The Null Device
The latest trend for American punk rockers, indie-rock hipsters, Mod scooterists, hardcore straightedgers and such seems to be joining Masonic lodges. Freemasonry, which was once at the centre of Enlightenment radicalism, and later exerted untold influence over the business, political and legal worlds (not to mention wacky hijinks in 1920s America), had recently ossified into a stodgy, conservative institution, seemingly comprised of a dwindling number of old men. Now the lodges' ranks are being swollen with members of youth-oriented subcultures looking for camaraderie and networking opportunities.
“It’s kind of like a history class that no one else can take,” said Dave Norton, drummer for Victory at Sea and The Men. He believes his membership in the fraternal organization will be especially rewarding when he tours Europe later this year.Of course, Masonry has its critics. Traditional lodges only allow men to join (though there are womens' auxilliary lodges, and even mixed ones), atheists are not allowed to join (unless they're hypocrites and/or flexible with interpreting what a "higher power" is), and the institution has become somewhat conservative over the years. It could be that punks and/or hipsters joining Freemasonry is a sign of the conformism of countercultures (or perhaps of some countercultures; vide Jello Biafra's denunciation of punk's devolution into a conformistic fashion cult). Though, in part, it could also be the latest instance of the rustic/archaic tendency in indie-rock adorning itself in increasingly anachronistic symbols.
(via Boing Boing)
The New York Times has a piece on the works of Paul Otlet, a Belgian who, between the late 19th century and World War 2, invented early forms of hypertext, search engines, the semantic web and even social software. Of course, not having digital computers to work with, his "Mundaneum" had a vaguely Terry-Gilliam's-Brazil quality about it, relying on telegraphs, vast numbers of index cards, armies of clerks and analogue terminals referred to as "electric telescopes".
The government granted them space in a government building, where Otlet expanded the operation. He hired more staff, and established a fee-based research service that allowed anyone in the world to submit a query via mail or telegraph — a kind of analog search engine. Inquiries poured in from all over the world, more than 1,500 a year, on topics as diverse as boomerangs and Bulgarian finance.
Since there was no such thing as electronic data storage in the 1920s, Otlet had to invent it. He started writing at length about the possibility of electronic media storage, culminating in a 1934 book, “Monde,” where he laid out his vision of a “mechanical, collective brain” that would house all the world’s information, made readily accessible over a global telecommunications network.Alas, when the Nazis took Belgium, they destroyed most of what he had achieved and he died a broken man, all but forgotten until a graduate student found what remained of the Mundaneum in 1968. 10 years ago, a museum dedicated to Mr. Otlet's singular vision was established:
The archive’s sheer sprawl reveals both the possibilities and the limits of Otlet’s original vision. Otlet envisioned a team of professional catalogers analyzing every piece of incoming information, a philosophy that runs counter to the bottom-up ethos of the Web.
Just as Otlet’s vision required a group of trained catalogers to classify the world’s knowledge, so the Semantic Web hinges on an elite class of programmers to formulate descriptions for a potentially vast range of information. For those who advocate such labor-intensive data schemes, the fate of the Mundaneum may offer a cautionary tale.
A new study has revealed a correlation between the number of bumper stickers on a car and the aggressiveness of the driver's behaviour, presumably as bumper stickers indicate a territorial mindset on the part of the driver. Interestingly enough, there was no correlation between the content of the bumper stickers and the driver's behaviour, so a "Visualise World Peace" sticker would be as much of a danger sign as a "Don't Mess With Texas" one.