Letter to Tanya Plibersek re: Carbon targets

I received a response from Tanya Plibersek to my previous letter re: clean feed just before I went away on holidays, and just after the Government announced their woefully inadequate targets for CO2 reduction.

Below the fold is my follow-up.

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Recording budgets

I have often seen a lot of debate about the merits of downloading music for promotion of a band and how downloads are changing the music landscape.

Generally I agree that the opportunities for bands are much greater in this day an age than they were previously. In fact, our first EP is released under a Creative Commons license because of this belief – anyone can share our music with their friends, remix it (as our friend Karoshi just has – can’t wait to share that with you!), and the like.

What I haven’t seen is a lot of discussion of how much it actually costs to record and produce music of a standard suitable for “releasing” (radio play etc.). I get a sense that there’s a bit of a misconception that, with the advent of cheaper computers and audio recording hardware and software, that artists are able to produce their music really cheaply, which isn’t actually the case.

The other suggestion I see a lot is that bands can release music for free and make money through other means (performance fees etc.). This I think is in some way related to the first misconception, but also is problematic in its own way.

What I want to do in this post is share my experience of producing music with my band, Fuzu, and having a look at what it costs to release an independent EP.

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Expression = prison

Amnesty International: Expression = prison: Hu Jia.

Tibet has (rightly) been in the spotlight of late, but this is a timeline reminder that these human rights abuses continue to occur throughout the country. I dearly hope that the spotlight remains firmly on these abuses in the leadup to the Olympics.

It is these kind of sentences that create the culture of self-censorship within the Chinese community.

Rebecca McKinnon suggests that we can’t expect too much to change – I hope that at least the embarrassments and increased pressure do at least help move things for the better, at least in some way.

Uncensor China

This is a cross-post from the Zumio blog.

Just a quick note to mention that yesterday, Amnesty International Australia’s Uncensor site was launched. This is the project I’ve been involved in, though the work I’m doing isn’t on the site yet.

The site is part of Amnesty’s campaign in the lead up to the Olympics being held in August in China, focusing on internet censorship and repression. I’ve been following the blog for a couple of days now and the writing there is excellent – really informative.

The “Search for Freedom” function (in the right sidebar) shows first hand China’s censorship regime at work, and clearly highlights how Google is participating in the “Golden Shield” system.

You may have heard about the Fuwa, the Chinese Olympics mascot. Well it seems that they left someone out – meet Nu Wa the Uncensor mascot. Nu Wa (who’s name means “outraged, angry young boy”, wants to set the record straight by speaking about the human rights abuses suffered by people in China.

I really dig the site, as does Priscilla. Well worth checking out…

China internet censorship and Tibet

I was a bit late to the news about Tibet, finding out only yesterday about what’s been happening. A brief news snippet on JJJ said that the Chinese government says that about 16 “innocent civilians” were killed, but the Tibetan government in exile claims more than 60.

Of course, no-one knows because, in typical fashion, the Chinese government have shut-down media in Lhasa. Internet censorship continues, with YouTube blocked for posting foreign news reports on the riots and Chinese response.

Also on that JJJ news snippet, they stated the Chinese government also claims that it has been exercising “extreme restraint” in its response to protests – if this is extreme restraint, I’d hate to see what they are really capable of.

Rebecca McKinnon has a good post that touches on a variety of issues around internet censorship and engagement. But I just wanted to highlight her first point:

The Chinese system of Internet censorship and media propaganda may have a lot of holes, but when tested by events like the Tibet unrest this past week, so far it’s holding up well enough for the regime’s purpose.

I’m privileged to be working on a project at the moment for Amnesty International Australia that highlights the issue of Chinese internet censorship and its effect on human rights. Hopefully this action will help bring about change so that Chinese netizens can get an unfiltered view of their Government’s actions (more on that later).

She points to the Davesgonechina blog, highlighting the following point (among others):

Watching the build up to the Olympics has been, for me, like watching the world’s biggest, slowest traffic accident. For a while now its been pretty obvious that alot of contentious issues about China were going to come to the front as we approach August 8th, but the problem is that there are two completely separate parallel worlds on these issues: the Chinese one, and the rest of us. Westerners have been exposed to rhetoric and information about Tibetan discontent, Darfur’s international and Chinese dimensions, and of course old chestnuts like Tiananmen provide a larger context of long term, ongoing problems. Meanwhile, Chinese mainlanders by and large have no knowledge of these events or issues. While for the rest of the world the Olympics will be largely a referendum on China’s ability to deal with what everyone else has talked about for years, for Chinese citizens it will be about China winning a beauty pageant of sorts.

Two Worlds, Two Dreams: prepare for the SchizOlympics.

It’s an interesting take on the situation – one that is likely to get more heated as the Games draw near.

Leveling playing fields in the music biz

The Devoted Few recently finished their latest video-clip for their single, Don’t Listen to Us (which, incidentally, you can download from their website).

The clip captures moments from their recent touring and recording activities, and looks pretty cool. The band currently doesn’t have a label deal, despite getting high-rotation airplay on Triple J, and therefore they don’t have the budget to produce a video clip. (I still don’t get this: band that consistently gets good airplay and has done some amazing live dates supporting top-line acts like Eskimo Joe hasn’t received any bites from a major label? But I digress…)

So they turned to iMovie. Barry collated a bunch of footage captured on his personal digital video camera and pulled it into iMovie, then cut it to the track. The bridge section needed a little “something else”, so a friend helped them by pulling it into Final Cut Pro to do the 16 panel sequence that fills that spot. That’s the only sequence that wasn’t done on a basic G4 iBook and the free software that comes with it.

And the result is quite compelling. Sure, it doesn’t have fancy special effects, but it does capture the tone of the band, and is compelling enough to hold its own. Compelling enough for multiple spins on Rage, and hopefully jTV – Triple J’s digital TV channel (which also appears occasionally on free-to-air ABC).

So – let’s recap. They couldn’t get a label deal so released the single on the net and got high-rotation Triple J airplay. They didn’t have funding for a video clip, so they did it themselves using a video camcorder, an iBook (recently replaced in the Apple hardware lineup by the more powerful MacBook), and a bit of creativity – posted it on YouTube, and also had it played on free-to-air television.

As I understand it they are currently working out how they might fund their next long-player themselves also. Sure, it’s a lot of hard work. Sure, it would be nice to have the funding to get other people to do the job – more time to spend on creating music. But whereas these used to be barriers that couldn’t be overcome unless you had truckloads of cash, nowadays bands can do stuff on a shoestring and pull it off.

Anyways, enough philosophising on the power of digital and social media 😉 Give them a hand and go check out the clip, download the single, request it on Triple J’s Super Request and jTV.

Everything Sensis touches turns to…

I read the other day that Telstra is betting on Sensis as a way to increase their profits by becoming a “media” company. I nearly spat my coffee out.

I can find the contact details to a business or restaurant quicker using Google than I can using the Yellow or White pages websites.

I tried to list something on the Trading Post website, only to come up against an error in the site that stopped me from becoming a customer. I reported the issue. Three weeks later the issue had not been fixed and I had to phone the order in.

Directions on WhereIs are simply broken – don’t trust the times they give. And when I access the site using Camino I get a big “your browser isn’t supported” – Camino uses the Firefox rendering engine, so is virtually identical. But when I get into the site – because they use graphic buttons, I get two whopping great blank buttons beneath the address form. I’ve learnt from trial and error which one to click, but this is a simple, simple, simple thing that they could fix with a tiny change to the site.

But what prompted me to post this? The recent “upgrade” to CitySearch.

Gone are the simple tabs and navigation that have worked so well (instead replaced with some hybrid that places more importance on the weather than usability). Gone are the clean URLs (which replace this “http://sydney.citysearch.com.au/section/film” with “http://sydney.citysearch.com.au/servlet/Satellite?c=Page&cid=1119945819951&city=sydney&cityName=Sydney&pageid=1119945819951&pagename=CitySearch%2FPage%2FCSWLayout&vertical=film&verticalName=Film”) – not only that but they didn’t even have the foresight to remap the old URLs to the new crapness. Gone is the good performance (it runs as slow as a dog at home – and my connection isn’t that slow). Now when I go to the film section it asks me to install a plugin (and I have most common plugins already installed, so that’s saying something). And gone is the simple and easy way to find session times and cinemas.

I wouldn’t be so negative if I actually saw some value in the changes that they’ve made to the site – but I honestly can’t see how it’s better than the old one, so the net impression I get is that it’s a step backwards.

So I wouldn’t be counting on Sensis to be Telstra’s saving grace somehow…

Mobile internet

I keep reading reports that the “mobile internet” (that is accessing the web via mobile phones or wireless PDAs) is not growing because of usability issues due to screen size – that is navigation doesn’t work or too hard to read/find information.

As an avid net user I can tell you the reason I don’t use it more is because the bandwidth charges here in Australia are simply out of the ballpark – Telstra charges almost $20 per MB.

I think if it were cheaper more people would try to use it, building demand and making it worthwhile for developers to create dedicated sites. But there’s already a solution for content sites: RSS.

As I see it, RSS would be the perfect technology for mobiles: It’s light-weight in terms of markup to content ratio; it’s easy to navigate (next item, previous item, scroll); it would allow pre-configuring the sites you want to visit and have the reader go off and get the goods without having to type in addresses using a phone keypad (which is a real usability issue).

So why don’t people use it? A lot of people probably do already, to be sure, but the reason I don’t is that it would cost a bomb to update your feeds. I once monitored my traffic using a laptop to update my feeds on a paid wifi service – around 2MB worth of download. That’d be about $40 at Telstra’s rates. Fugedaboutit…

Syncing solutions like NetNewsWire/NewsGator integration would reduce this significantly, but it’s still only really an option for business-people that can expense it to the business, or when a person has enough spare cash to burn.

That’s what I find fascinating about the “River of News website” concept that Dave Winer is promoting at the moment. Why do we need to create dedicated sites to display RSS feeds for mobile devices, when a good RSS reader would do the job? Mebbe I’m missing something…