovation, the ability to have voice and video chats from within your browser is easily the more impressive accomplishment by the Gmail team. You can correct me in the comments if I’m wrong, but as far as I know this is the first of its kind, which is increasingly rare for Google. After dominating the Search Engine business, Google has focused on either improving bought-out products or releasing versions of already-present technology. Picasa and Youtube, for example, were other people’s innovations, while Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs are all old hat, although they add some nice twists to the different technologies. But video chat from within a web browser? Within your e-mail? As far as I know, no such thing is out there that quite compares. Yeah, Skype and MSN can both allow video chats through a computer-based program, but Gmail Video Chat allows for everything to happen seamlessly within your already-open inbox!

Check out the Gmail Blog for more on how to use the function!

The best part? The optimism this brings. Most of Google’s projects have seemed frozen for some time now. Gmail has been the best from its introduction. Google Talk has been the worst. Most of the other products fall into the middle-ground, managing to attract hard-core Google fans but not many others. But by releasing this round of changes, Google has given a sign that they may be preparing to update many of their products.

It’s about time!

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Facebook Riot!

Isn’t Internet activism funny?

Mr. Avenir was singled out by the university for his role as the administrator of an online study group that attracted more than 140 members looking for help with chemistry homework assignments that accounted for 10 per cent of their mark.

When the course’s professor — who had stipulated that work be done independently — found the site, he gave Mr. Avenir a failing grade for the course and charged him with academic misconduct.

The case has created a groundswell of online support for the 18-year-old, including an online petition, a Facebook support group and a website, chrisdidntcheat.com, that among other things is selling T-shirts, hats and buttons with the slogan.

Is Chris Avenir in the right? It’s hard to see sharing homework answers as cheating, assuming each kid then had to do their own rendition of the work, since no one would have complained had it been face-to-face. There are surely more semantics there, but the question is really irrelevant considering the students’ response.

It’s kind of insulting that this is my generation’s form of resistance. I have many friends who use Facebook “causes” to fight for ideals. But in so doing, it seems that on-campus petitions, protests, or boycotting the school becomes completely overlooked!

Here’s a tip, people my age: If there isn’t going to be any financial damage, the school won’t give a lick. I don’t think they’re shaking in their booties that you are creating angry “Groups”. Internet activism, though good for garnering attention, needs to result in action, not more e-rants!

Thanks to your e-support, the punishment has been decreased for Mr. Avenir. Now he won’t be expelled — he’ll just get a 0 on the assignment. That kind of minor alteration is exactly the type of effect Internet activism brings about.

Now what’re you going to do about it?

Laying it on [the gangs] thick

cbc

Part of my time the last couple weeks has been spent updating my list of podcasts. Though I don’t always check them daily, I tend to tune in to a variety of shows as I go about blogging or chatting to friends. But I found out recently that my list of subscriptions was sorely lacking, as CBC’s podcasts were completely absent from my list.

If you’re interested in great content, or simply don’t want to tune in to the television to catch the news, CBC.ca/podcasting has got a huge amount of content for free! Though some items, like The Hour, are not complete and serve as a grab for their television program as much as anything, others like the At Issue panel are full of potent newscasting without the inconvenience of tuning in at a specific time of day!

And it is, indeed, the most recent At Issue that has me posting today! First, for those of you not familiar with the Hou Chang Mao shooting, read the story here. Then, check it out the At Issue video yourself here, or subscribe to the podcast feed here, and take the 5 minutes to watch the panel.

Although Rex waxes poetical a bit too much for my tastes (I’m pretty sure the first line about Dickens is his motivation for doing so, but it’s still hard to bear 😛 ), he makes a very important argument, and the pathos really starts to hit you by the end. Though at first you groan in exasperation at the fact that he sounds so pretentious, it becomes clear that he’s talking about an issue that really requires some thought and sensitivity. The fact that he ends by calling out the gang members responsible for the killing is both necessary and sadly ironic; After all, those very people are the ones least likely to watch such a show.

I encourage you again to check out some of the podcasts, including the At Issue panel. That was an irregular feel for the show — the Point of View segment is arguably less intriguing than the normal “round table” feel of the program — but it still gives you a good feel for the type of issues confronted.

Welcome to the 21st century. Let’s do away with TVs forever!!!

The monster that ate Hollywood

I’m a little shocked that the writers strike has dragged on so long (five weeks and counting). Talks have now broken down:

The breakdown is the latest turn in what has become one of the nastiest labor disputes in recent Hollywood history. It comes after eight days of contentious negotiations that yielded very little, if any, progress.

The sides remain deeply divided on how to split up new media revenues as digital technology and the Internet transform the way entertainment is delivered to viewers.

Aha! There’s your culprit:  new media.

“The industry is at a crossroads,” said Sidney Sheinberg, former president of Universal Pictures’ longtime corporate parent, MCA Inc. “Fear is a great motivator here on both sides.”

Writers fear being shortchanged as the studios rush to distribute their TV shows and movies on the Web, cellphones, video iPods and other devices. They sharply disagree with studios over how much they should be paid when shows are sold and reused online or created specifically for the Web.

“I’m not going to be the chairman of the negotiating committee that gives away the Internet,” said the guild’s John F. Bowman. “There’s an enormous burden of history here.”

The studios, confronted with dwindling DVD sales and rising production and marketing costs, say they are concerned about committing to the guild’s new-media pay demands when the economics of the Internet and other digital technologies are unknown.

There’s a lot at stake here. New media could become the monster that ate Hollywood.

A continued walkout won’t affect only the 10,500 writers on picket lines, but also thousands of other workers — from crew members and actors to talent agents and studio office employees. …

Virtually all scripted TV shows are expected to stop production by next week, causing a loss of 15,000 jobs and costing the Los Angeles economy about $21 million a day in direct production spending, according to one recent estimate.

I watch very little TV, but I really miss Jon Stewart right now. I would really like to hear his take on Romney’s major speech this week (Vote for me, I’m religious; but if you hold it against me that I’m a Mormon, that’s not fair).

My sympathies are with the writers. The big corporations always find a way to make a profit. Writers deserve a slice of the new media pie:  even Jon Stewart wouldn’t be half as funny without them.

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/v/PzRHlpEmr0w&rel=1]

France Hates Democracy

…or so every Internet “fanboy” would have us believe. Still, I think there’s a story behind the recent declaration by France that their citizens may lose their Internet privileges if they misuse it:

A pact between the French Government, French ISP’s and the local music and film industry will see French users who download material from P2P networks losing their internet access.

French internet users will face a three strikes and you’re out policy, according to the NY Times. Users will receive a warning for each illegal download before losing their service on the third infringement.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy endorsed the deal with rhetoric that is bound to win him an Honorary Life Membership of both the RIAA and MPAA: “We run the risk of witnessing a genuine destruction of culture…The Internet must not become a high-tech Far West, a lawless zone where outlaws can pillage works with abandon or, worse, trade in them in total impunity. And on whose backs? On artists’ backs.”

I think the move is the wrong one, but made for the right reasons. It is true that the Internet has a bad reputation of permitting easy access to illegal/immoral content. The fact that “pillaging works with abandon” is not a desirable situation is evidenced if you ask any Internet pirate whether or not he/she would rob Wal-Mart of a CD… the resounding answer is “no”.

However, I think we are past the point of no-return in regards to stopping Internet piracy, particularly in regards to the arts. Downloaded music and movies have been restricted, removed, criminalized,  raided, and tearfully renounced by those responsible for ensuring profits are earned by singers/actors. And much the same as alcohol prohibition or the war on drugs, the Anti-Piracy War ™ is already doomed.

For the sake of amiability, we can all agree that alcohol/drug/download abuse is negative. But pragmatically speaking, this battle was lost before it began. To stop these abuses is not a feasible goal, and likely a waste of resources.

This new e-generation is not going to conform to the standards of prior markets. It’s high time the arts industries moved on and began thinking on their feet, instead of turning to the government to prolong their demise. Compromise is not always negative, and if profits are the driving force behind business morality, then conceding defeat and attempting to innovate should be considered saintly.