Thursday, May 22, 2008

How do you choose internet talent?

Another super geeky post. At least it's not ranting about the failures of MLA citation formats. Because I could go on for quite a while about that right now.

So there's this video podcast called Mahalo Daily. It used to be hosted by Veronica Belmont, and she was fabulous. She was so fabulous, that I watched even though the vast majority of the episodes were about things I didn't care about. They do 5 minute daily segments about businesses and events and activities, mostly based here in LA, and while I was totally amused when she visited a cupcake shop or flew a plane, they weren't things I would normally have chosen to watch if they didn't involve such an interesting, smart, cool host. The best episodes were when her geekier side came out, like when she visited the Star Trek set. But Veronica left to host Tekzilla instead. I think it's super awesome that she wanted a geekier, more tech-heavy show, but what will Mahalo be without her?

I would have automatically stopped watching, since the subject doesn't particularly interest me, except for the fact that the one already announced cohost is Lon Harris. He's smart and funny and I know this from personal experience because I went to high school with him (he was a couple of years ahead of me, but still, I feel like if someone I know and more or less liked is doing something cool, I should watch it).

Now, they are trying to replace Veronica, and the way they are doing that I find fascinating. They chose Lon from inside their ranks - he was apparently already working at Mahalo, they asked him to do a couple of episodes while Veronica was still there, he did them well, so he gets more airtime. This makes sense. But they don't want Lon to host alone. They may want more variety, or it may be because they think a pretty girl will drive more internet traffic, or they may just be trying to recreate the fabulousness that is Veronica's on camera personality. So they're doing a reality-TV-style competition to choose Lon's cohost.

They're down to 6 finalists, and you should totally watch their videos and vote here.

There are some great choices and I'm sure any of them would be excellent hosts. Lon does a great rundown of each contestant's strengths on his blog. And for another female voice (besides mine, not Lon's), TheFemGeek offers her opinions.

Personally, I think both Sarah and Leah had a great blend of professionalism and quirky/geeky feel. Personally, I voted for Leah, but Sarah really has the tech cred. Her blog is @w00d's nerdtainment, which is fabulously geeky.

Andrea is really cute, but doesn't strike me as geeky as I'd like her to be. I felt like she was flirting more than hosting.

Part of me really would like to see Kristina win because of her fabulous hair and the geekiness of choosing a sound guy for her interview, but something felt awkward about her segment. She has the least experience, and it's possible that with a little practice she could be great.

Michelle has an edge of toughness that I really like (plus actual web design experience!), but in the end she didn't stand out for me.

Nadine looked great, but I don't think I learned anything or cared much about her segment. I may not be the right audience for cage fighting. She's very natural on camera, though.

So that's my opinion on the contestants, but I also want to weigh in on the overall format of this selection process. The reality TV parody bits are great, but I really want to know more about the contestants. I need to know their geek street cred. I want to know how smart they really are, not just whether they look good on camera. I want to get more of a sense of them as people. I want to see them interact with Lon more.

Especially in the first round, it felt like the judges were selecting contestants entirely based on looks and I'm really not OK with that. And why couldn't they have a female judge? I seriously hated the judges. I understand why looks are a factor (although I'm not saying that's ok), but please, ask them some questions about themselves and consider some qualifications other than looking pretty.

The best demonstations of contestants' personalities are the post-audition interviews, but one of the finalists doesn't have one, one doesn't have sound, and one of them is much longer and with Lon whereas the other three are shorter and with a different guy, so it's not exactly a balanced representation.

So, what I've learned from this process is that on the internet, men have all the power and are probably the target audience as well. And men can succeed based on talent and skill and a great sense of humor, but women have to have looks in addition to skills (though humor isn't as essential). Life lessons in a microcosm.

Monday, May 19, 2008

I'm a sucker for booklists

From Thinking By Writing:

The top 100 or so books most often marked as “unread” by LibraryThing’s users. Bold the books you have read, underline the ones you read for school, italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - hard to carry around, but hopefully once the diss is done!
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
The Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales - I actually dropped a college class because I couldn't handle The Canturbury Tales at 8am
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible
Angels & Demons
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being - I definitely read this in high school, but I can't quite remember whether or not it was required. It wasn't in an English class.
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield

According to this list, I haven't read anything pre-20th century that wasn't written by Jane Austen, which is a little worrisome. Clearly, I'm a sci-fi fan, and yet there are some major sci-fi books on this list that I haven't managed to read. Cryptonomicon, Doctor Strange and Mr. Norrell, and Anansi Boys are all on my bookshelf taunting me.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

How I Geek

I just joined Twitter. I'm not sure how I feel about this yet, but I did it in order to play the game prophboy is working on. This social networking/messaging site has been uberpopular for the last year in geeky/tech-savvy/silicon valley social circles. Which clearly does not include me.

I am not an early adopter. It takes a lot to convince me to let a new technology into my life. I seriously consider if there's a good reason why I absolutely need a new gadget or if it will just be a distraction. I always doubt that there's really any advantage to joining a particular social network. It is only when information that I can't get any other way seems useful, advantageous, or indispensible to my life that I turn to technology to augment my existence. Even then, I am reluctant to spend money on new devices (I'm a grad student, I'm broke!). My TiVo and my Nintendo DS are both hand-me-downs and I only got an iPod when I convinced my parents to give me one for Christmas this year.

Of course, once I finally accept a new technology, I love it and become easily addicted/dependent (less so with social networking software). I'm seriously in love with podcasts on my iPod. I've basically used the iPod to program my own radio station, which I play in the background when I'm driving or walking somewhere or waiting in lines or other times that would otherwise be mental downtime. I mostly listen to NPR and several tech podcasts (Buzz Out Loud from CNet is my favorite). I love the fact that I can be more intellectually engaged and listen to social and cultural commentary at times that would otherwise be wasted. My original assessment that this doesn't exactly change my life holds true, but I love and appreciate it nonetheless.

The fact that I have chosen to listen to several technology and scifi podcasts reflects my really strange relationship to technology. I don't have or even necessarily understand most of the technology discussed in some of these podcasts, but I like that I know little details of technology culture and I always want to learn more. I find myself reading and watching a lot of science fiction when I have the downtime to read for fun (rare these days as I frantically work on my dissertation). I'm fascinated by the intersection of technology and gender/identity theory and I frequently complain when tech commentators are all guys. I tend to listen mostly to the fabulous women out there talking about tech and I'd love to know more. I pay attention to Annalee Newitz, Veronica Belmont, Molly Wood, and violet blue and I check in on Xeni Jardin when I can. I read most of what Charlie Anders posts on io9. Who else am I missing?

Part of me wishes I had tended more this way academically - I like talking to the people I know who study performance and technology, but only some of the work out there about it speaks to me. I think there tend to be people who know things about performance, people who know things about gender/sexuality, and people who know things about technology and they aren't really talking to each other very well.

So, basically, I have no geek street cred. I can't design or program anything and I'm not in any way obsessed with gadgets or code. I whine about the relative scarcity of women and feminism in geek culture, but I don't know enough to help remedy it. But there's something in me that leans that way and wants to follow the conversations about science and technology culture even if I'm not exactly a participant.