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Meditations on Cool

May 14, 2008

As the Vermont Summer kicks in and temperatures soar into the upper 70s (swoon, swelter, I know), here are some things to think about on and around the topic of cool.

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Our friend Attic Man sent us this news report, which is a little late now, but it was timely when he sent it. And though Obama didn’t actually win everywhere in the Pennsylvania primary election, it continues to illustrate the divide between election coolness and un-coolness. Notice the band, Earl Pickens and the Band Named Thunder (a pretty cool name) is pretty cool. Notice the Obama supporters dancing in the video… are not.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMokHZ_35qY&hl=en

From a mass media and electioneering standpoint I think this is perfect. It attaches coolness to the campaign without alienating all of the dorky wanna-be supporters out there who may feel not nearly cool enough to vote with all of the pretty celebrities in the other videos. (Much like the Lipton commercials playing before films now that ask if you’re “young enough” to drink their white tea. I suspect that many iced tea drinkers are not.)

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Regulatory oversight and control of abusive commercial practices is cool. While in England outer space, The Spouse and I heard BBC reports of the European Union’s impending action against British cell phone providers. Last year, when we were in Scotland, the big news was that this same agency was about to force cell phone providers in the UK to stop charging outrageous fees for calls made from other EU countries. For instance, if you lived in Dover, England and took the hovercraft over to Calais, France, calling your mum at home would have become 10-100 times more expensive than if you’d called her from Belfast, Northern Ireland, even though Belfast is much farther away.

Well, the cell phone companies complied, but refused to change their texting rates. So, now a call from Calais to Dover costs less than texting her: “hi mum, home @ 9.” Now the EU regulators are going after texting charges, with action promised this summer. Imagine how cool it would be to live in a place where the government (or at least parts of it) care more about you than they do about Verizon Wireless! Cool.

Boing Boing adds fuel to the fire by reporting that we pay more per megabyte of data for even normal-costing text messages than NASA pays to get pictures of the Crab Nebula!

crab_hubble.jpg

Now that’s not cool.

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Design Observer wants us to think about how cool tables of contents can be, with 30 beautiful ToCs.

kleeToC.jpg

Above: ToC #27, from The Thinking Eye: The Notebooks of Paul Klee. Jürg Spiller, ed. George Wittenborn, 1961.

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A former student (hi J!) sent me this article from the New York Times about sports blogging, which raises a number of cool questions. As Times reporter Tim Arango writes, “At the heart of the issue, which people on both sides alternately describe as a commercial dispute and a First Amendment fight, is a simple question: Who owns sports coverage?” Interestingly, this isn’t a fight between bloggers and mainstream, establishment media organizations. In this conflict mainstream and popular media are aligned against the sports organizations who want to control not only the sports event, but also what can be said and shown about the sports event.

Mike Fannin identifies one of the key issues:

Ten years ago newspapers weren’t in the world of video and audio,” [Mike Fannin, president of the Associated Press Sports Editors and the managing editor for sports and features at the Kansas City Star] said. “We were in the world of print. The leagues don’t have a print product. Their view of this is that we entered their world.

As the mainstream print media (newspapers and magazines) become increasingly digital, their coverage becomes, of course, increasingly multimodal. And suddenly what they’re doing looks a lot like what the television networks pay millions of dollars each year to broadcast.

Not only that, but the digital coverage provided by the establishment “print” media increasingly comes to resemble what bloggers do. And if bloggers are already doing it, and if some of them are doing it much better than the establishment writers, what’s to stop bloggers from increasing their coverage? Well, the team owners, for one. Except when they’re stopped, that is.

Last month [Dallas Mavericks owner Mark] Cuban sought to ban bloggers from the Mavericks’ locker room, but the National Basketball Association intervened, ruling that bloggers from credentialed news organizations must be admitted.

Mr. Cuban then decided to let in any blogger — “someone on Blogspot who has been posting for a couple weeks, kids blogging for their middle school Web site or those that work for big companies.”

It’s a petulant response, but one that has precedent in other venues. In 2004 the national election conventions both had a large and active corps of citizen bloggers who were given “press/media” credentials and access to the events. Why not sports events? And if this does catch on in professional sports, you can expect many, many of my future posts (especially during spring training and the fall/winter season) to be coming to you from the New England Patriots locker room. Everyone wins.

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Except for the athletes, who are suddenly having to face the fact that with the democritization of publishing that blogging and online communication presents, everyone and anyone around them could be a blogger, and anything and everything they say could end up “in print” around the world.

“It’s a new world,” said Jason Zillo, the head of media relations for the Yankees, surveying the team taking batting practice. “We spend a lot of time in spring training on media training.

It’s not just professional sports, either, that’s getting into the “who owns sports coverage” game.

The limits of coverage is a hot issue in athletics at the college level as well. The National Collegiate Athletic Association issued new guidelines this year: in women’s water polo, bloggers are allowed three posts a quarter and one at halftime; in fencing or bowling, 10 posts are allowed for each day or session.

“I think we’re hitting the ridiculous button here,” said John Cherwa, chair of the legal affairs committee for the Associated Press Sports Editors and the sports projects editor at The Orlando Sentinel. “We’re getting tired of everyone trying to tell us how to do our business.”

Damn right you are, John Cherwa. For the uninitiated, what the NCAA is trying to do with these restrictions is to prevent “liveblogging” college sports events, the practice of writing a continuously updated stream of reportage and reflection during an event. Luckily for Cherwa, that horse is already out of the barn. With mobile and ubiquitous computing, and the microminiaturization of increasingly powerful computers means that just about anyone at any event could be liveblogging and most people would never know.

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Many cool and uncool things here to ponder…