Ask metafilter filter I decided to add the Ask Metafilter rss stream to my indespensible bloglines account the other day and ever since it has been a constantly interesting source. It 's like an agony aunt, a recommender and a helpful techy mate rolled into one!

Today there was a fantastic post pointing out what to listen to for comtemporary music classical music. So many things to follow up, and I've spent the rest of the day listening to this great live 365 station.

This has to be someone who watched the sixth sense and is taking the piss

What the hell is this?

How can you know these things so easily?

Why are there so many people asking about growing beards and facial hair? Is there really any knowledge needed to grow a beard?

  Gerrymandering ....Politicians escaping over state lines to avoid voting, people being locked in rooms, corruption. It could only be the presidential race.....I've got to admit I'd never heard of Gerrymandering until i caught the excellent Radio4 documentary tonight (listen here).

Basically, the party who is control of a state gets the census and then works out how to divide the voting boundarys so that they get the most seats. The boundary decisions are controlled by whoever is in control of a state. It fucking corrupt, everyone does it, its just that over the last four years the republicans seem to have done it more blatantly than anyone previously.

Theres a great quote in the program from a Texan republican who makes no apology for the fiddling. He says something along the lines of "well everyone does it, its just part of the political process.... We want to help get Bushes policys[????] through the house and we'll do everything in our power to make sure that happens" 

  Ranting on tax ...So Monbiot is pissed about the tax system and he well within his right to be. Ever incumbent government in the world says they will close the tax loopholes, and every government who get elected knows they cannot close those breaks. There's too many influential people in the media and in top companies who are benefiting from the breaks and the government know they would get slaughtered if they closed the tax breaks.

Monbiot advocates publishing all tax returns as a way of shaming the people who avoid taxes, but he knows that this will never happen. I reckon the name and shaming idea is a great way forward. Lets get the public available accounts, lets find some confidential documents and lets shame big companies into paying tax. This is the seed of a great internet campaign.

The media has to be the first place to start. I've heard quite a bit of anecdotal evidence that many newspapers pay very little in terms of tax to the government, and yet they expect to be listened to, they expect to have they're voice heard. Well you're not the voice of the people if you're stealing of them.

....And oh yeah, why should these companies pay up? Well, every year working people have to pay more and more tax to keep the public services going, the schools, hospitals and police. And the reason we don't see any difference in quality, because big companies and the super rich have found a new inventive way to avoid paying. Every time they do it, they're effectively stealing from the nation, taking money from your pockets. 

  Wikipedia and its 1 million articles ....Well done to Wikipedia for becoming a phenomenon. 1m articles is an awesome achievement. But we shouldn't be too smug yet and here's why.

Check out this embryonic project on Wikipedia which I consider very important. Its argument is that because of the natural demographic of users, wikipedia has come to represent a completely skewed view of the world.

"An example of this problem is that even after 1 million articles have been written, the article on the Congo Civil War, possibly the largest war since World War 2 (and which resulted in over 3 million deaths), has much less information than articles such as Babylon 5, Languages_of_Middle-earth, Slackware etc which appear to fit into the Wikipedia demographic"

So the aim of this project is to specifically address the disparages in wikipedia. Discussion is ongoing about how to do this, but this is the type of project that need to work for wikipedia to continue growing and turn from a sci/tech encyclopedia to a invaluable source of knowledge on anything. 

  Tiddly Wiki ....It describes itself as a reusable non-linear personal web notebook. Whatever its is, at first glace it is damn cool toy, I may post some experiments at some point.

Unfortunately you can't save anything on one at the moment because it is all static html. 

  Technorati .....So ain't technorati a great tool?

...Hmm, kind of. So I'm sure there's been plenty of views been given on this already, but whilst I have been gathering my thoughts on distributed investigative journalism, I've taken another closer look.

Yes it is!!
A little while ago I came to the conclusion that being able to see what is linking to a specific website or a backlink, could be a key tool to reducing big media. I tried to build a backlinking tool myself a year or so ago by trying to write an ie plugin that would query the google API with link:www.sitetoquery.com.

The plan was, that you would be surfing your favorite biased news source and on any page you could click on the backlink button. This would then split the window into two frames. The left frame would be the current site (80% width) whilst a right frame would query google for backlinks to the page and then parse and display the appropriate snippets of text from various blogs that would be a commenting on the site you were looking at.

Can you imagine the power of this? You're reading another pro-war telegraph screed, and you click on the backlink button. Suddenly without leaving the site, you have a bunch a blogs pointing to evidence that this is a fabrication. For me that's a first step to allowing anyone to scrutinize the media for truth and be noticed.

No it ain't
So what went wrong? Well the plan fails on the first step. Googles backlinking searches are extremely slow. Try writing a link on your blog and then see how long it takes for it to appear in googles' backlink database. 7 days, 14 days, longer. Sometimes your links are even "rejected" because the algorithms in google search results in links below a certain score not being added to the database (and this is more common in blogs) . Try alltheweb, altavista etc, they're a little bit quicker but not by much. Fortunately I found these facts out before getting too involved in the complexities of COM deskbands for internet explorer and for that I'm truly thankful!!

So basically technorati is a more thorough version of google's backlinking database. It is quicker to update and it includes all blogs. But, still not quick enough. If you put a link in and see how long it takes to get into technorati it can still be greater than a day (even if you add to the priority queue).

Is this too slow for news content? Stories in the news are read quickly and accepted, after a day it could be too late to have an effect. I don't have any actual evidence to support this statement but I suspect its true. Anyway, there are another problems. Too many "static links" and blogrolls being picked up by technorati. And that's not forgetting the fact that a lot of people who blog links don't have an opinion on the link. They just point it out or cut and paste.

Here's the site that comes closest to what I've described. It very good and if they genuinely don't have humans checking it then I'm impressed. I think it would be better if it was possible to use it with any website, to check for backlink comments, but i can't really fault them besides from that. 

  Boris on the issues of the day ...Todays dose of right-wing ranting comes from Boris Johnson, conservative MP, shadow arts minister, and mumbling posh idiot. He's always an entertaining read for his wierd humour and slight madness.

...On dealing with the miners strike while at university

I looked up. I stopped crunching my Harvest Crunch. It was one of the goateed Marxists, and he wanted me to cough up for the miners....Oi, I said to my fellow-student. No, I said. I won't give any dosh to these blasted strikers, because, as far as I can see, they are being execrably led.....The bearded student Marxist (I think he's now at Goldman Sachs) looked so amazed that he almost jumped out of his donkey jacket, but I stuck to my ground.

...On the conservatives new arts policy

Boris will unveil some new tentative arts policy ideas at Party Conference in October.

Unmissable blog!!!


  Clone towns and urban regurgitation

Dot cotton says: "Another yuppie takeover. More Eastenders forced to move out of our own area"
.....One of the worst things about UK towns is that over the last 10 years, virtually every town has lost its individuality. It has only been commented on recently in the press, but this slow drift has been developing for many years.

I think it first came to my attention from listening to the manic street preachersin the mid 90's. One of the tracks was entitled "NATWEST - BARCLAYS - MIDLANDS - LLOYDS" in celebration of the generic main street of Blackwood in Wales. To me, the song was always a testament to a kind of alienation that kids have growing up living in suburbia.

The emergence of clone towns is most accurately understood by reading George Monbiots' depressing, but vital book "Captive State" which details how the slow drift in planning laws in tandem with questionable corporate partnerships with local governement resulted in local businesses and shops being unable to obtain properties in town centres. It also details the underhand way some "out of town" shopping centres were granted planning permission and funds, even when local opposition is huge.

So now we reap the seed we have sown. Kids grow up angry and violent because they hate the same desensitised crap no matter where they go and have to be locked away at home.

What's the point of celebrating the diversity of a country if we're all being fed the same clones McDonalds, Dixon, Next, Gap, UGC, Sainsburys, Tie Rack, Specsavers......in every town

Well, there's not much that can be done about that now. If you're a tourist and you want to see what England is really like, go to Ipswich, Norwich, Newport, Guidford etc. As far as i'm concerned its too late in these places. But its not too late to start the fight against the next step.

It's detailed in the Guardian today and it is described in the paper as "ciabatta cities". This new phenmenon is similar to the clone town, but in a different area. It starts with a run down central urban areas, normally an area of workers, or immigrants. This area will be slowly demolished and replaced with trendy flats for professionals and glass panelled offices. All fair enough except the fact that no one will build affordable housing, the prices will sky rocket and suddenly any local resident with a small income will be forced out of the areas, normally to a much worse estate on the outskirts of the town. Ciabatta cities are like clone towns but with people.

I think the photo sums it up fully. This was taken in East London, formally enhabited by lower paid workers, now taken over by city dwellers and trendy types

  Cat Stevens refused entry to US

You can imagine the conversation at the airport

"shall we let him in"
"well he does look a bit like Bin laden, better not"

The guy above is former marillion singer Cat Stevens. Now a moderate muslim, he was refused entry to the US yesterday with the plane being diverted 600 miles to Washington for safety. Apparently he's on the FBI watch list but after recent articles aren't we all?

The only thing in Cat Stevens life that even remotely constitutes terrorism is the banal soft rock he has produced over the years, but unfortunately there are currently no law against this crime. 

  Bollywood action ....My mate Gaz is currently wandering the globe and his most recent entry on ballofdirt describes his hilarious attempts to become a a Bollywood extra

"The original plan was for me to just walk across shot pushing a trolley whilst the main actors do their stuff, but they obviously saw my talents were wasted in such a meagre role and so was transfered to another studio set by motorbike"

And on arriving at the next studio

"Finally a guy comes up to me with a script, and jesus it turns out that I have to say a few lines! I'm playing an English gentleman named Bush (the script writers really are geniuses). With literally two minutes rehearsal I'm thrust in front of the camera to join two of the main stars.
..I have four lines in English to nail, but as most of it is in Hindi and the director's English is bad I haven't a clue what is going on. And even with the required 10 takes I have to say my acting is shocking. I'll cross that off as one of my potential careers, the BAFTAs are safe for another year. Still, in playback the director seems pleased enough. And for all this work I get paid a princely sum of 400 Rupees!"


  Rainwater harvesting .....Worldchanging has a mention on rainwater harvesting. An interesting subject after my recent forays to rural Uganda because this is blatently a very important tool that can be effective in reducing lack of water.

I'm not quite sure it is an emerging technology, but it may be that just recently the importance of such technology has been realised. Much of the work that I saw that has taken place in Uganda has focussed on medium to large cheap storage solutions that could be used in schools for sanitation and community solutions etc. Much less has been made of individual water harvesting that could still be equally useful.

For example in Uganda many of the houses in rural areas have sheet steel roofs, but the majority still have to visit the water sources numerous times a day. At the moment the application of water harvesting is just too expensive for the individual. I would like to see some work done on some sustainable lo-fi solutions to this problem. Using plastic bottles and wastes which are common and somehow improvising storage containers it should be possible to make cheap water harvesting systems. The water would likely be unsuitable for drinking but definitely useful for washing and cleaning.

I'm really interested in lo-fi tech because it has amazing potential in rural developing areas. There has to be the educational reinforcement to allow such inventions to be sustainable, but stuff like this and lo-fi solar solutions have amazing potential to reach out 

  This should have got funding ....While surfing on some job related research on VR I came across this great project which made me laugh. It seems that the idea was to produce three dimensional representations of the legendary "hanging chad" votes from the florida presidential election for historical purposes. Unfortunately it never got funding.

"The proposed process would scan all undervotes using laser scanning devices, create a three-dimensional representation of these questionable ballots, and make this dataset available on the Internet for inspection by any interested party"

dimled chad


  Brian Clough RIP ...The greatest ever British football (soccer) manager Brian Clough died today. No one else had the ability to make people who were average players play so well. He managed to win 2 European cups with Nottingham Forest in the 80's. He also had the great personality, and could pull out a set of brilliant quotes off the cuff

  Distributed reporting .....So there's been this whole Bush/faked reports/CBS story winging its way around the web at the moment. For an English citizen, its only of passing interest for its subject value, but the thing that struck me about the whole affair is that it confirms a long standing belief that social networks could be great investigative reporting tools if they were used in the right way.

When you get a mass of people focused on an issue, then the speed and skill with which they combine to find facts and understand a story is far superior to what can be done by a single loner investigating an issue. This is particularly true these days, where most controversy is hidden within masses of legal documents, statistics and confusing facts. I have admired the work of Groklaw and Politech for the way they have used a mass of willing volunteers to provide information, and to sift through documents for the collective understanding of issues.

These good works are mostly focused on a specific (tech) cause, and other cases of "mass investigative reporting" such as the Bush story have been started on a fairly random ad-hoc basis. This is a great model to help tear apart corruption, lies, distrust of the media etc, if we can just harness the power of social networks in a more focused way.

So this brings me to my forthcoming project. I hope to build on social networks to produce a "distributed investigative reporting network". I'm still considering the details, but the basis behind the idea is to allow people to start personal investigations into issues and injustices that they are aware of. By building a social network around this idea we can hopefully build "open source investigations" which will attract new people with similar interests, to join the network and/or follow their progress, building up momentum with the increase in numbers.

I think there has to be an output at the other end and at the moment this is likely to be a regular style news webpage/pdf newsheet that can be distributed, to highlight interesting storys that are written by members of the respective "open source investigations".

So any tangible actions still a few months away. I need to work on how the interactions will work seamlessly and how the platform will attract people to join. I don't intend to rebuild the wheel and I expect to use all/or nearly all exising platforms and networks to begin. I also need to decide a set of exciting subjects that I can lead on in the early days that will get the whole thing going.

All in all, I'm really excited about this project. I kind of had it in mind for a while, but when I saw the Bush storys it suddenly made me jump out of my seat and realise that this was a real life experiment that had proved my ideas on the potential of social networks for distributed investigative reporting. 

  Out there radio ....I'm still being blown away by the quality of radio that can be had in London. By far the best at the moment is the astonishing Resonance FM. It is sold as a "community arts" radio station and this basically means it can play and say what it wants anytime, anyday.

I've been blown away by some Saturday and Sunday night programmes which consist of either random field recordings or completely out there music. In fact I have had to turn the radio off a few time because either the stuff was either unlistenable noise or I wasn't sure if the sounds were coming from my radio or if my radiator was malfunctioning.

But there's an equal number of excellent things like last nights show as... which was roughly an hour of a slow burning drone, that kind of subliminally hits you after about 15minutes. It was so slow shifting it even made slowburn ambient masters stars of the lid look a bit active. 

  Grafitti .....One of the articles i was reading in FACT magazine (see previous post) was a piece on "Brandals" a new type of grafitti artist who tend to use logos and culture jamming as the basis for their work rather than tags. The author reckoned this signalled a new creativity in grafitti with the likes of banksy livening up london with his media terrorism/branding/grafitti antics.

This surprised me because a few weeks ago I read a piece in the guardian that gave the exact opposite viewpoint. This claims that graffitti was effectively a dead culture and had absolutely no innovation in it for the last 20 years. Most of the grafitti now is just poor rehashed shit and artistically would not stand up to works such as those ofBasquait in the 80's.

To be honest i think I'm more inclined to the second opinion than the first. As much as I am amused by a lot of Banksy's work. I think his work lost value to me because the way he ended up selling out his work as part of corporate media campaigns, exactly the ones he opposed. He has been co-opted by the cool-hunters and once that happens the works start to look a bit stale. And adding to that most grafitti out there is still bullshit tags so i think that most grafitti is creatively a waste of time from my point of view. 

  So many good magazines I have to comment on the amount of good quality non-mainstream magazines that are around at the moment. People are always whining that the mainstream press is crap but there are plenty of excellent alternatives, and I seem to have picked up a couple in the last few week.

Only just discovered FACT magazine which has made it to its sixth edition. Its free and I picked it up in a soho record shop (Here's their site although its not got anything on it at the moment). Its beautifully set out and designed, its a strange size, just slightly larger than a CD cover and mixes photos and random text and figures. Really high production values and not too many annoying ads (unlike Dazed and Confused). Most of the articles are quite short but really interesting. 06 has articles on slang in hip-hop, women in Jamacan music, the twenty best brazilian records ever made , and a wierd messed up article on Japan, all very interesting and worth picking up.

Also to while away a few hours the other day i picked up the latest copy of Adbusters magazine. Now to be honest I've never been completely convinced by some of their journalism. A lot of their writing is to idealised anti society/capitalism stuff which although mostly valid doesn't quite hit a nerve as it should. But, the thing that always get me about Adbusters is the awesome design and look that it has. Some of the photographs and diagrams n this one blew me away and are now on my wall. Some of it is based along the work of their very interesting true cost economics campaign.

But for me the master of the alternative magazines has to be vice magazine. This is another free job that can be picked up (normally in your local indie record shop in the UK) and it borders between genius and offensive, and I think is what make it themost edgy exciting magazine around. Man, I wish I could write like these guys, kind of Hunter S thomson esque, with that same don't give a shit attitutde. This month I loved this amazing fashion spread which sums up urban inner city UK to a T (and you sit there wondering if it is dangerous to glamourise kids who get suspended from school, but then you think forget it because it is so fucking cool!). I think this has to be my favourite article they've written. 

  Creative Commons and new licence A new creative licence had just been released called developing nations. For content released under this licence, the licence restricts use in developed nations but allows open use of content in devloping countries. I agree that this is a useful addition to the creative commons and in line with thinking on how such restrictions can stifle development in the developing world, but I have a few reservations about it.

I can see the point if someone is making a creative work, say a photo who does not want to be exploited, but does not mind it being free in a developing country. Effectively this licence is a legal document to reinforce the unspoken rule that we let the smaller players get away with using content when we don't consider it to be exploitation. The problem is that even in a country that is excluded from this licence, there are people who such a licence would also be useful. There are groups and individuals who are poor, who would equally like to take advantage of such a licence, say in poor areas of France, US and Puerto Rico. For example if i was working for a small local NGO in a developed country I would question why I was restricted from using such content.

Another thing, its a myth that everyone in developing nations is poor and should be afforded such a licence. For example big companys in South Africa will get an unrestricted licence (Heres the excluded countries)

Any doubts I have on this licence is not on its intellectual validity but that the measure that they are using to determine who is worth access and who is not. To be honest I can't think of an appropriate measure. I guess the usefulness is that there is no more "turning a blind" eye to people infringing in the developing nations. It is now explicitly stated that they have unrestricted access to content. 

  ESF in town but its pricy .....The European Social Forum 2004 is coming to London next. I'm not sure whether to sign up at moment. To be honest I don't have an exact idea of what happens at these event, but I like the idea of a democratic "mass" of people who are in it to further society as supported by Monbiot, Naomi Klein etc ,but i can't quite work out what the event is and what happens.

My knowledge is not helped by the slightly incomprehesible website which gives no indication of the program and mainly the fact that they are charging £30. I know there are costs, and its good to finance certain speakers but this seems excessive. So I'll keep my eye out and maybe I will go but at the moment it looks doubtful. Looks like the price of "democracy" is too high 

  Cracking session ....Only just picked up on the work of nils petter molvaer. He played an excellent session/ laptop performance on Flowmotion last night. The sound he plays are quite abstract but they are grounded by the trumpet that is played by Molvaer himself. Sit ends up having some elements of crazy abstract house beats, but with really good jazz trumpeting added to the mix. Check it out! 

  The Fog of War ...Seem to be in a film mood at the moment. Went to see "the fog of war". This is Errol Morris' oscar winning documentary about Robert S McNamara, who was the US defense chief during the vietnam war, now 85 years old

If you reading this and considering whether to go and see Farenheit 9/11 but are not sure, because you think it might be a bit in your face then I'd suggest you go and see this. Without mentioning the present political situation and the current fiasco of iraq, Morris has made a strongly powerful film that persuasively argues against the Iraqi war and eve the so called "war on terror". History is the ultimate record of cause and effect, but it is too often sadly ignored with a swipe of a hand and a "the past is the past" or similar comment. Thats what I liked about Morris' film, the way he drew parallels out and highlighted them.

Not having a big enough knowledge of that period (not being alive then!) I don't know much about McNamara but I remember this this quote I recently read in a collection of Hunter S Thompson's papers that he wrote in 68 about McNamara moving house to Aspen, just after he lost his job

"McNamara came last week to check on his new house; he arived in a black car with six secret service men - acting like some humanoid from another planet"

From this type of description and various view of the press attitude to him in the 60's, I see him as a 60's version of Donald Rumsfeld, although I don't know if this is accurate. Obviously for him the film was his attempt to right the wrongs and get his view over about the time. But he comes across as a curiously confused figure. For example he doesn't deny he made many mistakes and his 11 lessons are surprisingly "dovish". Also his meetings with Castro and his North Vietnamese enermies in the 90's to talk about the past illustrate that he is a more complex character than the shadowy figure he was painted to be. He seems to be still grappling with what he did and both in agreeing to do the film and meet those former enemies, he trying to understand and learn even now.

Saying this he still comes across as an arrogant figure. He is still outwardly convinced that at the time he made the correct descisions even though they may have been wrong with hindsight. This and the fact that he now claims that he was just serving the president and that's all show the other side of him. He is an interesting and amiguous figure definitely worth studying. 

  Battleship Polemkin Went down tothistonight. Basically, it was a performance by the Pet Shop Boys, who have written a new soundtrack for the Eisenstein silent film Battleship Polemkin. It took place live in Trafalgar Square and it was free to anyone. I reckon there must've been at least 10,000 people there.

The first thing to do is commend them for doing something so brave. I'm by no mean a great fan of the pet shop boys (Although I've always liked disco which is a great 80's pop disco synth crossover album) but here they're attempting to do something different and it was amazing to see so many people standing in Trafalgar square watching a black and white Russian film about communism.

It started very badly with some guy talking about Trafalgar Square and how it was a centre of protest. He then made a few predicably lame anti-Bush comments to get the crowd going, and then mumbled on about the chartists, miners etc., interspersed with some video clips. It reminded me of a really crap museum exhibit, and was basically an exercise in trying to connect having an event in trafalgar square with communism. At the end of the day everyone there knew that there was no connection.

Onto the actual show, and although I was expecting the worst after the introduction bullshit, I was pleasantly surprised. I have never seen Eisensteins 1920'sfilm before, but I thought it was excellent, a story of a navy crew rebelling against their leader and the subsequent fallout in a Russian town, It is staggering well made and some of the effects and editing are the basis of what is now modern cinema. The soundtrack was great, it was typical pet shop boys in one way, but there seemed to be an extra dimension, probably due to the form they were working with, and also thanks to the Dresden Sinfornia who were accompanying them . I particularly liked the work which started off the film, kind of synthy slow moving core which was reprised later. The scittering beats of the famous pram on the stairs scene [think untouchables] was also really outstanding. I don't believe it, but maybe Neil Tennant has been listening to minimalist glitch genius Jan Jelanek. The vocal stuff was also very good. I was concerned that this might overpower the film, but it was only used a few times and when it did appear it in was not the focus. Credit had to go to Neil Tennant for his restraint and having the good sense (and no ego) to realise that his voice should not be the centre of the work. Due to it being used so sparingly, the scenes where he did use his voice had a surprising emotional resonance.

There are a couple of criticisms that I would have. Some of the stuff in the middle, was a bit "coffee table" and didn't quite have enough hooks. Also I ended up at the back which meant that I couldn't read all the translations of the captions at the bottom of the screen because of the crowd. You would have thought someone would have had a plan for this, after all it is essential to understanding the film and hence the work as a whole.

I'm rather a fan of modern artists writing soundtracks for silent films. These works really allow important historical films to be more accessible for people today, and that can only be a good thing. This reinterpretation is not as good as the amazing "a man with a movie camera" by the cinematic orchestra, but it an excellent work. So all credit to the boys, and if any other well known artists are reading, why not try to do something interesting and artistic like these guys, rather than touring the same shit again and again. 

  I'm back Back and this time forever.

There nothing more annoying than setting up a blog and then loosing the abilty to connect to the web. Then again, I guess it was expected, as the only reason I had access was due to a hack involving fiddling addresses n dns. 

Q:Whats this about?/
A:Anything that comes up/



08.04 / 09.04 / 10.04 / 11.04 / 12.04 / 07.05 /


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