‘Gong’ and other Cow-Mooing music soon to be a hit!

As I am an artiste of the literary variety, I have an undying faith in the supremacy of humans in art and creativity.  While some elephants paint pictures and some apes can type stories, I typically relegate this type of artistry to the level of a three-year-old child.  It’s beautiful and wonderful if you love them – otherwise, it’s really so much mess.  As for the sci-fi theories and hallucinations about the eventual dominance of the machine mind, I’ve thought of them as just that – dreams and unrealistic theories.  Being alive at a time when machines have failed to accurately predict even the next days’ weather, I fail to believe in the ability of other machines to predict art, love, popularity, and any number of other things.  They all require an equally broad range of factors taken into account and there are limits, even to machines.

In addition, what happens to personal preference?  We’ve seen the way amazon and other websites have taken advantage of correlations between our preferences and those of others to suggest new things we might like.  We’ve seen the transformation of marketing from a wide audience (a la the 50s) to a specific narrow range of humanity in a specific area of the media or time slot.  We’ve seen models being developed to predict our behavior, but that does not determine our response in every case.  I love fruit, especially raspberries, but hate blueberries.  Corina loves vegetables, but detests peas, which she calls flavorless and squashy.  These things would probably be unpredictable in a general analysis of my eating habits and preferences.

So to the science of predicting new pop favorites and hits is far from perfect.  Though many companies are currently using software like Hit Song Science (HSS) to tweak and predict ratings on albums and songs soon to be released, the software remains imperfect.  One little test had a hit predicted from a song by Gong, some 70s band that included cows lowing.  Yum.  Still, it’s interesting that we’re coming to rely on models like this for marketing and analysis.  On one hand, it may give more power t the customer, if the indicators are accurate.  On the other, does it limit or grow our expression as artists?

The pillaging of children’s books

One of the weird movies that my sisters and i watched together (and my parents, my mom especially, were a little uncomfortable about ) was Toys. It’s a classic. What more can you say about a movie that takes a fantastical playground of a toy development company and uses it to say something about the relationship of children to war and the relationship of dreams and fantasy to marketability? But it got me thinking about toys generally – the lack of quality ones on the market that really let children imagine and the omnipresent need to sell more stuff.

This can most clearly be seen in the children’s book/movie/TV/merchandise-industrial complex. On the top ten list of highest grossing movies of all time (according to Wikipedia), three were what I would call children’s movies: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and Shrek 2. Half were based on books – the two Harry Potters, Lord of the Rings 2 and 3, and Jurassic Park. These numbers are not adjusted for inflation and include only box office sales.

I couldn’t find accurate numbers on related merchandise sales, but maybe we’re not jeopardizing our children’s development by flooding them with movies and related goods. Maybe parents are still reading to their children instead of plonking them down in front of Finding Nemo again. Maybe they don’t have 20 different lunch boxes, each for a different six months of the newest kiddie movie craze. Or maybe we’re simply taking them to more adult films, like the Pirates of the Carribbean.

In order to get a better sense of the scope of the commercialization of children’s literature, I took a short survey of all the kiddo books Corina and I could think of with associated collections of merchandise. These are collections, mind you, not just one or two items but rather an entire marketing campaign. We also used only those examples that started as books. The list follows:

Winnie the Pooh, Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley High, Magic School Bus, Goosebumps, Harry Potter, Peter Rabbit, If You Give Mouse A Cookie, Chronicles of Narnia, Golden Compass, The Busy World of Richard Scarry, Cordoury, Nancy Drew, Curious George, Dr. Seuss, Where the Wild Things Are, Berenstein Bears, Clifford the Big Red Dog, American Girls Collection, and A Series of Unfortunate Events. There are probably more, but we were trying to be at least somewhat rigorous.

Now I love books, and I especially love children’s books. And yes, it’s nice to occasionally bring a little bit more of that imaginary world into your own life. I mean, I was ecstatic when JellyBelly did Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans – how else would I get to experience a true-to-life taste of earwax without the unhygienic method of a finger in my ear? But still, do we really have to tear apart stories that are formative for many of use just to turn a profit? Should we reduce the quality of our literary efforts for the young just to church out another hardback to sell? I just remain grateful that the Marsh wiggles and other characters of The Silver Chair will remain forever unmarketable.

Ok, so I’m a nerd.

If you’ve ever met me, this has probably come up in conversation at least once.  Perhaps it even came up during our initial conversation, though I’m not so socially inept that I typically introduce myself as ‘Nerd Stacey’.
Really.  Still, you might have noticed that I get excited about nitpicky little facts about the migration of humans, the way molecules interact, or certain types of Legos.

One of my nerd-loves in computer games.  You’re either nodding your head or gasping in horror.  Let me explain a bit further: COMPUTER games.  Not video games.  Not stand-up giant machines that used to be in arcades next to the pinball (although I do like pinball…).  Not any crazy-shot ’em up, drive tanks, kill people or cars or zombies craziness.  I have no great wish to kill or even maim real or imaginary things.  I’m talking the old-school solve-puzzles, talk-fairy, get-bowl, adventure games like King’s Quest and Monkey Island and even some later games like Myst. These games apply to the mathematical side of my brain (different number and directional systems to be understood, puzzles to solve) as well as the storytelling side.  And while some of them may be more or less graphically pleasing, they leave enough room for me to imagine solutions and methods and most of all, exploration of some other place.  It’s like having a secret garden without the work of maintaining a garden.

Of course, technology has sped up to a point where these types of games mostly are not on the market anymore.  There’s the Nancy Drew mystery games, which are somewhat similar.  There’s probably movie-related games that I am unaware of that didn’t ever really spark my interest.  There’s Portal, a video game which I only know about because of Mike and is basically a live physics problem (how cool is that?  Nerd).  But really, there’s not much, and quite possibly not a big market for it.

When I was in China, however, with tons of free time on my hands, I discovered AGS.  It’s a website/community/freeware system devoted to the preservation and continuation of adventure games.  I love it.  Every once in awhile I go back there when I have some extra free time to see if there’s anything new.  I also am supposedly working on a game myself, which was supposed to be done for my sisters before I got back from China.  Oops.  But the point is not really about my own lack of motivation.  The point is that somewhere out there in a land far, far away (known as the UK), despite a lack ‘sell-ability’, there are still people hanging on to this imperfect dream that is my-kind-of-game.  For those of you who did not meet it in its nascent splendor, there’s KQ I and II (free!).  Thank you blue cup man and co., wherever you are.

MD-80s downed in Dallas AGAIN.

There are rare circumstances when the wider national and international news you rarely pay attention to coems back to bite you in the butt. HARD.

For example, in the past few weeks when I’d seen articles about yet another airline declaring bankruptcy, or additional standards being flaunted on a particular type of aircraft, or aircraft not being repaired to specification, I generally ignored it. The news was old hat, commonplace, unremarkable. I was more likely to be hit by a car than downed in an aircraft – but so far, neither one has happened.

Which is why I didn’t bother to realize that the one airline that flies direct from Boston to Dallas (American, which has its hubs in Dallas and Chicago) was busily pulling MD-80s from a variety of routes because the FAA was coming down on them hard for not being up to spec. MD-80s are about 1/3 of the total planes American has, I learned later. Today they make up all the flights going from Dallas to Boston, leaving my boss stranded. He might be able to get on one of the 2-3 flights American has not yet canceled, but who knows?

So, I have thus far spent my morning as a little mouse, scurrying from one airline to another, trying to secure a way for the head honcho to make it home. So far, he’s book on TWO flights (just in case) and is making me crazy with his paranoia. “Do I have a confirmed seat?” Yes. “On both flights?” Yes. “With seat numbers on all the flights?” Yes yes and yes. “What are my seat numbers?” AHGHAHAHGHGAH! What, are you going to cancel one of the flight reservations if they don’t have an aisle for you? Sigh.

But I have learned something. From now on, I’m going to read trivial, insignificant news every day and consider it a part of what they pay me for. It may not be the most stimulating reading. It may make me crazy with grammar correction fastidiousness. But who knows? It might come in handy.