The Null Device

2003/9/9

A somewhat vague look at Cybersyn, an experimental communications network used by the Allende socialist government in Chile to more efficiently manage a command economy. It sounds something like what the Internet would have been like had it been invented by Soviet scientists out of a Ken Macleod novel.

There's a Slashdot discussion about this (undoubtedly due to devolve into a Godwin-invoking flamewar at any time), in which one poster mentioned that the network was so designed to prevent centralisation of information and prevent it being used as the backbone of a totalitarian state; the idealistic British engineer who designed it made sure of that. Interesting that the Guardian article never mentions that; could it be that the writer is an old-guard leftist, of the sort sometimes found writing for the Guardian, who would perish the thought that such a worthy socialist experiment could have possibly been at risk of turning into an Orwellian dystopia?

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2003/9/8

Oh yes; Curve have a new MP3 up on their web site, titled "Some Good Some Bad". I haven't listened to it yet though. (via the 'shoegaze' community on LiveJournal)

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I'm currently listening to Jelly CD, a compilation (released around 1995) of EPs from various projects one Lora (now Laura) Macfarlane was involved in in the early 90s (notably the Sea Haggs, Keckle and some of her solo material). It's rather interesting; it's similar, in places, to the first Ninetynine album (funny, that), all jagged guitars, garage-rock vocals and power-pop songwriting, though with a few oddities thrown in (quite a few of the tracks end with the sound of a radio being tuned between channels), and the odd cute indie melody here and there. There's a bit of chromatic percussion (often sounding rather discordant), though no Casio keyboards. The most interesting tracks, though, would be some of Lora's solo pieces; in particular, Boot, which eschews the pop-song format for thrashy acoustic guitar chords and abstract soprano vocals alternating between pretty and deranged. This is immediately followed by a pop song about the theft of a woollen beanie.

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First there were pocket-sized USB flash disks, then USB flash disks with built-in MP3 players (for those whose music collections fit in 128Mb), and now, if an ad on the front page of the Computer Trader (a cheaply printed monthly paper of classifieds and price lists) is to be believed, there are USB flash disks with text-to-speech. It doesn't say exactly how it works, but I presume that you copy text files to it and it reads them to you while you drive/jog/catch the bus. Which could be useful, depending on other things (i.e., how listenable the voice used is, how easy it is to navigate through texts, what file formats it can read (plain text? MS Word? Unicode?).

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A journalist administers the Voight-Kampff test to six mayoral candidates in San Francisco, and discovers that at least half of them are replicants. (via DPH)

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Film critic Lawrie Zion on the malaise afflicting recent Australian film; in particular, about recent films sticking to the theme of true-blue-dinky-di-Aussie-battlers vs. the evil forces of change:

What makes the recent Australian crop distinctive, however, is the way that even relatively sophisticated fare such as The Bank resorts to a one-dimensional character when it brings on its American villain. Accordingly, Anthony La Paglia, who gave us such a refreshingly understated performance in Lantana (2001), is reduced to a cardboard cut-out portrayal of slimy greed in The Bank. By contrast, the key American character in The Dish, played by Patrick Warburton, is given a chance to establish himself as a fully developed character, which not only provides the film with a less blinkered view of national "types", but also allows its "culture clash" moment to become something more interesting than a showdown between good and evil.
More troubling, still, with films such as Take Away is the way that Australians themselves are portrayed on the screen as naive and dim survivors of a laconic but cloistered culture that simply can't deal with change (though some might argue that this is a very accurate description of Australia in 2003).

Underdog motif or not, I can't recall having seen a recent Australian film where the characters weren't one-dimensional caricatures. More often than not, the actors (some of whom are footballers, comedians or both) ham up their performance, exaggerating the characters. Sometimes you even see them mugging at the camera after letting loose what they think is a devastatingly witty one-liner, as if giving the drongos in the audience the cue to laugh. It seems like so many Australian films are the bastard offspring of Hey Dad and the 10BA tax dodge.

Even in films which do not descend to this nadir, the film is usually slathered in Miracle Ingredient A, using its Australianness to sell an otherwise conventional story and one-dimensional characterisation to audiences looking for an alternative, however shoddy, to the McWorld monoculture from Hollywood. (Which is not unlike the plot of a recent Australian comedy, in fact, but I digress.) They don't see the films for quality, except in the "see, our sets/cinematography/special effects can be every bit as technically slick as American movies" sense, but for Australianness.

Which makes me wonder why Australia doesn't produce filmmakers like Canada (which gave us Vincenzo "Cypher" Natali and David Cronenberg) or Britain (too many to name). Surely it can't be a lack of talent. Perhaps the local market just doesn't encourage such innovation at anything above the Tropfest level?

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Kevin Brockmeier's The Brief History of the Dead, an interesting short story postulating an afterlife not unlike the world of the living, and its interaction with events in the living world.

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Last year, scientific journal Science published a study which showed that just one dose of Ecstasy (MDMA) can cause irreversible brain damage and premature Parkinson's disease. The piece was picked up on to give impetus to laws prosecuting dance party organisers for not enforcing a drug-free environment. Now it emerges that the experiment was a sham; the substance injected into the hapless monkeys in the experiment was not MDMA but methamphetamine; the result of mislabelled test tubes. Oops! Though I bet that prohibitionist zealots and prison industry lobbyists will keep trotting this experiment out as "proof" that we need more draconian anti-drug laws, confident that the average voter isn't going to have a foolproof scorecard of just what has been discredited.

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