The Null Device
The first-hand account from a waiter of how he seduced an entire table of women into ordering desserts, coming up against concerted resistance and coming out triumphant.
An inventor in Wales has invented a teenager repellant. It's a device that emits an annoying noise at a frequency only youths can hear; the youths then scatter, leaving the oldies in peace.
The device, called the Mosquito ("It's small and annoying," Mr. Stapleton said), emits a high-frequency pulsing sound that, he says, can be heard by most people younger than 20 and almost no one older than 30. The sound is designed to so irritate young people that after several minutes, they cannot stand it and go away.
At first, members of the usual crowd tried to gather as normal, repeatedly going inside the store with their fingers in their ears and "begging me to turn it off," Mr. Gough said. But he held firm and neatly avoided possible aggressive confrontations: "I told them it was to keep birds away because of the bird flu epidemic."The problem is that it's only most, not all, people over 30 who are immune to its effects.
Andrew King, a professor of neurophysiology at Oxford University, said in an e-mail interview that while the ability to hear high frequencies deteriorates with age, the change happens so gradually that many non-teenagers might well hear the Mosquito's noise. "Unless the store owners wish to sell their goods only to senior citizens," he wrote, "I doubt that this would work."The article describes other devices for keeping the young and disorderly at bay, including "zit lamps", which cast a blue light that accentuates acne, and the old standby, classical music.
Observations on listening to Mark Radcliffe's show tonight on BBC2:
- Gogol Bordello sound like Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen crossed with a NME new-wave revival band.
- The new Belle & Sebastian single, Funny Little Frog, sounds nothing like Belle & Sebastian. There is nothing particularly fey about it (other than the title, of course); the vocals are strong and confident and it bounces along energetically. It could easily be, say, The Thrills or The Magic Numbers, or anything in the top 40 in the two decades before Stock/Aitken/Waterman and Dr. Dre. Not that that's a bad thing, mind you; it's a pretty classy piece of pop craftsmanship, though don't expect Lord Anthony or The State I Am In.
Those making movies with Activision's new machinima game The Movies, beware: according to the licensing agreement, Activision owns the copyright to all films made using their content, which you can't avoid using this package.
The EULA states that while users retain ownership of movies they create, Activision exclusively owns "any and all content within [users'] Game Movies that was either supplied with the Program or otherwise made available to [users] by Activision or its licensors..." This means that any movie containing anything less than 100% user-created content (an impossible feat as far as I can tell) is under Activision's control.Which means that, unless you manage to strip your films of all Activision-owned content, what you can do with them is limited to what Activision will tolerate your doing. For example, you probably couldn't release them under a creative commons licence or put them in the public domain, and if you used them to say anything particularly controversial (as angry French Muslim youths are doing), you risk having your creation being pulled out from under you, because it's not really yours. In a sense, it is as if the basic words in the English language were copyrighted and had to be licensed in order to communicate.
A more reasonable approach would have been what the music software industry does, i.e., licensing the elements that come with the package (samples and loops, in the case of music software, 3D objects in the case of The Movies) for unlimited royalty-free use by the buyer and renouncing all rights to works containing them. Of course, Activision are a game software company, and assume that their punters are less savvy and/or less concerned with issues of rights. Who cares who really owns your movie, it's just a game, right?
(via bOING bOING)
Four women teaching in a remote village school in Saudi Arabia had a dilemma: they needed a way to get to the village, but women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. So they found a driver who lived in the village, and married him:
They were married in a short ceremony, and all the women have agreed to pay the driver a share of their monthly salaries, Al-Watan said.
Women are still not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, while men can marry up to four women according to Islamic law.
The grim story of the next Superman film, which has remained in development hell for 10 years, while armies of hacks, egomaniacs and philistinic studio types battled over the details, is an eye-opening example of the horrible things that happen to a property once a Hollywood studio buys the rights to it. Read about the dozen or so different scripts, tacked-on merchandising opportunities, plot elements shamelessly lifted from the most recent blockbuster, the many forms of Lex Luthor (rogue CIA agent, mutated shoe salesman, member of the Illuminati), Tim Burton's darker, gothic Superman, and even the studio's plans to cast Justin Timberlake and Beyonce Knowles as Superman and Lois Lane. Read it, laugh uncomfortably, and then pray to whatever gods you have that the studios never get their hands on your favourite stories.
Peters then told Smith to have Brainiac fight polar bears at the Fortress of Solitude, demanding that the film be wall-to-wall action. Smith thought it was a stupid idea, so Peters said, "Then have Brainiac fight Supermans bodyguards!" Smith responded, "Why the hell would Superman need bodyguards?" Peters wouldnt let up, so Smith caved in and had Brainiac fight the polar bears. Then Peters demanded that Brainiac give Luthor a hostile space dog as a gift, arguing that the movie needed a cuddly Chewbacca character that could be turned into a toy. Then, after watching Chasing Amy, Peters liked the gay black character in the film so much that he ordered Smith to make Brainiacs robot servant L-Ron gay, asserting that the film needed a gay R2-D2 with attitude. Then Peters demanded that Superman fight a huge spider at the end of the film, which Smith refused to dohe used a "Thanagarian Snare Beast" instead. (However, Peters did manage to recycle his spider idea and use it in Wild Wild West.)
1. Krypton doesnt explode. Instead its a Naboo rip-off overrun by robot soldiers, walking war machines, and civil war (can you say, Star Wars: Episode I?). Jor-El is literally the king of Krypton and leader of the Kryptonian Senate (thus Superman is a prince), and he and Lara send Kal-El to Earth because he is "the One" whom a prophecy states will save Krypton from destruction (rip-off of The Matrix). The villains, Jor-El's evil brother and nephew Kata-Zor and Ty-Zor, take Jor-El prisoner and send probe pods out to find and kill the baby Kal-El. 14 years later, Lara and her shell-less turtle servant Taga (shades of Jar Jar Binks) are found by Ty-Zor, and Lara gets tortured to death.
5. An aerial kung-fu fight between Superman and Ty-Zor results in Superman being lured into a trap: Lois is drowning in a tank filled with kryptonite. (This begs the question of how there can be kryptonite when Krypton didnt even explode, but.) Superman is given a choice: save her and die from radiation poisoning in the act, or stand by and watch her drown. So he goes in, saves her, and dies. Jor-El magically senses Supermans death from across the galaxy, commits hara-kiri with a rock he sharpens in his prison cell, goes to Heaven, and talks Superman into coming back to life so he can fulfill the prophecy of saving Krypton from its civil war. So Supermans soul returns to his body, and he proceeds to trash Ty-Zor and his cronies. And at the end of the film, Superman flies off in a rocket to save Krypton (which is where the second film is planned to take place).
And in light of recent events, The Age looks at democracy, Singapore-style:
I was reminded powerfully of that one afternoon. Stepping out of Singapore's state-of-the-art subway system, I rode the escalator into a small park. There stood an unkempt old man with a small pile of books for sale. It was former opposition leader J. B. Jeyaretnam.
In 2001, JB was declared bankrupt after losing a series of libel cases to government figures from Lee Kuan Yew down. Now he was banned from Parliament and reduced to selling his own books to live.
It is a strategy routinely used by Singapore's ruling People's Action Party to shut up the opposition. The courts in Singapore are an arm of government. In this case, JB's final crime was to accuse the organisers of the Tamil Language Week of being "government stooges". He was penalised more than $A500,000 in damages and court costs. It ended his political career.
Lee and his successor, Goh Chok Tong, then sued another opposition leader, Chee Soon Juan. An American-trained neuropsychologist, Chee is already banned from the next election after suggesting that Malay schoolgirls should be allowed to wear headscarves to school. The courts ruled that that was speaking on religion, a forbidden topic.
One last example: in August, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made one of his occasional gestures of liberalisation, saying Singapore must become more "open" and "inclusive". Yet days later, the thought police ordered filmmaker Martyn See to hand over his video camera and his new documentary on Chee, Singapore Rebel for Singapore law bans films "directed towards any political end". See now faces a possible two-year jail term and an $A80,000 fine.One can imagine this happening in Australia after a decade or so of unchallenged Liberal-National rule. Between the sedition laws that the government's determined to push through despite growing opposition and Australia's severe defamation laws (which. as in Singapore, are derived from English defamation laws, designed primarily to protect the interests of the establishment from the rabble), suppressing troublesome opposition should not be too difficult, requiring only the political will and lack of concern for pluralism. Perhaps within a decade, we'll see a bankrupt Bob Brown or Buffy Stott-Despoja, recently released from a prison sentence, flogging their books or JJJ Hottest 100 compilations at a flea market somewhere. Meanwhile, the Labor Party will, by then, have morphed from the shadow government to the government's shadow: a "lite" version of the Tories, whose only difference from the government is a vaguely mumbled promise to "be nicer". So no difference there, then.
Nifty objet d'art of the day: the Pong clock:
It's an embedded computer with an LCD display screen, which plays a perpetual game of Pong, with one round per minute. The right-hand side wins once a minute, except on the hour, when the left-hand side wins (and the right's score is reset); hence, the score displays the current time. Clocks go on sale next year, though there will be a downloadable screensaver soon.
In a sense, this seems to be the computer-age equivalent of those mechanical clocks from centuries past, in which tiny figures promenaded around illustrating the time of day.
(I wonder what it's implemented on. If the device contains, say, a Mac mini or an entire Linux system and X server, it would seem somewhat decadent.)
(via bOING bOING)
A hoaxer in the US Midwest has reprised the Milgram obedience experiments by calling fast-food restaurants posing as a police officer and instructing managers to strip-search employees, subjecting them to bizarre and degrading ordeals. The managers in question, being selected for unthinking obedience, never realised that anything was wrong, accepting "Officer Scott"'s authoritative tone of voice, stated reasons and the sounds of police radios in the background as sufficient reason to start obeying, and the fact that they were already obeying as sufficient reason to keep doing so, up to committing rape.
On May 29, 2002, a girl celebrating her 18th birthday -- in her first hour of her first day on the job at the McDonald's in Roosevelt, Iowa -- was forced to strip, jog naked and assume a series of embarrassing poses, all at the direction of a caller on the phone, according to court and news accounts.
He had mastered the police officer's calm but authoritative demeanor. He sprinkled law-enforcement jargon into every conversation. And he did his homework. He researched the names of regional managers and local police officers in advance, and mentioned them by name to bolster his credibility. He called some restaurants in advance, somehow getting names and descriptions of victims so he could accurately describe them later.
In her book, "Making Fast Food: From the Frying Pan into the Fryer," Canadian sociologist Ester Reiter concludes that the most prized trait in fast-food workers is obedience. "The assembly-line process very deliberately tries to take away any thought or discretion from workers," said Reiter, who teaches at Toronto's York University and who spent 10 months working at a Burger King as part of her research. "They are appendages to the machine."Several people who followed orders were jailed for rape and related crimes. The hoaxer was later found to be a 38-year-old prison guard with a fantasy of being a police officer. Meanwhile, one of the victims is suing McDonalds for allowing this to happen; McDonalds, meanwhile, blames her for not reading the employee manual where it said that strip searches were prohibited and not recognising that the caller wasn't a real police officer.
(via bOING bOING)
Melbourne's liberal-except-when-the-proprietors-pull-the-strings newspaper The Age is shocked and appalled that, on the day that convicted heroin trafficker Nguyen Tuong Van is hanged, the prime minister will be insensitive enough to attend a cricket match, rather than registering his outrage as a liberal Australian sickened by the very idea of the death penalty.
I'm not all that surprised. Could it be that one of the reasons that Howard did not protest too loudly is because, in his ideology, far from being a barbarically illiberal backwater, Singapore is a model for what a modern Australia could look like, reconciling the cherished authoritarian conformity of decades past with a dynamic economy and a place in the globalised world? Let's see: an extremely business-friendly regulatory environment, a work ethic that aggressively minimises threats to economic performance, strict censorship of the media and arts, criminalisation and marginalisation of political dissent, harsh penalties for conduct the leaders find inappropriate (such as chewing gum, for example) and the near-total power of the state over all aspects of public and private life. Add a good dose of Anglo-Saxon Christian moralism, suburban wowser ideas of propriety and traditional iconography to that and you have a perfect recipe for a "relaxed and comfortable" Australia John Howard could love.
In what The Age says is part of the hardline Christian conservative Assembly of God movement "gaining influence" across Australia, two Assembly of God councillors have won seats on the Shepparton council on a platform of banning a brothel. I wonder whether this is an isolated incident, or the sign of a larger trend of hardline religious moralists winning more power and reshaping Australia in their own image.
Scare meme of the day: if bird flu, al-Qaeda weaponised ebola or a meteor strike don't get us, alien computer viruses exploiting Seti@Home to take over Earth's computer systems just might. Assuming, of course, that the aliens understand enough about our puny earthling computer architectures, operating systems and library vulnerabilities to write a useful exploit and encode it the right way in a radio signal.
(via bOING bOING)
Never ones to allow reality to get in the way of the Great War on MP3 Terrorism, Sony BMG, the company behind the copy-protected CD rootkit, have announced that they will be adding copy protection to CDs in Australia. Perhaps someone in the Australian office missed the memo about DRM having been thoroughly discredited throughout Sony BMG by the recent rootkit fiasco. Though the company has announced that the CDs will magically prevent users from making copies without causing the problems that affected users of their CDs in the US, so that's alright then.
A key cultural difference between Britain and Australia: had recently deceased footballer George Best been Australian, he would probably have received a state funeral.
The aftermath of the Christmas party season is the busiest time of the year for photocopier technicians, thanks to drunk office workers' propensity for photocopying their bottoms, with the increasing weight of McWorlders possibly adding to the problem:
Geoff Bush from the north of England said one case he'd attended, where a young lady had cracked the glass mid-scan, also jammed the scanner so that it wasn't until the machine was fixed and her colleagues all sober that copies of her backside starting pouring from the machine.
Partly in response to this trend--or perhaps because of the "supersizing" of the western physique--Canon has now increased the thickness of its glass by an extra millimeter.
This site will be linking to a different Creative Commons-licensed song for every day of the next year:
Many of the artists available under the Creative Commons are just as good as anything you might hear on plain 'ol everyday terrestrial radio. So "what's the difference" you say? What is the difference between the artists you hear every day and the artists you'll find under the Creative Commons?
Plain and simple, the artists you hear every day, many of them very talented, have the backing of the Major Record Labels. Sony, EMI, Warner and Universal, spend millions of dollars every year, and work really, really, really hard to make sure you hear the music they are selling. They have the collective power of giants.
No, they can’t manufacture hit records. The public is a fickle beast, a ‘hit’ is a combination of marketing and the public’s will to succomb to that marketing. What they can do, is pick a big handfull of bands, throw them all at the virtual public wall, and hope something ’sticks’. And for the 100 - 200 acts a year that are lucky enough to get this big shotgun launch, out of the thousands per year that are signed by record labels, out of those thousands emerge tens. Tens of acts that will make top 40 radio what it is this year.
But what of those thousands of other acts? Well, the record label still owns the rights to their music. They can’t promote it themselves, without the lion’s share of the profits from that promotion going directly into the hands of those same record companies that failed to promote them. They signed a contract, they got a ‘deal’, the dream of all musicians who just want to pursue their art and make a living, they got the golden record deal.
CC:365 exists to showcase those that went the other way. We are here, quite simply, to turn you , the music listener on to some of the greatest music floating around the internet today.
In January 1998, two teenage death-metal fans in Milan disappeared after drinking at a pub popular with the local metalheads. The father of one of them started making inquiries at concerts and festivals, and uncovers a Satanist death cult in the metal scene, one which has been linked to a number of murders (mostly of other teenage headbangers, by the sound of it):
One of Fabio's school friends, Mario Maccione, confessed to having beaten Fabio to death with a hammer. He also revealed that the boys had been part of a wider satanic sect called the Beasts of Satan. It was revealed Andrea Bontade, a drummer, had been terrorised into committing suicide. Soon, other mysterious deaths were being linked to the Beasts.
More news on the state of scientific thought in the World's Leading Nation: An exhibition celebrating the life of Charles Darwin has failed to find a corporate sponsor in the United States as no company wants to be associated with something as reviled as the theory of evolution.
In contrast, the Creationist Museum in Ohio has recently raised US$7m in donations.
Researchers at the University of Essex are building a flock of miniature helicopters with embedded web servers. Could this be a hint to how Google plans to take over and/or index the world?
Asterix, the plucky French cartoon hero and original icon of Gallic resistance to foreign hegemony, is now taking on the Americans. Of course, since they didn't have America two millennia ago, they appear in the form of familiar-looking aliens from outer space:
In the book, the 33rd in the bestselling series, the diminutive warrior and his brave chums find themselves facing alien invaders from the planet Tadsylwien - an anagram of that unassailable US icon, Walt Disney.
The ruler of the alien world is called Hubs - I'll leave you to work that particular puzzler out for yourself - and, according to one invader with more than a passing resemblance to Mickey Mouse, Hubs has sent them to Earth in a futile search for the Gauls' "stockpile of lethal weapons".
Throughout its existence, the Soviet Union went to great efforts producing extremely accurate maps of the entire world, often containing information omitted from local maps. The information was often gathered by surreptitious means, especially in Western countries. And because the Commies didn't believe in intellectual property and the aggressive monetisation of all possible rights, these maps are now claimed to be in the public domain (though they are currently illegal in the UK, because of alleged copyright violations; the articles linked on the page, however, argue that the maps did not use Ordnance Survey data, though the Ordnance Survey still argues that the maps illegally undermine its monopoly), which could mean that, should digitised versions find their way onto the net, they may prove invaluable to open mapping projects.
And here is a Pravda article mentioning the alarm that occurred in Sweden when they found out that the Russians had better maps of Sweden than they did, and allegations that a lot of the data was gathered by KGB agents posing as the children of Swedish Communists who moved to the USSR in the 1930s and then disappeared in Stalin's purges.
(via bOING bOING)
It has been revealed that, during the Falklands War, Margaret Thatcher threatened a nuclear strike on Buenos Aires unless the French handed over the codes for disabling Argentina's (French-made) missiles.
Mr Mitterrand — who once described Mrs Thatcher as "the eyes of Caligula and the mouth of Marilyn Monroe" — went on: "One cannot win against the insular syndrome of an unbridled Englishwoman. Provoke a nuclear war for a few islands inhabited by three sheep as hairy as they are freezing! But it's a good job I gave way. Otherwise, I assure you, the lady's metallic finger would have hit the button."Then again, would Britain have been able to launch a nuclear strike without US approval back then? These days, the British nuclear arsenal is operated under contract by a US defense firm, whose technicians apparently have instructions to require confirmation from the Pentagon before launching missiles. Then again, it is not entirely clear how difficult it would be for a determined Britain to get around these restrictions, or indeed that Reagan (who, famously, once went on air and announced, in jest, that the US was launching a massive nuclear strike against the "Evil Empire") would have vetoed a strike on Argentina.
Meanwhile, Mitterrand got his own back with the Eurotunnel, triumphing where Napoleon had failed, at least in his own mind:
France, he said, would have the last word. "I'll build a tunnel under the Channel. I'll succeed where Napoleon III failed. And do you know why she'll accept my tunnel? I'll flatter her shopkeeper's spirit. I'll tell her it won't cost the Crown a penny."
Apparently today was No Music Day. Or so Bill Drummond would have you believe.
An essay by an American correspondent on what it feels like to be an atheist:
Imagine, seriously imagine for a moment now, that these people, the vast majority of the electorate, vote for politicians based in large part on what they think Santa wants, campaign speeches all end with "Be good or Santa won't come to visit". And most of these voters won't even consider voting for someone who doesn't believe in Santa Claus and his factory at the North Pole. Yet they routinely congratulate themselves as belonging to the most graciously tolerant and open minded people in all of history.
Picture your life unfolding in this world: As a child you also believe in Santa because your parents told you to, but as you grow up you become skeptical, some things just don't seem to add up. By the time you're six or seven years-old, you start asking legitimate questions like "How does Santa get down the little chimney, how does Santa get the time to visit each house, how does Santa know the kids who've been good from the ones who've been bad" and so forth. These questions elicit first strangely evasive answers devoid of content and a general sense of unease among the adults you're asking. Over the next few years that moves onto reactions of scorn, patronizing insults, and open hostility. But never, ever one single answer that holds up over time.
Finally you come to suspect there is a real possibility that there is no literal Santa Claus at the North Pole with a toy factory run by elves and flying reindeer. You began gently asking other folks about your concern. But, when you confide in a few of your most trusted friends and closest family members that the whole Santa idea is a nice sentiment to be sure, but it doesn't make much rational sense and there is no evidence for it, the reaction ranges from puzzlement, to pity, to shock, to anger, to open accusations and implications that you're some kind of mental defective for even wondering about it.
You don't understand what's going on, none of this Santa stuff makes any sense and there's zero evidence for it, why can't everyone just admit that? What's the big conspiracy about? Why is everyone pretending there really is a Santa? Then it slowly dawns on you, around age ten or eleven ... the chilling, horrible truth:
They're Not Pretending. They REALLY Do Believe There Is a Santa Claus.I'm wondering: is the author of this piece originally from some redneck backwater, or is such open hostility to atheism a mainstream part of American culture?
A request for help from one "Adoh Fadduq" of the United Arab Emirates, found in gnu.emacs.help:
Insha Allah, I am now trying to choose an editor for my software development and typesetting work. I have closely considered Emacs, which fits my needs in some respects. I do, however, feel that there is a big security issue with it for me and my brethren: Emacs was largely developed by Jews and for Jews. Considering how cunning the Jews are, I would not be surprised to find that they have hidden special bugs and booby traps inside emacs, in order to spy on and disrupt work of my Allah believing brethren. Are my concerns justified?
It looks like they're remaking The Prisoner. The new series is not going to be set in Portmeirion and is not going to have "the arty 'pop' feel of the original". Given that the remake is being done by Sky One, (News Corporation's mass-entertainment network and "the chavs' favourite channel" according to media troll and self-styled chav Julie Burchill), we can probably expect something between 24-style patriotic action thrillers and celebrity-sexploitation reality TV; in other words, unsubtle, lowbrow, cheap and of little interest to those who liked the original series.
Some people have strange ways of celebrating their sports teams' victories, such as by spontaneously castrating themselves with wire cutters.
"I'd told my pal Gethin Probert before the game that Wales didn't stand a chance," Mr Huish told The Sun. "It wasn't a bet but I said I'd cut my b*lls off if we won."I guess he showed his mates that he was a man of his word and had the balls to do it, 'had' being the operative word.
Australian lingerie model arrested for ecstasy possession in Bali released. Michelle Leslie, best known for appearing in an underwear ad, has been released from prison and deported as a criminal after the prosecution in her ecstasy-possession case agreed to only seek a penalty of 3 months' imprisonment (i.e., the time served). It is not clear whether she would have received a more severe sentence had (a) she not allegedly been with the son of Indonesia's Economics Minister at the time of the arrest, or (b) the Indonesians not feared hordes of bloody-minded tabloid-reading Ugly Australians boycotting Bali and demanding their tsunami-aid donations back if one of their sheilas went down.
I suspect that the pivotal factor in Leslie's early release was not her showing up in a burqa at her trial and announcing that she had converted to Islam, seemingly oblivious to the fact that (a) Bali is a largely Hindu province, and (b) burqas are not commonly worn in Indonesia. Oddly enough, she did not seem to be observing Islamic traditions of modest dress upon release; perhaps when she sells her story to Womens' Weekly or the Herald-Sun, she'll say that Islam was just a phase she was going through, as if it were Kabbala or Scientology or Hollywood Buddhism or something. (Though doesn't converting from Islam technically make her an apostate? I wonder whether she'll end up with a fatwa on her head.)
Witnesses said the laws were so wide they could be used to prosecute ACTU secretary Greg Combet for his remarks urging opposition to the new industrial laws, and could be applied to those who had supported resistance movements, including Fretilin in East Timor, and Nelson Mandela's African National Congress.
He predicted police investigations into normal crimes would "morph" into terrorism investigations because the new laws gave police such broad powers to search properties.One group that is not complaining about the new laws is the Australian Federal Police, who give their word that the laws would be used "judiciously and cautiously". Which presumably means that officers will only ride roughshod over civil rights when the party in question is a pinko/greeno ratbag, suspiciously dark-skinned, has a bad attitude, or is otherwise un-Australian. Welcome to Bjelkeland, Australians.
The new laws could effectively outlaw any form of dissent stronger than writing a politely-worded letter to one's MP. Of course, no-one expects Howard's secret police to round up all refugee-rights campaigners, Greens voters, socialists and trade unionists and send them to gulags in the far north. They won't need to; the real purpose will be the chilling effect achieved after a few troublemakers have been made examples of, when it is known that being too outspoken in the wrong way about our government, our Queen or our allies, associating with the wrong people, or even expressing general discontent in the wrong way, can be dangerous. This will drive those with anything to lose away from political activism, leaving only a hard core of cranks who can be easily ignored, much as in that beacon of meticulously managed civil society, Singapore.
You learn something new every day. Apparently, in England, it is illegal to sell anything that looks, smells or feels like a piece of fruit but isn't:
Novelty candles that look like strawberries or apples are a legal no-no, and shops that sell them can be heavily fined (up to £20,000) because of the danger of children eating them.I wonder if that's enforced, and whether you have the Fruit Squad raiding import shops in shabby high streets and seizing bunches of plastic grapes and such.
I guess this means you won't be seeing fruit-shaped fairy lights or banana-shaped mobile-phone cozies in England any time soon. It's a good thing that there's no law against selling things that look like sushi but aren't
Scientists have developed a camera that takes pictures that can be refocussed afterward, by keeping track not only of the intensity of incoming light but of its angle as well.
Now, Pat Hanrahan and his team at Stanford University have figured out how to adjust the light rays after they have reached the camera. They inserted a sheet of 90,000 lenses, each just 125 micrometres across, between the camera's main lens and the image sensor. The angle of the light rays that strike each microlens is recorded, as well as the amount of light arriving along each ray. Software can then be used to adjust these values for each microlens to reconstruct what the image would have looked like if it had been properly focused. That also means any part of the image can be refocused - not just the main subject.The researchers' page on the "light field camera" includes papers and a gallery of refocusable images, and videos of focussing through a frozen moment. The examples look uncanny, as if splashes of water frozen in space were unbelievably intricate dioramas.
Applications of this technology include surveillance (where being able to change focus after the fact would often be useful) and motion photography; I imagine we may see this in films, music videos and ads soon enough as well.
Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a story of bohemian, intellectual bootywhang in Communist Prague, has acquired a reputation as a standard seduction prop. Though, according to Maciej Ceglowski, it is a very mediocre book; the literary equivalent of one of those high-concept Working Title films that purports to be sophisticated art-house fare for people who like the aura of intellectuality without the arduous chore of being made to think (or, for that matter, read subtitles):
Milan Kundera is the Dave Matthews of Slavic letters, a talented hack, certainly a hack who's paid his dues, but a hack nonetheless. And by his own admission, this is his worst book. If you strip off the exoticism of Brezhnev-era Czechoslovakia (this rinses off easily in soapy water), you are left with a book full of vapid characters bouncing against each other like little perfectly elastic balls of condensed ego. And every twenty pages the story steps outside for a cigarette so that the author can deliver a short philosophical homily. Kundera has a sterile, cleanroom writing style meant to suggest that he is a surgeon expertly dissecting the human condition before your eyes, but if you look a little more closely, you see he's just performing an autopsy on a mannequin. Or more accurately, a RealDoll.Ceglowski goes on to recommend a set of books by Slavic authors much better than Kundera, and rate their date-impressing potential. He's right on the money for The Master and Margarita (in terms of it being a cracking good read, at least), and I get the feeling that I'm going to have to read Adventures of the Good Soldier Svejk.
Details have emerged of the next Belle & Sebastian album. It'll be titled "The Life Pursuit", comes out on the 6th of February, and has 13 tracks, two of which are titled "Another Sunny Day" (in homage to the Sarah Records band perhaps?) and "Mornington Crescent" (presumably after the game; either that or written during a bad delay on the Northern Line). The tweeness quota is rounded out by the title of the first single, "Funny Little Frog", and the Stuart Murdoch Bible-reference quota is taken care of by "Act of the Apostle", Part 1 and Part 2.
There is also something about "another B&S album (of sorts)" being released in three weeks, though no further details. Could this be the children's song compilation that Momus was too outré to be accepted for?
"We know firsthand how the story gets short-changed every time a reality show gets taken over by an advertiser," said the Writers Guild of America. "We're the ones forced to put in long hours just to figure out how we're going to embed that can of soda into the storyline eight more times before the final episode."
Product placement - whereby items are woven into programmes to satisfy advertisers - has become rife on US television as revenue from traditional commercials has dropped. It is most common in reality shows such as The Contender, which recorded 7,500 instances last year. It can also be seen in fiction programmes. In an episode of Desperate Housewives broadcast this year, one of the lead characters finds work as a model, buys a Buick LaCrosse and wastes no time showing it off to her friends at the mall. Two Buick commercials ran during the same episode.The Writers' Guild of America wants a statement at the beginning of each show, listing the incidences of product placement in the programme, in the hope that such statements counteract the economic pressure to shovel in more products into each script, with the story taking a back seat to commercial considerations.
A New York Times article hypothesises on the significance of stuffed toys lashed to the front of trucks:
Robert Marbury, an artist who photographed dozens of Manhattan bumper fauna for a project in 2000 (see urbanbeast.com/faq/strapped.html), said he had once asked a trash hauler why he had a family of three mismatched bears strapped to his rig. "He said: 'Yo, man, I drive a garbage truck. How am I going to get the ladies to look at me?' " Mr. Marbury recalled.
Monroe Denton, a lecturer in art history at the School of Visual Arts, traced the phenomenon's roots back to the figureheads that have animated bows of ships since the time of the pharaohs. "There was some sort of heraldic device to deny the fact of this gigantic machine," he said. "You would have these humanizing forms, anthropomorphic forms - a device that both proclaims the identity of the machine and conceals it."
"There's a transference in this," she said. "There's this soft, flesh-and-bone sanitation worker, who knows very well they could be crushed against this truck. The creature could be the sanitation worker in a very dangerous position, so the animal could be a stand-in."
"Binding a soft thing to a very powerful truck - there's a kind of macho thing about that," she said.
Scooby's story lends credence to the theory of Mr. Denton, the art historian, that the grille-mounted stuffed animal draws from the same well as the "abject art" movement that flourished in the 1990's and trafficked heavily in images of filth and of distressed bodies.
(via bOING bOING)
According to this page, Slowdive's three albums are about to be rereleased in remastered form. Just For A Day and Souvlaki come with bonus discs, containing EP tracks and, in the latter case, bonus tracks from the US edition. Their last album, the glorious Pygmalion is a single disc with no extras, though it's good to see it see the light of day again.
It would have been nice to see some of Slowdive's unreleased demo/outtake tracks (such as the "Souvlaki Demos" and "Pygmalion Demos" that have been floating around; the latter show an electronic sparseness that prefigured the likes of M83 and Ulrich Schnauss), though I'm not complaining. Also, given the fact that it's on Castle and not Sony (who owns the back-catalogue), chances are it won't evil your computer.
There is apparently an entire subculture in the US of people who build sex machines. So much so that the Museum of Sex in New York is having an exhibition on the subject, and for those not in New York, there is a book.
These are tinkerers, people who like to mess with all things mechanical. And they have a sense of creative invention — they are proud of these things when they create them. But also they think about sex a lot and this is what resulted from that combination. It's not just a sculptural thing. They are making it for a purpose. A number of them are married, they are making it to try and introduce something to their wives. Some may be using it to attract women — or they think it might attract women. And for some of them it's a business. But they are not part of a scene, like a sexual scene. It's more that they got the idea independently that this is something they wanted to make, they wanted to have.The machines look like anything from dentists' chairs to Luxo lamps, with conspicuous plastic appendages attached. One appears to be a modified sledgehammer, and looks frightening. There is even a coffin-shaped one built by a couple of goth kids (aww, isn't that cute!).
A hardware hacker with a very steady hand builds a head-up computer display into a pair of slim-line sunglasses. His ultimate goal is to fit sunglasses, a video camera and a microphone, covertly, into what looks like an ordinary pair of sunglasses, effectively making a Snow Crash-style gargoyle rig (just add a wearable computer).
Bad news for victims of US Government mind control: a MIT study has shown that, whilst wrapping your head in aluminium foil attenuates some radio frequencies, it amplifies others, including some reserved for government use:
The helmets amplify frequency bands that coincide with those allocated to the US government between 1.2 Ghz and 1.4 Ghz. According to the FCC, These bands are supposedly reserved for ''radio location'' (ie, GPS), and other communications with satellites (see, for example, ). The 2.6 Ghz band coincides with mobile phone technology. Though not affiliated by government, these bands are at the hands of multinational corporations.
It requires no stretch of the imagination to conclude that the current helmet craze is likely to have been propagated by the Government, possibly with the involvement of the FCC. We hope this report will encourage the paranoid community to develop improved helmet designs to avoid falling prey to these shortcomings.
(via Mind Hacks)
A New Zealander is attempting to sail around the world on a boat powered by human fat. Peter Bethune, a former oil exploration engineer turned biofuels advocate, is asking overweight people to donate spare body fat, to be extracted by liposuction, which will be refined into biodiesel and used to power his trimaran.
It looks like Sony's CD copy protection compromises Macintoshes too; at least if you're trusting enough to enter the administrator password. Which just means that Sony's copy-protection geeks haven't found a local privilege-escalation exploit in MacOS X that they can use. (I'm sure that Sony would believe that they are within their rights to do this because their prerogative to control access to their intellectual property by all means necessary overrides the user's right to maintain the integrity of their computer, and the ability to use it to potentially use Sony's IP in unapproved ways.)
(via bOING bOING)
In parts of Nigeria, postal/email scams are seen as a game and a matter of national pride, of the plucky underdog getting one over rich, greedy, stupid Westerners, or maghas as they're referred to. So much so that there's a hit pop song about the practice:
419 is just a game, you are the losers, we are the winners.
White people are greedy, I can say they are greedy
White men, I will eat your dollars, will take your money and disappear.
The Nokia 770 Internet Tablet, a hand-held, Linux-based, WiFi- and Bluetooth-enabled web-browsing/email appliance, is out. In the UK, it's selling for £245, and appears to be out of stock already. It costs twice as much as the other hackable, Linux-based gadget, the GP2X, though has wireless communications technologies (which the GP2X lacks altogether) and more than four times the screen resolution; however, external storage is limited to the smaller RS-MMC cards, as opposed to the somewhat larger SD cards the GP2X takes; also, while it's likely that someone will port MAME to it, playing arcade games with the nagivation pad probably won't be as comfortable as with the GP2X's controls. I'd have one of each, had I £370 I had no better use for and a jacket with infinitely capacious pockets.
And here there is a round up of reviews of the Nokia 770.
Ironic juxtaposition of the day:
On one side of a bus shelter in west London, the following iPod ad:
One of the journalists who covered the Michael Jackson trial is going into the wine business, by marketing a brand of wine named Jesus Juice. The label on the bottles will feature a photograph of a Jackson-like figure in a crucifixion pose, wearing one glove and a fedora:
Jackson's lawyers have threatened to sue the winemaker. It is not clear on what grounds: will they claim that Jackson owns the trademark "Jesus Juice", or instead claim false advertising given that it is a wine rather than a sugary alcopop?
flickrGraph is an applet for graphically browsing social networks on Flickr, not unlike the TouchGraph LiveJournal Browser in concept. Except, of course, it is a Flash applet, which means that it (a) looks k3wler, as large full-colour icons jiggle, bounce and rotate, and (b) is less usable, as large full-colour icons take up lots of screen space, bounce unstoppably and obscure controls.
Google Local, formerly known as Google Maps, is now available for mobile phones. There are Java applets which will run on a variety of phones and allow you to scroll and zoom around the Google Maps map. For some reason, you can't zoom in to street level, at least for the UK. Also, being able to bookmark locations would be good. Other than that, it's pretty nifty, and could end up giving PDA-based static map software like Tube a run for its money.
A list of expensive products for "audiophiles" with more money than common sense. It includes the usual sorts of things: $30,000 speaker cables, "cable elevators" to keep said cables from being compromised by contact with carpet, $1,500 power cords to ensure that the electricity that powers your hi-fi reaches it in pristine condition (apparently the high voltage lines outside your house aren't a problem, presumably because you can't pay to replace them with ridiculously expensive versions), and special, magically expensive, pieces of wood; as well as various hand-wavey mystical artefacts, such as lacquer which removes "overtones" and a magic chip which, when placed on a CD player, makes CDs sound better (apparently it works by means of quantum physics), not to a "CD clarifier" which not only enhances the sound of audio CDs, but also enhances the experience of "Multimedia CD-ROMs and Photo CDs". (I wonder if it'll make your copy of Microsoft Office work better too.)
This person is planning to build his own home-brewed GSM mobile phone, out of an ARM-based Linux board and a GSM module. It doesn't appear that he's quite hardc0re (or insane) enough to write his own GSM stack over software radio and risk a visit from
the FCC Ofcom's SWAT team, though at the end of the day, he will end up with a phone that runs Debian.
(via bOING bOING)
Berlin artists put an iMac, a battery and a video projector in a suitcase, and magnetically attach it to the side of a subway train to project visuals in the tunnel outside the windows (QuickTime video), and somehow avoid getting arrested/shot for suspected terrorism.
A profile of Singapore's executioner, 73-year-old Darshan Singh, who learned the ropes (literally) in the last days of the British Empire and remains in the job because no-one else will do it:
"He tried to train two would-be hangmen to replace him, a Malaysian and a Chinese, both in the prison service," the colleague said. "But when it came to pulling the lever for the real thing, they both froze and could not do it. The Chinese guy, a prison officer, became so distraught he walked out immediately and resigned from the prison service altogether."
On the day before his execution, Mr Singh will lead him to a set of scales close to his death-row cell to weigh him. Mr Singh will use the Official Table of Drops, published by the British Home Office in 1913, to calculate the correct length of rope for the hanging.
Mr Singh joined the British colonial prison service in the mid-1950s after arriving from Malaysia. When the long-established British hangman Mr Seymour retired, Singh, then 27, volunteered for the job. He was attracted by the bonus payment for executions.Singh holds a world record for single-handedly hanging the most men in one day — 18, in 1963 — and was an accomplished cricketer in his youth, a skill which has, in the past, translated into caning prisoners. He is now retired, but executes convicted prisoners by special arrangement.
His next client is likely to be convicted Australian drug trafficker Van Tuong Nguyen, assuming the last-minute pleas for clemency don't succeed (which they are rather unlikely to). (Aside: why exactly are Amnesty International devoting their resources to campaigning for clemency for him? Aren't there political prisoners, civil-rights campaigners and such being imprisoned and tortured across the world? Everybody knows that Singapore automatically executes anyone caught in possession of more than a few grammes of heroin. Nguyen was caught several orders of magnitude over the limit; which means that he took the calculated risk of smuggling heroin through Singapore. Surely campaigning for clemency for short-sighted opportunists whose luck happened to run out (not to mention heroin traffickers) is not the best use of Amnesty members' dues.)
(via bOING bOING)
In the aftermath of the KaZaA lawsuit, proprietary Windows file-sharing service Grokster suspends operations. Champagne corks pop across Los Angeles as the RIAA declares November 8 to be known, forevermore, as Victory Against Copyright Terrorism Day.
An article looking at the console games scene in Brazil, where due to a number of factors, old systems killed off as obsolete in McWorld enjoy a new lease of life, and/or a freaky Frankensteinian afterlife:
Not only did Brazil embrace this marvel in video game history, but an increasing number of pirate consoles began appearing with additional features in an effort to beat the abundant competition. To differentiate between the two largest consumer bases, America and Japan, Nintendo had stemmed the import and export of games by employing different cartridge connections between the Famicom (Japanese version with a 60-pin connector) and the NES (American version with 72-pins). Since Brazil had never been properly established on Nintendo's world map, no marketing decision had been made to determine how sales would be controlled. Being stuck in the middle, with an increasing number of legal and illegal NES cartridges being shipped in from across the globe, clone consoles began appearing in Brazil with two connectors to accept either of the formats. On top of that, some pirate cartridge manufacturers began turning out double-ended casings, with 60-pins at one end and 72 on the other! Many of the NES and 2600 clones, still available today, even come with a multitude of games built into the system.
(via bOING bOING)
To help alleviate Melbourne's transport woes, an academic specialist in public transport has called for a Melbourne "tube" line. The line would bypass the already congested above-ground transport infrastructure and would cut under the centre of Melbourne, from South Yarra in the south to Melbourne University in the inner north.
So, in short, what we currently have looks like:
Were Professor Currie's proposal to be implemented, it'd look something like:
Though why not stop there? There was, a while ago, a proposal to build an underground line from North Melbourne, across the inner north (including Melbourne University), through to the Eastern Freeway and along the centre of that to Doncaster and the suburbs. Were that to be resurrected and combined with this plan, it would start to look like:
Of course, the chances of seeing anything of this sort happen are not good.
The latest innovation from the US intellectual-property industry, following software patents and business model patents, is plot patents, i.e., the possibility of patenting a storyline and suing those thieves, parasites and second-handers who infringe on it, ushering in a new golden age of Randian/Galambosian creativity and wealth, and/or a new dark age where freedom of expression belongs solely to those with deep pockets or powerful backers:
The value of a performance is protected by copyright; the value of an invention is not. An artistic innovator is given but two choices absent patent protection: to sacrificially innovate for the unearned benefit of thieves, or to not innovate. Both options are morally and practically repulsive.The firm in question is confident that storyline patents will stand up in court, and has started filing and publishing them; for a fee, you can patent your latest story. Mind you, the US Patent Office hasn't actually decided on whether such patents are valid, but until and unless it shoots them down, the holders of the applications are entitled to litigate against those infringing their patents.
(via bOING bOING)
This month is the 15th anniversary of the creation of the first web page, and ultimately the World-Wide Web; an occurrence made more remarkable when you think that something like that could not arise today, because the brief window of the possibility of disruptive technologies has largely been closed by powerful vested interests aware of their consequences:
Imagine a network with the opposite design. Imagine that your terminal came hardwired from the manufacturer with a particular set of programs and functions. No experimenting with new technologies developed by third parties instant messaging, Google Earth, flash animations...Imagine also that the network was closed and flowed from a central source. More like pay-television than web. No one can decide on a whim to create a new site. The New York Times might secure a foothold on such a network. Your blog, or Wikipedia, or Jib Jab need not apply. Imagine that the software and protocols were proprietary. You could not design a new service to run on this system, because you do not know what the system is and, anyway, it might be illegal. Imagine something with all the excitement and creativity of a train timetable.
The web developed because we went in the opposite direction towards openness and lack of centralised control. Unless you believe that some invisible hand of technological inevitability is pushing us towards openness I am a sceptic we have a remarkable historical conjunction of technologies.
Why might we not create the web today? The web became hugely popular too quickly to control. The lawyers and policymakers and copyright holders were not there at the time of its conception. What would they have said, had they been? What would a web designed by the World Intellectual Property Organisation or the Disney Corporation have looked like? It would have looked more like pay-television, or Minitel, the French computer network. Beforehand, the logic of control always makes sense. Allow anyone to connect to the network? Anyone to decide what content to put up? That is a recipe for piracy and pornography.Then again, the WIPO-sanctioned, corporate-controlled walled-garden web would have probably met with an underwhelming reception and withered away like AOL or the original MSN, while, somewhere, an underground, decentralised network evolved by a series of accidents. Unless, of course, they banned and eradicated the original, anarchic Internet and replaced it with Internet 2.0™, a network designed from the ground up for control, and somehow managed not to send the communications-dependent world economy into a depression in doing so.
America's love affair with the Hummer, the oversized, aggressively ugly SUV that has become synonymous with everything from macho triumphalism to crass consumerism, may be over. Thanks to rising petrol prices, dealerships are finding themselves with a glut of unsold Hummers. Of course, they can't just keep them near the showrooms, because that would scare potential buyers away, so they drive them to vast parking lots, not unlike the graveyards of B-52 bombers in the desert. I wonder if they're visible from satellite photographs?
Apparently the thrill of driving Hummers back and forth between the remote storage lot and the dealer showroom wears off quickly, as each round trip requires that another five gallons of fuel be dispensed in order to ensure a complete round trip.
A new report shows that Melbourne's public transport system is close to catastrophic collapse, due to underfunding and neglect in favour of cars. With the greatest length of roads per capita in Australia, the third lowest public transport patronage of fourteen cities surveyed, the lowest relative cost of driving to catching public transport, and the Bracks government's record spending on freeway building, Melbourne is changing from the most livable city to the most drivable city, a venerable Houston-under-the-Southern-Cross.
The man behind the new report and one of the world's top transport academics, Professor Peter Newman, warns the Government it will lose next year's election if it does not commit to a wide-ranging series of public transport projects.I thought the problem was precisely the opposite: that winning a state election depended on marginal outer-suburban electorates, where voters don't use public transport, have already invested in cars (one per household member of driving age, typically) and want good roads to take them where they need to go, rather than seeing their taxes squandered on trains and trams for a tiny elite of latte-sipping inner-city types.
Of course, from my experience, a big part of it is the fact that public transport in Melbourne is run to a beggars-can't-be-choosers philosophy. It is assumed that those who want a comfortable ride, rather than standing all the way nose-to-armpit with other strangers, have invested in cars and parking space, and so public transport is organised as the cheapest possible way of getting the poor wretches who can't afford cars from their housing commission flats to the dole office or call centre. Which is the only way that pulling the seats out of trams to make more standing room could make sense. And why those who can afford to avoid public transport do so, further exacerbating the vicious circle.
The privatisation programmes are also a problem, with a big chunk of public transport money being paid to the new owners of the system to keep them from packing up and leaving. Of course, being publicly-traded corporations, they have a duty to their shareholders to squeeze the most profit from the least investment.
There is more detail here about the present state of affairs; and here is a map of what Melbourne's train network could (and should) look like to meet demand. It includes all the old favourites (lines to Rowville via Monash University and to Doncaster down the Eastern Freeway), as well as two new branches from the Epping line. Mind you, adding all those branches to the various lines would probably necessitate either adding another layer to the City Loop or having trains stop frustratingly short of the loop. The idea floated in a previous report, of having a second line encircling the inner north, going from North Melbourne, via Fitzroy, to the Eastern Freeway and Doncaster, could be better.
The latest instalment in the drawn-out death of film photography: veteran German photographic film company Agfa has declared bankruptcy, and is expected to stop operating by the end of the year.
Agfa has its origins in Germany in 1867 marketing its first colour film in 1936. Until Fuji became a market force, Agfa was the alternative to the dominant player, Kodak. Unlike Ilford, which has reacted to the change in photographic technology by using its paper-making expertise to move into the production of superior inkjet papers, Agfa appears to have misjudged the size and permanence of the digital tidal wave.In other words, someone at Agfa decided that digital photography was just a passing fad or a niche interest. Oops!
A 16-year-old Japanese girl has been arrested for poisoning her mother and keeping a blog about it, recording the results. The girl, a member of an elite high-school chemistry club, was apparently emulating British teenage poisoner Graham Young, subject of the cult film The Young Poisoner's Handbook, up to using thallium as her poison of choice:
"Mother has been sick since yesterday, having a rash all over her body," the Asahi Shimbun newspaper quoted the girl as writing on August 19 on the online journal, which was kept under a male name.
Another daily newspaper, the Mainichi Shimbun, reported the blog said on September 12: "Mother is sick today, too. She had been complaining her legs have been out of it for two or three days and she has finally become almost unable to move."The girl also is reported to have kept severed animal body parts in her room. (Which seems to contradict Momus' assertion that the Japanese don't get goth because theirs is not a Judaeo-Christian culture, but I digress.)
In a rush to stop an "imminent terrorist attack", Australia is about to pass sweeping "anti-terrorism" laws, which include sedition laws that effectively criminalise many forms of protest and dissent, and indeed much art and commentary critical of the state of affairs could fall foul of them:
Gill's visual record of the Eureka Stockade, Tucker's images of evil and Nolan's post-World War II paintings are just some of the works that might have offended the sedition clause in the proposed legislation, says Tamara Winikoff, the executive director of the National Association for the Visual Arts.
Playwright David Williamson, yesterday did not mince his words: "It's one of the major functions of art — to look critically at what's going on around you. I think this is the most authoritarian government this country has ever had and it doesn't like voices of dissent.
"You get the feeling that the concept of democracy is not strongly held by this government. It's as if there's only one political line, one opinion. Everything else is attacked with a ferocity unlike anything in our nation's history."Welcome to Joh Bjelke-Petersen's Queensland, Australians.
And here is an article from those known Comsymps at Indymedia, on how, far from being "un-Australian", sweeping sedition laws and the criminalisation of dissent are fine Australian traditions.
Meanwhile, while the 24-style high drama of the terror laws (will they pass them in time for Jack Bauer to capture the bad guys? Stay tuned.) rages in the front pages, the government's Dickensian industrial relations laws, whose details have just been released, are slipping under the radar.
The apolitical silent majority of Australians, bathed in the nurturing glow of their TVs in their suburban living rooms, is on record as being "relaxed and comfortable" with the changes.
Between the time absinthe was banned in the early 20th century and when it was (accidentally) legalised in the EU in 1988, the details of how to make it were lost. That is, until a microbiologists from New Orleans reverse-engineered it, using samples from old bottles and a mass spectrometer::
Breaux explains how the testing works. He takes a bottle of the liqueur, inserts a syringe through the cork (absinthe oxidizes like wine once the bottle is open), and extracts a few milliliters. He transfers the sample into a vial, which is lifted by a robotic arm into the gas chromatography tower. There it is separated into its components. Then the mass spectrometer identifies them and measures their relative quantities.
Breaux wasn't the only one rediscovering the long-banned beverage. In Europe, food regulations adopted by the EU in 1988 had neglected to mention absinthe, and when they superseded national laws, the drink was effectively re-legalized. New distilleries were popping up all over Europe, selling what Breaux dismisses as "mouthwash and vodka in a bottle, with some aromatherapy oil." Absinthe had disappeared so completely for so long that no one knew how to make it anymore.
At the EASI lab, Breaux ran tests on the pre-ban absinthe samples, as well as on samples spiked with thujone (from the very bottle I had sniffed). This allowed him to isolate the toxic compound. He spent his free time studying the test results, and late one night in June 2000 he had his answer. "I was stunned. Everything that I had been told was complete nonsense." In the antique absinthes he had collected, the thujone content was an order of magnitude smaller than Arnold's predictions. In many instances, it was a homeopathically minuscule 5 parts per million.After debunking the widespread belief about thujone being the key ingredient differentiating absinthe from ordinary alcoholic beverages, Ted Breaux went on to use his knowledge to create a variety of absinthe named Nouvelle-Orléans, which went on to win awards. Despite its name, Nouvelle-Orléans is made in France, as absinthe is still illegal in the US (and, by the sound of it, as difficult to get hold of as marihuana).
"It's like an herbal speedball," he says. "Some of the compounds are excitatory, some are sedative. That's the real reason artists liked it. Drink two or three glasses and you can feel the effects of the alcohol, but your mind stays clear - you can still work."
(via bOING bOING)
US mail-order indie-pop label Shelflife is moving from San Francisco to somewhere in Southern California, and is thus having a sale. Most of their catalogue is for sale for $1 per item, while stocks last; if you're into fey indie jangle-pop and bossa-pop, there is a fair amount here you may find interesting.
Belle & Sebastian have announced their next UK tour, in January and February of 2006. Tickets go on sale on Thursday at 9am.
The thing about being in bed with a fever and a PowerBook is that one is never quite sure where one ends and the other begins.
Another reason to avoid "Copy Controlled"/"Copy Protected" CDs: some of them (at least the ones from Sony BMG) install rootkits on your Windows PC; ones which, if an attempt is made to remove them, disable your CD-ROM drive. Someone at Sony BMG should go to jail for this, though probably won't.