The Null Device
A Washington Post article looking at Akihabara, and how the Tokyo electronics-retail precinct has become transformed into the world's first geek ghetto:
"We have been discriminated against for being different, but now we have come together and turned this neighborhood into a place of our own," said Yamagata, nursing his tea as he sat with a portly computer technician friend at Akihabara's Cos-Cha, one of a dozen "maid cafes" in the neighborhood. Here, the waitresses' uniforms are inspired by the French maid-meets-Pokemon outfits of adult manga. At other cafes, waitresses greet patrons at the door with a curtsy and the words "Welcome home, master."
Tetsu Ishihara, 34, a computer programmer whose three-room apartment in west Tokyo is filled from floor to ceiling with comic books, does not want to be associated with such charges. Ishihara maintains a growing collection of 130 life-size pillows of female anime characters -- both purchased and self-designed. His favorite is Mio-chan, a female character from a love-simulation computer game in which a high school boy builds up the courage to ask a girl for a first date.
"There are some people who do lose their grip on reality, but that is not me -- or most of us," said Ishihara, a chubby man with glasses who this year started dating a woman steadily for the first time She's an anime artist. "For me, the pillows have been my source of unconditional love, a reminder of when I used to be hugged by my parents. There is nothing strange about it."Don't expect Gwen Stefani to commercialise this any time soon.
The best summary of the Star Wars franchise I've seen:
So this ordinary, middle-class American male walks into a bar. "Gimme a beer, whatever you have on tap," he says, slapping down a fiver. The bartender, smiling, reaches below the bar, audibly unzips his fly, and a moment later produces a tall glass that looks suspiciously as if it might be full of warm urine. But our guy is a trusting soul, and he gulps it down anyway. Big mistake. He retches, curses, and then storms out, furious.
Three years later, the same guy walks into the same bar and asks the same bartender for a beer. No problemo , says the barkeep. Zzzzip . Handed what again looks like something better suited to a specimen jar, the guy barely even hesitates. Down the hatch it goes, and then halfway back up the hatch again. Tears of rage are shed; a lawsuit is threatened. Exit the dude, livid.
Three years later, the same guy walks into the same bar and asks the same bartender for a beer.
You're waiting for the punch line. It's not a joke, I'm afraid. It's a parable. The guy is you, the bar is the neighborhood multiplex, and the third steaming glass of piss you're about to be served with a smile is called Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith.
For God's sake, don't drink it.
Another minor label is set to bite the dust; Sanctuary Records, home of Morrissey, is reportedly in talks with EMI and Warner, who are interested in buying it. Given how independent labels have a way of losing their vision and going to shit when bought out by the majors (look at Def Jam, Mute or Creation, for examples), this can't be good. (OTOH, it can be argued that Creation went to shit before Sony invested a penny in them, probably thanks to Alan McGee's cocaine-fuelled loss of taste, though the other two examples stand.)
Meanwhile, the British government intends to double the copyright term of recorded music, saving the Beatles' recordings from the ignominy of falling to the public domain in the 2010s and to ensure that the big record companies have a steady flow of income, because as we all know, that's good for all society. I mean, if EMI don't have the guaranteed income of the Long Tail of Beatles copyrights in perpetuity, they may sadly be unable to sign the next Coldplay or Kasabian or Sugababes or whoever.
And those all-round monopolists and homogenisers, Wal-Mart, provide yet another reason to hate them: their in-store photo processing services refuse to print photographs that look too good, just in case they are copyright violations:
Spokeswoman Jackie Young said Wal-Mart is "a littler tougher than the copyright law dictates."
"We want to protect professional photographers' rights," Young said. "We will not copy a photograph if it appears to be taken by a professional photographer or studio."
She related the case of a bride whose wedding photos were rejected by Wal-Mart because they "looked like high-resolution quality."
My mind's still reeling from the possible implications of Apple's announcement of abandoning the PowerPC platform in favour of x86. Here are some thoughts:
- After the change, Apple's hardware will be just x86 hardware. Well-designed, well-engineered x86 hardware, but not an entire separate platform. Apple had been heading in that direction since abandoning SCSI and NuBus, though the change in CPU architectures makes it final. It is speculated that Apple will make it possible for those who want to to boot Windows on their Macs; as such, think of the first non-G4 PowerBook as the Apple Vaio.
- Whether Apple will allow OSX to run on commodity hardware is another matter, though. Commodity hardware means loss of control and quality control, which has undoubtedly contributed to the Macintosh user experience. How aggressively Apple will ensure that OSX doesn't run on commodity hardware is another matter; it may be possible for hackers to get it working (though possibly violating paracopyright laws in doing so). Another possibility is of Apple doing deals with individual manufacturers to allow OSX to boot on their machines. (Sony could be a natural for this, given the tightly-controlled semi-proprietary nature of their hardware; and wouldn't you like an Acer Ferrari laptop with a non-crap OS?)
- Over and above that, it is possible that Apple will separate their hardware and software businesses. If their computers are not anything particularly exotic anymore, why not let someone else build and sell those, and concentrate on adding value? Perhaps Apple will spin off and sell its hardware manufacturing business (and the licence to use the Apple trademark on hardware) as IBM did.
- The future of OSX as a separate operating system may also not be assured. Apple own some high-end software (Shake, Logic, Final Cut Pro), which only runs on their own platform. Now that their platform will run on exactly the same architecture as Windows Longhorn, demanding that people boot to Apple's own non-mainstream OS to run it could lose sales. (Anyone remember Linux-based Final Scratch? That didn't do too well, because its electronic-musician audience didn't want to keep rebooting between using it and their Windows-based software.) As such, it is conceivable that, in some years' time, Apple will attempt to redefine OSX as a set of layers (CoreAudio, CoreImage, Cocoa) that runs over Windows, much as its Windows QuickTime does. The layers could be shipped with copies of their software and installed without the user needing to know about them. The remaining Mac faithful will cringe and cry sellout, and techies will dread the loss of OSX's technical advantages over Windows, but Apple will sell more software and gain compatibility with the Windows standard, and, at the end of the day, that's what counts.