Aggregation: LOLcats via ROFLcon; losses at e-Ink; Harvard’s charter school pipeline

The recent ROFLcon Internet culture conference keeps making news, or at least keeps inspiring people to write about it, if only because people who write things on the Internet like writing about things on the Internet. Rebecca J. Rosen has a piece up at The Atlantic asking “Are LOLCats Making Us Smart?” that describes a London School of Economics dissertation defining the three kinds of LOLCats consumers and naming the meme’s primary appeal (“connecting to others”). It seems a fairly low-powered argument for a significantly larger justification of all such Internet fads and the existence of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology-based conference itself:

Like space-invasion films of the mid-20th century or soap operas of more recent decades, the cultural phenomena of Internet memes reflect societal anxieties or desires, and that through studying these memes we can better understand what is going on in the collective mind of our culture. To ignore Internet memes, is to ignore the huge outpouring of modern folk culture that is occurring online, and — taking the analysis one step further yet — the ways that the Internet’s particular participatory capacity is shaping that culture.

So, uh, are LOLcats making us smart? Rosen’s piece is kind of vague on that.

But the guy behind LOLcats and chief executive of the entire Cheezburger network of humor sites, Ben Huh, got to talk at the conference about how journalism is evolving, with GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram posting that Huh “says Journalistic Objectivity Is a Trap.” Ingram interpreted: “Not only is a personal viewpoint a benefit, but for an increasingly social medium like the Internet it is absolutely necessary — a way of connecting the issue or the event to people’s lives.”

No one can say if LOLcats and Cheezburger has made Huh smarter, but it’s definitely made the world pay attention to a guy who launched an empire based on the forwarding of funny pictures. (Huh, who majored in journalism, just launched a website called Circa that vows to “re-imagine the way you consume news.”)

So, uh, what does it mean that “journalistic objectivity is a trap”? Huh’s not quoted as saying such a thing in Ingram’s piece, so it’s not directly explained. It may be a meme that stories about ROFLcon findings don’t really back up their headlines.

Earnings at e-Ink, the Cambridge company that makes the screens for nearly all of the world’s e-readers, dropped last quarter for the first time since 2009 — a loss of $28.5 million, compared with net income of $57 million in the previous year’s first quarter, and down nearly as much from the previous quarter. Chairman Scott Liu blamed the loss on Amazon, according to the Taipei Times’ Amy Su.

“Our major customer was too optimistic about its sales in the fourth quarter of last year and ordered too much from us,” Liu is quoted as saying. “We believe our major customer will launch a new product in the third quarter as usual, which may drive up replacement purchases and attract new buyers.” An isights.org post translates that as “e-Ink is still making screens, but their ‘clients’ aren’t buying them, because their clients’ customers aren’t buying them.”

The same post quotes criticisms of e-Ink’s product by Michael Bove of MIT’s Media Lab, including the screens’ low contrast, slow refresh and accumulation of “artifacts” over time, and questions anew e-Ink’s assertion that readers will always want the dedicated feel of e-Ink over an LCD screen device that can do more things (for instance, Web browsing) but deliver a less satisfying long-form text experience. Bove’s critique gets some backing from the numbers, which show Apple’s iPad with 68 percent of the market for such devices and 80 percent of the profits, while the Kindle Fire, which doesn’t have an e-Ink screen, gets a lot of credit for keeping Amazon competitive.

On the other hand, Apple took out a patent not long ago for a hybrid LCD and e-Ink screen, and there’s some buzz about LG’s new flexible e-Ink display heading into mass production.

Sriram K. Peruvemba, vice president of marketing for e-Ink, didn’t respond to a message left Wednesday.

Cambridge’s three charter schools are succeeding with the help of Harvard graduates, writes The Harvard Crimson’s Kerry M. Flynn. “From their inception, Cambridge-based charter schools have been shaped by Harvard alumni … These schools have taken advantage of the university’s academic rigor, student population, and innovative faculty, a relationship that has benefited both the charter schools and members of the Harvard community,” Flynn writes, explaining how one charter school official, Harvard grad Caleb Hurst-Hiller, has “helped secure CCSC’s relationship with Harvard — what many Cambridge educators call a ‘pipeline’ between the charter schools and Harvard.”

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