Drinking straws and social capitalism

January 12, 2008 at 7:53 pm

While reading Matthew Davidson’s blog, I came across this interview with Benjamin Barber on the Bill Moyer program on PBS. He says that American capitalism “… is no longer manufacturing goods to meet real needs and human wants.
Capitalism is manufacturing needs to sell us all the goods it needs to produce, in order to stay in business.

As someone who has lived in another country and seen America from afar, I definitely get the sense that we as Americans identify first and foremost as consumers, and secondly as citizens. It is a mandate from mass media to consume, consume and consume. You can never have enough stuff. Shop until you drop. The boys with the most toys wins. We are not told to vote, we are told to shop, and Barber argues that we are being treated as infants.

What do we do with all this stuff that we buy? Well, most of it gets used for a short period of time, until the next great thing comes along, and then we dump the “old” (but still perfectly capable) thing for the new model. Annie Leonard tells us in the Story of Stuff, what happens to all this trash, and where it really ends up.

Moyer argues that capitalism is good because it gives us consumers lots of choices. Barbers excellent example is that when you fly to L.A., you have hundreds of cars that you can choose from to rent, but then you sit for five hours in traffic on the highway, because the one choice you don’t have is to take reliable, cheap, efficient public transportation. That is a social choice he says, which I would argue does not usually come into play when privatization is heralded as the answer to all of our problems.

I observed this when I was living in Denmark, a country which has public healthcare and education. When you go to the doctor’s office, you don’t have to show an insurance card or credit card. You just show them your national ID card, and everything is covered. As a resident of Denmark, you have a right to free healthcare. Of course, it’s not free because you pay for it through your taxes, but it’s available to everyone, no matter if you are unemployed or how much money you make. The Danes as a society decided that they valued healthcare and education, and were willing to pay for it through their taxes to ensure that everyone has access to them.

Now what is happening as a result of reign of the conservative political party in Denmark, is a trend towards adopting the U.S. model of privitization. Many private hospitals are opening up in Denmark, and the best doctors are going to work at those hospitals because they can get paid more. This of course results in a decline of good public healthcare. Some might say that privatization is good for society because it brings more choices, but as Barber says, what are those choices and for things that all citizens need, are those choices equally available to all citizens?

Americans have decided that we would rather pay less in taxes and instead pay for healthcare through our employers or out-of-pocket, which of course means that 54.5 million Americans don’t have health insurance because they are unemployed or can’t afford it. Sure, we might have more choices when it comes to which doctor/hospital we can go to, but that doesn’t make much difference if it’s so cost prohibitive to visit a doctor that we just don’t bother to go at all.

According to the Institute of Medicine, “lack of health insurance causes roughly 18,000 unnecessary deaths every year in the United States. Although America leads the world in spending on health care, it is the only wealthy, industrialized nation that does not ensure that all citizens have coverage.Insuring America’s Health: Principles and Recommendations, Institute of Medicine, January 2004.

At the end of this interview, Bill Moyers begs Benjamin Barber to not leave us in the dumps. Give us some hope for how we can do things better he says. Barber gives an example of LifeStraw, a company from Denmark which makes a $2 device to purify any water, no mater how foul it is. The world’s greatest killer is diarrhoeal diseases from bacteria like typhoid, cholera, E. coli, salmonella etc.

The problem that LifeStraw is solving is getting clean water to people in developing countries. And Barber points out that Lifestream is a very profitable company. They have produced a product which solves a real problem, and it’s saving lives.

Companies in Denmark are making a profit by creating tools to save lives, while American health insurance companies are making huge profits by destroying lives. What does this say about our American society?

I strongly recommend watching part 1 and part 2 of the interview with Benjamin Barber.

Boston Media Makers podcast

January 7, 2008 at 5:36 pm

While I’ve been listening to podcasts for several years, and attended both Podcamps in Boston, I haven’t really produced my own podcast yet. So one of my New Years resolutions is to record and publish interviews, music shows and other things that I find interesting on a regular basis. I have over 40 DV tapes of raw video material from various conferences and sprints that I’ve attended, so that alone should keep me pretty busy just sifting through the good stuff from the unusable stuff.

Yesterday I attended another inspiring Boston Media Makers meetup at the Sweet Finnish bakery in Jamaica Plain. The format is we go around the room and everyone introduces themselves and can optionally show-n-tell about something. My show-n-tell was the Apogee Duet, a firewire digital audio interface for the Mac, that I just purchased last week on Dave Fisher’s recommendation. I stayed up way past my bedtime on friday playing with it, and will write more about my impressions after I’ve done more serious recording with it. So far I’ve been really pleased with the sound quality and ease-of-use. Steve snapped a few photos of the Duet at the meeting.


One thing that I still need to purchase is a decent microphone, since the only one I have is a cheapo Radio Shack mic that I bought when I was in high school to record a band demo. I asked the Boston Media Makers group what they would recommend, and Adam Weiss (who was sitting next to me) pulled out an Audio Technica ATM 10A which is what he uses for podcasting. I asked him if I could use it to record the meeting into Garageband, and he was kind enough to oblige. So thanks to Adam, here’s a partial recording from the meeting. Gotta love these portable recording studios!

Video thumbnail. Click to play
Click To Play

Also present at the meeting was filmmaker and video expert David Tamés who shared some microphone recommendations as well. He posted an excellent summary of the meeting to his blog where he discusses various microphones (incl photos!), so if you’re interested, I invite you to check out his site, which is a goldmine of other very interesting articles about video editing / equipment / new media.This was only the second time I attended the Boston Media Makers, but I felt strangely familiar and already connected with the other participants. Maybe it’s because many of us befriended each other on Twitter so in the month between each meeting, we are still following what each other is doing.Or maybe it’s because we all share a common passion to create and share what we know with others. It’s truly a fascinating mix of individuals – artists, filmmakers, musicians, actors, developers, entrepreneurs, PR people, etc. I think this cross-pollination that occurs when you bring creative people into the same room is electrifying. As David says, the meetings are i3 (interesting, inspiring, and informative). Kudos to Steve Garfield for putting this together! I look forward to the next meeting with anticipation.

Easy video publishing with Plone4ArtistsVideo

January 6, 2008 at 1:49 am

Plone4ArtistsVideo screenshotAs evidenced by the proliferation of Plone add-ons such as ATGoogleVideo, ATFlashMovie and the recent release of SevenVideo, there is obviously a demand for tools that make it easier to publish videos to a Plone site.

While each of these products is useful in that they make it easy to add a video hosted on Google Video (ATGoogleVideo), a Flash SWF file (ATFlashMovie) or a Youtube/Metacafe (SevenVideo), there are several disadvantages to these products.

Not extensible

With the exception of SevenVideo, each product only supports a single video site/format. What if you start out wanting to add Google Videos to your Plone site, and then later decide you want to add support for YouTube videos? Well, you probably aren’t going to want to extend ATGoogleVideo, because it wasn’t designed for that. So you’ll have to install SevenVideo. Then later you want to add support for another video sharing site. Well, you’ll have to then install another product. And so on…

Update: Matthew Latterell left a comment to inform me that ATGoogleVideo does in fact support Youtube as well. My apologies for not getting my facts straight.

Burden of maintaining multiple products

For each new product that you install in your Plone site, that’s another product that you have to maintain and upgrade when new versions are released. So if you want to support all of those video types, you have to install all those video products, right? Wrong! Read on to learn about a product that has support for all these video sites and file formats out-of-the-box and is also extensible so you can add other sites/formats.

Content type pollution

You can never have enough content types available for users to add to the Plone site, right? Wrong! For each new product that you install in your Plone site, you introduce new content types. Each new product introduces additional items which appear in the Add new item menu.

From a usability standpoint, this is a disadvantage because your users now have to think before they are going to add a video. “Now which type of video am I adding? Is it a Flash, Google, Youtube or Metacafe video?” and scratch their heads as they look through the list of items to find the appropriate content type.

Wouldn’t it be easier if they could just add a normal Link if they want to add a video hosted elsewhere, and a File if they want to upload a video file? This makes logical sense if you are just a normal non-technical user of the CMS.

Now wouldn’t it be even more convenient if when you added that Link or File, Plone was smart enough to detect where the link was from, or what kind of file you are uploading, and automagically extract the relevant metadata and choose an appropriate video player?

A video publishing tool for the rest of us

This is what the Plone4ArtistsVideo product provides, an intuitive interface for adding videos to your Plone site whether they are hosted on one of a dozen popular video sharing sites, or a Quicktime, Windows Media or Flash video file on your computer. And it introduces no new content types!

As part of the development of Plone.tv, we added the ability to extract the metadata from videos hosted on Google Video, Youtube, Blip.tv and Revver.com. This means that when you paste in a video link from one of these sites into your Plone site, Plone4ArtistsVideo will grab the title, description, thumbnail, tags and author, so you don’t have to type all that data in again.

We’ve also added the capability of rating and tagging in addition to commenting on the videos. Note: you must have the contentrating and tagging products installed in order for these features to be enabled.

Try it out!

You can download the latest version of Plone4ArtistsVideo 1.0 which is compatible with Plone 2.5, and we are working on Plone4ArtistsVideo 1.1 which will bring Plone 3.0 compatibility. Help us to get the 1.1 release out faster by pledging a financial contribution. We are developing this open source software on a volunteer basis, so we appreciate any amount of money that you can contribute. Thanks!

Jonathan Lewis is also making a screencast about Plone4ArtistsVideo which will complement the two that he has already done about Plone4ArtistsAudio and Plone4ArtistsCalendar.

In the meantime, you can take Plone4ArtistsVideo for a test drive on the demo site. Please try it out and give us feedback on what you like and what you don’t like!

Loss of FOSSCamp

January 6, 2008 at 12:05 am

fosscampHow did I miss the FOSSCamp in October 2007? I attended both BarCamps and PodCamps in Boston, but somehow this one did not get on my radar screen. There were many attendees from Ubuntu (including Mr. Ubuntu himself – Mark Shuttleworth!), Red Hat, KDE, Novell, etc. but strangely there is no record of the schedule or materials from the unconference. Although I did find a snapshot of the handwritten schedule board here and here. Oh well, consider this blog post a reminder to attend the next one, assuming that it’s repeated next year.