The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'monty python'
A few random odds and ends which, for one reason or another, didn't make it into blog posts in 2011:
- Artificial intelligence pioneer John McCarthy died this year; though before he did, he wrote up a piece on the sustainability of progress. The gist of it is that he contended that progress is both sustainable and desirable, for at least the next billion years, with resource limitations being largely illusory.
- As China's economy grows, dishonest entrepreneurs are coming up with increasingly novel and bizarre ways of adulterating food:
In May, a Shanghai woman who had left uncooked pork on her kitchen table woke up in the middle of the night and noticed that the meat was emitting a blue light, like something out of a science fiction movie. Experts pointed to phosphorescent bacteria, blamed for another case of glow-in-the-dark pork last year. Farmers in eastern Jiangsu province complained to state media last month that their watermelons had exploded "like landmines" after they mistakenly applied too much growth hormone in hopes of increasing their size.
Until recently, directions were circulating on the Internet about how to make fake eggs out of a gelatinous compound comprised mostly of sodium alginate, which is then poured into a shell made out of calcium carbonate. Companies marketing the kits promised that you could make a fake egg for one-quarter the price of a real one.
- The street finds its own uses for things, and places develop local specialisations and industries: the Romanian town of Râmnicu Vâlcea has become a global centre of expertise in online scams, with industries arising to bilk the world's endless supply of marks, and to keep the successful scammers in luxury goods:
The streets are lined with gleaming storefronts—leather accessories, Italian fashions—serving a demand fueled by illegal income. Near the mall is a nightclub, now closed by police because its backers were shady. New construction grinds ahead on nearly every block. But what really stands out in Râmnicu Vâlcea are the money transfer offices. At least two dozen Western Union locations lie within a four-block area downtown, the company’s black-and-yellow signs proliferating like the Starbucks mermaid circa 2003.
It’s not so different from the forces that turn a neighborhood into, say, New York’s fashion district or the aerospace hub in southern California. “To the extent that some expertise is required, friends and family members of the original entrepreneurs are more likely to have access to those resources than would-be criminals in an isolated location,” says Michael Macy, a Cornell University sociologist who studies social networks. “There may also be local political resources that provide a degree of protection.”
- Monty Python's Terry Jones says that The Life Of Brian could not be made now, as it would be too risky in today's climate of an increasingly strident religiosity exercising its right to take offense:
The 69-year-old said: "I took the view it wasn't blasphemous. It was heretical because it criticised the structure of the church and the way it interpreted the Gospels. At the time religion seemed to be on the back burner and it felt like kicking a dead donkey. It has come back with a vengeance and we'd think twice about making it now."
- The Torygraph's Charles Moore: I'm starting to think that the Left might actually be right:
And when the banks that look after our money take it away, lose it and then, because of government guarantee, are not punished themselves, something much worse happens. It turns out – as the Left always claims – that a system purporting to advance the many has been perverted in order to enrich the few. The global banking system is an adventure playground for the participants, complete with spongy, health-and-safety approved flooring so that they bounce when they fall off. The role of the rest of us is simply to pay.
- The sketchbooks of Susan Kare, the artist who designed the icons, bitmaps and fonts for the original Macintosh, and went on to an illustrious career as a pixel artist (Microsoft hired her to do the Windows 3.x icons, and some years ago, Facebook hired her to design the virtual "gifts" you could buy for friends.) The sketchbooks show her original Macintosh icons, which were drawn by hand on graph paper (because, of course, they didn't have GUI tools for making icons back then).
- How To Steal Like An Artist: advice for those who wish to do creative work.
- The street finds its own uses for things (2): with the rise of the Arduino board (a low-cost, hackable microcontroller usable for basically anything electronic you might want to program), anyone can now make their own self-piloting drone aircraft out of a radio-controlled plane. And it isn't actually illegal in itself (at least in the US; YMMV).
- An answer to the question of why U2 are so popular.
Two more institutions of 20th-century Britain celebrate their anniversaries this month. It was 40 years ago today that Monty Python's Flying Circus first aired on the BBC. And almost exactly ten years later, BBC Radio aired an odd little radio play titled The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which encapsulated a Pythonesque sense of absurdism, a now quaint view of post-WW2, pre-Thatcherite Britain, and visions of futuristic technologies that, seen from today, are at once uncannily prescient and jarringly cautious, in the way that yesterday's futurism tends to be:
Within this handy framework, the Hitchhiker stories make up a sort of folk-art depiction, like on a tribal carpet, of the late-1970s English middle-class cosmic order. So there he is, the hapless Arthur Dent, in the middle, his maths insufficient to grasp even the first thing about his current position, in a county in a country, on a continent on a planet, in a solar system, in a galaxy, and so on. (Even now, the only way I can get the hierarchy right is by referring to the products of Mars Inc.) Except that the universe, 1979-style, would have seemed different from the one we know, and don't know, today, with space travel, in the years between the Moon landings and the Challenger disaster, both current and glamorous-feeling in a way it certainly isn't now. Tomorrow's World went out on the BBC every Thursday; Carl Sagan's Cosmos went out in 1980; cool space-junk was everywhere, Star Wars and Close Encounters, Bowie and P-Funk and the Only Ones. Relativity and the space-time continuum, wormholes and the multiverse featured everywhere in science fact and fiction, and were easily bent and twisted into the sort of paradox at which Adams's mind excelled – the armada of spaceships diving screaming towards Earth, "where, due to a terrible miscalculation of scale, the entire battle fleet was accidentally swallowed by a small dog"; the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where you can pay for dinner by putting 1p in a present-day savings account, meaning that "when you arrive at the End of Time . . . the fabulous cost of your meal has been paid for".
Except that the Guide wasn't just a literary device, a concept. It really was a "Book", a thing of plastic, an actual piece of tech. It looked, we are told, "rather like a largish electronic calculator" – as such a device would have had to look in the 1970s, before iPhones, Kindle, Ernie Wise's Vodafone. On it, "any one of a million 'pages' could be summoned at a moment's notice" – what, only a million?, 21st-century readers object.
But there's a definite tea theme, and a lot of Englishness, and a distinctive note of piscine melancholy: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish; The Salmon of Doubt. If Adams's books were a domestic appliance, they'd be a Sinclair ZX80, wired to a Teasmade, screeching machine code through quadraphonic speakers, and there'd probably be a haddock in there somewhere, non-compatible and obsolete.I'm slightly disappointed that Google didn't put up a special commemorative logo.
Something I didn't know: the current mayor of the Welsh Riviera town of Aberystwyth is the former actress who played Brian's girlfriend, Judith Iscariot, in Monty Python's Life Of Brian, and is now moving to lift the town's ban on the film. Apparently the council banned it when it was released, and nobody remembered that it was still banned, let alone to review the ban.
In Israel, life imitates a Monty Python skit:
An indignant Israeli is suing a pet shop that he says sold him a dying parrot, reports the Ma'ariv newspaper. Itzik Simowitz of the southern city of Beersheba contends the shop cheated him because the Galerita-type cockatoo not only failed to utter a word when he got it home, but was also extremely ill. Mr. Simowitz adds that the shop owner assured him the parrot was not ill but merely needed time to adjust to its new environment.
(via bOING bOING)
Did the Monty Python team predict the rise of Furries?
Interviewer: And when did you first notice these... shall we say... tendencies?
Confessor: Well... I was about seventeen and some mates and me went to a party, and, er... we had quite a lot to drink... and then some of the fellows there ... started handing ... cheese around ... and well just out of curiosity 1 tried a bit ... and well that was that.
Interviewer: And what else did these fellows do?
Confessor: Well some of them started dressing up as mice a bit ... and then when they'd got the costumes on they started ... squeaking.
Interviewer: And what was your reaction to this?
Confessor: Well I was shocked. But, er... gradually I came to feel that I was more at ease ... with other mice.
(via elnigma on LJ)
Some random odd news stories: church organists behaving badly, sneaking in ornately disguised fragments of secular tunes (such as theme music from Blackadder and Monty Python songs, which, it must be said, sounds very C. of E.) in between hymns. Meanwhile, some mysterious vandals planted ash saplings in 100 gardens in Kent in the dead of night. And when the current Miss Peru arrived at the Gabonese Presidential palace, the splendidly named President Omar Bongo, apparently thought her visit had a different purpose in mind:
She said after arriving at Gabonese President Omar Bongo's palace "he pressed a button and some sliding doors opened, revealing a large bed."
(I was just thinking; "Omar Bongo" would be a good pseudonym to use if one was recording an album of bachelor-pad lounge exotica.) (via Found)
A few bits lifted from Techdirt. Firstly, secretive Stalinist cult-state North Korea has staked its claim to the Internet Age. The rigidly centralised, computer-poor nation claims to have invented the computer drink. Ah, good; we needed one of those.
But what it lacks in utility, it makes up for in entertainment value. The Ectaco Personal Translator proved the perfect icebreaker during a dinner party in rural France. It turned "thank you for the great dinner" into "it was disgusting," and "you are very beautiful" into "how much?" What better way to break the ice with a roomful of total strangers in a foreign country whose language you don't know?
Via Stumblings in the Dark: Monty Python's Terry Jones on the War on Terrorism, in a critique that's at once Pythonesque and insightful:
However, finally the 'War on Terrorism' is achieving its policy objectives. Osama bin Laden is looking haggard. We may not have caught him or brought him to justice but, at the cost of thousands of innocent Afghan lives, billions of dollars of US citizens' money and the civil liberties of the Free World, we have got him looking haggard.
(And that was the sound of the USA's cable-TV networks cancelling Monty Python reruns.)
Python on DVD. Not the language, but the complete TV series. Problem is (other than it being a bit dear), it is only Region 1. Which is no problem for deep-pocketed scofflaws with modified players, but still; one should not have to break the law to watch a TV series. (You'd think they'd have at least made it Region 2 for the Poms.)
A four-part interview with Terry Gilliam, in which he talks about his career, Monty Python and past, current and upcoming film projects (including Good Omens):
I think most shows now have so many people overseeing them that it's a problem. The whole process is much more aimed at making a "successful" show - whatever that is - and once you start thinking like that, you start limiting how you approach things.
I think America is one of the great conformist nations of the world - maybe the world leader when it comes to conformity. I still feel that.