October 2006 Archives
October 31, 2006
Can it be true? A bona-fide Apple Store in Glasgow next year? And a stonking huge one, at that? Be still, my beating wallet. Clearly, the only thing that's stopped me buying more Apple gear has been... er... ScotSys.
Actually, that sentence started out as a joke but somehow turned into serious comment by the end. Huh.
Meanwhile, Google just bought JotSpot. Which is either the beginning of the end, the dawn of a new beginning, the date we'll subsequently proclaim as the birth of 'Web 3.0,' or completely irrelevant. I'm hoping for one of the middle ones there.
Frankly, my current search templates suck so badly that I can't face searching The Daily Grind to see if (or how often) I've had this rant before: the term 'User-Generated Content' is plain rude. If the audience is building your site for you, the least you can do is come up with a more civil form of address than 'user.' I can't begin to say how annoyed at get at all the TV people who insist on referring to UGC as if it's the next big thing -- not if they treat their customers with so little respect, it's not. I've two concrete observations on the term, however:
- The way TV types talk about UGC reminds me very directly of the way they talked about video to 3G mobiles, five years ago. I don't expect UGC, in the vague and woolly sense, to have any more impact than Sky News On Demand.
- Dive into Mark. Spot on.
(via Gruber, of course.)
[update, Wednesday: Boing Boing had a story a few days ago about a Nielsen Consumer Generated Media conference that barred attendees from... er... blogging about the conference.]
Oops. Not sure what's going on there. Will try to fix it at some point.
[Update: OK, they were back, and now they're off again, since I'm getting more than a comment a minute. That seems like quite a lot, especially when they're all junk. Cue Akismet and/or captcha-type plugins. Back soon...]
[update 2: Right. MT-Akismet plugin installed, and we'll see how that fares overnight. My assumption here is that what was causing the server load was page rebuilds rather than lookups (which seems to have been suggested by Dreamhost support, though they're a bit vague), but if that's not the case then my comments may die again. We'll see. Trackback is still disabled, for now.]
The Eepybird guys are back, this time with a Diet Coke and Mentos chain reaction film. They've gone the same way as the Spite Your Face Lego film folks, turning a fan flick into something with at least semi-official support. This one is a cross of their original, and the Honda Cog ad Fischli and Weiss (English entry) 'Way Things Go' flick.
Sadly, Eepybird failed to spot the basic problem of these 'chain reaction' type films, which is that they're bastard hard to shoot. You have to design the progression very much around the camera(s), and as soon as the sequence starts you find you really really really want tracks. And lots of cameras. Or, you do what Fischli and Weiss did. Which is... umm... 'cheat'. This latest Eepybird shot is dashed clever, but loses much of its impact because the photography simply isn't sufficiently intimate. That, and dodgy Flash compression makes it kinda hard to see what's going on.
For my money, the people who've got this most right -- that I've seen -- have been whoever's behind the NHK show Pitagori Suichi, as mentioned here several times over the last few months. I could watch their short-but-oh-so-clever marble stuff for hours. And, indeed, I have.
I'm back, by the way. Comments may be, too, though I haven't checked yet.
October 22, 2006
Today, I traipsed merrily around Dublin buying clothes. I'd planned to have a big shop in Glasgow last weekend, but ran out of time. This didn't worry me overmuch, since it had always seemed a bit pointless to buy clothes in the UK only to move them to Ireland the following day. In the end, however, I accidentally failed to pack a whole tranche of clothing. Oops.
Amongst the day's purchases, a pair of shoes. They're terribly funky, bearing as a design feature asymmetric elastic laces for which I had to ask operating instructions (conclusion: they're slip-ons. The laces are just a bit of fancy). Dangling happily from the eyelets, a stylish bundle of swing-tags, one of which reads:
Contact earth: a system which allows the electrostatic energy accumulated throughout the day to discharge and at the same time allows you to be in contact with the earth energies.
Rrrrright. So... the soles are made of some conductive carbon compound, then? Okaaaay. And 'earth energies', what would they be, hmm?
The shoes are Campers, should you wish either to increase your contact with earth energies, or avoid contact with utter twaddle.
October 20, 2006
A few of you have commented on the paucity of postings here of late. There's a word for this, but words don't mean a thing. There's a name for it, and names make all the difference in the world. No, wait, that's Talking Heads. Let me see if I can retune this a bit...
OK, we're back. I'm in Dublin, as I've probably mentioned. I'm making a series for RTÉ called Scope, a science magazine show aimed at teenagers. This is the fourth series, and it's a charming show -- which is, of course, a euphemism for 'it's done intimidatingly well for three years, and I'm trying desperately hard not to screw it up this time around.' The people are lovely, I'm enjoying the city, and the Guinness is entirely incidental to my views on either of these subjects. Clearly.
Doubtless I'll have more to say anon, but in the meantime, here are some pictures:
The Board. I much prefer working with index cards and pin boards than with white boards like this, but needs must -- and everyone else on the production is obsessed with the word 'matrix' anyway. So be it. There's no blow-up here, just the thumbnail, but you can see how many gaps there are in the series. We're making twelve shows; the columns to the right are for the 'celebrity' strand (for which we have an idea and, hence, are pretty happy about), and a strand called 'Burning Questions' which I'm supposed to be writing by milking my back catalogue. You'll notice I've not done much of that yet. Eek. However, the rest of the board is looking pretty healthy... as of this afternoon. This morning, it was scaring us silly.
The view from my head, typing the previous entry about Studio 60. The AP recced a possible location, a new eco-building designed by funky architects here in Dublin. There's not enough new to the story for us to make much of it, but the funky architect was chatting away about how he's just renovated his house using all the same techniques -- wool cavity insulation, solar water heating, and so on. He was looking for lodgers pronto, seemed like a nice guy... and a week or so later, here I am. The orange thing to the right is the terribly clever zero-carbon wood pellet burner doohickie.
So far it's been lovely -- the landlord appears to be just as laid-back, interesting, and witty as I'd thought, and it's causing no end of amusement that he's entirely coincidentally dating a friend of one of my office colleagues. Ireland is, after all, a small place.
The other new American TV show I'm trying to keep up with, via the vagaries of the torrent networks, is Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Sorkin, you will recall, was the driving force behind The West Wing, and the new show follows the now-established style of rompingly sharp dialogue, implausibly long walk-and-talk discussions, and layers of character interactions. West Wing regular Bradley Whitford stars alongside -- no, no, he's better than you think -- Matthew Perry, with a supporting cast of the sort of people you can more-or-less recall from other shows but never quite place. Now five episodes in, the show's starting to settle down, but my opinions of it remain in some flux.
The first couple of episodes are utterly astonishing television, beautifully crafted to a degree that suggests the rest of us, frankly, might as well give up. Every line, every nuance of performance, the detail of every shot -- all drive the narrative with a momentum that could be relentless, yet in Sorkin's hands becomes joyous, even bravura. I found myself cheering at the sheer audacity of it. Which probably marks me out as a sappy television cheerleader, but never mind.
Whereas The West Wing sustained this level of production for perhaps the first three series, however, Studio 60 is starting to show wobbles surprisingly early. The premise is that the Whitford and Perry characters are hired, at the end of the first episode, to head up a late-night US network TV show that's modeled closely on Saturday Night Live. And here Sorkin starts to offer easy targets for the critics. The show-within-the-show, you see, simply isn't very good -- Sorkin can write sparkling business exchanges, but he's never going to compete with a roomful of professional hacks when it comes to comedy sketches.
In truth, this is only a niggling irritation -- the show within is merely a driver for the real narrative, yet it's here that my doubts are strongest. Studio 60 is every bit as magnificently crafted and exquisitely performed as the reported $3m/episode budget would suggest, but it's not yet clear what it's about.
Is it an exploration of the rôle of the TV networks in the fabric of American society, portraying their inner workings and the wrangling between editorial control and the power of advertisers, to the detriment of the viewer? Or a portrait of television, cohesive social force, in the throes of (presumed) self-destruction while the upstart new media yaps at its ankles? Or a study of the contradictorily disruptive and uniting nature of high-pressure creative endeavour?
It may not matter. It may just be a rompingly good yarn. But at the moment, magnificent as the writing, performance, cinematography and editing are, Studio 60 is feeling more than a little indulgently self-referential. If it's not careful, it'll end up commenting on -- and hence parodying -- nothing more significant than itself.
October 18, 2006
Simon Jenkins pulls no punches about Iraq, the Baker report in the US, and the bizarre arguments in the UK about whether the army chief's comments should have been said, rather than about the comments themselves.
The EU are -- according to the Times, so take with a pinch of salt I suppose -- considering extending the definition of 'broadcast TV' to include web video. Which would, of course, bring web video under TV compliance rules. Which would be unwieldy and barking.
Luckily, it seems that Shaun Woodward, the Broadcasting Minister -- as well as OFCOM -- are adopting a position that may be characterised as 'rolling one's eyes and saying "Oh, for heaven's sake!",' which is likely a good thing. Still -- worth keeping an eye on this one, I think.
October 15, 2006
Season 3 of the new Battlestar Galactica is going out in the US, and I'm starting to catch up with it. I wasn't that impressed by the last series, which suffered more from dodgy script editing and poor pacing than anything else. Minor? Perhaps, but bad enough that I found it a frustrating watch.
So far, however, season 3 is incendiary. To recap, for those not watching -- the humans, driven from their homeworlds by the dastardly (but strangely religious) robotic Cylons, have holed up on a planet. Where, natch, they've been invaded by the toasters. Again. Durr. So far, so sci-fi cliché.
But then the story gets... er... rather close to the bone. The humans, see, are running an insurgency against their occupiers. Who are detaining them without trial, and with 'soft' tortures (sleep cycle deprivation, that sort of thing); and recruiting a police force of collaborators, in the misplaced belief that native police might be able to get more done than their own troops. The Cylons, you see, aren't necessarily evil -- they simply have a radically different perspective on how the world should be.
The humans, meanwhile, are fearful for the survival of their way of life. With limited resources, no real sense of hope, and facing overwhelming odds; angered by and fearful of the random night-time arrests, and furious at the indignity of incarceration without charge or trial; they're turning to suicide bombings.
Is any of this ringing any bells?
It's been said before that the new Galactica is a suitably sandboxed narrative within which America can evaluate and ponder its place in the world. A place where the discussion isn't obscured by real-world confusion and labels such as 'Muslim' or 'Imperialist' or 'terrorist.' While in general I enthusiastically support the rôle of science fiction in providing such sandboxes, Galactica hadn't entirely convinced me so far. The discussion was too crass, too minimal -- both too oblique and too stark, all at once. It felt like the entertainment equivalent of everything Europeans disdain about Americans' predilection for recreational psychiatry.
This season, however, the producers and writers have turned the dial up to eleven. The result is a startling 'what if?' It's not holding a mirror to the world we know, it's taking the issues and foibles and disputes, jumbling them up, and challenging us to identify with the resulting characters. Challenging because right and wrong are increasingly hard to distinguish; the Cylons are no longer homogenous 'bad guys,' but thoughtful, concerned, even sympathetic, while the humans are bruised, smarting, and lashing out. In one way or another, human and Cylon alike are all monsters. As, I suppose, are we.
The result is brutal, frightening, uncompromising. It's surprisingly hard to watch, not -- this time -- because of any production deficiencies, but because it's discomforting in the same sort of way as documentaries about deprived inner cities, or famines. Or occupations.
In turn, the success of the series has to challenge our own lazy assumptions about America's apparent myopia. I credit television audiences with more intelligence than to think they're not seeing the parallels, which rather begs the question -- what are they thinking?
Dreamhost appear to have disabled comments here at the Daily Grind too, as of about seven hours ago. They've not told me of this yet, which is somewhat annoying. Right now, I can't back up my database without the server crapping out, which is making it rather risky to update Movable Type to the most recent version -- it turns out that MT hasn't been deleting junk comments, and my database now contains more than 140,000 of them. Any attempt to delete them smacks into the PHP memory allocation limit. Bleurgh.
Bear with me...
This doesn't quite apply to all Deletetheweb hostees, but it does apply to most, and also to a few others of you. Apologies for being vague, but it's going to take me too long to work out who's affected, compared to just fixing stuff. It doesn't affect people on WordPress, nor people who think they know me but aren't, in fact, hosted on my account at Dreamhost. You know who you aren't.
Dreamhost have disabled Trackback for our Movable Type blogs -- we were being targeted by spammers with sufficient alacrity to give the server hissy fits. Bastards. Uhhh... that's the spammers who were bastards, not Dreamhost support, who with one exception are being lovely about it.
The exception is that one installation has had mt-comments.cgi disabled also. At the moment, Dreamhost aren't telling me the path of the file they nuked, so I'm not sure who's lacking comments. I think it's Alan, but I'm not quite sure.
Whatever -- expect a round of emergency updates later today. There may be some downtime, and it's just possible that I might nuke your entire install by accident. I'll try to take backups of everything first, but you know what I'm like.
This begs the question of what I do with inactive hostees -- eg. Jim and Simon. I can't leave you as you are, but unless I can sort updating more easily I can't justify the time it could take. I'll check the current Movable Type license terms: I may roll a bunch of blogs together under one installation. But that may be more hassle than it's worth too... hmm...
Any comments or opinions, etc, please send as soon as. Thanks awfully.
October 10, 2006
To throw a tad more semiconductor die release agent on the Google+YouTube stuff: the amount of dosh the big G has just coughed up for the piffling video upstart is reported to be around the £850m mark. Which, where I come from, is a lot of money. It also happens to be roughly the annual production spend of (UK national commercial TV broadcaster) ITV1.
Simultaneously, it's reported that ITV is having problems finding a suitable chief exec. Also, their advertising revenue is predicted to be down 13% year-on-year, with a further 10% predicted fall for next year. Ouchie.
The question is -- where is that advertising money going? If even some of it ends up at YouTube, then (given that they have 67 staff and no production expenses, since they don't actually make anything), the price Google have paid starts to look plausible. And ITV's difficulty in attracting a head honcho speaks well of the potential candidates -- they're evidently savvy enough to recognise a colander disguised as a boat when they see one.
October 4, 2006
Does anyone else see a spooky parallel between the Airbus A380 delays being due to problems with wiring the entertainment system, and Douglas Adam's flight delayed 'awaiting the delivery of lemon-scented paper napkins, for your convenience' -- for millennia?
(Bonus marks for anyone who can tell me which Hitch-Hikers' book that's from. Stuffed if I can remember.)
October 3, 2006
Here's a lovely and fascinating Flash map of the Middle East/Eastern Med/etc, with an animation showing the rise and fall of controlling powers for the last three thousand years or so. I love this sort of thing, in part because it reinforces the idea that 'stability' and 'permanence' exist maybe on the scale of cities, but are otherwise a bit meaningless. Then again, I also like these maps because they remind me of Vinci, a board game that magnificently captures that grand sweep of the growth and decline of civilisations.
The bit that's weird is that the hosting site, Maps of War, is otherwise... well, scroll down a bit and tell me what you think of their map 'Iraqi Pressure-vault.' Er... huh? Thanks, that makes things much... um... clearer.