The Null Device


BBC News Magazine has an article on the evolution of café culture in Britain.

But a good coffee can be a catalyst, says the three times UK National Barista Champion, Simon Robertson. "However busy you are, in the time it takes you to finish that coffee your normal world is put on hold and you go somewhere else in your head. It's about creating a moment, creating an experience."
We are in the "Blue Nun stage" of coffee drinking, says Mr Robertson. Just like wine a generation ago, people have started drinking coffee but don't know enough about it to judge if it's good or not.
While Britain hasn't had as pervasive a café culture as, say, Australia (probably due to the influx of migrants from Italy and Greece to the latter in the 1950s) or parts of the US, it is gradually catching up. Unfortunately, big corporate coffee chains have had the time to establish themselves in the minds of the public as the definition of what the café experience is (i.e., as a sort of McDonald's for people who read newspapers), and have gotten away with making execrable coffee and passing it off as something decent (case in point: Costa Coffee's "authentic Italian" coffee, which is vile). The notorious predatory behaviour by which chains have eliminated independent cafés elsewhere (opening three outlets to a block, running them at a loss until the rivals go out of business, close all but one) wasn't even necessary, because the bar for coffee, in most places, was set so low that Starbucks was actually an improvement.

Fortunately, there are signs that this is changing, and consumers are becoming more savvy and discriminating:

"I treat myself to one "special" coffee per week and was always disappointed with the big brand coffee shop that I used as they frequently messed up my order and lacked that personal touch. One week I decided to use the smaller place across the road and to my delight discovered that not only do they get my drink right 100% of the time but actually smile and chat to me while I'm there. Their prices are also substantially cheaper that the big names. Go back to the big brand coffee house? Not me."
Mr Robertson insists the coffee making experience is paramount. He recalls when an elderly customer stopped him to say the coffee he'd just drank was the best he'd had since his time in Italy.
"I asked him when he was last in Italy and he said during World War II. I realised the coffee I'd just made him - the smell, the taste, the experience - had transported him all the way back in his mind to wartime Italy.
The big chains have an advantage—deep pockets, allowing them to lease prime space—whereas the smaller cafés are often hidden away. Though web-based independent café directories like Delocator and Cosy Coffee Shops are helping to level the playing field.

Interestingly enough, Australia seems to have become a standard for coffee quality. I've seen two places so far which advertised that they employed "Australian-trained baristas".

(via alecm) cafés coffee culture starbucks uk 7

Holy shit, Microsoft have made an offer to buy Yahoo, for a generous US$44.6bn. I hope that this doesn't happen; given how Microsoft are fond of leveraging their power to lock people into using their products, a Microsoft-owned Yahoo would be bad news. We could probably expect things like YUI going the way of the Dimension X Java VRML libraries (remember those?) and Flickr being rewritten as a Silverlight application and/or requiring Windows Vista/7 to upload photos.

acquisitions flickr lock-in microsoft silverlight windows yahoo 1

The Independent lists the musical pasts of various public figures:

Silvio Berlusconi: Politician

The Italian media magnate and former prime minister paid his way through university by singing and playing the piano on cruise ships. He has been known throughout his colourful political career for his habit of breaking into song unexpectedly.

A C Grayling: Philosopher

Grayling, a professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, and the author of a biography of William Hazlitt and other books, was once part of the expat rock scene in Northern Rhodesia – now Zambia – where he was born in 1949.

He says: "From the ages of 14 to 16, I was in a group called the Rebels – three guitars and a drummer. I started as the bass guitarist but then it turned out that not only could I not sing well, I couldn't sing at all and play the bass guitar, so I graduated to the rhythm guitar. I wore a pair of black, plastic-sided, high-heeled 'Beatle' boots that were two sizes too small. I thought I was the bee's knees."

The article mentions a number of other famous people who had played music in their pasts (such as comedian Ricky Gervais, who was a new-romantic sensation (though only in the Philippines), Jamie Oliver's third-division Britpop career, and Tony Blair's infamous student rock-band past. One notable example not mentioned, though, is US Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan's former career as a calypso singer.

a.c. grayling celebrity louis farrakhan music silvio berlusconi 0

Evolutionary biologist Carl Zimmer looks at evidence suggesting that romantic love is a biological adaptation, and is not unique to humans; a far cry from the blank-slater hypothesis that romantic love is a cultural construct invented by mediæval troubadors and/or Mills & Boon, and before that everything was unromantically practical arranged marriages and dynastic property transactions:

There are reasons to conclude that romance as well was shaped by the unsentimental hand of evolution. We humans don't have a monopoly on oxytocin and other molecules linked to feeling in love. Love may switch on reward pathways in our brains, but other animals have similar--if simpler--reward pathways too.
In her experiments, Haselton finds evidence for love as an adaptation. She and her colleagues have people think about how much they love someone and then try to suppress thoughts of other attractive people. They then have the same people think about how much they sexually desire those same partners and then try again to suppress thoughts about others. It turns out that love does a much better job of pushing out those rivals than sex does. Haselton argues that this effect is exactly what you'd expect if sex was a drive to reproduce and love was a drive to form a long-term commitment.

(via Mind Hacks) evolution evolutionary psychology human nature love nature vs. nurture 6

There are red faces at Woolworths in the UK, after someone decided that "Lolita" would be a good name for a childrens' bed range. Oops!

branding faux pas lolita oops uk unintentionally hilarious 0

EPIC FAIL The Guardian reports that users of Windows Vista are experiencing severe audio performance problems, with choppy, glitchy audio from applications, which is annoying home users and driving professional musicians to old copies of XP or else the Apple store. The Graun article gives the reasons a cursory examination, essentially writing them off as growing pains of a shift to a new, improved driver model, though somehow managing to miss the elephant in the room, i.e., that at any time when there is the possibility that a Windows Vista machine might come into contact with copyrighted audio or video content, a draconian DRM regime kicks in, diverting a large proportion of the machine's resources into ensuring that you, the user, cannot do anything with the content that you're not explicitly permitted to.

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