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March 27th, 2008

Top 5 Rickroll Videos of All Time

Top 5 Rickroll Videos of All Time

Note: For anyone that is not fully aware of the rickrolling phenomenon, you may want to stop reading this now. For everyone else, please watch this amazing video of Britney Spears and Elliot Spitzer’s guest appearance on Dancing With the Stars. Who knew that Elliot could breakdance…?

The New York Times wrote about rickrolling this Sunday for seemingly no apparent reason (didn’t newspapers used to, you know, write about news?). An internet meme that started last year, it continues to spread to unsuspecting victims who click on a link expecting to see an amazing video. It’s interesting to see how long it takes mainstream media to pick up on internet memes, and also how quickly they die out when they become popular (has anyone seen people writing AYBABTU lately?). The viral spread of memes is astonishing and in just 10 months, the Rick Astley video has been viewed over 12 million times throughout the web.

Then yesterday The LA Times scored an exclusive interview with Rick Astley to talk about the phenomenon and he is genuinely surprised and humble about it. Apparently, he is also about to go on tour with other former popular 80s bands. (Question: if people attend a Rick Astley concert and he plays “Never Gonna Give You Up,” are they getting rickroll’d?)

With the trend in mind, here are our Top 5 Rickroll Videos of All Time. These are not the original video, but rather interesting new twists that people have thought of, carrying the rickroll into traditional media, real life, and across memes.

5. The Church of Scientology Gets Rickroll’d By Anonymous

Anonymous, the group that was behind the spread of the rickroll in the first place, decided to rickroll the Church of Scientology in various locations. Someone needs to create a Church of Rick, so Anonymous, get to work on that.

4. Tay Zonday Creates a Cosmic Collision of Cheesyness

Tay Zonday, the little guy with the big voice, was the creator of the infamous “Chocolate Rain” video, which to this day still gets stuck in my head sometimes, decided to help crossbreed two of the most popular memes of all time when he sang Rick Astley’s hit. People were already “Tayrolling” people by sending “Chocolate Rain” and so he recorded this video to help. Well played, Tay, well played.

3. NCAA Women’s Basketball Game Gets Surprise Entertainment

A college student played the song as a prank during an NCAA Women’s basketball game, which led to the article in the New York Times. The coverage that resulted from this is amazing, although it may be the beginning of the end. The trench coat and Rick moves were a nice touch. Sidenote: it’s strange to me that women’s college basketball has female cheerleaders.

2. Rickrollagram

Someone sent a singing telegram rickroll to a company exec during a corporate meeting. It can’t be long before this becomes commonplace and people at work start saying “hey Bill, we have a really important meeting right now, meet me in the conference room” only to be met by a Rick Astley impersonator in a trench coat, singing and dancing awkwardly.

1. Family Guy: Epic Win


Seth MacFarlane, you sir are a genius. Before most people had any awareness of what a rickroll was, Seth rickroll’d America on national television. Those of us in the know were in awe of what we were watching. Millions of people watched, unaware, as Brian serenaded the dance with “a song by a gay guy” and played his keytar in this awesome Back to the Future parody.

Honorable mention: Carson Daly – Late-night Rickroll

I applaud Carson‘s use of traditional media to rickroll the audience. His set-up was funny, but the problem was, he only played a portion of the video and his follow-through left much to be desired. That cheesy “rickrolled” stamp they superimposed on the mildly-amused audience didn’t help. What was great about Family Guy’s rickroll was its subtlety, while Carson‘s didn’t have that.

Honorable mention: Telemarketer Gets Rickroll’d

This video hasn’t gotten the attention of the other videos as it’s new but it made me laugh when I saw it. “You’ve never heard of Rickroll’d? I find that surprising, since they’re your competition.”

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March 26th, 2008

Social media storm brews up with Billy Bragg

Social media storm brews up with Billy Bragg

Singer/songwriter Billy Bragg has kicked up a storm with a contribution to the New York Times calling on social networking sites to pay musicians for the content they provide. Writing after AOL acquired Bebo for $850 million, Bragg argues that the artists who posted music on the site for free are entitled to a payday now too, alongside the investors and techies who built the site. Mike Masnick, writing at Techdirt, argues that the musicians traded the use of their content for the exposure the sites gave them, and that you can’t change the terms of a deal retrospectively.

Bragg does have a point. While social networking sites no longer pay musicians, at least one has in the past. MP3.com, the biggest site for independent artists around the year 2000, paid artists for each song visitors downloaded for free. Artists generating serious traffic to the site got a reasonable cheque at the end of the month. MP3.com is under new management now, and this idea hasn’t been taken up by the new owners or by similar communities like MySpace.

But there are costs associated with running a social networking site too: traffic is not evenly distributed, with many artists consuming storage space without bringing a significant number of visitors. Those who do bring in the ears and eyeballs, help to underwrite those who don’t.

The issue won’t be resolved any time soon. You could argue that supply outstrips consumer demand for new music, pushing its market price to virtually zero. But if there is to be a new generation of professional musicians while music sales continue to fall, one business model might be to once more give musicians a share of the revenue their work generates at social networking sites.

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March 17th, 2008

School benefits from Brain Training game

School benefits from Brain Training game

Who said games aren’t good for you?

A study by government educational body Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS) has concluded that a daily 20 minute game of ‘Brain Training’ on the Nintendo DS seems to improve children’s learning and behaviour skills.

The Register reports that LTS conducted a 10 week study at a primary school in Dundee. Children between five and six spent 20 minutes at the start of each school day playing ‘More Brain Training with Doctor Kawashima‘ on Nintendo DS Lites. Teachers noted that there were improvements in their students’ behaviour – they co-operated with each other and were more focused on lessons.

The students also demonstrated improvements in mental arithmetic, concentration levels, behaviour and ability to handle tasks on their own. The trial was such a success, LTS is talking about implementing daily sessions with the software in other schools (which I’m sure will work fine until the kids start secretly bringing in their own copies of Mario Kart and spend the mornings indulging in multi-player racing fun).

I’m all for integrating gaming with education. Anything on a screen will automatically be seen as more fun by young ‘uns, and I know from experience that starting the day with anagrams or mental arithmetic tests is a great way to get the brain warmed up. Who knows, perhaps the DS can be used in other ways too. Maybe text-heavy adventure games in the style of Hotel Dusk or the Ace Attorney series could be used to promote reading skills, or rhythm games like Elite Beat Agents could be used as 10 minutes of fun in music classes.

Of course, this is entirely personal speculation, and no machine will ever be a substitute for a good teacher. But, as LTS found, by introducing the right computer games into schools, they could prove to be a great supplement to traditional teaching.

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March 10th, 2008

A robotic revolution

A robotic revolution

On Saturday night, I turned on the television to watch the opening episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. If you missed it (or didn’t fancy it), the programme is a spin-off from the Terminator movies, in which robots have risen up against their human creators. Then, on Sunday evening, I happened to watch an episode of Battlestar Galactica, a television series in which robots have… um… risen up against their human creators.

Clearly we should all be wary of robotics. A world in which our creations have risen up against their human creators isn’t one to look forward to. This isn’t stopping scientists in Japan, though.

Clearly less influenced by glossy sci-fi television than I am, the Japanese are making great strides in the field of robotics, hoping that one day robots and humans can exist side by side and interact socially. MSN reports that a university laboratory in Tokyo has built a robotic face that can display six expressions: anger, fear, sadness, happiness, surprise and disgust.

The robot has been named Kansei, or ‘sensibility’, and is attached to a database of words to which it can respond realistically. For example, when the robot hears the word ‘war’, it demonstrates disgust and fear (and having just watched Terminator that’s quite reassuring), whereas ‘love’ generates a smile.

The researchers believe that if robots are to exist alongside people, they will need to be able to react to emotions, understand them, or even feel them. This research can be seen as a step towards that goal.

Robots are widely used in Japan, and the country is depending on them to care for an increasing number of elderly people. The government has invested huge amounts of money into robotics projects over the last few years, including $42 million for a humanoid robotics project, and $10 million a year between 2006 and 2010 to develop key robot technologies.

The Japanese government wants one million industrial robots installed by 2025. After that, perhaps we will see robots also used for everyday activities. The Roomba, a vacuum cleaner that can clean a room automatically and without supervision, has been a success in Japan, indicating that consumers could very well accept more robots in the home.

Let’s be honest, we’re still a long way away from the likes of Robocop, Johnny 5 or Optimus Prime. Even so, the future of the robotics industry is looking pretty good right now. I quite like the idea of having robots round the house to do the chores. Put the rubbish out? Robot will do it. Cook dinner? Robot will do it. Weed the garden? Robot will do it.

Now that’s a future we can look forward to. Assuming the robots don’t rise up against their human creators…

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