Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Exercise Your Rights

I've just published Pod of Funk number thirty five which contains a competition, and also the promise of twenty podcasts throughout August. The music is the usual groovulous mixture, and the competition focuses on China's human rights record, which extends of course to Darfur, let us not forget, which China supplies with (banned) military aid as they massacre their own people.

Enjoy the tunes - enter the competition - listen to the radio - buy the t-shirt!

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Harmony, Heresy, Hearsay, Hairspray

I was flattered to be asked recently to contribute to a book which is being compiled by a writer, but found myself struggling to articulate my mixed feelings on the subject matter, which is "web 2.0".

Aside from the fact that I already contributed a chapter on podcasting to a comprehensive book on the subject last year, I have become wary of entering into group enterprises without ensuring that my contribution was going to be welcome. "I'm not cynical, but..." I heard myself saying, and that was the point at which I remembered.

Cynicism is the refuge of the disappointed romantic. Have I been romantic about the internet? The answer to that is - of course, since I have been a romantic person and probably will be a romantic person. What do I mean by that? I suppose I mean that I have idealised the web and its potential for affording change, both in my own life - even though fourteen years ago it was instrumental in changing my fortunes and re-orienting me - and in the lives of others. But have the changes been anything other than superficial?

I remember the web before porn. I remember the effort it took to simply download a single page which included images. I had to learn HTML to produce my own pages - when Blogger arrived, it was the time-saving device which I had been anticipating. Podcasting was always going to happen. So that makes me a one-time Model T Ford owner in an age of sleek, comfortable, airstreamed, air-bagged Macbook Air fans. Do I see any improvements in communication because of the prevalence of the internet?

Do I compare thee to the telephone, to the printing press, to radio and television? Do I refer to my feeling of growing uneasiness as Google becomes the de facto font of all knowledge, gobbling up the world's entire library of books, recording your neighbourhood, your street, your home, replacing the verb "to search"? Do I reserve my obscure pride in knowing how this all works and being able to usurp it for my own ends for quiet moments of reflection with intimate friends, or do I write a blog post which will be indexed and added to the file on Blogger user 13492090203145178551 (it used to be much shorter, but because my blog is so big, I couldn't migrate to the New Blogger until after million of other people), profile viewed 11,839 times as of now, containing the same fictional mantras as repeated elsewhere, presenting a carefully constructed lie about me, the person?

Does the internet, ancient or modern, actually assist anyone in communicating better, more effectively whatever that means, more profoundly, or is it just about convenience? Ease of access, speed of output. No need to scratch the surface of the paper, no need for the mark, the finger pressure - not even the old sound of metal laboriously hitting ribbon, with the occasional pause for correction fluid.

We don't take risks without referring to this know-all engine. We cease to make journeys if the weather prediction is less than optimum. We cease to consider a thought worthy of note unless it is transmitted, tagged, tweeted, bookmarked. We cease to conduct relationships face to face even in physical presence. We have become confused by the 2,140,000,000 results for "love" (related searches: love poems, courtney love, love quotes, love quizzes) and we click click click through the pages instead of finding the love in our hearts. What used to be our living flesh, beating, vulnerable blood-soaked muscle, is just smooth silicon, sand slipping unstoppably away.

We don't need more, we need less. Less speed, less reach, less hard drive space, less bluetooth add-ons, less menu options, less podcasts, less widgets, less friends. Better to maintain the value with the friends we actually have, to develop what we call our "internet friends" into bona fide, appreciative, supportive, substantial, respectful relationships. Best to remember Dunbar and our limited capacity for meaningful engagement.

"To seek," said Picasso, "is nothing. To find is the thing." And now we say, "to find is nothing. To share is the thing."

I just had to share that with you.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Apartheid Meets Teletubbies In Racist Smarties Ad

The first time I saw this Smarties advert on British television, my jaw dropped. Could they really be using segregation on the basis of colour in an ad for a popular children's sweet?

Synopsis: an idyllic, pastoral Teletubbies-style scene is shattered by the return of the Blue Smartie. The other Smarties run in fear, scooping up babies, and hide in the tube (homestead) and slam the door. Blue is excluded until he explains that now he has no artificial ingredients, he's safe. "He's one of us now!" they cry, welcoming him back.

The guy who is forced out of the Smarties tube to explain this eugenic-style decision, although he happens to be dressed in yellow, is played by a black actor.

This is in incredibly bad taste to begin with, but reinforcing the racism with this not-so-subtle touch really makes this advert the worst I have seen in a long while. I really find it deeply offensive, the more so since it is aimed at children. It reinforces negative racial stereotypes, and presents exclusion on the basis of colour difference as acceptable. Segregation has been banished in many countries such as South Africa and the USA which previously suffered terribly from this awful bias. I think it should be taken off the air.

For the record, I've asked several people "of colour" to borrow the modern phrase what they think and they agree with me.

What do you think? Let me know, and maybe leave a comment on their YouTube page. It's unlikely to appear there, but another (unofficial) YouTube thread does have some debate although it's on a typically crass level.

Or, you could do as I did and complain to the Advertising Standards Authority.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Another Month, Another Mayhem

It's the full moon once again, for those of you are interested, and equally for those of you who don't notice these things, or who pay as much attention to them as you would the shape of any particular cloud or the reflection of an attractive body in a pavement puddle. Oh come on, don't say you weren't looking up whilst looking down.

Being observant isn't the same as being suggestible, obviously, but if you can bring both of these qualities to bear at the same instant then you're really onto something. Those "random" synaptic blasts come up with the craziest shit, like putting a lighter-than-air inert gas on the menu of a NoHo café. Grilled helium cheese, eh, who'd have thunk it?


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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Alternative Accident

Yesterday, GGF and I enjoyed a pleasant day on the south bank of the Thames. We cycled down took in a couple of art exhibitions, we saw a capoeira performance, we ate chocolate cake and drank black coffee whilst listening to people read out architectural treatises from inside a clear plastic inflatable bubble.

Then we cycled into the west end, ate Japanese food at Misato in Wardour Street, sat in the sun for while. We bought tickets for Persepolis, that wonderful animated film by Marjane Satrapy and when we came out, after all that, we were pretty mellow.

On the way down to the Thames we'd been less mellow. GGF had been a little bit annoyed that I was zooming ahead in my confident London cyclist's manner, and she called out, so we had stopped and sat on a cold stone wall and chatted until we got to the bottom of it. She was right - we were cycling together, I could afford to slow down, so I did. In fact, I took this as a sign for the day - slow down. I don't always feel the need to do this, but I really wanted to have a mellow day, so I figured the cold arse was worth it.

On our way back, we headed up to Holborn and positioned ourselves at the front of the traffic queue diagonally opposite Central St Martin's Theatre, waiting for the lights to change. The cars had thinned out as the evening drew in. London lights have all been phased to allow plenty of time for pedestrians to cross the wide thoroughfares, and we were patiently waiting for the green light, with another cyclist to our right after the cars crossing from the right, next to the Kingsway Underpass had ceased.

The lights changed, and the cyclist beside us moved off, so, still in not-so-fast mode, I started to move off after him before the cars started to hem us in. Something wasn't right, I heard GGF's shout of alarm, heard a loud car horn, looked up to see a black Ford practically on top of my front wheel, and a black face cursing me through the windscreen. I didn't catch it all, just the anger.

Assessing the situation, I heard someone say, "The light is green!"

"The light is green!" I sputtered, "You shot a red light!"

"No I didn't fucking shoot a red light!" he yelled, and drove off.

The lights were still green. I turned to see GGF's concerned face, indicated we should cross. We did, and I pulled up shortly afterwards, gave her a hug.

"He was crazy!" she said, "the light was green!" "Yes, the light was green," I said, "But I am OK, and I could have died, so, I am really very happy."

A little later on, I realised my bike chain needed some manual adjustment after the abrupt stop I'd made, and so we stopped again. I was using a chocolate wrapper to try to prevent oil getting all over my hands, and a guy walked up to me and, with a slightly wacked out but kind smile, said, "Do you want to use these?" and offered me a bunch of clean tissues which I gratefully accepted.

In another universe, the man offered me the tissues as I went to cross the lights, distracting me for a second and slowing me down. The cyclist to my right was killed, we both witnessed his awful death, gave statements to the police, and evidence at the trial. In another, the car driver saw me too late, and veering out of control, he critically injured the driver of another car and paralysed a pedestrian, himself suffering only whiplash injuries. Later the press expressed outrage at the leniency of his punishment.

In another, we never healed our argument, and I never slowed down. The car hit my front wheel, I was injured, I'm still in intensive care, fighting for my life. In yet another, he didn't brake, I didn't brake, and I went under the car. I'm now lying cold in a mortuary prior to being prepared for my funeral, my loved ones are grieving, and somewhere else the wacked out man still has a bunch of clean tissues in his pocket.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

The Nokia Software Challenge

I woke up thirty minutes ago at 5am. Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of thinking something very precise and clear. This time, it was how to go about winning a competition in which I am no expert. I was thinking, well at least my beginning point is the profound knowledge of my ignorance.

The competition was a strange one. I found myself in an executive reality-show scenario where the group of winners, suited and booted, young-ish uber-earnest types - presumably heat winners - were being given their final challenge, and this was to write the software which Nokia should have included in their smart phones.

"That's right," said our dapper host, "all the functions which we all know should be in there..." - and here's where my freshly awoken mind erased all the details which might be really useful to recall, as I cannot now remember any of the detailed specifications which so impressed these candidates, but of course, they were wonderfully precise and very useful.

Cut to a future scene. Deek sits in the wooden-framed window seat of his country house, surveying green manicured lawns stretching into misty woodland and lakes beyond.

"So, is it true?" asks a curious voice off camera, "you literally dreamed up the groundbreaking suite of mobile software which made you your fortune, and coded the entire thing within a month?"

"Just like the man said..."

Except in the dream, I knew that I had none of the skills needed to construct the software, so for all my wit and understanding, I was going to have to rely on my connections, my ability to take shortcuts, and crucially, to persuade others to aid the cause of rejuvenating the Nokia smartphone capabilities. Quite what I was doing in this challenge surprised me not however, since many times in this life I have found myself in the position of having to take on tasks for which I have no adequate preparation, or even prior intention, so this kind of thing is grist to the mill.

In real life, before bed I had spent some time setting up my Nokia N95 email client, so it was easy to spot the origins of this odd dream. What interests me now that I am awake is how in the dream I quickly cast aside any pretense of having powers beyond my actual experience, and instead, concentrated on devising a strategy that would allow me to have a chance of winning without having to actually take on an impossibly steep learning curve.

As the dream dissipated into my sudden and complete awakening, I was thinking that the task was extremely likely to be completely and utterly beyond me, and wondering whether I should just relax and enjoy the month which I was supposedly about to dedicate to the struggle for mobile code supremacy. Enjoy it, surf the effort, and look to change the game into one I could win.

Now that feels like good really advice.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

BBC Spinal Tap

No matter how esteemed your corporation or your institution, there is always some wag who will find a way to usurp the carefully manicured lawn of your public image with a comedy molehill.

Whilst catching up on the epic Murray v Gasquet Wimbledon tennis battle, I noticed this morning that the embedded BBC news player goes, just like Nigel Tufnel's Spinal Tap amplifiers, up to eleven.

Well done BBC - my commendation for this elegant means of achieving superior audio quality. It is comforting to know that whenever I want that extra push over the cliff top, the BBC player (unlike all the others) can provide it.

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