Elliott C. Back: Internet & Technology

Little Big Planet’s Quran Music Faux Pas

Posted in Religion, Scandal by Elliott Back on October 18th, 2008.

The upcoming videogame LittleBigPlanet (LBP) for the Sony Playstation 3 (PS3) console has received an unexpected blow to its release schedule. During the final review process, Sony Entertainment discovered that two verses from the Qu’ran were included in Little Big Planet’s background track. The verses are found in the early portions of this song, and to Western ears are utterly innocuous:

1- In the 18th second: “كل نفس ذائقة الموت” (“kollo nafsin tha’iqatol mawt”, literally: ‘Every soul shall have the taste of death’).

2- Almost immediately after, in the 27th second: “كل من عليها فان” (“kollo man alaiha fan”, literally: ‘All that is on earth will perish’).

I was curious as to why “we Muslims consider the mixing of music and words from our Holy Quran deeply offending” and I came across this Yahoo Answers thread which tries to explain that “music is haram for believers of Islam.” I don’t find any of the answers convincing. Putting aside–for a moment–the question of whether music itself is acceptable to a Muslim, there merely remains the issue of why Sony Entertainment, a global company, would harm its own videogame release by giving into the demands of religious socio-terrorists.

It’s clear to me that merely offending a subset of people is not a good reason to give up creative direction, freedom of speech, or any of the other Western ideals. It’s also not a particularly good business decision. A product which satiates the myriad desires of every interest group, which pleases everyone, that offends no one is a product which has thus had every innovation stripped from it.

Little Big Planet is a family-oriented game where players control a Sackboy to play and explore the game environments, create their own content, and share creations with others around the world. It hardly merits a religious challenge over the inclusion of text into its soundtrack.

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Jakob Lodwick Stops Blogging

Posted in Blogging, Celebrities, Scandal by Elliott Back on June 26th, 2008.

In a post titled I’ve Had Enough, Jacob Lodwick, famous for dating Julia Allison, founding floundering social video site Vimeo, and College Humour, has announced that he is departing from blogging. Since the post has been deleted, I’m going to reproduce its text in full below:

After reading my mom’s post on shutting down her tumblelog, I can’t help but agree, and it’s time for me to end this. It’s not about Tumblr, specifically. It’s about the web in general. It’s become overrun by too many animals. One of the last straws was adventures of mascarah, who, after reading a few posts where I expressed myself, wrote this:

“I will say that if you cut off his head he still looks much better here than with his new shorter locks and Office Space/ child molester glasses. You might not have been happy then, Jake, but wow, you looked so much better.”

I may be a millionaire but I this sort of thing still hurts. If this were a one-time thing, I could deal with it, but it happens several times a week, no matter what I do, and I can’t avoid seeing it. To be hit with a personal insult, from a stranger who knows only my blog persona, yet attacks me as a person, is an awful feeling. Another last straw was this Gawker post, where I wanted to learn multiple basic summaries of the China situation as a starting point for a larger exploration of the country. I was torn to shreds (I still don’t understand why) by the poster, an elf who has never talked to me but stammered a darted his eyes when I encountered him at a party a year ago. Worse than the post were the comments. Imagine reading these things about yourself:

* Boil. Your. Face.
* His relationship with Julia “hey guys, I need to write an article, send me stuff and do it for me” Allison makes so much sense right now. They’re BOTH what’s wrong and evil in this world.
* Oh, he’s my least favorite brand of asshole: the kind that thinks being an asshole makes him edgy. It doesn’t. It just makes him an asshole. He sucks.
* Please kill yourself. You’re completely worthless.
* I didn’t think it was possible to hate him more. But it is, apparently. He needs to shut his ugly face. We can call him ugly without fear of retribution in the form of execution right? Ugly. Inside and out.
* Ha. Seriously. Fucking Napoleonic complex to go with his undoubtedly tiny ween. Also, ugly.
* I saw him at the Bedford Ave subway station a week ago, looking like an escaped mental patient dressed as a retarded toddler.

The last one really pushed me over the edge. Not only do these people attack me online, but they recognize me in real life. That’s the kind of thing I don’t want to think about while out and about. The absolute worst, though, has got to be the attacks for any display of self-confidence. You may conceptualize the Unites States as a great nation. But it’s also a big tribe, with its own irrational taboos. One of them is: don’t talk proudly about your achievements.

Unfortunately, my line of work requires me to aim high. If you can’t stomach that, fine, but consider the long-term effects of bashing me and others who goals are to innovate. Entrepreneurs, artists — our jobs are not easy; they require doing something new. This means we assume risk — our business could go bankrupt, our art could be despised. Perhaps you are happy with the current state of USA. I am not — I am deeply unhappy with it — and I want to change it.

But going forward, Jakob Lodwick, the person, is withdrawing from the public web. You will see the results of my efforts through Normative and other companies. I just cannot deal with these animals any longer.

On his website, he has also posted this farewell letter:

Dear The Internet,

I closed my blog on June 26, 2008. I could no longer handle the relentless, vicious, public attacks from a digital lynch mob towards the personality traits I have no intention of changing, such as my curiosity and my self-confidence.

If the Web is to flourish, we cannot count on the good will of the public. The combination of anonymity and universal access means no individual can fully feel safe opening up. The Web itself (the technology) has a vast and unrealized potential. Until we create new types of Web sites which value privacy on a fundamental level, the web risks collapsing into a cesspool of YouTube comments and ad-based gossip-hate sites.

When I say “privacy”, I mean in the sense of private property, as in, “No Trespassing”.

I am walking away from what might be called The Social Web. This comprises any site where ‘anyone can sign up’ and electronically socialize with one another. The story is the same with most of these sites: a few settlers discover and make themselves at home, enjoying the solitude. Increasingly, less-adventurous people find their way to the site. The population begins to snowball. A vocal minority of thoughtless jerks begin to speak up, driving away the settlers. In the worst case, the result is something like MySpace.

I have been an active participant in The Social Web since the 1990s and now it is time for me to leave. I desperately need to socialize on the Web in a way that makes me happy, but the right tools do not exist yet. I now intend to start building them.

If you’re interested in following my progress, keep an eye on JakobLodwick.com. I will simply post stuff there.

Sincerely,
Jakob Lodwick

His tumbler blog is now entirely deleted (why destroy the past, Jakob?), but we can still glean some insight into his world view before it fades into the ether. A post from March 20th, where he addresses the following message from a “fan”, is interesting:

Why must 1/3 of your tumblr posts feature your face? Are you that self involved that you are unaware that THAT is really the most unattractive, ie d***he-bag quality, feature of web life 2.0? You diminish the value of your own stock. Perhaps that will go down as your poetic flaw…

Jakob’s reply is that ordinary people deserve to accept themselves as they are:

By posting pictures of myself, I am also broadcasting the message, “It’s ok to be photographed even if you are not a model.” This may subtly influence people to post their own pictures; as a result, they will become more aware of their own image.

He suggests that any attempt to over up what is with a semblance is irresponsible:

…arching your neck forward to stretch a double chin does not actually change your body.

This conversation embodies some of the things I disliked about his blog. First, the rampant narcissism and egoism, which can’t be excused by “I’m an innovator” or “I’m making art, I need an ego,” shines through the nearly-daily barrage of poorly taken self-portraits. In a three day spread you might see three pictures of Jakob Lodwick, unkept, unshaven, and half-naked posted on his blog:

jakob.jpg

If nothing else, it’s unprofessional and unsettling to readers. Other posts are remarkably intolerant of internet diversity, such as the names people online choose to give themselves:

But most modern websites don’t make you pick an exclusive name. If you’re uncomfortable giving your full name, just use your first name instead. I am getting really sick of finding out that “brooklyndude” liked my Vimeo videos, or zipzappizzazz is my tumblr follower. I have no idea who you people are, nor will I ever, unless you use a real name.

In real life, a real name is something you’ve been handed down by your parents and the government, not an entity that you have created to express yourself. On the internet, it’s the other way around. Accept the names people have chosen, because they’ll tell you more than their given name. It would have been nice to see Jakob dig a little deeper, past his inane aggrevation with people’s online identities, into the heart of the psychology of how people name themselves. Unfortunately, for me, the post let me down. Many others are like this; some personal pet peave without any real justification. You read them, you just feel beaten down. For that reason, I won’t be missing him when he goes. But, perhaps when Jakob comes back the level of insight will be raised a notch or two. I’m willing to give him a read again.

Update: Matthew Ingram has a salient summary: “for young Jake to moan about all the negative attention he’s gotten, after happily posting every intimate detail and thought about his life and relationships to public blogs, in an almost pathological exercise in over-sharing, is really rich.”

Update 2: There are some interesting comments on the Valleywag piece.

Mark Cuban’s P2P Ideas Suck

Posted in Celebrities, P2P, Performance, Scalability, bit torrent, bittorrent by Elliott Back on November 25th, 2007.

In a three-part rant about peer-to-peer technologies (1, 2, 3), Mark Cuban demands that peer-to-peer technologies “die a quick death” in order to”speed up [his own] internet connection.” He suggests that “Google Video is a far better solution for audio and video distribution than any P2P solution” and that cable companies “charge for upstream bandwidth usage.”

Guess what–I already get charged for all the bandwidth I use, either up or down. When Verizon strings a fiberoptic cable to my home, I’m getting a certain amount of fixed capacity into the greater internet at large. If I want to trade a little upstream capacity for greater downstream capacity, that’s my call! Have you ever noticed that downloading over http is typically slow because there are 100s of clients and 1 host? If I download the same information over bittorrent, I can sustain 12Mbs because everyone is a server–including me. Distributed protocols, such as the ones powering Amazon Dynamo or bittorrent, are more efficient, cost effective, and fault tolerant than single-server models.

Reactions around the blogosphere indicate that Mark Cuban’s thoughts on P2P are nonsensical rubbish. Mashable calls him “a guy who does not understand how P2P works, and yet he wants it shut down.” Ars Technica notes that “if users who are currently saturating their connections with BitTorrent start saturating their connections with Google Video content, the end result is more or less the same.” And a slashdotter comments, “Just imagine how fast the internet would be if there were no content to view. After P2Ps gone, get rid of all these freeloading websites, emails, etc. and it will be blisteringly fast.”

My guess is that billionaire Mark Cuban has a slow, shared cable internet connection at home, the modern equivalent of a party line. This might lead him to confuse his own slow internet connection with a greater systemic problem. What he should be complaining about is why Verizon hasn’t strung fiber in his area yet.

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