The Null Device


I am writing this entry in Melbourne, having returned for a visit, my first in one and a half years.

A few days ago, I caught a flight from London. This time, I eschewed the usual Qantas/British Airways and flew with Emirates, going via Dubai and (briefly) Singapore. I'll probably fly with them again; the experience was, for the most part, very good. The food and service were of quite high standards, but most impressive was the ICE entertainment system on the London-Dubai leg of the flight. It had over 500 channels, including on-demand movies (all of them pausable/rewindable; something which makes a big difference when the staff come around to serve drinks), a pretty large library of music, and a selection of video games, some of which are playable against other passengers. (The trivia game is particularly suited to this, even if the questions are a bit US-centric.) The selection of music is worthy of note; the channels included the usual pop, alternative, classical, jazz and chill-out, along with an extensive selection of world music (J-Pop and K-Pop, European chart hits, classical and contemporary Arabic music and Bollywood-style music), a selection of "classic albums", and a repository of every UK number one hit since the 1950s. As well as this, there were two video channels displaying the view from two external cameras at the front of the plane, one looking forward and the other looking down. This was quite interesting (especially when landing), even though the cameras didn't perform very well after dark.

The entire system seemed to be implemented on the same operating system as the entertainment systems used on Qantas and BA flights; for example, the real-time flight map seemed to be identical, except for the languages being English and Arabic, and Emirates having the somewhat annoying habit of interspersing promotional slides between map slides. This system appears to consist, from what I can determine, of a central computer connected to one or another type of video source (a rack of old-fashioned videotape players on older aircraft or a hard-disk-based system on newer ones) and a few hundred terminals consisting of NTSC monitors and controls. Unfortunately, the ICE entertainment system has not been rolled out across all aircraft, and so 2/3 of the trip (i.e., everything from Dubai onward) only had the old system, consisting of several non-interactive video and audio channels.

I managed to see a few films on the flight: I caught Thank You For Smoking (a cynical US indie film about a tobacco lobbyist; somewhat similar in tone to Wag The Dog), and The Illusionist (a thriller about an illusionist involved with the rather nasty Austro-Hungarian Crown Prince's fiancee; it was a nice mood piece, though the details of his art were treated as an opaque plot device and not elaborated upon). Towards the end of the journey, I also saw and episide of Derren Brown's show and most of Disney/Pixar animation Finding Nemo, confirming that Andrew Bolt was on crack when he wrote about it being leftist propaganda.

The only downside to the flight was the fact that, from Dubai onward, I was seated next to a large woman who was in the habit of surreptitiously lifting the armrests and spilling over into her neighbours' seats. Such, I suppose, are the travails of not being fabulously wealthy and able to afford to fly business class.

As for Melbourne, it seems to be still here, largely unchanged. For one, I am relieved to see that the Giuliani-style sanitisation of the CBD seems to be largely a myth, at least judging by the abundance of stencil art in various laneways. Either that or they dropped the policy after the Commonwealth Games were out of the way.

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