Sunday, December 30, 2007

Lawrence Jupp, Joe Holmberg, 1979-2007.

There are those times in life that you can be prepared for, or at least try to be. A driving test, or a meeting, or your first date with someone, or visiting somewhere strange. We can get some idea of what we're facing from people who have been there before and once its all over, we discover that we were right to listen to those people who have done it before. We can pick up a copy of "How to Pass Your Driving Test". Somebody, somewhere, has probably written "Timbuktoo for Dummies".

Then there are times that, no matter what you do and who you talk to, you just can't prepare yourself for. Times when it's impossible to know what to do, and so when you're in them, going with your instinct is probably the best bet you have.

On December the 10th, Lawrence Jupp was killed in a motorbike accident. The other morning, on December 28th, Joe Holmberg lost his battle against cancer. (Sorry if this is new news to anybody out there. Please feel free to get in touch if it is.)

For some reason, I'd delayed blogging about the former. A lot has happened in the last few months, and I was going to get some kind of "retrospective" together for the New Year. However, in light of the news about Joe, it seems better to post something now. There are some kind words by both Dave, Amy and Joe about Lawrence. Many goodbyes were said at his service last week. I'm sure similar missives for Joe will be forthcoming*. There's a post by his parents here.

Loz in his element
All the things said about Loz in posts, comments and services are all true. His infectious grin was only out-infectionised perhaps by his ability to not let problems get in the way of having fun. (Or, indeed, to remind us to have fun instead of problems.) In fact it was, I'd say, such memories of Loz that kept me "bold" after hearing the news of him. But he was far from egotistical, or hedonistic. Sensibility, like his drinking songs, would kick in at Just The Right Time. So too would a genuine empathy for people in times of need, and a passion to "educate" people in the arts of anything from cooking, to hiking, to drinking just One More Glass. Looking back, this honesty - sometimes brutal (but never aggressive, and often self-directed) - is something I respect him most for. Perhaps it is because it is a quality that needs to be reawakened in a time of "political correctness". Perhaps I just knew, at least, where I stood with him. The world will be a much quieter, much sadder place without Loz.

I wasn't sure about placing two memories in the same post. Are comparisons made? Is there too much risk of repetition, to the point of insincerity? Who knows. It would be fair to say, though, that Lawrence and Joe were quite different people - almost opposites, in some respects. That doesn't, of course, diminish the impact that either made on me, or the extent to which I love and admire both still. Both were hugely courageous in different ways (and both far more courageous than I). Both were creative, immense fun, caring and, most importantly, full of life.

Joe on the Metro

The last few months have obviously been difficult for Joe, his partner, Emilie, and for his family. I went to visit him a couple of weeks ago in his flat in the Chinatown of Paris. Screams and yells sprang out of a cold schoolyard below, but inside the flat, an obstacle course had been constructed of all the things we normally take for granted. Sudden changes in air temperature, such as a cold bathroom. Salt. Stand-by Oxygen. Stairs, just to force someone to invent a mechanical contraption to magically - noisily - raise a keg of air to the right door. We ate food, we watched some TV (decent TV, like Napoleon Dynamite and Takeshi's Castle), we slept. As one might have gathered from his blog, sleep was vital for Joe.

But he was still Joe. He still chuckled his Joe chuckle. Still apologized profusely if he thought he was inconveniencing you by, y'know, having cancer or something. His French was coming along nicely (outstripping my paltry GCSE memories by un mille). He was weak, but optimistic. Thin, but still smiling like a trooper.

On Monday evening, we got the Call about Lawrence. It's odd how a moment like that can act as a lens. For reality. Something biological kicks in, a neuro-clarity, like when you see blood on the street. For that moment, it was like we forgot about the Cancer and dug up old memories instead. "We're all getting old," we said, and drank Port. On Tuesday morning, Joe went back into hospital.

"Talented" doesn't even get close to describing Joe. He combined amazing wit, intelligence and artistic flair, with a humbleness that meant everyone he met couldn't fail to be impressed by him. He was infinitely cool, but would never, ever entertain the idea. Everyone knew his musical endeavours, but he was also a bit of a writer. Time after time, people would comment on how well written his blog was - another thing to aspire to, I guess. (I'm certain he was also building up a collection of great sci-fi short stories on his hard drive too.) When he came up with Krauschanl, I was impressed I could still be surprised by him - there was no way of telling what he'd be dabbling with next.

Above all else, I shall miss Joe's ability to distort a perfectly normal conversation - usually via Messenger - into a surreal world of mashed-up ideas and typo'd parallel universes. Asking about arrangements, or a project we were working on, could turn rapidly into a freeform st(r)eam of consciousness, directed only by our mistaken and overly-eager keyboards.

We "evolved" a habit of coming up with e-mail-esque signatures when signing off our instant messaging chats. It would have been poetic to have posted here the last one he used. But hard drives are hard drives and Scribes are fallible, and such a thing has now gone the ultimate way of all things. Instead, I'll end this post with a sign-off signature line that Joe submitted to me for use in my e-mail. I don't know if what it says is true. But, for me, it at least sums up his surreal creativity and his robustly down-to-earth sense of humour - facets of Joe-ness that he carried with him to the end. It even bears the post-full-stop double space that I always skip over. Joe always was a stickler for grammer and speling.

I met both Lawrence and Joe in 1997 at Sussex University, and lived with both during most of this time. They were two very different souls, but both great people. Losing them both is a reminder of just how frail life really is, and what value friendship has.

"Think of death as a medium-sized yellow robot. That should help."

[* Links for the melancholy: Amy, Dave, Phil, RoH, Trish. Katja's comment deserves a mention too.]

Friday, December 07, 2007

Psychology of Economics: FT Front Page

FT Front Page Snip 1. 2007-12-07
A: Acceptance.
B: (Eternal) Optimism.

FT Front Page Snip 2. 2007-12-07
or "OK, we have no idea what's really going to happen."

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Hacking Moves On

Macs increasingly targeted for Malware, but not apparently for either of the 2 reasons I would have thought: a general audience for virus writers (as a whole) to exploit, or more geeks/hackers using Macs, and so having the hardware to hand.

The reason? "the jump in attacks against Apple appeared to be the work of a single gang of professional hackers..., known in security circles as the “Zlob gang”" (Nor do they really "hack" anything. Trojan Horses and playing on users is more their style.)

The hacking world really has moved on from what it's traditionally been, which is a huge shame in a way - the philosophy gets lost as money pushes it out.

(Also, is it just me that reads "nice" in the sentence "years of catering to a niche audience" as "nice" with a funny pronunciation? Thought so.)

[Update:} See also the accompanying FT tech blog comment. Does this mean that the Internet (or Macs?) have finally "come of age"? At what point does a nation start mandatory computer driving licenses, so that all users know what to avoid clicking on? (Imagine if car drivers didn't have to be tested on their road signs.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Where Bayesian Recommendation Systems don't Get It

I really like this article over at the Huffington Post on the mundanity of collaborative recommendations, such as, amazon, etc. (Via advertising lab.) I agree completely - yes, such services work well*, but there's also a real kick to discovering and making the choice yourself, which gets overlooked. The psychology of finding the brilliant amongst the unexpected, but also the openness of eclecticism as a personal trait. In other words, why do we like the next thing that we like? Is it all just based on what we know?

Aldorno (or maybe Baudrillard, all foreign names look the same to me) seems to like the idea that the more we kill something in our culture, the more we have to re-create it. "The lady doth protest too much." I wonder if some of that is true here - the more we construct "recommendation blankets" for ourselves, the more we want others to know what new things we've picked out ourselves. As the system tells us about ourselves, do we assert our "individualism" from the system more than ever?

* Curiously, I actually tend to ignore most "recommendations for me". I can think of 1 or 2 that I've really liked, but in general, for music at least, I prefer trawling something like FIP or Radio 6 for interesting stuff.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Tidying up the Giant E-Brain

Well, life is changing rapidly after my last little upset. The rest of this post is going to be just as geeky, but then they say "know your audience"... ;) (Uh, not in the biblical sense.)

So I bunged my MacBook into a local service outlet having accepted the fate of a fiery datahell for my old bytes. Service was quick (Apple get parts out quickly) and free (Academia has great warranties). New hard drive, and also took the opportunity to get the facia replaced (ooh, shiny white like angel new), plus looks like they cleaned the screen too. Now that's what I really needed, it turns out. Anyway.

A day on, and I've re-installed fundamental applications, and am in the process of sorting out my datalife. For posterity (hehe, that means "bum"), I'll make a note in this post because, well, it's a blog, and blogs are supposed to be full of mundane day-to-day details. (Complaining (via comments) only makes this blog Stronger.)

So, things I've done or am doing...

1. E-Mail 1: Unsubscribe from all the stuff I really don't need - I'm on far too many things like poltitical newsletters, random mailing lists and company alert things. "UNSUBSCRIVE!"

2. E-Mail 2: Mark entire Inbox (11,000+ messages) as "Read". Actually, that was more of a slipped keypress and a bad Thunderbird interface design. Oops. Still, I am actually RELEASED from a plague of unread mail following me about like a big mailfolder smell. Now I can just delete mail, as I should have done before, en masse and by subject/sender. Currently down to: 6369 messages in Inbox.

3. RSS Feeds: Unsubscribe a few that I really don't read. But also use Google Reader to put "important" feeds (generally people I know personally, and more "newsy" feeds) into a "monitor" folder. (Google Reader allows multiple folders - phew.) Then tell my Desktop notifier to only bring in that folder. Means I still have quick access to things I find interesting, but I haven't got a scary large "to read" number sitting at the top of my screen. And, well, big numbers count for a lot.

4. Starting to vacate that old hard drive ready for back-ups. Moving all my old desktop's data to another PC, and taking the opportunity to sift it fairly well while doing so. As promised, am removing all the "cruft" for the various "projects" I have, like pictures and music mash-ups. Never going to go back to them, anyway, so all source files can bugger off.

5. Bit the step of taking the bullet, and ordered Apple's new Big Cat. I'd mostly decided to do this anyway after reading the huge review at Ars Technica (hehe, that means "Bum Craft"), and figured I might as well start afresh. One of the few pieces of software I think is worth paying for, even if it is an OS. Not been impressed/inspired by any software in a long while, so think it's worth it. (Especially at student prices, ahum.)

6. Still looking at the various back-up options suggested in the last post's comments. Not sure I can be bothered to pay for remote back-up - I thought Jungle Disk looked pretty good until I realised you had to pay $20 for the software. Sneaky. Unison looks more useful if you're syncing desktops, which I'm not particularly. I'll probably see how Time Machine goes, especially as it provides some kind of snapshot-through-time, meaning I can delete stuff after 6 months and not worry too much. Also, integration with OSX will be pretty nifty. (See relevant Ars Technica page for in-depth moreness.)

So I think things are going well - I'm actually eager to upgrade and enthusiastic about backing up, as it means I can start playing about with deleting stuff. A major thing I've noticed from going through this is how "user un-centric" my datalife is (was?). Geeks are info hoarders, or I am at least. The Net can often be seen as a "playground" in which information is plentiful and bounteous (is that a word? No? Tough) and "staying on top of it all" is a modern day challenge.

But I can't help thinking this is the wrong way round. Information Overload and User-Centricity are fundamentally at odds with each other, maybe. And User-Centricity (also not a real word) is (I've decided) all about the Zen. Less is more.

So I'm switching from a model of "slurp and filter" - in which I keep tabs on everything, and store stuff in case it's useful or I need it later - to a "relax and snipe" model - in which I go to the information when I need it. Focusing on the user, rather than information, should make things generally much more pleasant. Think of it as redefining what the technicals are for. To not get in my way.

And with that, I'm off to delete more crap.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Tech Support: Lose Data, Gain a Soul?

My Macbook's hard drive did last night what any hard drive promises to do: die without leaving even so much as a back-up note. (OK, ok, so I was supposed to write that note. Happy now, yer 'onour?) Sleep was replaced with fret, but dawn brings light, and with it action. Or pondering. Even some kind of calm.

I have a few choices, as ever. What's weird is what kind of questions each one brings up.
  • Choice 1. Standard route: Get a new HDD under warranty. Hey, it's free, but it means giving back my old drive, which removes any possibility of getting the data back through some kind of recovery/forensics service.

  • Choice 2. Buy a new drive myself. Get to keep the old one, maybe get the data off if the heads haven't f***ed it over completely (a possibility it seems, after having read around the finternet a bit).
Herein lies the oddness though - the choice comes down to whether or not I want my data back. Now, there's a lot of data there - with the main stuff being photos, but also various Uni notes, random bits of code and sporadic witters in text form.

But what is my relationship with this data, and what should it be? My immediate regret about not having backed-up has partially given way to a kind of liberation. In a sense, I'm also free of all that data, free to start again, free to flyyyyy... Uh. Yeah, free.

I'm a geek, I like to keep everything in neat and tidy folders. I like to keep lots of tiny files just in case I might find them useful again one day.

But maybe it doesn't have to be like that. Isn't just hanging on to all that stuff, beyond its relevance, just a form of "information materialism"? A hoarding of data, of bits and bytes, rather than of physical objects. After all, it's all "emotional" in a sense - except it's generally more often time that's been invested, than cash.

But it doesn't really matter if a year's holiday photos get lost. There'll be more. (Plus I have negatives for half of them ;) Creativity cares not of the past, only of the now, dammit! Should regret about lost data be shuffled into the same boat as living in the past? Just how much of that data was relevant to today?

Well, I've spent some time getting in touch with local companies that do data recovery, and will try to get some idea of the prices anyway. It'd be nice not to have to scan photos again, but not a killer. I'm tempted to start afresh for free, sort out that external HDD enclosure that's lying around, get hold of Time Machine and, most importantly, work out just what data I want lying around. It's almost too easy these days - everything and anything can be stored forever. But maybe that's the wrong way to think about it - maybe we should be choosy about what data we obtain, and what data we keep. Maintenance is more than backing up, perhaps.

It's a philosophy, not a practice. Time for a new one?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Coding: Less Kung Fu, More Buddha Machine

A post on the Nixon-McInnes blog about movement-based interfaces for coding integrates well with the idea of Metaphysical Code, but takes it in the wrong direction, I think. Code is not physical. Code is about the flow of information. Movement is about the flow of force. There are some nice comparisons to be made between the two, but interface wise, I think we can do better.

Personally, I'd love to see a more systemic approach to coding. Perhaps a better sibling to coding is music: both have a number of "threads" interacting over time - both in and of themselves (FOR loop = a snare drum loop), but also with each other (Global scopes = a general 4/4 beat). Shifting between the two, parallel and serial, places an emphasis on the process rather than the output (which, perhaps, is what all coders are really interested in...?)

So maybe a new wave of coding interfaces should take some lessons from the Reactable and from the Buddha Machine: simple components representing "chunks" of code that are combined systemically to create a process/flow. Note the similarity between "Buddha Boxing" in the video below (where 2 people take it in turns to add or remove simple music loops) to Pairing in Extreme Programming:

Thinking about it, we generally already take a systemic approach - it's called Software Design. Functions, Objects and Modulators interact just like Reactable objects. Flowcharts and Interaction Diagrams are mapped out using napkins, whiteboards, software, so why not map them out with tangible items?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Keeping an eye out

More ripple effects and pulses to keep fingers on. Heck, I even bought an FT today...
If we were living the Cyberpunk lifestyle, I'm sure this stuff would be coming in as numbers straight to my eye - or at least my wall - by now. "Scribe flicked a micro-second glance at the glo.wall - minus signs flashed red against the dull smoked background. Time was almost up." Something like that.

Monday, November 19, 2007

OPEC mull over the Dollar Exchange Rate

An accidental broadcast reveals worry amongst OPEC members regarding the US Dollar. Interestingly, they at least seem more "media-savvy" than those dealing with the ongoing Northern Rock situation, and understand that merely reporting a potential problem may, in fact, lead to the problem coming about faster than a jet-propelled cruise liner:
[Saud Al-Faisal, Saudi foreign affairs minister] said a reference to the US currency in the declaration could cause the dollar to "collapse".
More Stuff of Note at another FT article which kind of show that (conspiracy?) fears centered on Iran opening a Euro-based Oil Bourse are probably more moot now - a symbol, perhaps, of how transparently thin the US economy is. Or, as Iran's president put it:
“They get our oil and give us a worthless piece of paper,” he said. “We all know that the US dollar has no economic value.”
Of course, "leaked" discussions and high-end circumspect are still "unofficial" - in which case, there's no need to worry. Just as the Home Office said.

They'll let us know when to panic, right?

[Addendum] The BBC reports that the US rapper Jay-Z has already made the switch to Euros. Here's hoping street krewz will all adopt a generally more Euro-friendly position. maybe hang some lovely French brie round your neck? Or b-b-brrrakk people in the face with some good ol' Salami?

Friday, November 09, 2007

Formatting Fixed, but Q: XHTML inside HTML?

Previous breaking on has now been fixed. It was a good opportunity to test out the Feeddigest support, and have to say they responded fairly quickly and fixed it efficiently. Always a bit wary of leaving comments to languish in wasteland forums, so great to find one that you can trust :)

On a related note, it's techie Question Time, yayyyy (like Jonathan Dimbleby talking to The Lone Gunmen). I noticed I have a mismatch - uses HTML, but my blog uses XHTML. As such, when the content of the latter gets imported into the former (via Javascript), it seems (to me) that there's an unholy alliance/transgenic hybridisation that I was trying to avoid. ("Behold! An HTML page spliced with an XHTML feed... with five asses!")

From a "technical" perspective, is this "bad"? The W3C Validator doesn't have any problem with the page, as it doesn't call the Javascript. And if bad, what's the best way of resolving it? Convert one to the other? Find some way to convert XHTML within an Atom feed to HTML?

Or can I just ignore it? :)

TBH, I'm asking mostly out of curiosity. It's not something I've noticed before, but with the increasing extent of syndication and cross-site content, I can't believe it's not an uncommon occurrence. That said, nor can I see anything in FeedDigest or FeedBurner that takes it into account.

Feed my face with your o(pi)nions!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Passwords: a UI for the Memory?

I'd been avoiding it for some reason, but I've done it - I've finally entered my card details into the Verified by Visa (VBV) scheme. I don't know why I don't trust it - maybe it comes across as yet another place to enter my details, and generally the less places that have it, the better. Or maybe it's just the text-entry boxes for entering your card's expiry date, or just the uninspiring graphical layout you're presented with (damn, should have grabbed a screenshot...).

Still, it's done. It's probably safe. But one thing in particular struck me as odd.

You're asked for a password, so that in future you can re-authenticate yourself with the scheme. Fair enough. But it got me thinking about passwords in general - in general, we have pretty vague guidelines for passwords. Guidelines tend to focus on using a diverse character set to avoid brute-forceability. They also like to suggest the avoidance of common words, but the use of a memorable phrase - probably shrunken to its acronymical form. (Hey, that's a fun word!)

What struck me about providing one for VBV was twothreefold, actually.
  • First, I could only use numbers and letters - no spaces, no punctuation. There go my usual strong passwords, then.
  • Second, I noticed that when you get asked to re-authenticate, you get asked for certain letters of your password, rather than the whole thing. Fair enough, but it's weird to notice just how much you rely on finger memory for entering passwords.
  • Third, as you have to use at least one letter and one number, there's no way to integrate it with my current bank password, which is letters only. This is where the password-as-a-memory-interface thing kicks in. Both my banking password and my VBV password - to me, as a user - are essentially accessing the same thing. But I'm forced to use 2 different ones. Why can't I, say, authenticate against my own bank's security, instead of going through yet another system which just encourages me to forget or write down my password?

Memory is context-dependent. As systems become more "fragmented" in terms of how much data can be shunted from place to place, maybe more thought needs to be put into how we remember who we "are".

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Photos, no, everything breaking at

Odd, my photos from Flickr are showing up as HTML on the front page (i.e. everything beneath this if you're on that page already). Can't think of anything I've done to change this, so hopefully it'll switch back at some point. If not, I'll be looking into it.

Grrr, bloody technology.

Update: Hmm, looks like it's FeedDigest to blame, as it's not just my photos that are doing it, and their RSS feed is converting angled brackets into character entities. Having a look now for possible reasons and solutions...

Update 2: Fixed! See this post for details.

Get E-mailed Responses on Blogs

Ooh, nice. Looks like have added the ability to be e-mailed responses to your comments on blog posts. I'm assuming you need to a) have a gmail account (I might be wrong) and b) be posting to a blog, but isn't simply everybody MUNCHING FROM GOOGLE'S CAKESTAND these days?

And yeah, other places have had this for ages. But I'm still playing Gamecube games, so go figure.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Wun of those Weeks: Women in the World

Looks like it'll be one of those "surreal" weeks - and it's only Monday.

Supermodel chooses pay in Euros over Dollars (and I thought the Iranian Oil Bourse was a threat...)

Kylie starts her own social networking site - see Kylie Konnect. I guess they decided against adding "Klub" on the end there.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Facebook and OpenSocial: Function vs Friendship

Wow, what a week. Hopefully I'll blog about it some time in the future. In the meantime, I've not had much chance to catch up with what's going on with Facebook-"challenger" OpenSocial in the last few days.

Phil is covering a lot of it at the moment, with some interesting questions and thoughts. However, from what little I've read of it, the primary focus is on widget portability, rather than network/user portability. In which case, one wonders what the priorities (and hence the business models) are for these services: Do users go to where the functionality is ("build it and they will come"), or do the applications go to where the users are? OpenSocial suggests the former, but my experience with Facebook and MySpace suggests the latter.

As such, I'm agreeing a lot with what Jeremy Keith is saying about it all - namely that what you really want, as a user, is to import and export your contact lists, not get access to the same app that everyone else everywhere has.

The paradigms are getting blurry, that's for sure. What do users really want - function or friends? Portability of both seems like important steps, but does competition get in the way of that? Are Google and friends really just doing something that now needs to happen at the National level?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Danah Boyd re-builds walls on Facebook

This is my problem with Facebook, too. It's an all-or-nothing thing (thing... thing...).

Danah Boyd has to choose her "real" friends now.

When will people wake up and realise that having networks that are too transparent is a very real problem. Information - including social info - is all about context. The exact same thing goes for the debate over privacy and ID cards (vs supermarket loyalty cards, say) - one context, a shop, may be ok. Another context, a government, is a completely different matter because they're up to completely different activities. I can give my mobile number to my doctor, but not to marketing companies.

I'm not sure whether you can actually manage contexts in a formal, technical fashion such as an SNS would be based on. ICT is based more on "openness" and ease of information transfer than on information expiring, being blocked, etc. Privacy does not come easily under network capitalism.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Coming out: I love e-mail!

There are times when you realise you're not quite as socially connected as Scott Beale, and there are times when... no, wait, I will never be as socially connected as Scott Beale. But I can still identify with him when he says "I hate social network messaging systems." The messaging systems, mind. So, interesting to see he's come up with a manual autoresponder (same link, but I love the oxymoron) to redirect people to his e-mail to get in touch with him.

Some people seem to enjoy proclaiming the death of e-mail. Personally, it's probably still my favourite channel - maybe that's the nostalgia juice kicking in ("Geez, is it internet twilight time already? I ain't even 30 yet."), but with age and legacy, it's also kept alive the spirit of the Hack.

Not in a phlegmy way, or a journalistic way, or indeed some nose-curling combination. I mean, one: e-mail is decentralised - register a domain, set up your own server, or buy up an ISP, use your client to connect. No relying-on-some-free-wheeling-company to throw interpersonal messages in on top of their service - either pay for it, or DIY.

two is that it's an endpoint. Things go to an e-mail address like your first-born son heading into a cave to fight a dragon. You don't expect anything to come back, but it'd be nice. And despite inherent biases in character sets, generally the more basic the e-mail is, the more chance it has of getting through. There's a lovely filtering process going on there, especially when combined with modern information overload - stick to the basics, and you might make it. All you need is a tin pot for a helmet, and a stick for a sword!

three: I can play with it once it gets here. For me, playing takes the form of a giant procmail script and a gamut of Perl weapons. Does it always work? No, not after a few whiskies and an upside-down vim cheatsheet. Is it fun? Well, what else is the Internet for?

Are there better ways of storing and looking after our conversations? Definitely. I know GMail has upped the ante a bit, but there's always a trade-off for server-side solutions, including web-based ones - in this case, my procmail scripts. Getting a good e-mail client is harrrrd - Tristan heading off to find a falling star has nothing in comparison. Searching and threading are good yay. I'm surprised I haven't seen GMail-style conversation threading in a client though (is it patented?) Still, I'm sure a whole bunch more could be done - intelligent handling of crappy quoting, for instance? (Curse you, mailing-list-digests-of-repetition.) Finding a client with decent IMAP integration on top is like discovering the perfect noodle.

But I'm looking forward to being able to use e-mail in 10 years' time as all these younger whippersnappers ("Oi, get out of our way, e-grandad!") realise they're there to fill a very temporary niche...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Zippy Economy, x.0-style.

This blog is worth exactly £0.00.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007 3.0 has had something of a zen makeover - the old site is now archived, and will still be maintained if I get any random thoughts (fat chance?). Generally, it's now just more "personal", less "chaotic", and with more integration with my other stuffs on the internets. Entropy is fun for a while...

CSS seems to work relatively well in IE6 (except for some not-too-disturbing bullet points down to ignorance of ">" selectors). Maybe the KISS approach works for MS browsers (and thus my sanity) too. I'm looking forward to the day that browser development and cognitive psychology merge into one mecha-psycho-browse-experience.

This is the third incarnation of I seem to have a lot of old stuff lying about (looking in my directory structure is akin to seeing Hell), so thinking about a site gallery. NostalgiaWhizz!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pointy Post, sans grammar.

I know it's a little passe to point these things out, but best (and, perhaps, geekiest). xkcd. like, ever.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Photography: Indulge your Lo-Fi Side

Couple of photography snips...
  1. I decided to do a small bit of writing, and put up an article on using custom tone curves with a Nikon Digital SLR: Put some Punk back in your DSLR. It was most fun spending a few hours wandering around Brighton beach with some ramped-up colour scheme.


  2. News comes via squarefrog that October 20th is World Toy Camera Day. As some probably know, I'm an avid Holga user, an often choose it as my party-accompaniment instead of a bulky SLR. It takes photos for me. So a day to celebrate the glory of all things toy photo sounds like a good idea to do.. something. If you want to know more about such things, head over to, and check out the WTCD flickr group.

    Waiting for a Pick-up

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Control-Z, Dammit. Scribefeed v2.

Ah, forget that last post - Feed Digest does exactly what I want, perfectly, so the Feedburner feed now uses that instead. You can even output the merged feed as HTML, Javascript and WML, plus get an OPML list of the subfeed*. Case closed, booyakarashapa!

* Has anyone else noticed that "OPML" sounds quite like "Opium Hell"?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Testing New Merged Feed

Seeing as Feedshake is being non co-operative, I've been messing with piping Atom feeds all over the place. If you want a shaky way to slurp all my blogs on the right-hand side, try:

Feedshake was nice, until it broke. I tried out FeedMePlz, but it doesn't seem to do an outgoing feed yet. Also trying out Feedbite - see my feed here - but it has random photos popping up on my feed, so maybe it's not doing what I think it is...

Under Google Reader you can make certain tags public. As my own feeds aren't changing much, I set up a new account and added them all under a single tag, then made that tag public and fed the public feed URL into Feedburner. The advantage to FB is I can switch in a different feed if I find something better, so that URL should stay now.

It's a little problematic, mostly due to Google Reader doing some funny things:
  1. Doesn't seem to understand dates from my Flickr feed, so currently all the recent photos are lumped together at the top. Might work itself out over time.

  2. My twitter feed suffers the same problem, so I'll keep an eye on the photos and add twitter if they do sort themselves out.

  3. GR can't seem to find my feed at the moment. I'll see if it works later.

Will see how it goes, whether Feedshake comes back, or if anyone has any better ideas... In the meantime, feel free to try it out.

Global Playground Friendships

Perhaps one of the better news stories: UK no longer USA's love interest? Of course, some of that could be the opposite, due to the dispersal of some of the PNAC crowd and the drop in the $$$: maybe it's just not worth cosying up across the Atlantic any more. The Euro's the new Dollar, and Camp Song Contests are the new Camp David.

Monday, October 01, 2007

"Coop! What happened to Feedshake?!"

Did it get sucked into the hotel wall, or has Feedshake just gone belly-up, support-wise? My feed is broke, and others I've googled for don't seem to work either. Mails to their contact address don't seem to have been answered.

Where's Anne Robinson and Alice Beer when you need them? "This RSS feed could be a potential deathtrap!" Any recommendations for other feed aggregators (e.g. combine 10 feeds into 1 public feed)? Does Feedburner swing that kind of way?

Damn fine coffee, though.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Meta-Discussion over at Sphereless

Wow, I finally blogged something over at Sphereless after many mooncycles. Debatepedia has a funny name, but harks back to ideas for augmenting and classifying debate.

Who Screwed Up the Lightbulb Interface?

Apparently there's a lightbulb switchover plan for the next few years. One thing stopping me from going out and buying more green bulbs is that you get to the shop, read the fine print, and get welcomed with "NOT SUITABLE FOR USE WITH DIMMER SWITCHES." Poop. So I figured I have the Internet, and it's the 21st century FYOOTERR and everything, so there must be dimmable greenbulbs out there somewhere.

And yay! There are! Just need a shiny jumpsuit and personal rocketpack now. But, wait.

Lightbulbs are probably one of the best interfaces, like, evah. You switch it on/off. If you want to dim it, you turn a dial, like proper interfaces should do. (Except those ones where you hold it down... god-damned atrocities, I call 'em. Make me wanna hurl, etc.) How much complicated could dimming things be???

Much, much more complicated, is the answer. The new dimmable ones seem to have the dimming feature built into the lightbulb itself, so your usual wall switch is basically a proxy. Check out the video here for how to employ this proxy in all its glory, but basically we're looking at a series of "brightness steps" (which in all other contexts sounds like an exceedingly fun, McDonalds-happy-meal-advert type thing).

Switch on, bulb comes on. Switch off, bulb goes off. OK so far. But then.. switch back on within 3 seconds, bulb comes back on dimmer. Repeat a few times to go in a cycle.

Hmm, odd, but not crazy I guess. Unless you gots a dimmer dial and no switch. In which case you need to turn the dial down and back up again, several times, to get to the lowest dimness. (No, wait, greatest dimness? Urkl. Less light.)

I am not explaining any of that to my elderly relatives.

OK, rant over-ish. I was thinking for a moment, "Ack, I'm blogging abut lightbulbs. WTF has gone wrong with me?" But I think there's a serious point under it. Maybe. Or, hey, how about 2? a). Perhaps we can't just expect world-saving innovation to succeed because it's green - it has to be usable too, and as much thought has to go into this aspect as goes into the technological side of things. (That's innovation for ya.) and b). Green goods don't exist in a usability vacuum - there's a thing called "technological momentum" (although it probably has many names, like God) which means we're used to stuff already, and so new innovation needs to take the current state of affairs into account.

In other words, dimmer switches work well, and we're generally used to having them. So why are green dimmer bulbs a) difficult to get hold of and b) stupid to use?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Jedi Dungeon Crawling Request

Can someone please mash-up/remix/hybrid/cut-n-paste these babies with this beauty? Thanks. I might stand a chance against those giant (grrr) ants then.

[first link via laughing squid.]

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fast Forward into Brighton's Doughy Future

Phew, Brighton has another Pizza Express. It's always good to have a spare or 2, just in case something happens. I hear there's a national shortage of Pizza Expressi.

Of course, after a huge needle and a secret French Radio Station (shh...), what we really need is a Giant Duck.

Gi-ant-duck! Gi-ant-duck!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

If real life were like Tamagotchi life...

If real life were like Tamagotchi life...

  1. I would be up at 8am every morning, and in bed by 9pm every night.

  2. Having a kid with a random stranger at 6 years old would be fine.

  3. I could go from working menial tasks at a funfair in the morning to being a bank worker in the afternoon. (up side.)

  4. Bank staff would have to avoid turds while collecting money. (down side.)

  5. I could earn a living on just the ringtoss at the local fair.

  6. I could be happy just by eating snacks.

  7. All food could be eaten in 3 bites.

  8. The Queen would drop by and give me plants and cash.

  9. I could get away with giving people turds for presents.

  10. Life could be put on pause until I could deal with it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Noiseless words, hovering like flies

In the FT, Peter Barber comments on a new book by Stuart Sim called "Manifesto for Silence". Having trailed round a few cathedrals last week, and being subjected to high-spirited students alighting in the upstairs flat before term starts, it'd be fair to say that I've got a hankering to go out and buy a copy. However, reading about silence when all around is noisy would probably be the most irritating endeavour in the world, and I don't fancy going to a church just to read. (Going to think, and to not think, is infinitely nicer.) Still, silence is worth considering in a world where the closest we get to deliberately constructing it is on "quiet zones" in trains, and when everything else seems intent on breaking our concentration with audiobuzz.

Elsewhere, I've decided to have a go at short, dirty, noiseless words after seeing Amy's great attempts over there. One pasted below, the others can be found alongside it over at

An incoming message. "Whaddya think of this? 17v07b629n2c72n827c038c27e"

The genetertainment software whirled instantly into life, a thousand network connections unfurling into the ether to lasso samples from across the world. The track began: randomly-generated, encapsulated in a single string, each layer dancing giddily with itself, yet weaving like straw in a landscape of beats, loops and harmonies.

I listened. It pulled me in. I left it, looping over and over like the life of a Universe in endless repetition. I clicked, forwarding the genome on. Months later, it was still top of the worldwide chart.

"Umb-er-ella", it croaked. "...ella, ella..."

Might have to make it along to the nearby Short Story Festival at Charlestone in a few weeks.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Audio and Video to Delight and Tantalise the Senses

A few things that caught my ear and eye recently, although not in the painful way like a fishing hook would. More like the cyber equivalent of the smell of bread.

  • Been wanting to blog this for ages, ever since he needed some webspace for it - Rebellion, from over at AU, has written and recorded a radio play, and it's really good. It's called The Message.

  • Been catching up with monochrom finally, and must say I was heartily amused and weirded out a little by their movie The Void's Foaming Ebb:

  • Drumpants (see "projects") are on my Christmas list:

    (Via ESP.)

Other than that, I have been staring at motorbikes and eating crepes.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

E-ink: A cynical eye

I was going to leave a comment on Adrian Hon's
musings over the upcoming Amazon e-reader, but it started to turn into a full post instead. Adrian also reviewed the Sony Reader recently, and was rather let down by it.

I used to be very excited by e-ink - or, rather, by the idea of e-ink, I guess. Or, rather, e-paper. But then, reality is never what you expect it to be, I'm perhaps less of a geek these days, and, well, sometimes excitement just ain't what it used to be. I've also gone through a couple of handheld devices (a Palm, and a Nokia 770) and tried reading various items on them to various degrees of success (news is good, got halfway through In the Beginning... on the Palm, and found PDFs nice to read on the 770). But replacing books - specifically, I'd say, paperbacks, is a whole different kettle of ink. I'm setting this article down as a cynical challenge to e-readers. That's to say, there are some deeply entrenched views about books, some of which may be changeable, others perhaps not. If e-readers are to leave the hands of geeks and fools then these challenges need to be taken seriously.

From Adrian's articles, it seems like the jump from early-adopters to the mass market is perhaps the most intriguing challenge - the "reality"of the situation once the technology exists. This kind of innovation depends on two things: price, and usability. Paperbacks are hard to beat for this: you pay a few quid (or less in a decent second-hand rummage), and get something you can carry round with you for a few weeks (or months, in my case), spill beer and blood on, push to the bottom of a loaded rucksack, and still whip out when you're standing in a queue without getting funny looks. That's pretty good value for cash.

E-readers, on the other hand, tend to be largely expensive and, while much thought may be put into making them strudy and rugged, still suffer from at least a perception of fragility. Some of this stems from the fact that you've just paid a large amount of cash for the device, and if it breaks then that's it - you've lost all access to your reading material. There's some crazy old saying about eggs and baskets that's useful from the psychological perspective of marketing and usability there. (The same may apply to music and photos, but at the same time books are generally bigger - and expected to be more "rugged".)

Besides the cost-risk compromise though, there are a number of other issues that put me off electronic books. Firstly, it seems very hard to capture the simplicity of books. I can flick through to find pages, I can jump to any page instantly. Necessary book accessories are a) something to act as a bookmark - I often use old bus and train tickets, but even a fish "works" here (or strips of bacon, if I remember my Dad's old librarian tales correctly), and b) an optional pencil, to take notes if it's that kind of book. (Throw in the tactile joy of streaming my thumb over the page edges to get to my position in the book too.)

Slow interfaces are not an option in e-readers - anything that imposes a delay will fail. Personally, more of a dual-screen approach would make sense to me, like the 2 open pages of a book - maybe something similar to this (nostalgia aside). I don't know why 2 screens thing makes sense - maybe it's the symmetric handling. I also like being able to use both my thumbs in a videogame-style way. Keyboards are a no-no.

The second thing is that not all books are equal, yet e-readers insist on treating them so. I have some books just to read them. I have some books because they look nice. I have some books because they're a cute size. I have some books because they're cheap and disposable. I have some books that I scribble in, take notes, etc. I have some books that I like to open at the same time as others (a table full of open books is invaluable when writing an essay, for instance). Books fo different things, and as such get treated differently, and I think one of the biggest questions facing an e-book is: what kind of book are you?

Maybe the key to e-readers then is not to simulate traditional books, but to be their own thing. Work out what functionality books can't provide (such as quick text searching, and hypertext perhaps) and work out which problems that functionality solves (or the other way round, if possible).Otherwise, print e-paper en masse and make each book its own thing - then I could carry round the Baroque Cycle knowing, quite happily, that I don't have a keyboard to take notes on. Choose the book interface you want - like choosing music on different formats. It all depends on the functionality you need from it. (Hey, some people might like scribbling on their copies of Quicksilver...)

The final option is just to wait 10 years for Apple to get round to looking at the whole thing properly ;)

Friday, September 07, 2007


...aaaaand, we're back, with an all new blog design yay. Still need to fix up the links properly and format comments, etc, but the main template switch is done and styled. Let me know if you get any oddities at all - so far it's only tested in Firefox and Safari.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Brighton slides ever closer towards nothingness

Aw... looks like the change in pub opening hours has its knock-on effects, such as the Sussex Arts Club closing its doors due to a drop in numbers. I haven't been out a great deal in the last few months, but pubs in general do seem to be a bit quieter. The SAC is having its last gig next Saturday.

On the positive side though, I hear rumours that the Free Butt may be opening its doors again. Is this enough to offset the imbalance brought about by both Costa and Subway opening new stores on/near London Road, and the Western Road Oddbins joining the London Roader's fate? "Meh", as they say.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Brighton Bristles

Laziness, tea-making of the zombie dead, and Tamagotchi babies (with an i) all conspired against me this morning, so it's just as well the BBC have some excellent photos of the WBMC 2007 which bristled in Brighton today. I even wear a strange mental badge of pride for living in one of the few British places that made it in to Laughing Squid (which explains the pointy feeling in my brain and the rainbows in my eyes).

Also. If you're into graffiti (or what I like to call "paintpunk"*) and pictures of pictures - and people making pictures of people making pictures - (but not people of people) - then you might want to "take in" the work of DarkDaze down at the North Laine above Snooper's. (insert related flickr-group plug here.)

Other stuff is happening in Brighton too. I recommend it.

* or not.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Parisian Preservation of Urban Creativity

"All the cities all over in Europe are starting to look the same. London, Berlin they're going to have the same streets with the same shops.

"Culture is a very important thing to create integration, to create a higher quality of life."

Over the next three years, any commercial building that comes up for sale in this area will only be offered up to those who want to start things like bookshops or arty cinemas. Big businesses, even those offering to pay high rents, will not be allowed to infiltrate.
-- Paris rallies against consumerism

"Infiltration" is a great way of putting it, even if it's hard to hide a 3-storey Starbucks. Familiar logos spring up in shop windows over weekends, weaving their way into your monoculture view of the world so fast that you can't even remember what was there 48 hours ago. London Road has its own Costa now. Travelodges for the caffeine-weary. Pattern-matching morphine for those needing respite after their fill of the new and different. Independence is now a tourist attraction, a mine of creation to be caged and commoditised.

Paris perhaps gets the link between happiness and creativity. For some reason, the UK links happiness to consumption. The New England Quarter claims 20,000 square feet of "small business" space, but 25,000 for Sainsbury's (not including car park space?). And guess which one's open.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Misleading Headlines, #245,258b

"Jet Li attacks China film censors"

Cue scenes of Jet breaking into movie HQ and kickchopping the head of media content through a 100th-storey window. But no. Jet has put away his sword, and instead "voices frustration". On his blog.

Here's what we're gonna do: Martial arts films can replace their fight scenes with flamewars and on-line blogrolls, so long as the House of Commons gets some wires installed and has to-the-death wuxia combat to determine policy.

Then, just maybe, the world will start to make sense.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Wishing on a star

Missed the Perseid meteor shower last night, but luckily Chicken Yoghurt has a most amusing write-up.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

What do you think makes up British Values?

Over at the Machine, I'm asking "what are the values that we share in Britain?", and am intrigued to hear any thoughts on the matter as I'm quite confused as to it all.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Seriously, stop buying stuff.

Almost missed this. Monbiot tells it like what it is.
"In the name of environmental consciousness, we have simply created new opportunities for surplus capital."

If only there was a way to list everything you owned.

Land Grab of the Soul

I was thinking of posting something about the soul, individuality and all that snaff, and the lust for social connections and social validity brought about by the Internet, but fleh, yesterday's Zippy strip does the job better than I ever could.

Maybe it's time to go out-line for a while soon.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Missing the (blunt) point

More research linking cannabis with psychosis, and while correlation between the 2 is admitted by the study authors (alternate hypothesis: psychotics may take up smoking more), it doesn't appear until after the first header break, and even then only gets a small paragraph. The tone of the article is definitely more concerned with a pre-decided, straight-forward "cannabis will break your head!" line.

Been reading a couple of Castaneda books recently, which deal with psychotropic drug use to arrive at a different "view of reality" (actually, it's more about breaking from your "established" view, which probably explains why it's banned more than anything). That drug use is not a necessity (a point made clear in "Tales of Power") is not the point. The relevant message here is thoroughly in line with Leary's message: Drugs are a Technology and, as with all technologies, is inherently Powerful. But whether they are "good" or "bad", "harmful" or "liberating" depends utterly on how you use them. Giving a gun to a baby is stupid. Driving a car if you're blind is stupid. Using a laptop in the rain is asking for warranty troubles.

Unfortunately, the state of British drug policy is overly (or perhaps underly) compartmental: drugs are for "leisure", "medicine" or "harm". The alternative state of "exploration" is curiously and constantly overlooked. Drugs can be dangerous, but surely that's why they should be treated with far more respect and understanding than we give them today.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Friday, July 06, 2007

Release the Sound! I ordered the new UNKLE album, "War Stories", as the super-dooper-Limited-Edition 2CD magic thing package, but got an e-mail today from Play saying they'd run out, or aliens had vomited on them or something. Bah. One quick trip into town later and ta-da!, one cleverly vacuum-packed well-posh-innit music bulk in my possession.

But getting hold of it was the easy part. Listening to it was the real challenge. Stupid.. hnnng... CDs won't ... arghle... come out of ... f'ing... case...

Note to fancy designers: If you're going to vacuum-seal your limited edition baby (not literal baby. I hope.), you can bank on increasing the value by making it only openable through precious-packaging-destroying maneuvres, or near as taodammit that the "war stories" of opening it make it go down in history. At least, I'm assuming by sucking all the air out of it, things get "tight" inside...

After 5 minutes of palm-slapping and vague physical sadism, I resorted to the Gordon Ramsay approach as recommended in the last link:

Unfortunately, the tiny-but-pointy brothers failed in their task. The wooden spat-u-twins in the background were similarly akin to pushing buttered pigs up trouser legs to get the ferret out. So the big boys came out:

Success! And extra magic bonus points for not slicing and dicing own wrists in process. If you're reading this after wondering what your "new" album (bought a month ago) sounds like, then I recommend using it as an excuse to go out and buy a pair of big FO shiny Knives. Japanese ones are "cool", apparently.

All in all, I quite enjoyed this challenge. It provided a welcome variation to the little milk cartonlets you get on planes to annoy the person behind you. I give it a 7.5 out of 10, although it'll be a while before I'm brave enough to put the CD away again. (Listening to it now, it sounds pretty good, which is also a handy win.)

p.s. am away for 2 weeks, so don't go eating my cheese. Help yourself to tea though.

Art imitates Life imitates Art imitates Life...

Laughing Squid has photos of some 7-Eleven stores in the US being taken over by Kwik-E-Mart for the new Simpson's Movie.

Personally, I love the way satire and piss-take weave their way back into reality, like a hungry robot badger chasing down its flesh-filled counterpart and mocking it with cruel beepnoise:

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Striking a balance between music and fun

Quick follow-on from the death of Fopp. There's greater discussion of it at this Times article on the new "Rough Trade" store. It's a few days old, so it talks as if Fopp were still a living, breathing musical beast, but it sheds light on the position of the supermarkets:
"Although Tesco rang up record profits last year and increased its share of the music market, it did so by squeezing prices so hard that it lost money on the CDs it sold."

Looks like HMV and Rough Trade are trying to become more "cafe"-style-oriented-whatnots: grab a drink, sit down, browse the net, play games, etc. Music comes in there somewhere.

If done right, I think that could work. Strike a deal with, or set up your own recommendations thing, aim for the rich people who bring in laptops, or provide some simple web-terminal-cum-radio thing, get people to set up their profile or plug an existing one in, and let them listen to recommended music. A "modern" service might even get customers to recommend things to each other - maybe some kind of "request a recommendation" system that would let you post your favourite band, acquire similar recommendations, and then wait for you to come back and check it.

I guess you have to have both things though - a decent system for recommendations/sampling and a place that people actually want to go to. A wifi'd up cafe is nothing - I can get that from anywhere. Similarly, I can get recommendations through, amazon, even friends yeeikes. But serve up a personalised sampler CD with a hookah (are those things illegal too now?), throw on the odd silent disco and you've got a winner, baby.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Games are more than fun

"New research dispels the well-worn stereotypes that computer gamers having no social skills and girls avoid violent games like Grand Theft Auto", apparently. Some of this is "well, duh" to people like me that have grown up with games. For instance:

"Two-thirds of boys aged 12 to 14 and one in four girls had played an M-rated game (meant for those over 17) in the last six months."

C'mon, how many of us had seen films rated way above our age before we reached "maturity"? I remember my physics teacher showing us Predator on the last day of term (minus the boring, talky bits, of course). Interpreting a) violence and b) films (or storytelling at large) is a way important part of growing up that people seem to overlook. Grimm Brothers fairytales? Violent. Roald Dahl? Sick. The world is disgusting, we'll find ways of sorting out that information way before we're 18 (or probably even 12).

"Children used games to help them manage their emotions. When angry or stressed they liked to use games to get these emotions out."

Much like adults then, I would assume. This highlights the difference between games causing violence, and games containing violence (perhaps even violence "causing" games...). The debate over whether gaming causes violent behaviour might as well be the same as asking whether punching bags cause violent behaviour (another, more "real" simulation of violence). Same goes for music - we don't need to stop people from being violent - they're violent and nasty by nature, half the time (the other half they're quite good, really). We need outlets. (Hey, does this mean we need more violent games for kids?)

The second part of the link deals with the sociability of gaming:

"When I was a lad computer gaming was a very unsociable activity. This was partly because good multi-player games hadn't yet been developed. Now players can battle each other while sitting side-by-side, or virtually across the internet."

This shows, I think, an intriguing trend in the development of computer and console gaming. When I were a lad, computer gaming was extremely sociable - a lot of games in the Amiga/Atari landscape were at least 2 player, and we often gathered for bouts of 3, 4, 5 ... even up to 8 players, all at the same time. The relative failure of Sega's Dreamcast and Nintendo's Gamecube are irritating signposts to, from my perspective, the less social nature of games. PC gaming (over the internet), the PlayStation (in all guises) and the XBox (both with less than 4 controllers by default) mean gaming - again, for me - is a lot less fun because it's a lot less sociable. (No coincidence that I sold my PS2 recently, but am keeping the Dreamcast and Gamecube.)

That said, I think there's a lot going for narrative and story in games - "immersive storytelling" is far more of a social experience outside the gameworld than a straightfoward romp through levels one at a time. Games then have become more like books, or films, in that "consuming" them is a generally individual experience, but one that's shared with other people who have gone through the same thing.

Perhaps this is the amazing thing about ARGs, which have filled a gap which videogames have tended to stay clear of on the whole - they involve a group in a story, so both develop as the game is played through. I'd love to see more of that in videogames. (Well, I would if I had time to play them ;)

Monday, July 02, 2007

"We lived above a convenience store..."

An interesting cross-blog thought-gather as we start to see the effects of networked modern capitalism on culture retailers.

Guy noted the death of Fopp which got me wondering (in comment form) about the ol' "long-tail" thing, and the possibility of a polarisation - a split between the mainstream music retailers (who are now becoming supermarkets & iTunes, rather than "traditional" music stores) and more independent/social chains (such as and, uh, iTunes...).

And Richard posted about the point of giving away popular culture when there's a chance the publishers could make more money keeping it at the RRP. My comment there was more on the nature of supermarkets, it turned out, but goes a little way to expanding on the death of Fopp.

Supermarkets represent convenience - time, space, all your weekly food in one big go. But now that convenience captures something bigger - convenience lets supermarkets sell branding (read "hype") like nobody else. By distributing all sectors - clothes, entertainment, seasonal products and even food - an entire marketing department is represented in one fell swoop. Supermarkets don't sell Harry Potter books, they sell Harry Potter. Horizontal Conglomeration emerges into a never-ending run of Lifemarks: one month, DanBrownerise your life. The next, Fantastic4ForAll! Content owners love supermarkets, and the feeling is mutual.

But where does this leave everyone else? Fopp and HMV can't keep up because they don't sell clothes. Independent music survives because it is easy to give away, easy to spread, easy to hook people into. You can listen to 10 albums in a day, but it would take you (ok, me), a year or more to read 10 books.

The most obvious course is to copy your competitors - branch out, start becoming not just a music store, but an integrated music experience store. But even that's a losing game - supermarkets have been playing it for too long.

So where next? Are we doomed to be dominated by a cat-and-mouse pirate fight between "the corporation" (think Rollerball) dictating the theme of the month, and "weenies" who are here one day and gone the next (either because they existed for novelty value's sake, or because they get bought up by the goliaths)?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Mimsical Whimsical Steampunk Kerclunk

A photographic montage of many things steampunk over at Wired is rather popular with the crowds at the moment. It also has a rather splendid link to Steampunk Magazine which, given the price of ink (and fish) these days, is probably cheaper to get sent over from the New World than to print out in my slovenly* basement - viewing via a screen would be Too Much. I will place an order and see what occurs in the near future. (Hopefully a copy of "Transformers: Hearts of Steel" will also furnish my environment soon and fill my days with chuckling mechanicals.)

* Do the words "slovenly" and "slovenia" come from the same place?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Text: Layout, Meaning, Flow and Feeling

Having a quick look at LiveInk, which re-structures the layout of text into a hierarchical structure based on content and semantic analysis. Try out the demos.

Reading Moby Dick though, I'm struck by the extent to which I, at least, read it in a very "mechanical", stilted style. I don't know if that's just an initial reaction though - does the mind wonder what it's reading: "Is it prose? Is it a poem? Is it just a series of points?" Certainly I feel like I'm missing out on the flow of the words - something I find that weighs heavily on me as I'm writing. It's probably because I've been reading for 10,000 years or so, but line breaks just catch me out, wanting to stop.

    Twas Brillig
      And the slithy toves
        Did gyre
          and gimble

        in the wabe.

[Edit] Wow, lists have a load of space underneath...

Monday, June 11, 2007

Local peace statue hacked

Brighton's local Peace statue, which "started as a war memorial", has been modified to reflect Orwell.

Friday, June 01, 2007

eBay goes for StumbleUpon

Intriguing: eBay have announced that they've acquired StumbleUpon (, natch) - a "webpage recommendation" type community thing. The announcement says that SU will continue to operate pretty independently for the time being, but some speculation over why ebay acquired them in the first place is in order. Skype, I can understand, but SU seems a little... removed from ebay.

Maybe it's just the way I use ebay - if I suddenly think of something I need, I'll check ebay for it, but that's about it usually. If I have some randomly spare time, I might browse a category, but won't usually buy anything when doing so. The main selling point of ebay for me is the ability to compare many prices quickly, to get an idea of what I can expect to pay (in comparison to the shops). What I choose to buy isn't something necessarily dictated by what I read on the web - choosing to buy something isn't a particular social experience.

Is ebay looking to use the SU model of recommendation/commenting to drive looking for/recommending ebay items then? I can't see how this would work, especially considering the kind of demographic that use SU (interested in new, and otherwise hard-to-find resources). Or is it about capturing networks of interest - channels of communication along which "similar products" can spread? How would that work? Perhaps there are advantages to a less "explicit" linkage (where explicit means you actively define your contacts a la MySpace,, etc., and the opposite is "recommended users" a la, say) that make it easier to "push" marketing (as people don't feel their "private" space is being invaded so much as they haven't invested as much time setting it up).

It'll be interesting to see, anyway. I never really thought of ebay as a "community" site - does the idea have legs, or are they just trying to jump on the bandwagon?

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Conservative Creativity?

Mixing Memory has a piece on a paper asking whether conservatives are less creative and while it's certainly not a definitive study, the results are intriguing, as are the questions raised at the same time. The results seem to follow people's instinct in saying that there is some correlation between conservativism and creativity.

Food for thought:
  1. What does "creativity" actually measure? I think there's a difference somewhere between open to new viewpoints or attitudes, and to new means or methods for achieving those viewpoints/objectives. Hence, a conservative may be creative in coming up with new ways of doing the same thing - is that still creativity?

  2. This is only correlation of course. The next logical question is whether conservatism leads to a lack of creativity, or whether it stems from it. (Or, indeed, both.)

  3. Is creativity necessarily a good thing, especially in the context of policy? Too much change - the treadwheel of progress - can lead to unforeseen consquences, so maybe the really important question is how we strike a balance between conservatism and creation.

[update: stumbled across some slides discussing what creativity might be.]

Google Domesday Device

Does perusing the new Google Maps street level stuff give anyone else flashbacks to the old Domesday Project on laserdisc? I remember being fascinated by the idea of spying on people's homes back then... (Fascinated and haunted, perhaps. But, ooh, shiny laserdiscs...)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

(Code && Music)

A bunch of livecoding videos showing off different ways to put together sounds through live interfacess (via MJ). Al-Jazari is interesting as it uses spatial movement (of robots) to fire events, which means you can some interesting palindromic music loops going on. Combining it with this game is the logical (and brain-melting) next step, surely... Might have to check out some of the others over the summer though.

(Reminds me I have video of Alex McLean doing some of this back in 04 - see bottom of page.)

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Ashamedly Twitting

If anyone's interested, I'm currently playing around with twitter. Feels like I'm trying to work out what exactly it's for still, have to admit, so maybe I'll just vent some surrealism into it like some big electronic Magritte bong. We'll see. Come, update me on your meagre lives.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

"Green" power plant cancelled

Eh? Amongst all the talk of carbon reduction and the need for nuclear power, it seems a carbon capture power plant has been cancelled after "Westminster delays". Alas, little more information than that, maybe I'll look into it a bit more later...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Entertainment means Clouds Don't Exist, and other Non Sequitors

According to a BBC report on the findings of the Culture Committee (actual parliamentary thingy, not Boy George's latest venture), copyright on performances may be set to expand like it's on Viagra. I've not read the report - I'm obviously too busy for in-depth commentary, but the reasoning in the article is spurious fun (hehe, or "furious spun"... ahem) that gets close to the Chewbacca Defence ("chew back-a da fence!") in terms of sense. Let's look.

"We have not heard a convincing reason why a composer and his or her heirs should benefit from a term of copyright which extends for lifetime and beyond, but a performer should not," the report said.

This is the usual "X (person, country) has it, therefore Y should have it too" argument, which ends up with each country or affected party leapfrogging the others in a never-ending ever-extending circle of WANT. Yeah. The opposite - that a composer should be afforded advantages that performers do without - would be an admission of SHAME and BACKWARD-THINKING. (Or "gnikniht".)

"Given the strength and importance of the creative industries in the UK, it seems extraordinary that the protection of intellectual property rights should be weaker here than in many other countries whose creative industries are less successful," the report said.

Extraordinary? Doesn't this imply that there's some correlation between stronger IP rights, and a more successful ("richer") entertainment industry? Are we obviously crazy for having such a weakly protected, yet so successful stab at mindless entertainment? Yes! Obviously.

Maybe the real correlation here is an inverse one. To me, that sentence implies that stronger IP rights leads to less success, but I am clearly gnikniht here. The two quoted artists - McCartney and Cliff - obviously continue to contribute to the ongoing and progressive success of UK music culture by... uh... living in big mansions? Threatening to shoot themselves in the head? I'm not sure. I did manage to sell Paul's "Flaming Pie" album to a second hand shop for a couple of quid once. I got laughed at (for owning it, not for the price), but that was effectively lunch so I couldn't complain. INDUSTRY SUCCESS!

Anyway, enough capitalised ranting - uh, I mean, public awareness. I'm off to start a "musicians are all lazy f**ktards" campaign to see who really cares about entertainment, dude. Who's with me?

p.s. please don't bash me over the head with guitars next time you see me

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Streets of Brighton: Mummified

Inebriaed chaos, entropic surrealism. That was generally how I thought of the Streets of Brighton during the Festival in May. Last year's Brownian wandering yielded a fetish spherewalk, primaeval
and businessmen who had just worked too much overtime, amongst everything else.

But the photo on the right is more of an indication of this year's festivities. Maybe we just didn't wander around enough, or maybe the grey weather got to me like a wimpering clown, but the "downsizing" effect certainly made a difference. Most things we saw were "installations" timed to go off at regular intervals. There was a timetable, which advised you to plan what you were going to see. There were tall people ("aha, so this whole post is a height insecurity rant.") standing behind the children, which left mea bit out of it. The random encounters ("you have been eaten by a camped-up grue") were lacking. (Although I did finally get to meet the very un-Mr-Ed-like NIN-style horse-machine. "Jack" says it was funny. Believe him not, it was freakin' terrifying.)

The whole thing seemed a lot more "moderated", and definitely geared towards kids, like several circuses (circii?) had been brought together for a weekend, only without the candy floss. So I guess it works if you're a kid. But it left me feeling a bit, I dunno... normal, perhaps. Like I was wandering around a museum, rather than pounced upon by bolts of "wtf?"

Still, I got about 4 decent photos. Will stick them up soon. Just be interesting to see what they do with it next year. (Start charging?)

[Edit: Forgot to plug the Brighton Festival Flickr pool while I was on the subject... :) ]

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Fear in number form

Odd, isn't it, how the biggest popularity spikes are centred on war and death?

I mean, I know it's easy to cite the war with Eurasia as insightful commentary, but there's something... professional about a graph that just brings it home. Violence = Popularity. Fear = Rallying.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Information Economies vs Web 2.0

Bah, I hate that 2.0 moniker, but it turns out there are some important trends going on, and having a name to captcha them just makes writing easier. Maybe you could change that title to "Information Economies vs User-centric Services".. but then you'd still have the equally appalling first 2 words. Anyway.

The Browser have a short interview with Jay Adelson, the CEO of Digg, following the media-grabbing furore yesterday. Why am I linking to that? I dunno, it's not relevant. Here's a random thought.

We keep hearing that we need to make a shift to knowledge economies/information economies if we're to survive - at least in the UK. Production is no longer a feasible option because, well, we suck at it. Innovation and creativity are the new ever-faster buzzwords - sell the ideas, not the things. Because when you have a network, virtual things are easier to sell than tangible things.

But the ruckus over the AACS key shows how flakey this relationship between economy and network is, and how much flakier it's got with a move towards more community involvement. An economy built on digital networks is an economy built on numbers, and as we've seen (multiple times - recall the exact same fuss over DeCSS), numbers out of context are, well, just numbers. The speed and manner at which both the AACS key and the DeCSS code spread reveal the philosphical flimsiness that we hope to build a brave, new world on.

This is why anyone that's smart will be investing in DRM and Crypto, at least for the short-to-medium term. Despite moves towards less DRM, keeping these numbers a secret is what it's all about, and what it'll increasingly be about.

The kicker is that, by fostering a greater sense of community, we now have a correspondingly increased sense of community ownership of information, even when that information might be designated as "illegal" (if, say, acquired through illegal means). Decryption keys are there to stop consumers doing what they want with content. Communities of consumers are inherently against that kind of control.

In a way, this is nothing new. The difference now, I think, is that both sides are gearing up to become larger forces. Crypto has enjoyed relatively limited success, boosted mainly by the need for secure shopping communication. Communities have been around forever on the net, but only now are being more fully, more richly "exploited" - i.e. for commercial means. In a sense, there are 2 economics camps - one (the "information economy", perhaps) that thrives on privacy and isolation. The other ("community economy", maybe?) that gets off on freedom of information and lubricated lines of communication.

It'll be fun to see how the two get on with each other as the pressure builds to virtualise even more stuff.