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Friday, February 18, 2011

Obsolescence: Can any technology escape?

In the ever-changing and rapidly growing world of technology, particularly in media and entertainment, the latest innovations are already making the breakthroughs of the past few decades (even the past few years) obsolete.  Growing up, I played Atari on a console TV, had about 12 channels to choose from, wrote letters to family and friends and put them in the mailbox, and listened to music on cassettes.  In today's tech-savvy world, we are spoiled by technologies that bring immediate results, like cell phones, instant messaging, and flat panel TV's with stunning clarity, known as High Definition, that are capable of streaming movies directly over wireless Internet.

When I purchased our first "flat-panel" TV (named for their thin profile), just shy of 6 years ago, only a few models were available and the price for a unit that had High Definition capability was $1000 more than standard definition.  The picture tube TV's we had been using for the past 20-30 years that preceded flat panels were still in stores with many available models, but now every unit sold in stores is a flat-panel model, and all of them are High Definition with varying levels of resolution.  Flat panel technology has not only improved drastically since it was first introduced, but it has also become more and more affordable over the years, making High Definition available for everyone to enjoy.  For example, in 2005 we paid $2400 for a 42" plasma TV with 480p resolution, called "enhanced definition".  Today, a 42" full HD plasma of equal or greater quality sells for around $700 and an LCD model with a 32" screen is less than half of that, around $325.

Gaming has drastically changed in a relatively short amount of time, as the Atari, which was popular in the early 80's, was replaced by the original Nintendo towards the middle to end of the 80's, an 8-bit gaming system with what were considered vastly impressive graphics at the time.  Once the Nintendo reached the height of its popularity, Sega introduced the Genesis around 1991, a 16-bit system that took graphics to another level.  Soon after, the two companies competed heavily for years with new models (Super Nintendo, Nintendo GameCube vs. Sega Genesis CD, Sega Dreamcast) until Sony took the gaming world by storm in March of 2000 with its Playstation, which boasted graphics with nearly photo-realistic graphics, particularly on sporting games.  Playing Madden NFL on a Playstation was the closest thing to watching a game on TV.  Shortly after Sony introduced the Playstation 2 to improve upon its initial model, Microsoft introduced the XBox, with similarly stunning graphics.  In 2006, Sony released the increasingly popular Playstation 3, which doubles as a Blu-Ray disc player, however the PS2 remains the best-selling game console of all time.  Nintendo then marked a significant comeback with the Wii, which introduced movement interaction with the use of a handheld Wii remote which picked up the user's movements and integrated them into the game for a unique experience.  Once this became the newest trend in gaming, XBox released the Kinect system which took the concept of the Wii a step further by eliminating the need for a handheld remote.


In the music world, before mp3's and iTunes, when a new album was being released by an artist you would purchase it at a music retailer.  When CD's were introduced, the sound quality and ease of track navigation made cassettes vanish almost instantly.  Although I don't think CD's will ever become obsolete, they're now becoming less used thanks to Internet downloading.  Today, you can download new music to a number of devices the moment it's available through iTunes or Amazon (or illegally for those who don't believe in supporting the artists whose music enhances your life).  Thanks to the Internet, artists can keep fans informed of progress on the next album to be released, rather than waiting for your favorite group's name to appear on the "Coming Soon" board at the store, which is what we all did in the days before digital music and the Internet.

For those familiar with computer technology, the frequent changes in standards for what is considered the "latest and greatest" occur so often that a computer you buy one day will be considered nearly obsolete just a year later.  New processors and components are released several times throughout the year that are significantly faster and of higher quality than earlier models as manufacturers scramble to keep up with the latest advances in gaming and media.  Along with personal computers came the Internet, which was widely popularized by AOL, which many users thought was "The Internet" rather than just a service provider.  Emails and online chatting gave users the ability to have conversations in real-time or through emails which could be passed within minutes, rather than through the postal service, now called "snail mail".  Now there are 100's of ISP's (Internet Service Provider) across the United States, all offering connection at different speeds and different prices to keep you connected on any budget.


The auto industry has certainly been paying attention as many of the today's greatest gadgets are being integrated in the latest models.  Bluetooth technology allows seamless integration of cell phones for hand free communication (not counting texting while driving).  Car stereo systems have hard drives that can store music permanently so you don't have to fumble through your CD's to change artists, and the best part is that all can be done by voice command.  Today's cars can park themselves, tell you how close you are to an object when driving in reverse, and with services like OnStar you're never alone in case of an emergency.  If that's not enough, thanks to phone applications, you can unlock, lock and start your car from your phone, as popularized in the commercial for the new Chevrolet Cruze.

Of course, the most obvious widespread example of today's technology is the cell phone (originally known as a "mobile phone").  They started as a bag with a very large antenna and a receiver with a cord attached just like what you'd have hanging on the wall at home.  That changed to a large brick-shaped unit that looked like something used in the Military.  From there, the trend was to make them as compact and trendy as possible, with fashionable accessories such as interchangeable faceplates and covers.  However, they were still just phones.  Then came instant messaging, which was already popular on personal computers, known as "chatting".  Today's variety of cellular phones boasts an incredible list of features such as video conferencing, email, Internet access, and with the introduction of "apps" users can play games and pull from an unlimited library of tools and utilities.

While we take advantage of these new advancements, many of the items we relied on before the Internet and cell phones are falling into obsolescence....Taken from an April 2010 New York Times article: Newspaper circulation has been in decline for many years, but the drop accelerated in 2007 and even more rapidly through the recession.  While the Internet is widely cited for the drop-off, the lower circulation figures have resulted in part from a conscious decision by publishers to focus on the most loyal and profitable readers, often raising prices and limiting discounts.
The newspaper isn't the only item that is slipping into obscurity. 
According to a recent article on Businessweek.com, U.S. magazine sales at newsstands and other retailers fell at a faster pace in the second half of 2010 than they did in the first half.  Single-copy sales fell 7.3 percent to 32.7 million in the July-December period, compared with a year earlier.  Single-copy sales offer an important gauge of the industry's health. Many titles sell heavily discounted subscriptions, so full-price newsstand copies tend to be the better indication of a magazine's vitality.  Magazine sales dropped during the recession as readers saved extra cash. But the industry is also getting pressured by an increasing amount of free material to read on the Web including online versions of magazines and newspapers, and blogs.


The introduction of the iPad, Kindle, and similar "e-readers" found a market for people who love to read but don't like carrying around books and magazines.  Users can scan their favorite newspapers, magazines and books on a stylish, portable screen than can hold 1000's of publications.  The iPad is a larger version of the iPod, with music, Internet and e-reader technology all folded into one device.

Considering all of these incredible advancements, and how they've completely reinvented the earliest concepts of their kind, we can begin to wonder about the next generation of innovation that will make today's technology obsolete.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

20 Years After "Ten", Pearl Jam celebrates their anniversary

They played their first show on October 22, 1990, with a short setlist of freshly written tracks that would appear on their legendary debut album, "Ten", and this year marks Pearl Jam's 20th anniversary of its release, in elaborate fan-pleasing fashion.

It all started with a 3-track demo of instrumentals, recorded by former Mother Love Bone members Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard, along with former Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron and guitarist friend Mike McCready.  The tape was given to San Diego surfer Eddie Vedder by his friend Jack Irons, who was the original drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Eddie recorded his vocals over the instrumentals, and mailed the cassette, which became known as the "Momma-son Trilogy" with the 3 songs that became "Once", "Alive" and "Footsteps" back.  Jeff, impressed with the results, called Stone, and they invited Vedder out to Seattle and Pearl Jam was formed, with drummer Dave Krusen.  Krusen left the band before "Ten" was released, due to personal problems.  Dave Abruzzesse came in and played on the next two albums before he was replaced by Jack Irons, who played on the following two albums before medical issues forced him to leave, at which time Matt Cameron officially joined the band, bringing the lineup full circle.  After twenty years, over 60 million albums sold from 9 albums, a massive fan base, and no signs of stopping, Pearl Jam is using 2011 to celebrate the past and gear up for the future. 

Pearl Jam got the anniversary celebration started when they reissued their massively successful debut album "Ten" on March 24, 2009, in four editions.  Earlier this year, they released their 2nd live compilation album, "Live On Ten Legs", and another release is coming March 29th as their next two albums, Vs. and Vitalogy, are being reissued in three editions, similar to the "Ten" reissue treatment.  The anniversary extravaganza continues with the documentary film "PJ20" by director Cameron Crowe, due late summer, which chronicles the band's entire career.  Around the time that Crowe’s movie opens, Pearl Jam are planning some kind of two-day festival event somewhere in the middle of the country, with multiple bands and Pearl Jam headlining both nights.  "We've played enough festivals that we know what makes them exciting," bassist Jeff Ament told Rolling Stone. "We want to give people places to go that aren't necessarily musical — second stages and all that kind of stuff. We're asking our friends if they want to play a couple of shows with us."

While the band is obviously proud and excited to celebrate the success from their first 20 years, it's the next chapter they really look forward to.  “Ed and I were just going through old photos, journals and clippings for the box set,” says Ament. “By the end, we were both like, ‘Ugh, we’re done with the past for a while.’ We’re ready to work on new songs and get excited about what’s ahead.”  I was very pleased with the Deluxe Edition of the Ten reissue so I can't wait to get the same package for Vs./Vitalogy.  When Pearl Jam performed "Animal" for the first time at the 1993 MTV VMA's, it instantly became my anthem, mainly for its raucous energy, and "Daughter" remains one of my very favorite tracks of theirs, both are from the Vs. album.  Similarly, Vitalogy hosts some great songs, some of their darkest.  My favorites from that album are Corduroy, Nothingman, Betterman and Tremor Christ.  If this pattern of reissues, continues, I'll be mostly excited to see "Yield" get the special treatment because it is my favorite Pearl Jam album, and if they double it up with its predecessor "No Code", even better. 

Being only 20 years into their career, some may say these guys are a little premature to celebrate since many bands have been going for twice as long without making such a big deal about it.  However, I think of Rush, who embarked on a 30th anniversary tour and released a DVD of that tour with a ton of extras.  I think they played better than ever on that tour and I believe it had a lot to do with those guys celebrating the music they've made together.  I think this anniversary celebration with all of its releases is a great way to give something cool to the fans and re-energize the band for the next 20 years (hopefully).  Normally I have a huge problem with bands who reissue their old material because I feel it's just a way to get people to buy the same stuff again with different packaging, but Pearl Jam listens to their fans and these reissues are assembled with the concept of "what would the fans want".  See you at the record store on March 29th, and THANK YOU PEARL JAM!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Leniency, what is it good for? (absolutely nothing)

It hasn't quite been 2 years since 8-year old Sandra Cantu was murdered by a Sunday School teacher in Tracy, California, her body found stuffed into a suitcase and dropped in an irrigation pond.  Today, the body of 4-year old Juliani Cardenas was found in a canal near Santa Nella, CA.  He was abducted 2 weeks ago in broad daylight from his grandmother's home in Patterson, CA, by his mother's ex-boyfriend Jose Esteban Rodriguez.  The Amber Alert for Juliani spread quickly on the news after the abduction, and digital highway signs were lit up with the license plate and description of the car that Rodriguez was driving, which turned up days ago, in the same canal that the boy's body surfaced in today.  Rodriguez has an extensive criminal history, including a 1999 involuntary manslaughter conviction.  He also has been arrested on suspicion of assault and battery and unlawful sexual intercourse.  We can thank the leniency of our judicial system, for allowing him to be set free, for Juliani's death.

The Sandra Cantu case came almost exactly 8 years after the bodies of Laci and Conner Peterson were discovered in a marina, a case which received national coverage.  Scott Peterson, Laci's husband, was sentenced to death by lethal injection, but remains on death row while his case is on appeal; he maintains his innocence.  The convicted murderer and rapist of Sandra Cantu, Melissa Huckaby, entered a guilty plea to spare her life, and now sits in prison for a life sentence, fed by taxpayer dollars just like Scott.  I'm guessing the same will happen if Rodriguez is caught and convicted for the murder of young Juliani and pleas guilty.  However, reports indicate that the body of Rodriguez is expected to also be found in the canal, which would not only make him a murderer but a coward for taking his own life and not giving justice to the family, as if today's laws ever bring real justice in these cases anyhow.

When news of Sandra's abduction spread, before her body was discovered and her killer was identified, I posted my idea of a new kind of justice system for handling these kinds of crimes, along with many others.  It wasn't quite "eye for an eye", but much further into the "zero tolerance" mentality than our current system.  

Example: under my policy, anyone convicted of murder is either executed or incarcerated in solitary confinement for life, and that choice is made by the family of the victim.  Furthermore, all assets of the convicted are liquidated and put into an account which covers the costs of incarceration until those funds are exhausted, at which time our government either continues funding or orders execution.

I've sent that proposal to a number of offices of authority, and got no response, unsurprisingly.  It seems that our justice system appears adequate for those in power, the only ones who are capable of changing the laws so real justice can be brought down upon those who decide to take a life.  In the end, it's all about rights and there is no logical reason that anyone should be allowed rights once they are convicted of the crime they are accused of.  There should be no plea process, no opportunity for those convicted to be heard.  There is no such thing as justice for these families while the convicted killers of their loved ones are allowed the choice to live, because incarceration is no real consolation.  It's unfathomable that someone can take a life and still have any input for how their sentence is carried out by entering a plea to spare them from the death penalty, such as Melissa Huckaby was; the killer is extended the right to live, while their innocent victim didn't get that choice.

Regardless of being considered naive or unrealistic, I am going to continue to send my proposal to all forms and offices of government until some kind of reaction and consideration is achieved.  I'm appalled and disgusted by the leniency that is extended to murderers, rapists, child abductors and repeat offenders as they fill our prisons and are fed 3 square meals a day and watch television and have access to the Internet.  There are innocent people walking the street, homeless and hungry, and they may be looked down upon for having no ambition to better themselves but they didn't murder anyone.  Imagine how easily we could end hunger if our tax money went into food banks and soup kitchens, rather than paying the tab for the luxuries that prisoners are allowed.

In summary, I would like to offer my deepest condolences to the family of Juliani Cardenas, and my hope that his killer is captured and that it may bring some sense of peace to your family.  Also, I hope that time has brought some healing to the Rocha and Cantu families.  
I know that not every story makes the news, so my thoughts are with all who have suffered the loss of a child or loved one at the hands of a senseless homicide, as these families have.  Perhaps one day our laws will change to put some fear back into those who have cruel intentions; one can only hope.