Thursday, February 18, 2010

Winter Games

I get hooked on the Winter Olympics every four years. I am not sure why this is; some of it harks back to childhood. Winter was an important element as a kid, and my memories are full of winter activities –

Ice skating on the river overflow, a canal that formed along the perimeter of the railroad bed. All four of us kids started as pre-schoolers on two-runner skates. We had a bench and a burn barrel next to a pond that was about 10 yards-by-20 yards, and narrowed to a long canal that traveled about a mile down the valley behind our house. If we wanted to be adventurous, we walked a few blocks over and skated on a larger overflow pond. It seemed to collect many more kids.

Sledding in the open field next to the cemetery. We would hold our own mini-Olympics that included a jump over a knoll to see who could land the furthest out. It included a bump at the bottom of the jump that jolted the rider before heading down the rest of the hill. Dad used to take us even higher with the toboggan, building up speed down a chute that opened up into the wider hill.

Skiing at Penguin Peak, a cooperative hill built and maintained by members. Parents cut trails in the summer months, and installed a small rope tow. Eventually, our school offered a ski club, and all of us traveled to ‘the big hills’ near Cortland – lessons mandatory.

Another reason for this Olympic affinity was the year I spent in Finland (sorry, bad alliteration), where winter dominates the landscape for six months. I have vivid memories of ice ball games with one of my host families – hockey without the skates, using a tennis ball. We also attended a World Cup ski jump competition in Lahti, which included fireworks under a winter starlit sky, reflecting off the stark white snow cover.

Naturally, I silently root for the Finnish hockey teams, no matter who they play. And I cringe when some announcer calls them ‘the Suomi’s’, as if the name emblazoned on their jerseys refers to some animal they use as their team name.

Speaking of the Olympics, and hockey, and the Finns, here’s a novel proposal for a medal sport. Note the flags worn by some of the athletes.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Winter, Halfway

Snow falls this morning. The prognosticators predict from 3-6 inches by late tonight, which would be the first significant snowcover since mid-December. Winter has passed the halfway point. Its only contribution has been steady cold weather from an arctic high that took up residence. It pushed all the nor’easter storms out to sea by the time they reached the Hudson River, trailing their 50 inches of white from North Carolina through Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, the sky fills with light starting when I rise each morning at about 6:50. The light is still pale when we drive home at 5:30PM. The sun is stretching its arms in our part of the world, and regardless of these large lazy flakes of white, spring is still scheduled at the usual date.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Content and Delivery

Google has announced plans to go into the broadband delivery business. They already laid fiber in their own California community, and claim that they will bring fiber-delivered ultra-highspeed broadband as demonstrations of the poor capacity of current broadband providers.

Another reason, of course, is that broadband pipes are a good revenue generator. Content may be king, but the pipelayers get the monthly payment receipts.

Think of that. The creators of information, of content – book authors, journalists, essayists, poets, writers of all ilk, filmmakers, musicians – are getting an ever-smaller piece of the pie. Digital music is the best example of this transformation. When a song becomes digital, it is easily transmitted and copied, limiting its business value as a unique item to be sold in hardened form such as tape or plastic CD. Its value is reduced. Apple, Amazon, Rhaposody can sell it over and over. iTunes becomes the delivery mechanism, and broadband providers become the transmitter. The artist is squeezed. I pay for access to that song through my monthly bill to TimeWarner, and I purchase it by giving Apple my credit card number.

At the same time, I read the New York Times for free. Thirty years ago, I bought the paper at the corner store. Today I pay TimeWarner to bring it to my screen. Netflix not only gets me to pay a monthly fee to have movies come to my mailbox, but I can have them delivered directly over my internet connection – some for free.

As long as I pay for the pipeline.

Another example of the devaluation of content: Demand Media, one of the largest producers of content on the internet. They have produced five times as many videos on YouTube than any other source, and millions of their articles are available from many sources electronically – many of them ‘how-to’ and ‘gosh-isn’t-this-neat’ articles and videos on how to lose weight, get a job, take care of a cat. Demand Media signs up nearly anyone who raises their hand to write or edit copy, at incredibly cheap rates – the ultimate work-at-home job. Outfits such as this have taken advantage of the new business model, where it is much easier to convert anything to electronic form and push it out over the pipeline, where millions of people will fill their search fields and find this content.

Of course, I am another example with this blog. Anyone can create content for free, and throw it into the electronic traffic lanes. We don’t need a million readers to gain satisfaction from the work. Just a few friends, and maybe a few strangers that strayed in this direction.

And they all paid somebody for the pipeline to their screen.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Five Months

A Gap in Time

According to some readers,
I am a broken link, or
at least, a stale one.
Click on my name, and
old words and pictures appear,
framing a story from last summer
as if it were the last stellar event,
important as it was to me at the time.

I suppose my history becomes inadequate
when five minutes ago is old news, untold.
But the totality of these posts still
frame a picture of me in a certain
unbordered chunk of time:
these pages are only broken based upon
a date and time stamp on your screen.