The Null Device


Just played around a little with Google Sets. It's interesting, but not perfect. For example, ("True Faith", "Perfect Day") yields the set of New Order and Lou Reed songs, but ("True Faith", "Perfect Day", "Golden Brown") yields nothing, and certainly not the set of songs about heroin.


As the baby-boomers who grew up in the 1960s struggle to protect their children from awareness of sex, race, violence and other facts of living in a fallen world, they're now putting bowdlerised editions of books in schools; the special editions have anything controversial, from suggestions of nudity, violence or alcohol to discussion of inter-ethnic relations, excised, often with absurd results:

One passage was derived from Frank Conroy's memoir, "Stop-Time." The changes include replacing "hell" with "heck" in one sentence and excising references to sex, religion, nudity and potential violence (in the form of the declared intent of two boys to kill a snake) that are essential to an understanding of the passage.

The ostensible rationale is to eliminate the possibility of offending anybody in any way. The outcome, however, will probably be to create a generation of sheltered psychological infants with weakened intellectual immune systems and severely stunted ethical reasoning skills.


Falco! That venerable British institution, Punch magazine, looks likely to close its doors for the final time. Punch previously closed down in 1992, but was revived by Mohammed Al-Fayed (yes, that one) four years later. After six years of disappointing circulation, Al-Fayed pulled the plug on its life-support system, and it looks like this is the end.

And here is an article by a former writer, charting its decline over the past decades. The article suggests that Punch was a victim of the rise of television and the decline of satirical magazines. Though you'd think that with the rise of web-based humour, a revitalised heir to Punch might be able to carve out a niche for itself.

(I have fond memories of reading Punch in the school library in the late 80s. The publisher's attempt to go for the youth market was evident; they kept profiling people like Stock-Aitken-Waterman, or going on about which club Patsy Kensit or someone was seen at. All this probably led to the formation of magazines such as Oldie, which eschewed all the yoofist stuff and undoubtedly bled Punch's circulation. Though the pre-shut-down Punch did have the classic cartoon caption contest, something the relaunched one sorely lacked.)

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Ah yes, the SIRC Guide to Flirting, enumerating the rules of the game in anthropological terms. Useful for Martian scholars of Earth customs, or if you'd like to flirt but the flirting parts of your brain have become rewired for obscure programming languages or train spotting or something like that. Or just read it for the many insights into human psychology that emerge in such a subject:

Research has also shown that men have a tendency to mistake friendly behaviour for sexual flirting. This is not because they are stupid or deluded, but because they tend to see the world in more sexual terms than women. There is also evidence to suggest that women are naturally more socially skilled than men, better at interpreting people's behaviour and responding appropriately. Indeed, scientists have recently claimed that women have a special 'diplomacy gene' which men lack.

The "diplomacy gene" theory makes sense; one thing I've noticed that, in many close couples, a sort of specialisation develops where the woman handles most of the social interaction, even with old friends of her partner. (via

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Could this be the future of commercial popular music? A radio station which plays "the best parts of your favourite songs", to "address the short attention span of today's busy music fan". The Seattle station will play excerpts from 426 songs per hour, which means that on average, each fragment can be no longer than 8 seconds (probably less with ads). Um, this has to be a joke, right? (via Found)