The Null Device


The story of Minitel, France's idiosyncratic national online service, hailed as a world leader in the 1980s, now seen as embarrassingly dated by some, yet still a source of national pride to many French users.

Just as anti-globalisation campaigner José Bové tapped into a rich French vein of resentment for many things Anglo-Saxon and for lousy American food in particular when he vandalised a McDonald's restaurant last year, so Minitel need not politely defer to the internet. Just yet. Dominique Lamiche of France Télécom says: "We'll always have people who prefer to buy a train ticket on the Minitel because it's fast and one knows how to manage it. You don't need the internet's animated pictures to buy a simple train ticket."

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When Steven Feuerstein wrote a book on Oracle PL/SQL for O'Reilly, he eschewed the traditional business-centric examples (employee databases, inventories, &c.), in favour of more political examples. One example was a database of war criminals, which included Henry Kissinger; others were about things such as police brutality, union-busting and the prison industry. Not surprisingly, this caused quite a controversy. In this essay, Feuerstein talks about the saga, and the implicit pro-status-quo agenda of technical books.

(I'm somewhat ambivalent on this. On one hand, Feuerstein may have a point about the implicit ideology of computer texts. On the other hand, the ideology (if one calls it that) of an inventory database example is a lot less confrontational and abrasive in the context of a computer textbook than a list of war criminals. Do contentious politics really belong in the text of a textbook? What if a religious fundamentalist author was to publish a SQL textbook using, say, a hitlist of abortion clinic workers as the example? And I'm not sure I buy the dogma that everything is political, if not overtly so then in an insidious reactionary sense; it has too much of a whiff of fanaticism about it.)

(via rebecca's pocket)


Life is unfair, kill yourself or get over it: According to a recent survey, Britain is a dismal place, with 1/3 of the population feeling "downright miserable", 1/4 believing that life is unfair, and one in 10 believing that they would be better off dead. Then again, is that really saying anything that numerous British indie bands haven't already said in many ways?

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The Chart Information Network, the body that manages Britain's classical music charts, has ejected a string quartet named Bond, for being too pop. Bond, an all-female quartet, use dance beats in their music and draw stylistic inspiration from a wide variety of genres, from electronica to East European folk music.