Every major Internet-based company seems to be trying to the same thing. Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL—everybody is in a race to be your online content hub. Each company has their own mail service, their own news center, their own shopping portal ... and the result is that internet users accumulate accounts, signing up for the latest and greatest service only to move on once another company releases something better. I talk to friends and acquaintances online, but managing three different online communication accounts just wasn't fun. You can imagine the traditional comically inept infomercial actor, exasperatedly searching for Facebook on my row of browser tabs to use their chat service and accidentally closing other important ones, hunting for the Google Talk icon in my quick launch bar and accidentally deleting the contents of my hard drive ...
“If only there was a better way!”
Guess what, readers—for about seven months, I've been using a desktop-based instant messaging client called Pidgin, which has support for every popular chat program, and some you probably haven't even heard of. Desktop instant messaging clients are a good way to consolidate unwieldy lists of accounts across major service providers into a single location. What finally drove me to house all my accounts using Pidgin was its native support for Facebook chat—instructions are available directly from Facebook, not only for Pidgin but for a host of other chat programs. While this allows you to always be available to converse with friends, it does have a drawback— a friend messaged me once to ask why I was always using Facebook, because always being logged into Facebook Chat through Pidgin makes me appear to always be online.
Pidgin is also customizable through extensions, much like popular web browsers Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, allowing users to extend the software's functionality. Pidgin is free and open source, and makes the wild world of online communication a lot simpler.
Who needs Prince of Persia when you’ve got The 7 Adventures of Sinbad?
Late at night, traveling the pages of Wikipedia for some quick entertainment, I happened across a page describing a small film studio called The Asylum. Under any other circumstances, this studio would be completely forgettable—only one or two of their 300-plus films have even made it to theaters. However, a quick glance at the titles this illustrious studio has produced revealed some curiously named films; for example, The Asylum has released Transmorphers, Snakes on a Train, The Da Vinci Treasure and many other films with names suspiciously similar to big-budget Hollywood films. The Asylum, in short, is the most blatant and shameless producer of so-called “mockbuster” films, movies designed to capitalize and piggyback on the hype and success of similarly titled wide-release pictures.
The Asylum's method is to release low-budget knockoffs of upcoming films, discarding subtlety in favor of being as obvious as possible about their inspiration. For example, their 2008 monster movie, Monster, was released three days before the premiere of another monster movie, Cloverfield, and, surprise—Monster used the same shaky-cam, first-person filming style that Cloverfield relied on. While the real thing garnered mildly positive reviews, Monster tended to have the opposite effect—among the many negative reviews was a 10-minute audio recording by reviewer Scott Foy of horror media website DreadCentral.com, presented as “found audio” to mock the “found film” style used in the film, where Foy essentially rants about how much he disliked the film for the duration of the review. Even The Asylum's film stars criticize their products—after starring in the 2008 movie Death Racers, Joseph Bruce (aka Violent J of psychotic carnival hip-hop duo Insane Clown Posse) called the movie “the bootleg ripoff fake version [of Death Race],” while his counterpart, Joseph Utsler (aka Shaggy 2 Dope), remarked that if fans wanted to see it, they might be able to find it in the clearance bin at their local Wal-Mart.
The Asylum may have the most ridiculous catalog of films of any movie studio in existence, a byproduct of being the most prolific and least-subtle mockbuster producer in the world. A trip through its catalog is good for at least a few laughs—for example, I doubt you could guess who Allan Quatermain is, but you'll chuckle when you see the movie poster and realize his inspiration.
LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers are still in the thick of the NBA playoffs, but that didn't stop New York Magazine from getting a head start on luring the player to New York to play for the hometown team, the Knicks. The magazine put James on the cover, along with a list of 14 reasons why the reigning league MVP should come to New York.
Depending on how you look at it, the magazine either did its homework or is really creepy; it consulted a pair of New York's prominent real estate agents to pick out a house and an apartment for James, and the feature is filled with Photoshopped pictures of James in a Knicks jersey and a few New York-themed advertising mockups featuring James, including a six-frame storyboard for a potential Coca-Cola advertisement featuring the player. The entire series is so absurd, I can't tell if the “LeBron in 2018” slide show is a joke, even though it features James winning 10 straight NBA championships with the Knicks, extorting a U.S. Senate seat by threatening to retire if not elected, and leading the United States to an Olympic gold medal at 38 as a player-coach-senator.
The University of New Mexico announced that its graduation, scheduled for May 15, will take place at Albuquerque's 53-year-old Tingley Coliseum for the second year in a row. They will join seniors from Albuquerque Public Schools, who will also use the same location throughout next week for the second straight year. This news has to be, at the very least, a little disappointing for this year's spring graduates, whose special day will perhaps be marred by the unfortunate choice of venue.
Unfortunately for Albuquerque's graduates, UNM's University Arena, commonly used by the University and by the city's public high schools high schools for graduation ceremonies, is still in the middle of a $60 million renovation project. While the need for an alternate location is clear, why is Tingley Coliseum that choice? There has to be a reason that the arena's two main tenants, the New Mexico Scorpions and the Albuquerque Thunderbirds, have both left for the inconveniently located Santa Ana Star Center, which is literally in the middle of nowhere. Surely there exists a better location in Albuquerque—the University's football stadium, perhaps, or nearby Isotopes Park. UNM's on-campus Johnson Gym could have been appropriate as well, depending on capacity. It might be just as old as Tingley, but it at least would have had an old-timey, nostalgic charm.
There isn't anything explicitly wrong with Tingley—it suits the purpose of the events, though the last time I was there, for a basketball game, I hated both the facility and the production. Albuquerque's graduating students deserve a little bit more than a 60-year-old rodeo arena.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released its plan to change how it regulates the entire Internet yesterday, attempting to balance a its charter, which states that the FCC should keep internet regulation to a minimum, with a desire to enforce net neutrality.
The new policy only affects broadband transmissions, meaning that the actual data online won't be regulated by the FCC. Internet service providers (ISPs) will be subject to telecommunications services regulation, which currently governs land-line telephones. However, the FCC's general counsel said that only six of the 48 provisions that govern telecommunications services might apply to broadband Internet – for example, the FCC won't have the power to regulate prices. These six provisions forbid ISPs from “unreasonabledenials of service and other unjust and unreasonable practices,” a response to a dispute between the FCC and Comcast, where the FCC ordered Comcast to stop limiting data-heavy Bittorrent uploads. Other provisions allow the FCC to push forward on bringing universal broadband to the United States, require ISPs to keep private information obtained from their customers private, and make broadband service accessible to the disabled. While I barely understand what's going on, most major tech blogs have weighed in, and GigaOm has found a pair of videos that attempt to explain the ruling and the situation.
The reregulation came about after the FCC discovered that Comcast was delaying Bittorrent uploads and attempted to use its power to stop the interference. When a court ruled that the FCC didn't have the authority, rather than abide by the decision, the FCC got to work changing the rules. Of course, neither side is happy; ISPs say they're worried the FCC has overstepped its bounds, while net neutrality advocates say that the FCC didn't go far enough.
In biblical times, if the king told you to drop everything ride a donkey back to your hometown to be counted, you did it. But this year's 10-question survey received a more lukewarm response from New Mexican citizens. The Associated Press reports that New Mexico had the second lowest return rate for this year's census forms. Only 63 percent of New Mexicans mailed back their forms, narrowly beating out Alaska's 62 percent return rate to avoid worst-in-show honors.
New Mexico was one of 11 states that failed to at least come within one percentage point of meeting the return rate for the 2000 Census, and overall the return rate for this year's mail-in Census forms was 72 percent—the same as the response rate 10 years ago. This marks an apparent failure for the Census Bureau's advertising blitz leading up to the arrival of Census forms in mailboxes across America—or not, as the Census Bureau stated that it actually reversed a trend of declining survey participation among American citizens.
All this means that Census Bureau employees are gearing up to travel the nation for door-to-door visits with households that failed to return their Census Forms. According to the Associated Press, 4,200 people have been hired to traverse New Mexico from now until July 10, and in all, the Census Bureau will deploy 635,000 people across the nation to round up some accurate data—each paid between $10 and $25 an hour.
If you were hoping for a little spring breeze so you could have a break while Albuquerque marches through spring and on to summer, it looks like your prayers have been answered—forcefully. The National Weather Service has issued a High Wind Warning for the Albuquerque metro area, meaning that you can expect 40 mph sustained winds and 58 mph gusts today.
Those who happen to keep important, loose papers outside might want to take them inside, and if you for some reason have a sail attached to the roof of your car, now is the time to remove it. This bout of bad weather doesn't have to be all inconvenience, though— if you want to set a world-record wind-assisted sprint time, just find a track where the breeze is at your back and hope for the best.
Looks like American music fans will finally get a taste of one of Europe's most popular streaming music services. Financial news website Bloomberg.com reported that Spotify, a free music service with 7 million users, will reach the United States in the third quarter of 2010.
Of course, this isn't the first time Spotify has been rumored to be crossing the Atlantic to join the American Intertubes. According to Wired, Spotify has announced that it will release a U.S. version of their software twice before, failing to deliver both times.
Spotify allows ad-supported streaming of its entire library of music tracks. Users may play any track among the at least 3.8 million in the library (the latest official number is from August of 2009), at any time their computer is connected to the internet; Spotify also recently gave users the ability to play their own music libraries through the program. Users may also purchase a monthly subscription for €9.99 to get rid of ads and allow songs to be saved on their computer for offline use. It’s unclear which of these services will make it into the American version of Spotify; the high cost of streaming music has caused some to speculate that a free version of Spotify will not exist in the United States.
While Europeans citizens and tech bloggers alike have pronounced themselves smitten with the service, it has some drawbacks—you can't take your music with you unless you sign up for the Premium version of Spotify, which allows you to download an application to your phone and save songs for offline listening. In addition, the service has been criticized for paying small royalties to artists—a Norwegian label revealed (warning: poorly translated Norwegian) that it earned a grand total of $3 after its songs had been streamed 55,000 times through Spotify.
A most triumphant rendering of the Higgs Boson particle
The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) reported yesterday that it had analyzed high-energy particle collisions that took place in the Large Hadron Collider (or LHC—the proton-smasher under the French-Swiss border that will either unlock the mysteries of the universe or bring about the fall of mankind, depending on who you listen to) and reconstructed a “Beauty Particle” based on data gathered from collisions using the LHC. It’s an indication that the collider is functioning correctly and is well on its way to full operational capacity.
The particle has already been discovered, so the world-record 7 teraelectron volt collisions between proton streams have not propelled the scientific community into a new age of discovery just yet. However, the creation of this particle is one of the first steps in the LHC's LHCb (the “b” stands for beauty) experiment that is supposed to determine why the universe contains so little antimatter. The LHCb experiment is one of six planned experiments using the LHC.
Much of the world has been on edge waiting for the scientists working with the LHC to iron out problems that have delayed the start of high-energy proton collisions, since the collider is supposed to answer fundamental questions about the universe. Much of the rest of the world has also been on edge for a very different reason—namely, that by venturing further than science has dared to go, the LHC might accidentally destroy the world. CERN published a page on its website to refute the seven most popular theories for how the LHC will destroy the Earth. Things got so wild that some theoretical physicists hypothesized that the Higgs Boson (the “God particle” that scientists believe gives particles mass and which the LHC is designed to discover) is traveling back in time and breaking the machine to prevent itself from being discovered.
While April 20 is mainly known for clouds of marijuana smoke, a lesser-known fact about the day is that it was the birthday of the modern world's most evil dictator. As mentioned in yesterday's DayBird, April 20, 1889 was the day German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler began his maniacal career that brought Europe to the brink of destruction and back. Now that you've sobered up, perhaps now is the time to transition from revelry to revelation, and the following works can help shed a little light on the fascinating history of Nazi Germany and World War II.
Downfall, 2004 film
The movie that inspired all those parody videos of Hitler ranting about his Xbox Live account, the proliferation of the parody videos and everything in between (I even made one about the polio vaccine for a biology project) is not only an exceptional vehicle for humor but also a great film itself. Downfall (German title: Der Untergang) covers the last days of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany and is set in the underground bunker that hid Hitler and other Nazi officials as Berlin fell to the Allied forces above. The movie is based on the memoirs of numerous people familiar with the last days of Nazi Germany, including Hitler's personal secretary and Germany's Minister of Armaments and War Production during World War II. It also probably holds the record for most suicides in a feature film, as the latter part of Downfall consists of a string of Nazi officers and soldiers taking their own lives rather than facing the consequences of the Nazi reign of terror. The film, ranked 81 on the IMDb’s Top 250 films (based on user votes) and a Metacritic.com score of 82, “indicating universal acclaim,” offers a dramatic, powerful look at a story not often told.