The Null Device

2004/5/18

A fascinating history of London's vice cards; the small printed cards used by the local prostitutes and dominatrices to advertise their services in phone booths, once whimsical and suggestive, but these days glossy, and about as subtle as internet porn banner ads: (via bOING bOING)

Although produced in the 1980s, the early cards were distinctly Fifties both in tone and design. Many still used foundry display types such as ATF's Brush, or Stephenson Blake's Chisel and Open Titling. Alternatively, they used Baskerville or Garamond, two of the most pervasive text typefaces of the 1950s; as a result they retained an old-world charm. The techniques behind their production were rudimentary: illustrations were hand-drawn, traced, or photocopied. Type was seldom set: it was either rubbed-down, cut out from magazines, or sometimes hand produced. Images and type were pasted together and handed to the printer.
Teachers and parents at one London school complained that pupils as young as five had invented their own version of the Pokémon card using prostitute cards that they collected, then swapped. There has been more than one model that has been alarmed to find her photograph used without permission on the cards.
Vice cards have become fascinating cultural icons. For some, the cards are interesting because they are trackers of technology: they show when specialised production equipment became available, quite literally, at street level. To others the cards are artistic or typographic curios with a unique linguistic and visual vocabulary. The cards are also sociological and cultural records of the late twentieth century, mirroring the changing sexual attitudes and practices of the past 20 years.

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Orthodox Jews burn wigs after finding them made of Indian hair, cut during Hindu ceremonies. Orthodox Jewish women are prohibited from showing their hair in public once married; however, wigs containing human hair cut in Hindu ceremonies (from which much of the hair used for wigs comes) are considered idolatrous, because of the Hindu religion's polytheism. This is going to put a damper on the feted merger of Judaism and Hinduism to better compete on the global religious marketplace.

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I just got an email from "Gino Guy" offering Help with Mortgage or Debt. Hang on; wasn't he an Italian disco one-hit-wonder from the late 1980s?

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In John Howard's Australia, female nudity in video games is illegal; extreme, hardcore violence is OK, however:

In January 2003, the Office of Film and Literature Classification refused to classify a game called BMX XXX. The reason? It featured topless female bike riders. Yet games such as Grand Theft Auto and Manhunter -- in which the player in both games takes on the role of an amoral killer -- are widely available.

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From a Slashdot interview with Jeremy White of the WINE Windows API emulator project and/or Crossover:

We also go to all kinds of interesting lengths to avoid problems with viruses and worms. For example, we have a hack in our flavor of Wine, in the CreateProcess call (the code to start an executable) that basically checks to see if the parent process is outlook.exe, and if it is, we crash and burn, preventing many of the worms and such from running.

Meanwhile, someone's porting WINE to MacOS X. It doesn't actually emulate an Intel CPU, so it won't run your Windows binaries, but you can recompile Windows programs from source code and get them to run, and look authentically Windowslike, on your Mac. Though you'll need to use X11 as well, as it doesn't speak directly to Quartz/Cocoa/Carbon (and there don't appear to be any plans to make it do so).

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The latest salvos in the War on Intellectual Property Terrorism: Paypal have unilaterally suspended donations to Freenet, an underground crimeware project allowing data to be distributed anonymously with no provision for law enforcement monitoring, thus providing a safe haven for paedophiles, terrorists and dissidents living under oppressive regimes. Freenet is not technically illegal (except perhaps in Japan), though appears to be being de facto outlawed and driven further underground through third-party sanctions. You can still contribute to Freenet by using E-Gold, an alternative online currency favoured by heavily armed anarchist militia whackos and the tinfoil hat crowd.

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I'm Wayne Kerr, and if there's one thing I hate... it's web sites which use Javascript to disable the right-button menu. It's the web equivalent of copy-protected CDs; it doesn't stop people from downloading their images/content or stealing their HTML design secrets (if your browser can download it, you can grab it), but does prevent honest users from opening a link in another window/tab, should they so desire.

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A quick review of various items which arrived at my PO box today:

  • Various artists, "Romantic and Square is Hip and Aware": a Smiths tribute album featuring mostly guitar-based jangly indie-pop bands who can probably trace their lineage back to Manchester's Finest. They're not bad, though many of them don't add much in the way of new ideas to the originals; don't look for too many radical reinventions here. Brazilian band Pale Sunday's bossa-tinged take on I Know It's Over is quite good, Anglo-Spanish popsters Pipas do a slightly dubby take on This Night Has Opened My Eyes and Jason Sweeney does a good Morrissey impression over bedroom electronics. Meanwhile, Australia's national indie band The Lucksmiths' take on There Is A Light That Never Goes Out sounds much like the original, only as a duet, deviating from the master about as much as Neil Finn's version from some time ago, while The Guild League's take on Panic has a jaunty, slightly brass-bandish take on it. The liner, by someone from The Snowdrops (who cover Bigmouth Strikes Again) notes are much the usual autobiographical tale of growing up awkwardly in the bedsits of Thatcher's England with one's Smiths records. (via Traffic Sounds.)
  • Harvey Williams, California: I had the MP3s for this, and decided to get the CD. In the decade or so between Another Sunny Day (who brought us bedsit anthems like Anorak City and the unforgettable You Should All Be Murdered; check the filesharing nets for them) and this 1999 release, Harvey Williams had mellowed somewhat, bringing a CD of piano ballads, both touching and satirical, with a wry, and very English, turn of phrase, about the usual boy/girl situations. In a parallel universe, some of these have probably been picked up by Working Title for a London-based Gwyneth Paltrow romcom and Harvey has become the next Badly Drawn Boy. But there are some nice tracks here; the Bacharachesque instrumental Introducing..., for one.
  • The Autocollants, Why Can't Things Just Stay The Same?. Lo-fi sweet indie-pop which starts off OK, though sounds a bit samey in places. Perhaps it's the production (the guitars sound like they were recorded on a four-track in someone's bedroom), or perhaps Laura Watling's voice is just that much too breathy for prolonged listening.
  • Stereolab, 2004 Tour CD: whilst the groop don't look like visiting Australia this year, a copy of this 3" disc has made it into my hands courtesy of an American source (ta, bfd!). Contains three tracks, with the exquisitely Labbish titles "Banana Monster Ne Répond plus", "Rose, My Rocket-Brain!" (subtitled "Rose, Le Cerveau Electronique De Ma Fusée!"), and "University Microfilms Limited". And, yes, it's quite good; this isn't mere filler. The first track has an epic, multipartite quality akin to the best of the Lab, in its 5 and a half minutes, the second one sounds like the output of an automatic Stereolab song generator (in a good way), and the third one's not bad either.

I also got a copy of that CD of HP Lovecraft-themed retro fonts. Had I paid any more for it, I'd be disappointed; some of the letter spacing is a bit inconsistent, and more annoyingly, all the fonts have "HPLHS" as the style (where "Bold", "Italic" and so on should be), with the different weights and slants in each family showing up as separate faces. I suspect that the designers are not professional typographers (btw, who would call a font "Italic"?)

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