Archive | December, 2004

The Price of Marketing

I haven’t written much of my little cheap camera “hobby” here on the ‘geek, though I made a little mention of it on the now-abandoned mediageeeklife blog, and wrote about it in mediageeek zine #2. I’ve amassed a nice little pile of cheap “vintage” cameras that I enjoy taking weird pics with. One of them is a plastic brick-like box called the Holga 35.

By manufacturing heritage it’s a cousin of the just-plain Holga camera, a favorite of art photographers and plastic camera aficionados for its plastic lens and unpredictable nature.

The Holga 35 is much more modern by comparison, sporting early 80s type autofocus and exposure, combined with the aesthetics of a cheap knock-off brand walkman bought at Walgreen’s in 1983.

I got mine for $15 on Ebay, brand new, shipped from Hong Kong, just to mess around with (although now I see the price has gone up to $20 – $30 — hmmmm). It’s big sister, the regular Holga is about $20, but takes medium-format film which is much more expensive to buy, process and print. And, honestly, I really haven’t shot too many pics with it yet.

But the reason I’m blogging this is because I was clicking around the lomography website this evening to find instructions for my eBay’d colorsplash flash when I noticed that the Lomo people are now selling the lowly Holga 35 camerafor $55 – $65 dollars (plus shipping)!

Now, we have to acknowledge that the whole “cult” behind a sloppily-assembled, slightly obsolete Soviet-engineered camera is a clever bit of viral marketing. I won’t be the first to say this, but selling it for $180 is a bit of crookery, and just goes to show how effective marketing can be, especially when it poses as something more arty and bohemian.

It is just as much of a ripoff selling a $15 Chinese plastic camera for $65, justified by dressing it up in ironic hipness.

But of course, you knew this. I was just kind of blown away, thinking that when I bought it that this $15 pile of plastic would never be cool enough for Lomo. Either that, or I’m a trendsetter.

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Pirate TV: from Italy and Argentina to the US?

Free Radio Berkeley just announced their 2005 workshop schedule, which includes their low-power television session. While this may be the start of a new pirate TV movement in the US, pirate TV has been alive in Italy for several years and was used in Eastern Europe during Soviet times.

Demand Media directed me to a new short documentary on the Italian Telestreet movement. This video, which you can download at, takes you on a tour of an actual pirate TV studio.

Another longer documentary, called Ethereal Shadow Archipelago, can be watched at This video puts the pirate TV into the larger context of Italian media consolidation, which is more severe and disturbing than even the US context, given that Prime Minister Berlusconi is also the nation’s biggest media baron. It would be as if Fox owner Rupert Murdoch were the US president.

It’s interesting that contemporary pirate TV seems to have taken root in Italy before the US. Tetsuo Kogawa, the father of mini-FM radio in Japan, which is the inspiration for micropower broadcasting in the US, found his own inspiration with the micro-radio stations used by the Italian Autonomia movement in the 1970s.

The piqueteros movement in Argentina has also been utilizing pirate TV, as seen in the documentary TV Piquetera.

As I mentioned before, the spread of pirate TV in the US may be limited by the dwindling number of people relying on over-the-air broadcast TV, although that population is arguably poorer and more in need of radical information.

Still, I think it’s worth trying. And perhaps something can be learned from the Italian and Argentine experience, both in terms of tech and tactics.

Live pirate broadcast of streaming radio reports from the streets have been very useful in actions from the WTO in 1999 to the RNC protests in New York City this past Aug.

Just imagine if it were possible to have a TV broadcast of live video of riot cops indiscriminately rounding up people on the streets during a major protest action. Or, one might even broadcast a live camera from the top of a tall building, giving an aerial view of protest zones. Then, just as protesters often keep a radio handy to hear reports from micropower stations, they could also arm themselves with mini portable TVs for a visual report.

Sure, we might soon see the ability to stream live video over Wi-Fi to enabled PDAs or cell phones. But can you buy a playback device on eBay for less than $20?

There are still many advantages to broadcast TV that is not tethered to a cable, internet, laptop or a satellite dish.

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NYC IMC Subpoenaed Again

Being the target of city government harassment is a sign that NYC IMC is having an effect, but getting subpoenaed still sucks. According to a NYC IMC feature posted today, they received a subpoena for information they might have regarding the World Economic Forum. The IMC’s sensible response to the City’s harassing demands: “Why doesn’t the City ask the New York Times for all of their articles and emails relating to the World Economic Forum?”

Indeed, this shows every sign of being a determined pattern of legal harassment against the NYC IMC. The subpoena is the fourth time since August 2004 that US law enforcement has taken legal action against the IMC. Three of the four subpoenas have been issued in New York City.

Power does not like to be questioned or challenged, democracy or accountability be damned. That’s why we need Indymedia.

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First Radioshow Upload with Hi-MD

Driven by necessity, this week was the first time I brought my Hi-MD recorder to the radio station to record the radioshow and it worked out pretty well, as I’ll detail in a moment.

Typically I just record the show with the aircheck MD deck that’s in the studio, but the input to that deck has been screwed up for the last few weeks. To make up for this I’ve been recording off the air at home, but last week I wasn’t able to make it home before the show and got caught at the station finding the studio deck to be unuseable. Luckily, some kind soul left cables that will patch an 1/8″ plug into our studio patch bay so I tried it out with my cheap-o portable MD that I use as a walkman and I was able to patch it directly into the broadcast board output and record to regular MD.

So I was thus emboldened to give it a shot with the Hi-MD yesterday, which allows me to record in full uncompressed CD quality PCM to a Hi-MD disc, and then upload it directly to my PC in faster than real time. Then I use the Sony WAV Converter program to make it editable in any audio application.

Aside from some slight clipping due to my not setting levels correctly, this first experiment went flawlessly. The feed to the MD deck in our studio actually comes off our air monitors, so the direct board feed I found yields bettter sound quality, too.

Being able to work with pure uncompressed PCM and upload directly to PC saves some time and effort in getting the show ready to be uploaded to the website. It’s nice to finally have some recording technology work as promised.

I don’t know anybody else who also took the plunge into trying Hi-MD, and at least a couple of other radio folks I know were waiting to hear what my experiences would be like. I can say now that I’m pretty confident that Hi-MD makes recording and editing digital audio easier than any other piece of equipment in its price range, and can recommend Hi-MD to anyone who is already familiar with MD equipment.

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