stop motion shaving

I’m heading to the beach on Monday, which means that the beard had to go.  I don’t know when it might return — certainly not for a long time.  It was fun, but I think I’m probably just not cut out to operate a beard at a professional level.  Ah well.

Of course, there was still the question of how to shave it off.  Usually this is taken as an opportunity to briefly sport some funny or Wolverine-related facial hair configurations, but I decided I’d waste even more time and nerd it up a bit.

I adapted one of the demo sketches that ships with Processing to facilitate lining the shots up; if you want to do something similarly dumb, you can find the code after the jump (you’ll need to update the system path near the bottom).

I encourage those of you with access to small, gullible children to tell them that the above gif represents how beards actually grow in.

(more…)

important Rebecca Black commentary

Yes, yes, the song is awful, and internet commenters are mean, and she’s very inspiring, etc.  But what about the technology?

That seems to me to be the interesting part.  Because while a lot of people are going on about the crappiness of the video, it seems clear that this would not have become the internet meme it is unless it crossed some threshold for plausibly professional production (embarrassing webcam karaoke might be mocked, but not to this degree).  Certainly when I first saw the video last weekend, having never heard of Rebecca Black, I simply assumed that she was some new tween sensation whose handlers had created an unutterably condescending and awful new product to sell to prepubescent dopes.

But it turns out that the video is basically a high-class version of the karaoke booths at Six Flags where you can pay to be videotaped in front of a green screen.  Sure, the edge-detection effect that opens the video is lame, and all the fake depth of field stuff is off-putting, and the autotuning is obvious.  But isn’t it… believable?  Isn’t it kind of amazing how well a fly-by-night effects company was able to ape what was the state of the art in pop music videos not so long ago?  Perhaps I’m wrong about the costs, but the utter disposability of the song — and Black’s acknowledgement that she didn’t like it even while recording it — indicates that this was not a huge investment for her family.  In other words: I suspect we’re looking at a budget in the low single-digit thousands of dollars.

Maybe I’m wrong and this is a case of fantastically rich parents and/or some strange social failure that forestalled any effort at quality control.  But preliminarily, I’m pretty impressed by the level of polish that can now be achieved without — clearly — anybody involved being able to muster the enthusiasm to give a damn.

buy now, pay later

I guess it’s serendipity that this post showed up over at Yglesias’s blog this morning.  It discusses a paper that argues that deficits actually lead to more demand for government, as shifting costs to the future lowers the public’s sense of the cost of government services, prompting them to consume more.  This doesn’t seem very controversial to me (or at least I’m not qualified to say anything interesting about it).

But just yesterday I was thinking about something very similar in the context of the current storm over Twitter.  Not so much because of the specific question of how much Twitter client variety we’ll see, but the larger question of the firm beginning to make decisions that will help it generate revenue rather than decisions that will help it generate user adoption.

And it occurred to me that we basically debt finance our social networks.  There are a few exceptions, but in general nobody’s willing to pay for social experiences on the web.  So instead we’ve arrived at a model where open registration, open APIs and open bars at SXSW are used to attract users.  Then, once network effects have given the experience value, and so long as transition costs remain inconveniently high, value can be extracted from those users.  Lots of people tell lots of stories about how this can be a positive-sum interaction (usually fairytales about how valuable anonymous usage data is, or how people will suddenly start enjoying the experience of looking at ads if the sales pitch is sufficiently personalized).  But in practice it seems to always be the case that user experience is degraded in some way.

This isn’t a particularly great insight, I suppose: that you can goose demand if you shift costs into the future.  Discount rates exist; it’s why economists fret about declines in consumer borrowing.  It’s why people still smoke cigarettes.

I have an aesthetic aversion to it — a general sense that things would be better if costs were presented up front.  That it would be preferable for Twitter to be a protocol like email rather than a service like Facebook.  Maybe even that it would be more moral for them to be.  That the costs associated with transitioning between social networks every, what, five years are high enough to be worth complaining about.*

But this is probably is just a meaningless prejudice on part.  Twitter wouldn’t have become Twitter if those costs had been apparent from the start.  To wish it could be otherwise is just to say that you want foolish angel investors to buy you toys for free**.  The service will probably remain fine for a long time, and then it’ll get worse, and we’ll all bitch about it and eventually something else will come along.

I just hope that when Google finally decides it needs to make some money off Gmail that they have the class to ask me for it to my face instead of creating some privacy-violating Rube Goldberg device by which other corporations agree to exchange money for making my life very slightly worse, as if I was plugged into the Matrix to power cybernetic tyrants with my mild irritation.

* Whatever this inclination is, it’s closely related to the sense I have that mobile vendors shouldn’t use contracts to subsidize handsets, and that cable TV should be a la carte, and that bandwidth should be billed on a metered basis.  In all cases these “innovations” probably facilitate commercial activity that’s desirable, but I’d be happy enough to see it disappear simply to avoid the sense that people are being duped.  I guess it’s just pique.

** To be clear, I’m in favor of this.