February 2007

Fame 2.0

I’ve been thinking about the changing nature of fame for a few days (and of course, because these ideas are strong currents in the collective concisousness we call the web, I’m just getting around to writing about this right after Sean did). I pointed a friend at a video on youtube that I thought she’d get a laugh out of. She found another video by the same guy that prompted the reaction from her I want to have his babies!

So she found this guy by randomly linking around on a site where everyone and his dog has a video posted, and instantly became a fan.

This was right around the time that Anna Nicole Smith—someone who was famous for being famous—died. The Daily Show ripped* into the mainstream news outlets, which put all news of substance on hold to obsess over her death.

Then on Metafilter, I ran across this article, with the line When I was in high school, you’d have to be a megalomaniac or the most popular kid around to think of yourself as having a fan base. But people 25 and under are just being realistic when they think of themselves that way. I would hardly imagine myself having a fan base, but even so, I have had the experience of people I don’t know meeting me in person and commenting on stuff I’d posted to my blog. On an intellectual level, I’m ready for that. I know the ramifications of posting online. Still, on a visceral level, it’s very weird.

Also on Metafilter, someone posted a song about notable Metafilter members. MeFi is a pretty big community—it recently passed the 50,000 registered users mark (and since you have to pay money to register, that is more meaningful). Admittedly, the song is all inside-baseball, but within this community, these people are well enough known not only for one guy to write a song about their quirks, but for a lot of other people to appreciate it.

And of course, there’s Ze Frank. You can’t think about Fame 2.0 without thinking about Ze Frank, someone who has achieved a devoted following in spite of zero conventional publicity, entirely on the basis of his being extremely smart and funny, thus inverting the usual formula.

Is it possible that this is the way things are headed? That people will become famous based on merit, not marketability? It’s clear that the Internet is a closer approximation to what economists would consider a perfect market. If celebrity is its own kind of market, the Internet is reducing the advantage that major players (movie studios, record labels) have in generating buzz, and makes it easier for “consumers” of celebrity to find the kinds of people they’re actually interested in following, as opposed to the celebrities that have been pushed at them by the buzz machines. The Internet also is the death of one-size-fits-all media, so it is only fitting that celebrities would appeal to specific groups, rather than be foisted on everyone.

Celebrities are created by mainstream media to give that media something to feed on. This focus on conventional celebrity may be just another way that media outlets reinforce their own irrelevance, and as they fail, they do what any conservative entity in trouble does: do the same thing, only harder. Thus TV news is put on hold to analyze in minute detail the contents of the fridge of a dead D-list starlet who had become a self-parody in her last years. Meanwhile, we’re watching Youtube.

Afterthought Jonathan Coulton. I don’t know how I managed to overlook him, but he’s right up there with Ze Frank as a talented Internet micro-celebrity of his own creation.

Coffee film

Every workday, I send Gwen off to her job with a small stainless thermos full of coffee. It’s basically impossible to clean this thing effectively, so instead, I just fill it with very hot water and shake it up.

Today, when I dumped out that water, these bits of film came out. They’re jet black, very smooth, very thin, very uniform, and very brittle—I was reminded of a cheap plastic bag that had been left in the sun for a long time.

Though I was initially incredulous, it turns out this was the husk of coffee residue in the thermos. Most of it got shucked off (some is still in there). I’ve never seen anything like it.

One year

Front door view

Gwen and I moved to our new place one year ago today. Any home purchase is momentous, and perhaps worthy of commemorating. We put a lot of thought and energy into the renovation—which wound up being a design for our lives in many ways, so this feels especially so. Even though the customary observation of romance is tomorrow, today feels like a more significant date to mark.

Compare this view with moving day. While the boxes are all gone, almost all our furniture is in the same place in both shots. For most of our furniture, there’s only one place it’ll fit. We had it mapped out ahead of time, and that’s where we put it when we moved in.

NYTimes answers the cluephone

screenshot of NYTimes.com pagePerhaps everyone else knew about this and failed to tell me, or perhaps I knew and then forgot, but the New York Times is making permanently accessible permalinks available for their articles online.

This sounds obvious, but it isn’t. NYTimes.com charges for access to older articles, and up until this change (whenever it was), the only way to bookmark an article in such a way that you’d always be able to get through to it was via a hack.

But they’re getting hipper now, with buttons to directly bookmark to a few social-bookmarking sites (not del.icio.us, too bad for me), and also a “permalink” button. Clicking on that reveals the key to the kingdom, with the welcome announcement To link to this article from your blog, copy and paste the url below into your blog or homepage. Using this link will ensure access to the article, even after it becomes part of the NYT archive.

Learning from their mistakes

Via TPM, I learn of this LA Times story on our upcoming war with Iran.

The Bush administration has postponed plans to offer public details of its charges of Iranian meddling inside Iraq amid internal divisions over the strength of the evidence, U.S. officials said…some officials in Washington are concerned that some of the material may be inconclusive and that other data cannot be released without jeopardizing intelligence sources and methods. They want to avoid repeating the embarrassment that followed the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, when it became clear that information the administration cited to justify the war was incorrect, said the officials, who described the internal discussions on condition of anonymity.

For most people, “learning from your mistakes” means learning how to avoid that mistake in the future. For the Bush administration, it means learning how to make the same mistakes more effectively.