The Null Device


The New York Times has discovered that, in clothing and accessories, the skull is the Happy Face of the 2000s:

"This is such a huge gripe of mine," said Voltaire, a musician in New York and the author of "What is Goth?", a kind of "Preppy Handbook" for the living dead. "Throughout hundreds of years of history, what the skull has communicated is, 'I am dangerous.' That's where the irony is. You can buy dangerous for $11.99 at Kmart."
For years Voltaire was the happy owner of several skull-motif sweaters hand-knit by an eccentric Englishwoman. He recounted that a woman stopped him the other day on an East Village street to admire the one he was wearing. "She said: 'I love your sweater. Is it Ralph Lauren?' Then I found out that Ralph Lauren has a whole store that sells skull stuff."
From what I gathered, the trajectory of the mainstreaming of skulls was: they started with variously scary misfit cultures (outlaw bikers, hot-rodders, or even actual murdering pirates if you go far back enough), then they were gradually adopted by less scary cultures (like metalheads and goths, both of which tend to be more amusing than intimidating). Then the Vice-twats and electrocoolsies (or "fashion goths", as Momus calls them) picked them up ironically, and soon every coke-snorting trustafarian in Williamsburg and Hoxton was wearing stuff with skulls on it. Then, of course, the cool hunters picked up on it, and soon H&M was selling socks with skulls on them and commercial pop bands soon had the full complement of skulls and lightning bolts on their cover artwork.

(via Boing Boing) culture fashion fashion goth hipsters skulls 0

A study at the University of Leicester has produced a global map of happiness, by country.

According to the study's methodology, the happiest countries on Earth are, in descending order, Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, Iceland and The Bahamas. (I would have thought that Nordic countries such as Iceland would have been penalised by the long winter nights and incidence of Seasonal Affective Disorder; perhaps the spectacular landscapes and general coolness makes up for that.) The USA is 23rd ("We're #23!"), and the UK is #41; meanwhile, various Japanophiles will be disappointed to find that Japan scrapes in at #90, being slightly sadder than the median. The least happy places surveyed are Zimbabwe and Burundi.

Looking at the map, which is shaded according to colour, certain patterns emerge. Scandinavia and Finland are the same sanguine shade of red as Iceland and the US; Ireland is happier than the UK, and France and Portugal are the least happy countries in western Europe. Meanwhile, Australia and New Zealand are both in the top shade of happiness, as is Bhutan; Africa is generally a deeply unhappy place and Russia is quite gloomy. Not surprisingly, no data exists for Iraq, Afghanistan, Liberia, Somalia or North Korea, though one can guess that they're probably not brimming with joy.

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Bar managers at Bristol's Cube Multiplex alternative cinema were faced with a dilemma: a lot of their customers wanted Coca-Cola™, though they could not sanction buying it because of the company's dubious ethical record. Alternative cola drinks such as Virgin Cola and Pepsi just weren't the same. So they decided to reverse-engineer the Coca-Cola recipe:

Codenamed "Merchandise 7X", the list of ingredients that go into Coke - 922 million litres of which were drunk in the UK last year - has been kept carefully shrouded in mystery since the drink's inventor, a medicinal chemist called John Pemberton, first wrote it down in 1886. These days it is supposedly kept under 24-hour guard in a vault in Atlanta, Georgia, which is odd considering that author Mark Pendergrast published it in his exposé of the cola industry For God, Country & Coca-Cola (Basic Books) in 1993. The company maintains that this recipe is not the same as the one it uses.
Any alternative they were going to offer had not only to taste almost identical but overcome the incredible pull of Coca-Cola's marketing. "Given that most of the Cube's customers come because they like the place's DIY attitude," Brandon explains, "one way of doing that was to make the cola ourselves."
Cola is basically a mix of caramel, caffeine, sugar, fizzy water, citric or phosphoric acid, and eight essential oils. It's the precise blend of these oils that lies at the heart of the 7X secret formula. A trawl of the web soon uncovered several 7X-type recipes, the most promising of which was adapted from the one in Pendergrast's book.
Brandon and Rich acquired the ingredients (many of which were hard to get) and set up an "open lab" where, assisted by a few friends, they attempted to make a Coke-like substance, destroying four mixers in the process. Eventually, with the help of a hand whisk attached to a hammer drill, they succeeded, making something that sounds almost exactly like the Real Thing™:
The initial surprise is that it really does taste like Coke. Very slightly sweeter than "the real thing" but less acidic. A satisfying, complex flavour, subtly different from the brand leader, but easily as good.
They are planning to sell concentrate kits to other small bars and businesses, allowing them to make their own right-on Coke substitute. They have also released their recipe (included in the article) under the GPL.

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According to a Harvard University report on video games, Pac-Man is "64% violent". Furthermore, a clear majority of games reward players for "injuring other characters"; one example of this is Mario Brothers, with the thing about jumping on turtles.

Given that Pac-Man involves a flat yellow disc consuming white dots and chasing stylised, monochromatic "ghosts", I wonder how abstract one could make a game (or an animation) for it to remain violent. If one had a primitive video game featuring, for example, two coloured squares on a black background, with one obviously "attacking" the other which (exhibiting what the human brain instinctively perceives as fear) moves away increasingly frantically, would this qualify as a violent video game? This sounds like a challenge: how much violence, aggression, brutality and other antisocial and harmful behaviour could one depict in an entirely abstract fashion, without using recognisable real-world objects or cartoon approximations?

The opposite of this would be something like a Brothers Quay animation, which includes things that look like real world objects, but whose parts move around in an entirely random and pointless fashion, not unlike a malfunctioning computer graphics program.

(via /.) pac-man videogames violence 0

It has been announced that the star of the Harry Potter movies, Daniel Radcliffe, is to appear naked in a West End play. That loud "OMG SQUEE" you just heard was a million Potter fangirls around the world.

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