The Null Device
Eight years ago, a glamorous and fashionable if otherwise ordinary royal was instantly transformed into the closest thing to a secular saint by virtue of no longer being alive and mediocre. The Graun's Jonathan Freedland reflects on Diana's passing, not because she was a great historical figure, but because of the minor golden age her time in the limelight -- a gentler, more innocent, age, though we didn't realise it at the time -- represented:
And yet a larger thought is prompted by a look back to the summer of 1997 through the lens of 2005. Suddenly it seems clearer what the Diana era itself, the 1990s, was all about. It was hard to tell at the time, but now the 1990s have a definition as sharp as the swinging 60s or the greedy 80s. They were the no-worry 90s.
For, viewed from today, the 1990s look like a kind of holiday, a pause between two eras of anxiety and conflict. Just as Eric Hobsbawm defined the 19th century as stretching from 1789 to 1914, so we can take the same liberty: the 90s began with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and ended with the fall of the twin towers in 2001.
Never mind that both the old and new threats may be exaggerated, the danger felt and feels real. In the post-1945 era, we lived in fear of a third world war and a nuclear winter. In the post-9/11 era, we tremble at the prospect of suicide killers on a double-decker bus. Fear is the constant.
After all, what were the preoccupations of the time? In the US, the two largest national dramas of the decade were the OJ Simpson trial and the Monica Lewinsky scandal. One looks at that from today's vantage point with a warped kind of envy: lucky is the society so untroubled that it has nothing graver on its mind than two glorified soap operas.Or maybe so it seems in retrospect.
A set of parodic postage stamps commemorating American anti-scientists; a more timely response to this:
While standing in line at the post office, I saw this new series of stamps devoted to American scientists...which is kind of ironic considering how our sciences are now under attack from all corners: from evangelicals to pharmaceutical marketing, educational declines, and funding cuts. It's like singing "Happy Birthday" to a man as he's being taken away on a gurney.
(via bOING bOING)
This is pretty nifty: an artist has devised a device which fits into a CD jewel case and makes minimalist glitch electronica; the device is meant to fit into the standard album-based music distribution infrastructure, and to be purchased in shops; it will be released by a label named Cantaloupe.
The device looks somewhat minimal, and leaves a fair amount of space in the case; I imagine it could be expanded to less-minimal implementations. I imagine it wouldn't be too hard, in theory, to implement a sample-based music player (of the tracker/chip-tune variety) in that form factor, and provide it with enough algorithmic-composition logic to semi-randomly reconstitute/transpose/harmonise beats, basslines, chords and melodies into something resembling music.
(via bOING bOING)
Anti-television activists organise a flashmob dressed as zombies descend on the filming of American Idol, protesting the stultifying qualities of the idiot box. Unknown to them, the show's producers had read the ad on Craigslist and decided to appropriate the zombie stunt into their show.
And that is how the zombies ended up squatting down on the concrete of the Erwin Center's second level, signing release forms to allow their images to be broadcast by Fox TV. "Zombies, I need you back here!" Lynn shouted. "All you zombies, I need to get a group shot!" The undead complied, waving their bloodied limbs about for the TV cameras.
The zombies - all except for Plan II senior Mike Ferstenfeld - signed release forms to appear on Fox TV. "We've turned into prostitutes for 'American Idol,'" Ferstenfeld said.
Muntean reports that "American Idol" has asked Chilcote to return in zombie makeup for an audition on the show, but that she will probably decline.And so, the Spectacle absorbs and commodifies dissent once again. Or is it the other way around?
Reportage of Hurricane Katrina cast a disturbing light on race relations in Louisiana: in news reports, black people "loot", while white people "find".
A young man walks through chest deep flood water after looting a grocery store in New Orleans on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005.
Two residents wade through chest-deep water after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store...An alternative explanation could be that the reports, though, came from two different press agencies (AP and AFP, respectively), and could reflect one having more explicitly nonjudgmental style policies than the other, as opposed to racism, subconscious or otherwise. One wonders whether, if they picked up any random reports of black and white people salvaging food, they would show such a racial bias of judgment, or whether these two reports were juxtaposed by coincidence or deliberate selection.
(via bOING bOING)
According to this article, the recent rise in oil prices has reduced petrol consumption in in Germany and Belgium by 10%, which is more than the embattled Kyoto protocol could have hoped for by 2012.
Also via 1.0, Steven Levitt (author of "Freakonomics") argues that fear of Peak Oil is just scaremongering, and that supply and demand will take care of necessary adjustments to cope. Which is debunked by one Dmitry Podborits, who points out that the adjustments may well include mass starvation, war, or the end of the happy consumer society and the decline into a new age of cut-throat austerity, where life is once again nasty, brutish and short for the wretched remnants of humanity scrabbling like rats over the dwindling leftovers; or, at the very least, the end of things we take for granted, from comfortable living in uncomfortable climates to widely available air travel and easy global trade. In other words, the 20th century may have been as good as it gets.
Reports are coming in about a new Sony Vaio computer with, wait for it, a SACD burner. Which sounds good, except for the facts that the SACD format uses an unusual extremely-high-frequency 1-bit audio encoding system requiring considerable processing to convert to/from the PCM formats used everywhere else, that SACD recordable media seems to be rather rare, and that once you burn a SACD of music (presumably from your Sony Trusted Client ATRAC jukebox application, which does the PCM-to-bizarro-world conversion in the background for you), that disc will be useless for anything other than playback in a few SACD players, and the DRM inherent in the format at every level will prevent such discs from having the positively criminal levels of flexibility and tinkerability that have made recordable CDs (and DVDs) such a hit with users everywhere. Which makes it all seem rather pointless.
Police in Malaysia are carrying out random spot checks for pornography on mobile phones. Those found with porn will be charged with possession, and presumably flogged or caned or whatever they do, at Dr. Mahathir's pleasure.
Meanwhile, in India, the local movie studios' organisation, the MPA, has successfully obtained a general search and seizure warrant, allowing its officers to search any property in Delhi deemed under suspicion of piracy. Of course, they only intend to use such warrants against the terrorists who produce and sell pirated DVDs at markets, and, being the good guys, undoubtedly are honour-bound not to abuse these powers, so there's no cause for concern.
And in China, a researcher has discovered a sinister and ominous new trend, that people who buy webcams often use them whilst naked, posing a serious threat to public health and morality:
"At first, we thought it was merely a game for a few mentally abnormal people," the paper quoted Liu as saying. "But as our research continued, we found the problem was much larger than expected."It wasn't made clear what proportion of webcam users are filthy perverts, or, indeed, what those who don't chat naked use them for.
It looks like Melbourne may finally get a public transport overhaul; a new A$10bn plan will put a road and rail tunnel between Doncaster and Deer Park, provide a road link between the Eastern Freeway and Western Ring Road, and build the long-awaited Doncaster train line, running from North Melbourne, via Melbourne University, and down the under-utilised middle of the Eastern Freeway.
Taken at face value, it's a good start; the north-eastern suburbs of Melbourne are a public-transport vacuum, and the railway line is overdue; a rail link between North Melbourne, Carlton, Fitzroy and Abbotsford could also be handy. Hopefully, they'd provide an interchange between this and the Clifton Hill-bound lines. Then, perhaps, they can build over long-overdue urban rail lines, such as the one going to Rowville, with the link to Monash University that was promised in the 1960s when the site was selected.
I bet you, though, that when push comes to shove, the rail parts will be scrapped as "impractical", possibly to be replaced with half a dozen bus routes and a mobile-phone-based car-pooling registry or something, and only the road parts will get built. After all, the crucial swinging voters in the outer-suburban two-car households don't actually use public transport and don't want their tax money being wasted on such when it could be used to make their drive quicker and smoother.
Goths vs. Chavs. No, it's not an upcoming Working Title/Channel Four updating of Quadrophenia (substituting Whitby for Brighton and those daft-looking miniature motorcycles for Lambrettas), or the latest edgy game from Rockstar, but the reality being fought out in Britain's town centres every night. And now, in war games in the forests, organised by the local street wardens:
"We've had large groups of chavs and goths on Cathedral Square on a Saturday. They've not really being doing any harm but the sheer number of them intimidates people," he said. "It's like mods and rockers - not that these guys start fighting, it's just a bit of a slap here and there."
The few goths who still walk across the square by the city's Norman cathedral are not so sure. War games in the countryside? "That's going to be murder," said Kenny, 19, resplendent in his daywear of black boots, black jeans, black shirt and long black leather jacket (it's sunny and 25C). "The chavs will take knives."
Kitted out in black body armour and chomping on a large cigar, Steve Mayes, the street warden supervisor, looks more than a match for any mouthy chav or stoned goth. But he's found both groups showing scant regard for him, each other or society, and hopes that skirmishes in the countryside will instil respect.Though isn't "respect" (in the hip-hop/thug-life sense) a cornerstone of the Chav subculture, i.e., it being a matter of honour to set straight by means of physical force anyone who doesn't show one respect, or else forfeit the right to call oneself a man?
He points out a chav, swaggering through the square on the toes of his immaculate white trainers. "Most goths are so laid-back they are on their arse," he said. "If you go up to a chav and look at him wrong, he'll kick your head in."And since when do goths smoke pot as a rule? I thought that cloves and absinthe were their thing. Come to think of it, has anyone seen a goth running around the woods with a pellet gun? (Substitute "Norwegian black metaller" for "goth" and "big fück-off mediæval axe" for "pellet gun" and you might have something, though.)
But Mr Mayes admits there is one small problem: most of the goths were so laid-back they couldn't get up in time for the war games. Six cried off yesterday morning. "We've got more chavs than we have goths because they couldn't get out of bed," he said. "They've probably been smoking too much pot."