Category Archives: News

Defining Freedom Down: Truly Obscene

Originally ran in May, when I had few followers. Still timely, and even more urgent. Please share this with friends, colleagues, and your email list.

TWILIGHT EMPIRE • by Erik Jay

Aficionados of high-technology—from computers to iPods—have already learned to offer their gratitude, grudgingly or gladly, to American porn merchants. It is clear from even a cursory examination of technological progress over the last 50 years that the demand for adult content has driven advances in computing, communications, commerce, and consumer electronics.

It would not be far off base to say that every soccer mom watching a new Blu Ray DVD of a PG-rated movie owes a debt to Larry Flynt and Ron Jeremy for making X-rated ones. America owes a great debt to the porn industry for the 21st century’s media-rich, high-speed, always-on, 800-channel, hyper-individualistic lifestyle. Of this there is little doubt, and the story has (finally) gotten out.

Yet there is a much more serious issue facing our nation of plugged-in individuals, one that until recently never got quite the amount of press accorded the latest PlayStation or Hollywood…

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From Hot Air to Second Wind (Part 2)

We begin Part 2 of ‘From Hot Air to Second Wind’ with the final paragraph of Part 1, but we encourage you to read the introduction in full before starting the conclusion, mainly because it is not the conclusion, and doesn’t come after it, either. That is one reason that it is called something with a “1” in the name. Go ahead, read it, we’ll wait for you… Okay, then, here we go:

I was becoming one guy on the job, another guy everywhere else. After about a month of looking at meeting rooms full of unhappy harried faces, I stumbled upon a realization that would make me a congruent person for the home stretch of the contest: I recognized that I had better relationships off the job, when I was uniquely, solely “me,” than on the job, when I was a group member, one of “us.” I seized on this revelation like a stick shift and slammed it into overdrive.

To this point, I had been holding meetings and occasionally passing out some memos with sales figures, contest updates, bumpersticker boosterisms. The standard corporate fare. Armed with my new, enlightened outlook, I decided to make the sales-contest memos more entertaining, more “me.”

In the final five weeks of the contest, I cranked out about 150 “entertaining” memos; that’s right, four or five a day. Now, calling these productions “memos” is both too little and too much definition; some were undisguised, unadorned comic strips or short stories. What made them memos in any Websterian sense was that they had the words “Date,” “To,” and “From” on them, and “Subject” somewhere close by, usually near the top of the first page. 

And so I distributed my parodies, plays, and perorations; fraudulent celebrity interviews and fake book reviews; drawings, clippings, and doodles; jokes, insults, rumors, and limericks. Within days I had the happiest team in the contest. They contributed ideas, took copies home for friends, showered me with compliments; I was getting to know them, and they were getting to know me.

But by the end of the sales contest, I had learned another important lesson: Stay balanced. You see, I was too busy making people laugh to concentrate on sales goals and contest rules. I forgot that the idea was for me to motivate the team to better results. The pendulum had swung too far in the other direction, and got stuck.

We lost the contest.

The Big Lesson for me was that balance is essential to a successful life. I knew enough to try to spice up the dreary, empty-hype grind of a branch sales contest; but I didn’t know when to stop with the seasoning, already. I couldn’t seem to find a balance between steady sweaty effort and stress-relieving humor. 

The Big Lesson sank in. I left the computer supply biz; within a year I was writing and publishing an agonizingly precious humor mag called “Pedantic Monthly”; a couple of years after that, having joined the new Macintosh “desktop publishing revolution,” I was flying back to Boston to help some folks bring their national political bi-weekly to that new platform; and then, for another decade after that, I had my hands full running production for a magazine publisher, consulting, composing and performing original music, and writing essays, rants, and raves just for people like you.

There is a direct line from those silly sales-contest memos to the recollection of them that you are reading now. They changed my life. Writing was too serious an undertaking for me to squander my talent on corporate memoranda.

Still, being a philologic pack-rat does have its advantages, especially when it’s close to deadline and I need even more verbiage than I’ve already crammed into whatever weighty piece I’m producing. Having produced about a pound of quixotic and querulous memos way back when, writer’s block is a non-issue. I can reach into that bulging (and forever non-digitized) Pendaflex folder of fustian and flippancy, and transform yesterday’s hot air into today’s second wind.

Ah, the benefits of recycling.

Porn Drove Tech Boom, Part 3 of 3

Here is Part 1, and Part 2, and Part 3 is down there.

“The means of distribution are transforming,” Graham Travis of Elegant Angel said presciently in 2010, “and potential customers are less and less likely to part with their hard-earned money due to the sheer extent of free porn online.” This meant, clearly, that successful porn companies had to push the envelope again, and harder, to develop products and services that answer the age-old query, “How do we compete with ‘free’?”

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The 21st Century: Brought to you by people like Larry Flynt, John Holmes, and, you know, all those Kardashian people. Same difference! Like, whoa!

IPTV is growing quickly, offering a multitude of alternatives. “Freely surfing the Internet through [any] TV set is just a matter of time,” Travis predicted then. Of course, visionary porn firms did not wait to get started with content, which they began to make download-ready for everything with a screen. Joshua, CEO and director at skinworXXX, was also certain early on (2009) that “digital downloads will become more and more prevalent for movies, and products such as Apple TV will become more and more prevalent” in the future.

“iPorn” sounded about right

Joshua began preparing for the future years ago. “We have already prepared HD digital downloads of [our movies] and will do so,” he announced in late 2009, “with each and every movie we shoot [starting in 2010].” Among the largest growth areas anticipated was the mobile market for—well, everything.

With iPhones, WiFi iPods, Chromebooks and netbooks, Android phones, and tablet PCs, people began taking their adult entertainment on the road as well as downloading it during the journey. The high-tech umbilical cord had arrived, in all its invisible wireless and broadband glory, and one of the best, fastest growing entertainment providers on the web at the dawn of this enlightened era was… the Apple App Store.

It can be costly to make (softcore) iPhone apps for every porn performer in a company’s filmography. Adam & Eve took a thoughtful, measured approach to this particular technology. “We reserve the iPhone apps for our contract stars,” says Katy Zvolerin. Apps named “Adam & Eve’s Bree Olson” and “Adam & Eve’s Kayden Kross” were the debut titles in late 2009, and scores of other “starlet apps” represent both classic and current Adam & Eve starlets.

“The apps include some great images, of course, along with bios and news” about the stars, Zvolerin adds. Users, who pay less than two dollars for an app, can use the images as wallpaper, create custom slideshows, and email favorite pics to friends. The trend toward social networking goes hand-in-hand with the use of apps facilitating “sharable content,” which dovetails nicely into porn companies’ viral, social, and experiential marketing plans, too.

And what about Blu-ray?

Zvolerin had decided by 2010 that Adam & Eve would limit its Blu-ray releases to “top productions and stars,” another smart move given the cost. Joshua from skinworXXX agreed even then, opining that “Blu-ray, as great as it is, is cost-prohibitive for both adult and mainstream,” and did not see it as a big growth area, much less a money-maker. On the other hand, as many salespeople will tell you, there are still plenty of consumers who want to hold a physical product in their hands, and Blu-ray gives them the best viewing experience, bar none (so far).

Andrew Blake, who should need no introduction to film critics or fans, told this writer several years ago that he likes “the physical object as part of my appreciation, whatever the art form. I like to sit down with a physical object, sit comfortably to read a book, watch a movie.” He speaks for many porn consumers, too, when he reiterates his belief “in the physical object, not the virtual one. I want to get my hands on it as well as put my head into it.”

Elegant Angel’s Travis played it smart, realizing that there would always be “a significant market for hard products,” and his firm has maintained a strong, focused presence on the BR-DVD lists. Blu-ray players (not recorders) have dropped to less than $50, and when they hit the commodity-price level of $29 sometime this coming year, tech and porn observers may need to revisit the topic. Perhaps BR will catch on, and maybe it won’t. In Joshua’s original estimation, still as accurate three years on, it “just doesn’t have a strong enough foothold in the business to last.”

Bottom lines

Today’s porn business reflects a very consolidated marketplace with far fewer production studios than just three years ago, and is in the midst of all manner of realignments, including a geographical one. Porn is being made in the Sunbelt, the South, and particularly Florida, now that California has become downright inhospitable to business and L.A. now has sicced the condom cops on the porn studios.

It was the desire for titillation and sex play that drove the development and proliferation of digital video and other technologies, and as the economy recovers, so will the creative energies of inventors and innovators. They know there is a constant demand for quality fare. When skinworXXX’s Joshua talks about making high-quality films, he means to push the envelope of technology “and sex, as well.” This is the attitude that made porn the world-changer that it can still be.

Advocates of “slowed-down science”—more accurately, a moratorium on scientific progress, famously (or notoriously, depending on your perspective) promoted by Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy—may wish to reflect that the true price of their proposal is a joyless, dour, pornless, parochial, paranoid police state. Halting progress to clean up the Internet and “stop war” is a much faster and more dependable way to bring about The End Of Life As We Know It than any possible Frankenfood, irradiated children, or computer war games gone bad.

Porn Drove Tech Boom, Part 2 of 3

If you missed Part 1, read it first, because that’s why I made it the first part.

The first haptics-based sex simulator with a 21st-century pedigree, Real Touch, was a product of Internet video technology leader AEBN, one of the pioneers of Video on Demand (VoD). The device itself is a cross between a football and a rocket model, somehow appropriate as it was developed and tested by a former NASA scientist. Its array of heating elements, moving parts, belts, and assorted gadgets work together to mimic authentic sexual acts—fellatio, vaginal and anal intercourse, manual stimulation, and more.

Realtouch#2

The device can be used as a standalone sex toy, albeit a costly one at $199 retail. Its signature purpose, however, is to synchronize over a USB cable with online, streaming media that is available exclusively at a Real Touch web page. As users watch the screen, signals are sent from the site to the Real Touch unit, putting the viewer literally in the middle (or top or bottom) of the action.

Just in time for “twerking”

At 2008’s 30th Exotic Erotic Ball in San Francisco, ScottCoffman, CEO of AEBN, was already lamenting that “people could only experience movies through two senses, sight and sound.”Coffman’s answer was to have his firm “bring the sense of touch, arguably the most important element to human intimacy, into the equation.” Within two years it was on the market.

Studios and independent content producers continue to work with Real Touch to expand the list of available titles, both “retrofitting” existing titles and encoding new productions for the device. It is still not a Vulcan mind-meld, or “holographic” virtual sex, but it is another step closer. Holographic images, of course, may get a real tryout within a few years—beyond the resurrection of dead rappers on stage—but the first such monitors will be very expensive.

Bring it on home

The proliferation of streaming media to the full range of consumer devices (phone, computer, TV), and the continuing convergence of the television with the PC (PCTV? IPTV? TVIPPC?), will make for a very interesting near future. “This is a transitional period for porn,” Graham Travis of Elegant Angel said when haptics first hit the headlines, “and I don’t think it’s possible to know exactly where we’re heading.” Echoing the view of several other industry veterans, Travis believes that a return to “quality adult brands” and an emphasis on excellence are required no matter where the technology leads.

At the same time, of course, there are real business challenges to confront. Travis thinks there are a few Internet maneuvers that can make the next few years ones of “opportunity”for the industry. From online media that is “free at the point of use” but incorporates in-player advertising, to “live adult chat”and other interactive technologies, he sees nothing but ongoing change—some proactive, some reactive.

Watch for Part 3, the conclusion of this magical mystery tour through puritanical culture!

Out Porn’s Revolving Door

For the performers, the adult entertainment industry has – is? – a huge revolving door. Thousands of people enter every month, most for a few low-rent photo or video shoots, a few for some kind of career.

They leave in similar numbers. A few might hit the mass culture radar and show up on VH-1’s Where Are They Now? but the question remains: Where, exactly, do all these folks go?

They aren’t aliens, so they go where other humans go: back to school; to Indiana; to Hollywood for a shot at “regular” acting gigs.

And they start health clinics for their former colleagues.

Former starlet Sharon Mitchell, according to a Washington Post story in 2004, “was so alarmed by HIV rates” in adult entertainment that she lobbied for a California law to require monthly testing. She ran the Adult Industry Medical Health Care Foundation and, according to its website at the time, went by “Dr. Sharon Mitchell, PhD in Human Sexuality.” Mitchell didn’t merely make a career change; she went from passion to compassion to crusader.

Others leave the whole thing behind.

Trinity James made over 200 adult films, and claimed to have worked in a Las Vegas brothel. In 2006 she decided to go to cosmetology school in Indiana. James, 24, decided to quit porn after meeting Craig Gross, co-founder of Los Angeles-based XXXchurch, a ministry that “targets those in the pornography trade” and helps them “get out of the industry,” according to the December 2005 Christian Examiner. Gross started the Trinity Project, whose first fundraising goal was $14,000 to send James and her 5-year-old son to the new life she had decided to start in the Midwest.

A very few adult performers have parlayed adult film stardom into any kind of mainstream success. Besides Ron Jeremy in a few indie roles, it’s mostly the ladies who get a shot.

Traci Lords turned infamy into a brief acting career (Married … with Children, Serial Mom), and Ashyln Gere, according to urban legends website Tafkac.org, proved in some X-Files to be “one of the few porn stars who can actually act.” Ginger Lynn, Charlie Sheen’s “girlfriend” when the Heidi Fleiss scandal broke, made the movie Whore and some episodes of NYPD Blue.

After a porn career, these people go back to doing what everyone else does. They go back to school. They go to Iraq. They go to work every day.

Just like everybody else.

And, just like everybody else, they die: Linda Lovelace in an accident, director Alex deRenzy by stroke, John Holmes of AIDS. For a sobering reminder of the all-too-human nature of “porn stars,” visit the “Dead Porn Star” page. Scrolling through the long list of deaths by accident, murder, overdose and AIDS is a humbling exercise, stark testimony to the frail human condition.

Anyone who wants to leave this business can; anyone who wants to enter can do that, too. They all deserve our compassion and respect as fellow humans, doing their best to get along in a sometimes joyful, often tragic, world.

Off the Grid but On the Job

It’s exciting when unpredictable mixes and mashups of today’s various technology trends converge into something new or, as often happens, new againTelecommuting is presently enjoying a resurgence of interest, a second wind, you might say.

As high-performing media and tech professionals seek lower-impact lifestyles, enlightened firms are attempting to integrate them into a workforce of both diversity and flexibility. But will companies be able to accommodate telecommuters working off the grid, in so-called tiny houses or other alternative structures?

off-grid solar-powered home

Living Large in a Small Way

The new generation of high-tech pros includes a sizable fraction of folks that are ready to commit to a lower-impact lifestyle. The formula has three ingredients that can be combined in various ways to make it all happen:

  • Smaller, more affordable, greener, smarter home designs have made it possible for today’s professionals to lessen their total “eco-impact”;
  • the proliferation of WiFi and the ubiquity of the Internet mean that distance workers can log in remotely with computers or what-have-you; and

Fork in the Country Road: Which Way for You?

Is a simpler, halfway-back-to-nature lifestyle right for you? There are many variables, but the number one priority is picking your piece of paradise. If you have land, or the means to get some, but have no patience, you can buy a Tumbleweed house-to-go and drive it right onto the property. In many states you need no building permits, because little houses on wheeled platforms are, ahem, trailers.

If you’re the kind of nature lover that needs to upload files while watering the vegetables, you’ll be glad to know there are a variety of ways to power your lifestyle in a sustainable, suitably eco-safe and -sane manner.

Power Sources of the Future… Now

For years, the only way to get sufficient power living off the grid was to use gas-guzzling, smoke-spewing generators, essentially little car engines running to charge batteries of some kind (12v DC railroad systems, battery and bulb, were a popular choice, and still are).

Today, we not only have more options, we have clean and consistent ones. We’ve been hearing it for years, but it just may be true this time around that solar is poised for a big breakthrough. As the cost of sun power continues to drop, there are other alternative sources maturing into cost-effectiveness, such as wind power.

Power requirements for a laptop and a few tech devices are not difficult to achieve with small solar arrays, but you need to evaluate your situation carefully. It may be better to get small, individual chargers (solar, hand cranks, stationary bikes, etc.) for your small devices. Your main power generator needs to support the computer and satellite Internet.

A Few Limitations, but Worth It to Some

Assuming you’re not too far into the wilderness, you may also be able to establish a WiFi connection over 3G/4G with your smartphone or mobile hot spot doohickey. Of course, Verizon and other telecoms have 3G/4G netbooks and laptops on the same kinds of monthly plans as phones.

You can probably forget the big flat-panel TV, though, and may only be able to use a few devices at a time on your “main,” although you can run some on their built-in batteries and schedule recharging. (How much simultaneous power slurping do you really need to do?) Try minimizing your power use, even as you balance your career/work obligations with your new lifestyle.

Yes, you can have your cake and eat it, too, but perhaps we should tweak that metaphor a bit. Try this: We can live and work in nature, without devouring it.

Adobe: The CC Stands for ‘Continuing Complaints’

When Microsoft (MS) first announced its next-generation Xbox One, many people were shocked by some of the new “console management features.” No more borrowing, renting, or selling used game titles—and MS will “ping” you daily to make sure you’re acting right. “This is the Brave New World of game console authoritarianism,” MS seemed to say, making its announcement with no thought whatsoever given to public reaction. As we learn more about MS boss Steve Ballmer’s sped-up retirement, the Xbox debacle might move higher up the list of reasons for his departure. It was a doozy.

The Public Is Not Stupid

There was huge resistance to the Xbox move, and even MS’s vaunted damage control pros (who get a lot of practice) couldn’t silence Sony’s ads reminding consumers that the new PlayStation had none of those limitations. MS caved. After announcing something to the effect of “Oops!” the firm removed all offending “features.” In this particular case, at least, the consumers won. So how are consumers faring as another tech giant, Adobe, circles the wagons to manage its own PR fiasco? How goes the four-month-long-and-counting kerfuffle over the “cloudification” of its Creative Suite?

A brief recap: In May, the firm said that perpetual licensing for the software was kaput with CS6, and users would thenceforth subscribe to the firm’s Creative Cloud (CC). Today’s Adobe users—“presumptive subscribers” to Adobe’s way of thinking—include top pros using leading-edge render farms as well as everyday photo-tweakers, desktop publishers, and freelance graphic artists. They wasted no time dumping on the firm, even creating a Change.org petition that garnered over 34,000 signers. Complaints are not subsiding, as the rollout has not been smooth.

Costly Entry… and No Exit?

So how has Adobe reacted? Well, they haven’t changed much yet. Facebook postings by Greg Wilson, Adobe’s Director of Evangelism, claim the firm is “listening”—and perhaps so, but Wilson may have had his fill. Replying to one irate user, Wilson writes, “Keep the opinions coming [but] I just don’t want to hear the same opinion 20 times in a row.” There are various complaints, most dealing with the cost but plenty of others citing poor implementation—problems logging in from different computers, password failures, renamed Library folders, etc. The CC complaint that Adobe and Wilson may hear 20 or 120 times in a row, though, concerns the lack of a fair “exit strategy.”

In various scenarios, users run the risk of “orphaned output.” If you create documents in Photoshop CS6, and you own it, you are “safe” until the next upgrade. At that point, you must subscribe to CC or Adobe will pass you by. If you subscribe long enough for new versions to appear, and then cancel, you will have documents that you cannot open. But where can users go? GIMP? Pixelmator? It’s hard enough to find full-strength replacements for a single Adobe program, but many pros are stuck in a multi-program workflow with InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, etc. Right now, there is no easy answer—so I’ll stay on the job and keep you posted.