COLUMN: Mr. Smith Goes To Rhombus

Written by Jess Jones on . Posted in Politics

Jess Jones

Jess Jones

With the Fourth of July approaching this weekend, I would be shirking my sacred duty as a conservative if I didn’t take the time to make my own personal Pledge of Allegiance to the United States. In spite of all the conflicts, scandals, controversies and debates that have haunted our nightly news programs and literally kept CNN in business for the past several decades, I feel the need to look past all that and take a moment admire the inspired efforts of our predecessors that we so lovingly have dubbed the Founding Fathers.

If you take a moment before you go off to your family shindigs and your neighborhood cook-offs, just think of the blessings that have been afforded to us as a nation. We live in a nation where we can live and die in relative peace. We are able to express ourselves and worship how we choose. We are able to hoist such words as Liberty and Freedom as our credo for the rest of the world to admire. Millions and millions of people from millions and millions of different walks of life have found the ability to co-exist in relative peace within our borders. Thousands of people flock to our nation because they believe that we hold the power to offer them something that perhaps they can’t achieve anywhere else: life, liberty, and the ability to pursue happiness.

There is discord, that is true. James Madison extolled this virtue in our republic. By creating a nation of competing interests, the voice of the people would contend among factions and achieve a higher good. There have been and will be years when liberal Americans will think that our nation is becoming a fascist dictatorship, while other years conservatives will be prophesying socialist takeover. Even then we can see the blessing that there is the opportunity to change, to express our beliefs and convictions in an almost civil process. Even now in Iran, controversy still rages concerning the violent suppression of protesters over the allegedly rigged election results. Here in America, we may have suffered from “hanging chad” syndrome and perhaps we may not have agreed with the results of our annual elections, but we have experienced over 200 years of nearly flawless transitions of leadership. Yes, there have been hiccups along the way but, all things considered, our track record in its entirety is worthy of applause.

Whether you are religious or not, I would do a great discredit and dishonor to myself and my creator if I were not to acknowledge his hand in the creation and preservation of this country. On July 28, 1787, in the constitutional convention, Benjamin Franklin rose up in request for a daily invocation to be given at the beginning of their proceedings, saying, “I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?” I pose that question to you as well. I know the issue of church and state has and will remain a political taboo for many to mention, but I must stand by  my conviction that our nation has risen from the humble log cabins of Jamestown to become an independent and powerful nation with the help of Divinity.

Now, before you start having delusions of American flags waving behind me with “America the Beautiful” playing gently in the background, hear me out. This may be an excerpt of something that Jefferson Smith would have said during a filibuster speech, but I know that our nation is something great. Whether you believe that we have come this far by divine providence or by shear inspiration by the Founders, the truth remains that we live in a country that provides unprecedented opportunities for prosperity and happiness. Our nation may not be perfect and our leaders may be flawed, but remember, before you grill that T-bone or set fire to your front lawn with cheap fireworks, remember that we are free. We possess the freedom to be what we choose, to manage our lives and create success out of hard work and hope. It’s something that was bought for by the sacrifices of not only our many fighting soldiers here and abroad, but by the sacrifice of our parents and grandparents to maintain liberties and rights that allow us to make our own choices and govern ourselves. Despite the clichéd nature of the term, I hope that it will forever be so: God bless America.

Jess Jones is a conservative political columnist for Rhombus. He apparently likes America very much.

COLUMN: A Climate For Common Sense

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Politics

This column originally ran in The Daily Universe on June 30.

Steve Pierce

Steve Pierce

With all the hullaballoo in Washington this week over prominent Republican governors disappearing for five days to Argentina and pro-democracy protests in Iran, it is a wonder anyone has found the time to debate, much less vote on, matters of domestic policy.

Nevertheless, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives had the gall to do just that, bringing the hotly contested Waxman-Markey climate change bill to the floor and narrowly passing it. The bill has conservatives and “energy advocates” everywhere in a tizzy over the drastic burden the very idea of reducing carbon emissions through a cap-and-trade system will place on American businesses and taxpayers.

They’re probably right. Who can afford this kind of overbearing government interventionism? It’s basically socialism. Creating a market where companies can buy and sell unused carbon emissions in hopes of providing market-based incentives to curb pollution and potentially save the planet? Preposterous! The idea of proposing common sense free market solutions (as opposed to the nonsensical kind usually put forth by congressional Republicans) must be inherently un-American.

And what about the insane burden on taxpayers? Surely it will amount to the “largest tax increase in history,” as recently postulated by Utah golden boy, Rep. Jason Chaffetz. What? The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projects the bill will only cost the average taxpayer 18 cents a day? And that is after President Obama cut 95 percent of tax rates to lower than they ever were during the days of the blessed Ronald Reagan? Outrageous! This kind of reckless spending will undoubtedly bring the country to its knees. Just think: those taxpayers could be using all that money to buy one more double cheeseburger per week from McDonald’s, thus further overburdening our strapped health care system with more obese Americans. Darn that ghoul Nancy Pelosi and her constructive use of tax dollars.

Is global warming even real anyway? I read an article by this “scientist” (who is also employed by Exxon Mobil, so he must be super smart and completely objective) saying that it was all a farce. He must be right. I mean, it was hotter in 1998 than it is today, right? Pay no mind to the fact that picking and choosing your dates over a short time span basically allows you to “prove” whatever you want. Also, ignore the fact that average global temperatures have risen exponentially over the past 40 years or so. These things are irrelevant. What’s really important here is that I want to drive a Hummer (or preferably the Japanese-made equivalent), because they just look so cool. Who cares about polar ice caps and rising seas when you can ride in style?

Furthermore, who is looking out for the underprivileged in this situation? We all know those poor Big Oil CEOs can’t possibly be expected to live on only a couple million dollars per year. Such a paltry sum has to put them vastly below the poverty level. Think of all the double cheeseburgers they’ll be missing out on if we actually expect them to develop alternative sources of fuel.

I don’t know how I’ve been so blind for so long: the conservatives are right. Obama and his Democratic pals really are out of touch with the plight of these “average Americans.” What’s the use of having a functional planet if you can’t pay oil barons exorbitant salaries and shell out gobs of cash at the pump? And don’t forget those double cheeseburgers. Global apocalypse never tasted so good.

Steve Pierce is co-founder and editor of Rhombus. He enjoys composing snarky liberal columns to mirror his less-than-snarky liberal convictions.

CONCERT REVIEW: The Vibrant Sound (6/27)

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

It’s hard to neatly box up the music of the Vibrant Sound into one cut-and-dried genre, but that didn’t matter much to the packed crowd that attended the band’s album release party at Velour Live Music Gallery in Provo on Saturday evening.

Marley and Hayley Hernandez opened the show with their brand of quiet acoustic pop. The duo’s set of original tunes called to mind the music of Colbie Caillat, only with more brains and better harmonies. (What happened to her anyway? Did she die or something?) While both Hernandezes may or may not take issue with such a broad characterization of their music, the fact remains that their catchy melodies and ethereal voices were the perfect way to ease into a night’s worth of great music.

RuRu, the stage name for 17-year-old singer-songwriter Isaac Russell, filled in the middle portion of the bill with a truly stunning performance. Eschewing the drums, pedal steel and electric guitar of his usual full band set-up, Russell took the stage armed with only an acoustic guitar and a remarkably plush-looking armchair. With a sparse backing band, comprised of only a keyboard and bass guitar, the young folk phenom enraptured the audience with a slew of stripped-down versions of tracks from his 2008 album, Elizabeth, as well as some new cuts that showed a possible glimpse of Russell’s future progression as an artist.

While his usual bombast and intensely emotional stagecraft were significantly reined in by the more subdued setting, Russell still managed to wring every last emotional and musical drop from his material. The understated arrangements placed more emphasis on the songs’ beautiful composition and dense lyricism, often delving into poetic discussions of love, loss and death. One of the set’s many highlights came when Russell invited his older brother, Spencer, and Caitlin Duncan (both of local indie-eclectic band Mudbison) onstage to provide backing vocals on the aching ballad, “Excuse.” With the crowd in the palm of his hand, Russell masterfully spun his tale of sickness, heartache and death over a cascade of shimmering “oohs” and “ahhs” from his guests. The moment perfectly encapsulated the talent and potential possessed by the young songwriter, and undoubtedly resulted in a couple sold copies of Elizabeth at the merchandise table.

Following the laid-bare folk of Russell is no easy task, let alone if your music sounds like that of the Vibrant Sound. Mixing a plethora of influences, including hip-hop, soul, R&B, funk and rock, McKay Stevens and Company certainly kicked the show’s energy up a notch from their very first note. From the moment the band launched into bouncy opener “Summertime” with Stevens’ spot-on rendition of Will Smith’s “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” theme song, the audience was ready to dance and it was immediately clear who they had come to see.

The band tore through a nine song set featuring numerous guests, including Provo’s favorite son, Joshua James, on keys, and comprised mostly of material off their newly released debut album, Downtown. While they also threw in a re-imagined cover or two — including a straight-up filthy (and that’s a good thing) cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” complete with Stevens laying down original rhymes, and a slow-burning version of the 80s pop classic “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” featuring Scott Shepard of The New Nervous on lead vocals — the Vibrant Sound shined brightest on their original material.

The political overtones of “The Industrial Revolution” and “The Proletariat” were not lost on the ears of the crowd, regardless of their minds’ acceptance (or lack thereof) of the messages. The mostly white audience — this is Provo after all — even responded enthusiastically to the black history anthem “Abolitionist Newspaper,” which prominently features Stevens rapping about African-American liberation over snippets of Martin Luther King speeches.

If there was ever a place to find a cultural disconnect, this would be it — but there was none to be found. It is often said that music can bridge cultures and races, and span creeds and ideologies. It seems the Vibrant Sound have discovered how to do just that — and make you dance and sing along at the same time.

Steve Pierce is the co-founder and editor of Rhombus. He generally thinks hip-hop is dead, but the Vibrant Sound gives him hope. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/steve_pierce.

WEEKEND UPDATE: June 26th & 27th

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Film, Music

It’s the weekend and, as such, the next two nights will undoubtedly be marked by thousands of college students sitting in their apartments, repeating the same tired refrain: “There’s nothing to do in Provo.”

While Provo isn’t exactly a bustling metropolis of nightlife, it certainly isn’t dead. There are cool things going on — you just need to know where to look. This is where we at Rhombus want to step in and offer you some advice. We’ve included below a list of some awesome, Rhombus-approved activities going down in the Provo/Orem/SLC area this weekend, as well as some must-avoid schlock that will do nothing but turn your nubile, young brains to mush.

So please peruse our merry list and check back next week for more delectable weekend exploits. And remember — if you still find yourself sitting on the couch this weekend, it’s not our fault.

WEEKEND UPDATE: June 26th & 27th

MUSIC

The Good:
Chris Merritt | Friday, 8:00 p.m., Velour Live Music Gallery (135 N. University Ave., Provo), $7
Contrary to popular opinion, Chris Merritt isn’t god in human form. The Merritt worship in Provo seems to have reached a record high in recent years and unnecessarily so. Don’t get me wrong: he’s a fine artist and certainly better than most alternatives. But the fact remains that his entire shtick is a shameless aping of Ben Folds. Given young Mormons’ natural proclivities for piano-based pop songs, the match was inevitable. However, regardless of the hype, Merritt is a legitimate artist with some great songs. (I challenge anyone to try and listen to “Dance Karate” without shaking their groove thing.) His Friday night show at Velour was especially booked by the venue’s owner, Corey Fox, as a rare solo show, featuring just the artist and his piano. Merritt billed the performance as an “intimate, sit-down, storyteller-type show” on his blog. As such, it won’t be a regular, standing-room-only show. There will only be about 150 seats available so, if you choose to attend, go early.

The Vibrant Sound (with RuRu and Marlee & Hayley Hernandez) | Saturday, 8:30 p.m., Velour Live Music Gallery, $7
This may very well be the local concert of the summer. Serving as the album release party for the Vibrant Sound’s new disc, Downtown, the show is sure to be packed with good tunes and fun times. To take it up even another notch (as if the much-anticipated VS disc wasn’t enough), folk phenom Isaac Russell, a.k.a. RuRu, will also be playing and — I’m not exaggerating here — you need to be there. Your musical salvation depends on it. Big things have been happening for young Isaac recently and the kid is going places, so take the opportunity to see him for pennies while you can. McKay Stevens has put together a top-notch lineup for his band’s long-awaited album release and Velour will undoubtedly be rocking all night. If you do only one thing this weekend, this should be it!

The Bad:
The Cab | Friday, 7:00 p.m., Kilby Court, $12
I can only imagine two things worse than seeing the Cab perform live: a) seeing Boys Like Girls perform live (July 7th! Oh no!), or b) being slowly beaten to death with my own arms. Enough said. Stay far, far away.

FILM

The Good:

Away We Go | Broadway Centre Cinemas (111 E. Broadway, SLC), Rated R
Starring: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Allison Janney, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeff Daniels, Catherine O’Hara
Directed by Sam Mendes | Written by Dave Eggers & Vendela Vida
Good independent films don’t come to Utah very often. Just a few weeks ago, I was bemoaning the fact that Away We Go wasn’t playing anywhere in the state on its opening weekend. My prayers were answered. This heartfelt indie flick has been receiving rave reviews and it’s easy to see why, given the ingredients. Mastermind Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road) is in the director’s chair, working from the first original screenplay penned by perhaps the finest writer of our generation, Dave Eggers. Throw in a dynamite cast of outstanding actors and it’s easy to see why Away We Go has myself (and others) so excited.

The Bad:
Transformer: Revenge of the Fallen | All Theatres, Rated PG-13
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Robots, Explosions, etc.
Directed by Michael Bay | Written by Ehren Kruger & Roberto Orci
I will confess that I haven’t seen the second installation of Transformers yet and have no intent to do so. If the first Transformers film weren’t bad enough to convince you of the sequel’s complete and utter stupidity, just soak in what our good friend Roger Ebert (not the most discerning of critics) had to say about this monstrosity:

“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. One of these involves a dog-like robot humping the leg of the heroine. Such are the meager joys. If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination.

Yikes. But really, what else did you expect? It is Michael Bay…

COLUMN: Take Two And Call Me In November

Written by Jess Jones on . Posted in Politics

Jess Jones

Jess Jones

“Okay, Mister … Sam, is it? What seems to be the problem?”

With all the ailments facing the United States, health care is getting its turn in the Capitol Hill clinic. The potential of a “public option” has become a hot topic in Congress and many representatives and senators are scrambling for alternatives. But let’s take a fair look at what President Obama is offering, along with the other options being considered. Afterward, we’ll have a little kumbaya moment and discuss their implications.

I tried looking up the President’s plan on his Web site. (I know, uncharted waters for a conservative). After picking my jaw up off the ground from beholding this PR masterpiece, I looked for President Obama’s plan to reform health care. After being offered several times to “Stand with the President” in his quest to “organize” America, I finally found what seem to be three core principles that President Obama is striving to include in health care:

  • Reduce costs — Rising health care costs are crushing the budgets of governments, businesses, individuals, and families, and they must be brought under control.
  • Guarantee choice — Every American must have the freedom to choose their plan and doctor – including the choice of a public insurance option.
  • Ensure quality care for all — All Americans must have quality and affordable health care.

Okay, I like this idea. I want people to have lower costs, choice of plans and ensured quality. Very nicely done, Doctor Obama, but how do you plan on making that happen? This is where the “pubic option” comes in. Obama and his supporters are working to create a federal contender in the private insurance market. Now before you run for the border, hear out the argument.

Proponents of the public option will tell you that 46 million people are completely uninsured. What they won’t tell you is that this is only 18 percent of the total population under 65 years of age. Now, I’m no statistician, but 82 percent was never that bad. Granted, I’m not saying that neither health care nor the millions without health insurance are undeserving of attention; however, I am apprehensive of the President’s attempt to use this number as his keystone argument to push for socialized health care.

Furthermore, since when did the umpire get a chance to bat? I thought government was established to “promote the general welfare,” not provide it. Despite Obama’s assurance that federal contenders wouldn’t undermine the private insurers but stimulate better and more affordable competition, one can only wonder if this would even be a fair fight.

Let’s look at the facts: the federal government, the creator of money and the regulator of most commerce (at least since January) is about to enter the arena with the private health insurance companies. What is going to stop the government from continually undercutting their competitors? How will private companies, with limited resources, be able to compete with the federal juggernaut that can pump billions of tax dollars into the system? Sounds like a tough pill to swallow.

Dr. President seems to think that the private insurance companies will simply strike a deal with physicians, specialists and the people requesting the insurance to lower fees for medical treatment. Well, gee wizz, I guess the doctors are just gonna have to get paid less. Nice try, but I think you’ll see Rush Limbaugh join the ACLU before you see the doctors take a hit in their wallets.  And if they are forced to take fee cuts, who in their right mind will be willing to go through years of medical school so they can receive a salary that is subject to federal discretion? The quality of medical care is most likely going to decline if a “public option” is adopted.

This doesn’t stop with just the poor doctors, no sir. You’ll see a huge burden shifted to the small business owners. As mentioned in The New York Times, under the proposal, businesses that don’t offer “affordable” coverage to employees would have to help pay costs of such benefits for their low-income workers. Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the proposal “would be a disaster, because it would create disincentive for employers to hire lower-income people on Medicaid.”

Okay, let’s stick it to the little guy because that’s the American way, right? According to a recent report published by the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, based on census data, businesses with fewer than 20 employees account for 90 percent of all U.S. firms and are responsible for more than 97 percent of all new jobs. How can these small “ma and pop” firms afford to not only provide their employees with the benefits of retirement but also be forced to pay for the costs of their employees to enroll in Medicaid, especially when all other forms of insurance will be more expensive than the “public option?” It seems that there will only be less incentive for small businesses to hire these low-income workers.

An alternative currently in development is to create an “exchange” that would be comprised of a national network of member-run cooperatives, with the ability to pool purchasing power to rival private insurance companies. The federal government would offer $3 billion as start up money. This still raises an anti-federalist eyebrow. Who will administer the program? If it’s the federal government, count me out.

As you can tell, this debate is a serious mess (and hopefully my article isn’t of the same quality.) My articles perhaps won’t always be this long, but I feel this is a very important topic to discuss. In my opinion, the key to achieving “the change we can believe in” will be for the federal government to empower local governments to seek out their own solutions. The states are laboratories for good ideas and solutions to this problem. Let the people take charge of the situation. Moreover, if people are only qualifying for low-income jobs, we need to examine why that is. If it’s a question of education or disability, measures need to be taken to help these people qualify. We shouldn’t cater to the under qualified; rather, help the underprivileged qualify themselves. There was a time when benefits, such as retirement and health insurance, were offered to those that had worked to become better skilled contributors to society. Perhaps times have changed and we need to reevaluate our philosophy. You make the diagnosis.

Read more on the continuing health care debate at The Washington Post.

Jess Jones is a conservative political columnist for Rhombus. He also currently serves as vice chairman of the BYU College Republicans.

FILM: Utah Gets Ready To Go Hollywood

Written by Mckay Stevens on . Posted in Film

4,500 new jobs. Massive rebates. 20% tax credits.

This may sound like a government bailout, but it isn’t. These are the major highlights to Senate Bill 14, approved by the Utah legislature and scheduled to take effect tomorrow.

But what does this have to do with film? In a word: everything. SB 14 is an initiative that aims to bring even more major studio productions to Utah. It offers savings and incentives that will make shooting a picture here nearly impossible to refuse.

With roughly 90% of all film crew members hailing from Utah and possession of the widest spectrum of locations of any state, Utah is truly a one-of-a-kind establishment for quality productions.

The more frequent usage of our state for major productions means even more jobs for you. If it were not for the universities in Utah Valley with ever-expanding film programs, this may have been only a distant dream.

Once the bigger scale productions arrive, many of the crew positions, extras casting and even leading roles will all be found right here, plucked from amongst the students. For those who have always dreamed of a career in Hollywood: don’t move a muscle. Hollywood is coming to you.

Utahns really are about to become full-time participants in big budget film production.

Nothing can quite compare to working on a film set. It seems as though there is a consistent flow of adrenaline streaming right out of the lens and bringing a welcome infection to cast and crew alike. Working on-set is intense, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, everyone else can see it. The phrase ‘fake it till you make it’ does not exist on a movie set.

Now, by bringing this to light, Rhombus feels it necessary to also give you a few explanations and introductions to working in the industry. So sit back, pop some of that whole wheat, gluten/sugar/taste free, ‘I can’t believe it’s not Styrofoam’-based health corn, and enjoy.

  • If you’ve never worked in film before, you will find it difficult beginning anywhere other than a Production Assistant, or PA. The PA is responsible for absolutely everything that nobody else wants to do. You are the grunt man, the pawn, the servant. If you ever assume yourself to be more than that, you won’t have a job much longer. That being said, as soon as you learn the ropes of production assistant, it can be a very rewarding job, and your dedication in that area will usually start you on the path to where you’d like to be.
  • The vocabulary and methods of film vets is in a world of its own. If you don’t know the names of all the gear and the slang for the different aspects of the set and of the shoot, you will be lost. This article would be far too long if I listed everything about their slang and methods. The best way to prepare yourself is to find some related literature. I found this little tidbit called “The Production Assistant’s Pocket Handbook.” It’s a 63-page booklet containing everything you need to know and then some. I find the sub-heading more than fitting: “Because nobody has time to tell you what you need to know.”
  • You’ve seen them in the credits, but never known what they do. Grip: adjusts and maintains production equipment on set. Gaffer: head of the electrical department. Foley Artist: sound effects. Best boy: the two kinds are ‘best boy grip’ and ‘best boy gaffer.’ The best boys serve as assistants to the Key Grip and Gaffer.
  • What if I want to direct, produce or do something else on set?” Take it from someone who has been there, had the experience, and made his share of mistakes: you do not start right at the top. It would be a lie to say that nobody has ever done it, but I guarantee that whatever position you would like to hold on a film set, you will be better off by beginning at the bottom, because that’s what everyone else around you has done, and there’s no such thing as entitlement in this industry. You prove your worth by being dedicated to the position you’re in, and not necessarily the position you want. Even those with great ideas don’t become writers and directors overnight.
  • Avoid stepping on toes. There is a specific process from concept to production. It has always been there and the fruit of said process can be witnessed in the bounty of great films we have before us. Don’t try and change that. The old adage rings true, “Don’t speak unless spoken to,” but only in regards to trying to rewrite what is already in place.
  • And going hand-in-hand with the previously stated, I would add: Ask questions. Nothing will frustrate a director, 1st assistant director, line producer, or anyone else more than a person who prefers his pride over a few minutes of humble pie and a successful shoot. If you don’t know something, and even if you’ve already been told but forgot, you have to ask! Shooting days are budgeted down to the last dime, and if it drags on because some assistant or intern doesn’t know what he’s doing, it can be very damaging to a shoot and people may lose their trust in you.
  • Most (locally) are very forgiving of early mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. The point is that you look for your mistakes instead of waiting for someone else to point them out. It costs money, and nobody wants to pay you to lose their money. You will find in your experience that it is not the intention of veteran filmmakers to degrade you. They have all been in your shoes and understand the tremendous pressure you feel. Now multiply that by ten and you will begin to understand their pressure. They mean nothing personally, and you must learn from your mistakes and move on confidently.

If this post has scared you out of the film career you thought you wanted, please reconsider. There are strict guidelines you must follow, and many things you must know, but if you heed the previously outlined points, you will make it.

There are so many other aspects to this industry. We could go on for pages, but most would get bored and move on to another article. This should be a sufficient introduction for you, however, to the magical world of filmmaking. Welcome.

Mckay Stevens (NOT the one from the Vibrant Sound) is a film writer for Rhombus. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/S_Mckay.

TECH: How Twitter Is Changing The World

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Tech

I was sitting in my cubicle at work on Thursday afternoon, trying out Twhirl (a great Adobe Air-based desktop Twitter client) when across my Twitter feed came a flurry of tweets about the death of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. I had barely finished reading the tweet when the news began to spread through the office like wildfire. Somehow we all received the news simultaneously, whether it was through Twitter, Facebook, text messages or RSS feeds. Within minutes we were all watching live feeds from CNN.com and other news sites, receiving up-to-the-minute updates, all thanks to the Internet.

Popular microblogging service Twitter crashed as a result of the increased activity caused by the news of Jackson’s death. Users reportedly sent over 50,000 tweets about the pop icon’s death in under an hour. Search giant Google received so many Michael Jackson hits that the company believed its servers were under attack and users “Googling” for Michael Jackson received an error message stating, “Your query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application.”

The way the news of Michael Jackson’s death reached our ears is a prime example of how the Internet has changed communication and the speed at which we receive our news. Long gone are the days of reading yesterday’s news in the morning paper or spending every night with your local news anchor. Real-time delivery of breaking news is the now the name of the game. Web services like Twitter take word of mouth to the next level, allowing us to instantly communicate what we know to a mass audience. Facebook allows us to distribute information to our network of friends who can then pass that info on to other friends, allowing news to travel faster then ever before. RSS feeds allow subscribers instant access to news from reputable sources, such as newspapers, magazines and television networks.

Not only is news being reported in new ways, it is also being generated in new ways as well. With mobile computing devices such as iPhones and Blackberries, individuals are not limited to sitting down at a computer to receive information. These devices can make us participators in the newsgathering and sharing process. From wherever I am, I can send out a tweet, update my Facebook status or receive text messages from my friends. With the iPhone 3G S now featuring a video camera with direct and instant uploading to YouTube, you can bet that we will see a huge surge in video news posted directly from locations where important events are taking place. Take, for example, the recent protests in Iran. As the government has cracked down, preventing traditional journalists from reporting on the conflict, many of the major news networks have been featuring videos taken in the streets with personal cameras or even camera phones. One of the most jarring images of the entire ongoing saga, a young woman named Neda bleeding to death in the street, was filmed by two people holding camera phones. Instead of hearing reports from professional reporters on-site, breaking news has come to global networks in the form of tweets and Facebook messages. The news networks are reporting what they see on Twitter before their reporters can uncover and pass along the info.

Of course, one must be wary of such reporting methods. Some months ago someone posted a story on CNN’s user-generated news service, iReport.com, stating that Apple CEO and founder Steve Jobs had died. The story spread across the Internet like wildfire and Apple’s stock plummeted before it was confirmed that Jobs was indeed still alive. Such are the potential tradeoffs of this information revolution.

With communication changing and progressing every day through the Internet, it is necessary that we become familiar with these new forms of communication. Services like Twitter and Facebook can be valuable tools, whether it be for communicating with old friends, promoting a business venture or receiving up-to-the-minute news. It’s up to us to figure out how to best use these services to fit our growing and changing needs — or the world may leave us behind.

Ben Wagner is a technology correspondent for Rhombus. When he’s not listening to “Thriller,” he tweets semi-regularly at http://www.twitter.com/ben_wagner.

FILM: Say Hello To The Slumbering Giant

Written by Mckay Stevens on . Posted in Film

I’d like to welcome you to the film page at Rhombus. As an introduction, I’d like to tell you more about what exactly you can expect from us.

Generally speaking, everybody loves movies. For decades, Utah has been known as somewhat of a ‘secondary hotspot’ for major film production. Furthermore, Utahns adore the movie theater. A big family means a big night at the movies or a big night at home with a movie. Either way, film has woven its own way into the fabric of our very society.

Unfortunately, the theater can suffer from droughts like those in this frenzied desert. Months may go by without a single drop of worthwhile entertainment. We begin to feel desperate and wonder what to do when this escape from reality provides no real getaway.

Enter Rhombus.

There is so much more to the Utah film scene than your local Cinemark. From film festivals to indie films to sitcoms to major feature films, the Utah film world is a thriving one, and we are offering you the best seat in the house.

We’ll bring you film reviews, festival reviews and locations, filmmaker interviews, links to interesting sites and much more. We will discuss anything and everything that falls within the realm of film. We will show you who is doing what, which films were made by people you know, and how you can be a part of the action.

Utah is so much more than “Mormon Cinema.” There is a force here, like a towering beast in a slumber, about to be awoken. But don’t worry, he’s a good guy.

Still looking for more? Send us a message at rhombusmag@gmail.com and we will include your inquiries and suggestions in future articles.

IN MEMORIAM: Michael Jackson, 1958-2009

Written by Steve Pierce on . Posted in Music

Michael Jackson

As you undoubtedly know, music legend and cultural icon Michael Jackson passed away this afternoon at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, Calif., after suffering cardiac arrest. The singer was 50 years old and is survived by his three sons.

America has had a strange relationship with Jackson over the past few years. A literal shell of the cultural phenomenon he once represented, the King of Pop had become little more than a living embodiment of weirdness during his final years, his legacy overshadowed by his eccentric nature and extensive legal troubles. A significant portion of the population will remember him primarily as a “freak,” and that is unfortunate.

Michael Jackson earned his crown as the King of Pop. For an unparalleled stretch in the 70s and 80s, he owned the charts and sold records in numbers that will never be duplicated. He kick-started America’s pop culture obsession and almost single-handedly made MTV with his masterful music videos that now define the art form. Yet, even more so than his commercial success, Jackson should be remembered for one simple fact: the man made great music. Beginning with his Jackson 5 work at the mere age of 10 and continuing through his successful solo career, Michael Jackson provided the soundtrack for an entire generation. Those who grew up listening to him — or those, like myself, who were fortunate enough to discover his music later, despite the ongoing media circus — should consider themselves truly lucky to have been blessed with the presence of a legend.

While Michael Jackson may be gone, he will never disappear — the 28 million copies sold of his Thriller album refuse to be ignored. The negativity of his late public persona will fade with time, but his legacy will continue to live on through his art, to move and inspire future generations.

Steve Pierce is the co-founder and editor of Rhombus. He still gets giddy every time he watches “Thriller.”

TECH: Microsoft Announces Lower Prices For Windows 7

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Tech

Microsoft announced the price points for their new, much hyped Windows 7 operating system on Wednesday. The product is slated for release later this year.

The software giant’s monopolistic approach to doing business has backfired in the past few years, starting with the release of the much maligned Windows Vista in January 2007. After Vista users experienced security, compatibility, functionality and pricing issues at the time of release, a massive backlash ensued and Microsoft has been trying to stop the bleeding ever since. Microsoft’s dominance of the operating system market was challenged in 2008 as their market share dropped below 90% for the first time ever, while competitor Apple gained their highest market share in the company’s recent history.

Hoping to stem the tide of criticism, Microsoft has changed their MO for their new operating system, releasing a public beta for free (which is still available for download from the company’s Web site.) The Windows 7 Beta has received overwhelmingly good reviews as it fixed many of the issues that plagued its predecessor, and many people have found that the “Beta” version is good enough to use as their day-to-day operating system. With all of the hype, Microsoft is hoping that Windows 7 will help them retake their lost market share and, as such, introduced more aggressive price points then the those used for Vista:

  • Firstly, beginning Friday and running through July 11th, customers currently using a PC running Windows XP or Vista will be eligible to receive an early upgrade price of $49 for Windows 7′s Home Edition and 99$ for the Professional Edition. This is a record low price for Microsoft and I suggest PC users take advantage of this before the July 11th deadline. This is a limited time offer and can be bought through Microsoft, Amazon, Best Buy and most other major retailers.
  • Interestingly enough, also beginning Friday, customers who buy a copy of Vista (or a PC that comes equipped with Vista) will receive a free upgrade to Windows 7 when the software hits shelves. DO NOT BUY A PC TODAY, WAIT TILL TOMORROW.
  • When the full version of Windows 7 is released, customers upgrading from Vista or XP will pay $119 for the Home Edition, $199 for the Professional Edition or $219 for the Ultimate Edition. This is a $40 cut from price Microsoft charged for the Vista Home upgrade, although the Professional and Ultimate versions are similarly priced. Users who need a clean copy of Windows and are not upgrading from Vista or XP will be set back $199 for the Home Edition, $299 for the Professional and $319 for Ultimate. The Ultimate and Professional editions are, again, on par with the price charged for their Vista counterparts, while the Home edition is down from the $239 price tag on its Vista predecessor.

Even though Microsoft is charging lower rates for Windows 7, they still have found themselves undercut by the boys in Cupertino who, at the Apple keynote at the Worldwide Developers Conference a few weeks ago, announced that the newest version of Mac OS X, dubbed “Snow Leopard,” will be available to current Mac users for only $29.

Windows 7 is currently slated for an October 22nd release. In the meantime, the Beta version is still available for free from the Microsoft Web site and will continue to function until March 2010, at which point users will be forced to upgrade and reinstall the operating system.

To try Windows 7 for yourself, visit Microsoft’s Web site.

Ben Wagner is a technology contributor for Rhombus. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ben_wagner.