The Null Device


A US company is building a Mac Mini-based modular synthesizer. No, not a softsynth with rendered clickable cables; an actual hardware modular synth with real patch leads, which happens to have a Mac Mini and touch-screen monitor embedded in it. It is not clear if they have actually built one of these yet, though I imagine that with something like Max/MSP or SuperCollider, it could be interesting.

The company appears to be a cottage industry run by someone named Cynthia Webster, who designs and builds modular synths for a living. The site also has a list of women in synthesis, which is probably longer than you'd expect it to be:

It seems most of the women in synthesis today are hailing from Europe... Why is that ? What does this say about our society lately? Any theories out there?

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A parcel of redirected mail from Australia just arrived, among it the December PTUA newsletter. I see that public transport in Melbourne is still being neglected, with the state government abandoning plans to upgrade bus timetables in the suburbs (i.e., to run buses after 7pm on weekdays or at all on weekends). Meanwhile, the usual new-year's fare increase includes making periodical tickets relatively more expensive (i.e., a weekly now costs as much as five dailies), thus encouraging people to avoid using public transport when not necessary. After all, why shell out $2.50 or so for a 2-hour Metcard to go down to the supermarket when you can hop in the Land Rover instead?

Living in London, I've come to appreciate just how good Londoners have it with relation to public transport. Yes, grumbling about the Tube is a local pastime in London (much in the way that complaining about the decline of Britain has been a British national pastime for the past two centuries at least), but at least the system works. You can rock up to a Tube station and expect a train in the direction you want to go in within 10 minutes at worst. Meanwhile, buses run in every possible direction, with a good number of routes running 24 hours a day (usually at 15-minute frequencies). In London, you can just about get anywhere from anywhere by public transport; there's even a pretty impressive website which, for any two points, will give you a list of options. In Melbourne, your options are limited; the railway network has a star topology, buses (other than the ones formerly run by the tramway authority) run limited hours, and after midnight, the whole system stops. (Except for Night Rider buses, which run only on Friday and Saturday nights, require special, premium-rate tickets, and run hourly on half a dozen routes.)

At the turn of the year, London's public transport fares (which, already, aren't the world's cheapest) increased by about 10%; however, that money is going into expanding and improving the system. And there's a vast number of projects going on or being planned. In the next few years, at least one Tube line (the East London line) is being extended in both directions, a mainline rail link (Crossrail) running east-west under London will be built, and a new Docklands Light Railway branch line is being built; not to mention several tramways in various parts of the metropolis. Melbourne's rises, however, get swallowed up by the costs of bailing out private investors panicked by fare evasion and putting out fires, leaving nothing left for anything resembling vision. The government officially has a goal of having 20% of journeys made by public transport by 2020 (or such), but actually achieving that is going to take supernatural intervention. When patronage increased, capacity could not keep up, so the operators' solution was to remove seats from trams, creating standing-room-only vehicles with a few seats reserved for the elderly and infirm.

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Live band of the moment: Suzerain. I saw them play in Soho last night, and was quite impressed. They're somewhere between Duran Duran, David Bowie and early Nine Inch Nails (with perhaps a bit of Icehouse or similar in the mix), and have a firm grasp of the pop sensibility. Anyway, there are MP3s here. I'll be surprised if someone doesn't sign these guys soon.

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