Monday, November 22, 2004

The VCR meets the dustbin of history

The show’s over for the VCR, at least at one British electronics chain. Dixon says that demand for videocassette recorders has fallen dramatically since the mid-1990s, while sales of DVD players have increased exponentially. Thus, after this Christmas, VCRs will no longer grace the store’s shelves. The format is becoming obsolete, and more retailers, including those here in the United States, will follow Dixon’s lead in the coming years. By this time ten years from now the video cassette will be just as much of an obscure anachronism as the vinyl LP or Super 8 movie film

If you’re somebody who likes to ponder the effect of technology on culture, then the videocassette is certainly a good place to start. When this technology became available to the consumer beginning in the late ‘70s, it revolutionized the way people watched TV. People were now able to record their favorite shows and watch them whenever they wanted; they were no longer at the mercy of network broadcasting schedules and, much to the chagrin of advertisers, all those annoying commercials could be bypassed with the push of the fast-forward button. A person with cable could even record movies from HBO or Showtime and watch them at his or her leisure. Although Hollywood initially worried that the rise of the VCR would lead to rampant movie piracy or impact the take at the box office as people decided to wait until movies came out on video, in the end the movie industry had no choice but to embrace the format. This led to the rise of the video store; people could now go out and rent whatever movie they wanted to see and watch it whenever they wished. Rentals weren’t limited to movies, either; there were documentaries, self-help tapes, educational tapes, do-it-yourself home improvement tapes – the VCR made a vast new realm of information readily available to the public. 

With the videocassette also came the widespread availability of video cameras. Families could now videotape the Christmas get-together or the kid’s basketball game and then immediately watch themselves on TV. There was no more waiting for Super 8 cartridges to be developed and no more fighting with the movie projector. Home movies became home videos. Furthermore, a person with a video camera could record anything and everything as it happened and immediately have the footage available for the world to see. Amateur footage became news; if the most famous amateur 8 mm film in history is the Zapruder footage of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, then the most famous amateur videotape in history is the 1991 footage of Rodney King being savagely beaten by several Los Angeles police officers - images that would eventually spark one of the biggest and ugliest riots in modern American history. 

However, technology always marches forward, and by the end of the 1990s new digital media, which offered superior quality to the analog videotape, was beginning to make its way into the consumer market. The DVD player and the digital video camera have now overtaken the VCR, and the videocassette, as revolutionary as it might have once been, is seeing its final days as a technological staple of our culture.

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015. Ten years later, and I still haven't transferred by old VHS home videos to digital media. I guess I should hurry and get that done.)

A lousy end to a lousy season

The University of Houston Cougars ended their disappointing 2004 campaign with a 27-65 loss to Louisville last Saturday at Robertson Stadium. The Coogs were actually able to keep the score close for much of the game and only trailed the 11-ranked Cardinals 27-35 early into the fourth quarter. But the Cardinals scored 30 points in the fourth quarter, including two points on a safety resulting from a bad Cougar snap, and the Cougars ended a sour season on a sour note. 

The 2004 season was, needless to stay, a huge step backward from the success of 2003. A grossly unfavorable schedule, combined with the loss of several key players to graduation, academic ineligibility or injury, resulted in a 3-8 record – the Coogs’ 14th losing season out of the last 20. A Cougar offense which scored an average of 34.5 points per game last year sustained key losses to the offensive line and receiving corps and only managed to score 20.9 points per game this season. There was only minor improvement in the porous defense over last season, and special teams saw a wholesale regression from the previous year. 

Bright spots? If you’re somebody who believes in so-called “moral victories,” then you’re pleased that the Cougars covered the spread against the powerhouse Miami Hurricanes or that they were able to force Southern Mississippi into a thrilling overtime game. But, quite frankly, I find it hard to find many positives about the 2004 Cougar football season. It started badly (with a loss to Rice) and went downhill from there. Thankfully, it is over. 

Some Cougar fans are already looking forward to 2005; there’s hope that, with a good recruiting class, some offseason adjustments, and a more favorable schedule, the 2005 season could be a good one for Houston. But I’m not going to get excited yet; the start of the 2005 season is over 9 months away, and, as this past season clearly showed, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done between now and then. 

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Tweedle-dum defeats Tweedle-dee

Right before the election I said that Bush would get re-elected because he would hang on to Florida and Ohio and pick up one or more of New Mexico, Iowa and Wisconsin (he won two out of the three). I also predicted that Bush would lose New Hampshire to Kerry, but that it wouldn’t matter. Acknowledge my political prowess!

I’m not particularly enthused about the results of this election, as I’m not looking forward to another four years of the arrogant unilateralism, crony capitalism and pandering to the fundamentalist right that the Bush administration represents, but the voters of this nation have spoken. And I’m glad it’s over. This election was ugly and hateful and neither side should be particularly pleased with the way they conducted themselves.

As for the result, the Democrats really only have themselves to blame. Bush was very vulnerable and probably could have been defeated by a better candidate. But the Democrats chose an uninspiring northeastern liberal (didn’t the Democrats learn anything from Michael Dukakis?) with a murky, contradictory voting record. Kerry couldn’t articulate his plans or visions in a manner that the voter could understand; he couldn’t shake his reputation as a “flip-flopper,” and he did a poor job of defending himself against character attacks from opponents such as the so-called Swift Vote Vets for Truth. He chose to attack Bush where he was strongest by focusing on the war in Iraq and didn’t spend enough time attacking Bush where he was weakest, such as on health care costs or prescription drug benefits. Simply put, Kerry was a lousy candidate who ran a lousy campaign.

Being the “we’re not Bush” party just wasn’t enough for the Democrats. They needed to give the electorate somebody to vote *for* as well, and they didn’t do it with John Kerry.

The Republicans saw the election as a huge victory, because in addition to Bush's successful re-election they were able to increase their margins in the House and the Senate (even adding insult to injury to the Democrats by ousting Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle). However, boasts of a Republican "mandate" are merely rhetoric. 

The nation is still bitterly divided and extremely polarized. 51% of the voting public supports Bush; 49% voted for somebody else. Deep divisions remain along urban /rural and secular/evangelical lines. Although this nasty election is over, the political climate in this nation will unfortunately remain ugly for a long time to come.

(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015. Eight years later, the Republicans would make a similar mistake, choosing an uninspiring northeastern elite with a murky and contradictory record, Mitt Romney, to run against the otherwise-vulnerable Barack Obama.)