Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Live action mockery hilarity

If I were human, I'd say "woot" or "OMG" or something. The Onion goes video.

I love shorpy

Pictures such as this one and this one really remind me of why I love Shorpy recently. In fact, all of them do.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Bacon of the Soul

Weaverluke's post on the role of supermarkets in training us and our identity has got me thinking a little. It strikes me that the supermarket - hypermarket, egomart, timeandspacemall, whatever it is - has a pretty odd place in our lives.

On the one hand, it's obviously all about the convenience. People pay more to go to one place (although they may believe they're paying less) and get things over and done with.

But at the same time, the supermarket is a collapsing of social classes, a strange prism through which we seek and consume status. You walk in, and the shelves sit there, offering (thinks you) their wares, tempting you with their cheshire-cat "best value!" prominence. "There are so many products. I can choose between so many products." This is what your brain talks to itself.

But the choice is not which products to buy. No, the choice is what level of products to buy. Are you poor, and opt reluctantly for the "cheapo bastard" range, in all of its anorexic design and minimal credibility? Or are you (or are you simply feeling) a cut above the rest, interested in what the best is, ready to expend hard earned cash for quality goods, sucked into the "ZOMG WTF Organico-supero-20minuteorgasm-packaging-by-madonna" line? Even - heavens - talking to a real person at the deli counter?

Or do you calmly steer a straight path through, and go for the standard "pay a bit less/more, get something edible-yet-inevitably-slightly-prole" range - the middle of the road that means you don't stand out too much when you are finally judged by the 16-year-old cashier's gaze?

Time and space are not the only things that converge under the long striplights of the supermarket aisle. Perhaps this is the reason why Sainsbury's hasn't followed the Tivo way of things. The potential for "scheduled grocery delivery" has been abandoned, gouged at by the twin pillars of on-line shopping, and more sporadic diversity in grocery delivery boxes. It would be simplicity and convenience itself to get a supermarket to deliver the same box of stuff on, say, a fortnightly rotation - to your door, in your fridge, down into your stomach and back out via the underground pipes.

But that would require that we accept the social identity, the status we pick for ourselves as we sift through the 10-foot deep panorama of bacon.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Apollo 404

Playing with the Apollo alpha. Could be interesting, depending on who does what with it, I guess. XUL apps were supposed to be big-ish, but never really took off, so maybe this is it instead. Having said that, I'm not sure how much of an incentive just being able to access the hard drive is just to choose Apollo over plain ol' HTML + CSS. Obvious problems, or limits, with this model:

1. Ability to update clients.
2. I hate having separate apps for separate sites - widgets suffer particularly from this, I find. Why install/upgrade/check widgets when I can use the web/RSS?
3. Security, perhaps - many people may like the "black box" approach that web servers afford?

Actually, I guess I'm making the wrong comparison here. The race isn't between Apollo and web pages, duh. It's between Apollo and "native" apps. Still, the line is blurry. The video on the link above shows an ebay app in development, which means Apollo is basically providing a fancy front-end to ebay. Maybe that's useful for some hardcore ebayers, but all I need to do is search for items, add them to my wishlist, check my wishlist, and maybe bid on stuff. All of which I don't have any problems with right now.

Maybe the real competition is between Apollo and Java apps...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Puppies: Out of Season

Mind-expanding. Something zen. Instructions unneeded.

[snip. think this got redirected, probably something to do with deep-linking. stupid.]

(Via the thinking blog.)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

20 Seconds to Comply

This BBC article on whether HDTV should be available via Freeview ties vaguely in with something I was reading the other day on universal access to communication. The argument is whether everyone should be allowed equal access to technology X, or whether markets should decide.

In the article I read, the question was whether the state should push for universal access. The technology in question was internet communication.

In the article above, the push for universal access is being driven by a "group of broadcasters, retailers and manufacturers" - yup, all the corporations.

It's not much of a surprise, I guess. Each actor chooses the appropriate method for themselves in a particular context. All this talk of whether markets are more efficient overall or not is just smokescreen. Markets are only efficient when they benefit "you".

The funny thing is that a) nobody seems to be asking whether HDTV is needed, but then that's true of 95% of stuff today, and b) the consumers themselves are utterly confused by it all:
More than one-third (37%) believed that they were already watching HDTV. With only an estimated 250,000 HD boxes on the market, this is clearly not the case.
This mirrors confusion, uncertainty and general "do I need this?"-ness of the next range of video media - HD-DVD and Blu-ray. Why do I need to buy all my stuff again?

Many people still don't particularly care if they have analogue or digital. Why should they?

When did we get begin to be told what was important to us and what wasn't?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

When does a "Correction" become a "Disillusionment"?

Everyone's reporting on the latest rather worrying "correction" in global markets currently, following annoying US data and, well, everyone being in debt really.

The idea of a "correction" is a funny one. Usually, this means that people's expectations are being "corrected" back into line with "reality". Markets measure hope - or, perhaps, naivety - about the future, and so one can see these falls as a re-establishment of what's actually happening. The markets were up while people were spending money. They come down when people stop spending.

But if markets are based on hope, but react ultimately to reality, then surely everything they do is just "correction"? "Value" itself is nothing but a perception. The "Value" of MySpace or of YouTube, for example, is a fleeting thing, based on what people think it will achieve - future tense, there. Actual value comes and goes these days as readily as ice cream.

The flipside is that the reality dealt with by markets and economies is actually not reality at all. The reality that is measured, and hence reported, and hence reacted to as per the last few weeks, is just that - what we can assess. The overall growth in markets, then, is based on just what we can see. But there's a whole bunch of stuff outside of this system that we can't/don't see.

If one of the pros of capitalism is that it's a non-zero-sum game - i.e. that everyone in it can gain at the same time - we should be asking where this growth comes from. So far, the major growth of the past century has come from a number of places: firstly, people - third world countries and "emerging economies" have been incorporated such that more work can be done for less. Secondly, technology - a similar principle, more work for less, although in a network society, this has started to translate into a virtualisation, wherein value (like MySpace above) can be created within the "unlimited" realms of the mind. Thirdly, resources - the planet. This is the big kicker, as it's the one we have least control over and, hence, the one that will bite into economies first. This is why the Stern report on climate change has such a big impact. It is, of all things, the most immediate "threat".

So, I think, we should be seeing markets jumps not in terms of "simple correction", but instead attempting to eradicate the difference between "correction" and "what the market system as a whole borrows". There will be a big correction if climate effects are taken into account, just as there are large corrections if working conditions are taken into account. We are equally "restrained" by our physicality as we are "liberated" by our cyber-inventions. However, the Midas touch of innovation has forgotten about at least 2 of the 3 sides of the triangle - people, and the planet, and these are the two big "corrections" that will loom large over the 21st century.

Playing with Mac apps

Just grabbed the latest version of

Slife, formerly Onlife. It's a Mac app that sits in the background, whirring away, watching what you're doing, and indexing it on a big timeline. You can "tag" activity, or group it by project (although so far, after a few months of usage, I haven't seen the need for this yet... maybe I need to make more of an effort).

The new thing to have caught my eye, though, is that they seem to be doing a "slifeshare" thing, which is like a cross between last.fm (here's me, btw) and maybe StumbleUpon. You can see what I'm browsing here.

Still not sure if the whole Twitter-style social-update thing is that huge a deal. I mean, sure, a lot of these things are interesting and, you know, nice and all, but sometimes you can just have far too much information, and we've survived perfectly well (mostly) without it before...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

La Mort de la Société

Just been catching up with the weekend papers over breakfast. The Guardian looks at French suicides linked to US-style working practices. While it notes that France isn't necessarily happy, it makes a go at linking the deaths to increased isolation and competition amongst what-were-formally-peers. Symbolically, maybe the deaths of a few individuals over there are akin to the death of society over here. JUST MAYBE. The general stuff is at the bottom of the article.
Prof Dejours believes a general loss of solidarity has led to people feeling lonely, isolated and afraid, especially, of losing their job. "When people were linked more closely there were rules of politeness and doing the right thing. There was cooperation, teamwork and respect. Now, it's about individual evaluation, competition between workers and everyone for themselves. You realise your colleagues are working against you and you are all alone."

P.S. Saw Inland Empire last night. How much more Lynch can you get? None. None more Lynch.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Google Reader loves to parade naked for your delight

I'm experimenting with Google Reader's ability to share things, by adding items I share to my all-consuming Feedshake feed. Not sure how it's going to work, as I don't always go through the Reader page to read items, but we'll see...

In other random text: Why am I living in a town? Bread is great. What are life and death? Our boiler is broken.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Sony Innovate as much as Microsoft...

...which is to say, hardy at all. The BBC Reports that Sony are lauching their own version of "Second Life" called "Home"*. This bit made my eyes weep for mercy:
We want to start a movement called Game 3.0. It's about emerging entertainment, powered by the audience at the centre of the experience.
In terms of screwed-up, over-hyped business speak, what goes around comes around.

So it's a kind of "walled garden Second Life", is it? I can't imagine Sony relinquishing as much control as LindenLabs, nor can I imagine a feverish crowd of creative types clamouring to create objects (even if they were allowed to entertain such a diversity of thoughts) using a console. It's all about the community, Sony dudes. You ain't got it.

I think Nintendo are in a much better space with this, judging by the success and methods of a) Animal Crossing on the DS, and b) Wii Mii avatars. With both of these, rather than meet in a shared space (where you can read "shared" to be "owned by third party"), the emphasis is on sending a character - your character - out to someone else's space. "Visiting", rather than "meeting". The downside is obviously you don't bump into so many strangers - apparently that's what people in "Web2.0" love to do - watch strangers. The upside, however, is a much greater sense of both ownership (over "your own" space) and community - you know the people there, they know you, there's a lot of trust. Social networking has partially been about finding strangers, but once found, you need a way to "enclose" a private network. Nintendo know that this first part - swapping codes, etc - can be done through any means whatsoever, from face-to-face, to IMs, websites, or what have you.

It's this idea of "ownership" - that users aren't just users and consumers - that Sony never quite seems to grasp. Still, I'm sure (as ever) that it'll be interesing to watch. And that I'll be utterly, utterly wrong.

* Does anyone else find the ever-increasing lust for large companies to invade what should be private with their consumption-fueled machinations creepy? "My Computer" was never that. "Home" is not somewhere I want Sony to be.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

In Memoriam: Jean Baudrillard

Proof that the good don't always die young, but another sad day as Jean Baudrillard escapes the Matrix.

I started working through Simulacra and Simulation a few months back and, as generally with the French lot, while it's hard going, it has some great ideas in it. The BBC article refers to Baudrillard's more recent commentary, quoting him to show how controversial he was. Regarding September 11th:
"It is we who have wanted it. Terrorism is immoral, and it responds to a globalisation that is itself immoral."

I can't remember if I blogged something along similar lines or not (I know it was in mind), but such a quote shows the extent to which Baudrillard was adamant in pointing out how modern society, modern culture works - and not simply how we wish it worked. Like Foucault, he rather enjoyed peeling back the skin to reveal a mirror, portraying just who we are even if it's what we hate. In Simulacra and Simulation, he often quotes McLuhan's saying, "the medium is the message". I can only think that if we had more debates that even entertained such revolutionary ideas, we'd stay perhaps just a little clear of the vapidity of modern political discourse.

Could everyone cool please stop dying now? Ta.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

In memoriam: Chris Lightfoot

Chris Lightfoot, 1978-2007.

See Tom Steinberg's obituary over at MySociety for why Chris was one of the great political geeks - I was even proud, in a way, to sign up for the hosting service he helped run.

We need more people like Chris - even now, he continues to be a source of great inspiration.