Monthly Archives: December 2006

Something nice for the new year

Fission is a really gorgeous, simple audio editing application for chopping up, fading and trimming audio files (like when you’re turning your record collection into MP3s and recording podcasts, for instance). Beautifully designed and does all the niggly things I’ve been trying to persuade other more complicated apps to do for ages. A proper software treat (cheaper if you’ve also got Audio Hijack Pro, an equally brilliant app for nicking RealAudio streams). OS X Only.


Wii arrives at Nokia, from
…in an anonymous office park somewhere in the South East, young people – the brighest of their generation – confidently pilot the nation into an uncertain future…

What I don’t understand (not being a gamer) is how come it’s taken so long for the Wii‘s kind of motion/orientation stuff to show up in consumer consoles. These things have been integral parts of every VR rig since about 1985 as far as I can tell and must certainly be ¢10 components by now (what were those things called? Those little things that used to cost millions that they put inside VR gear to detect orientation? Began with a ‘p’ I think. God I’m getting old).

Update: I remembered! ‘Polhemus‘. Hah!

Palestinian? No.

Palestinian Strawberries from Israeli exporter Agrexco
I was fascinated and encouraged to read the phrase ‘Palestinian Produce’ on this pack of strawberries from the farm shop up the road but then a commenter on my flickr stream told me that the brand name Coral belongs to Israeli exporter Agrexco and that these strawberries, if they come from Palestine at all, probably come from an illegal Israeli settlement in the Jordan Valley.

So now I’m less enthusiastic about them, since they’re most likely grown on expropriated land using stolen water and the profit is returned to an Israeli comany’s bank account. So, with the help of the Internet, a product pack reveals something interesting about the dynamics of the Israel/Palestine conflict.

A page about Agrexco from a site campaigning for a boycott of Israeli produce. A report about the economic effects of the occupation (and the fence) from War on Want.

Capitalism’s dreadnought

Walking the aisles of a big branch of Toys R Us at Xmas is like being in the engine room of a battleship at speed. It’s not pretty but everything is in its place and the bloody thing works. You can practically hear the purposeful thrum of capitalism in action. The tills ping and the point of sale demos hiss steam. Stokers replenish shelves with practiced grace. I think that’s enough naval analogies for now.

Anyway, the place is a machine. This is what it must have been like for Friederich Engels to walk the mill floors of nineteenth Century Manchester. There’s a mix of dread and awe. These hyper-efficient sheds are probably the apogee of the industrial model of retail commerce that he saw being born. We’ll probably never get any better at wrangling the shiny product of a 10,000 mile supply chain into the boot of a Ford Fiesta by the North Circular.

For box shifters like Toys R Us margins are a vanishing memory and competition from lower-cost channels is corrosive and unremitting (I’m thinking U-Boats). Store closures, mergers and… er… sinkings are speeding up. Everything rests on the December numbers. The prospect of a bad Xmas in a big outlet must be enough to make a store manager weep quietly into her steaming mug of Bovril (as she paces the bridge in the half light of a steely North Atlantic dawn, probably – sorry).

Is flickr going downmarket?

I love flickr. Every day something new. A proper source of inspiration. I’m a very loyal customer. But dig in and the place is turning into a branch of Athena (British poster shop famous for that poster of the tennis player scratching her arse). Photos ranked by ‘interestingness‘ are frankly cheesy: puppies, semi-nude girlfriends.

I guess what’s happening is that flickr‘s audience is spreading out, losing differentiation, getting less geeky/exclusive as it grows (thanks to Yahoo!). This can’t be a bad thing but it must affect the brand, potentially destructively. Like when working class women started wearing Burberry and the brand practically imploded. I wonder if flickr’s clever, streetwise management are ready for an influx of chavs.

Pinochet and The Partridge Family

Augusto Pinochet, 1915-2006
The thing about Pinochet is that he’s a kind of retro dictator. When I was growing up he was the man: the dictator’s dictator. A proper big-hat, braided demagogue. Funded and armed by the CIA, overthrowing and murdering a left wing icon (Allende), snuffing out practically the only democratic promise on the whole continent (how different things look now) and killing 30,000 democrats and radicals. Pinochet was a proxy for the evil machine of American-sponsored anti-democratic corporate imperialism. He was the preening mascot of a very bad time for democrats and progressives.

From here, though, from the other end of the very long telescope of the last twenty years, he looks almost quaint: another funny Seventies figure, like the Partridge Family. Two decades of escalating horror in Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Baghdad, Chechnya (and lower Manhattan, London and Madrid) provide a grim lens through which to view Pinochet’s unattractive achievements. Events thirty years ago and more are difficult to keep in focus anyway but, alongside a rollcall of scumbags that includes Milosevic and Bin Laden and the Burmese generals and the nameless Rwandan slaughterers and hundreds of suicidal nihilists in exploding vests, he begins to look like a comic book villain in a silly hat.

Non-personalities hijack event intended for personalities… again

Zara Phillips, Darren Clarke and Beth Tweddle with their Sports Personality of the Year trophies
More evidence that you don’t actually need a personality to be eligible for the premier prize in British sport. Three blocks of wood (one with way too much hair gel) walked away with the top prizes at the BBC’s increasingly silly annual non-prize last night.

The British media and the public want so badly for these people to have personalities, it’s as if we’re all willing them to acquire one: “Come on Zara! You can do it! Be… you know… something… ANYTHING! You don’t have to just stand there!”

The BBC and its sponsors have built a vast and pointless superstructure of glitz and lights and hairspray around a perfect vacuum – a few dozen humourless sporting monomaniacs who wouldn’t know a personality if it mugged them during another punishing pre-dawn training session. Next year they’re going to honour actual blocks of wood.

Nuclear weapons are stupid and essential

I don’t like nuclear weapons much. They’re the grim opposite of the other grand and inspiring engineering achievements of the last century: dams, the space programme, particle accelerators, skyscrapers: science and technology in the service of annihilation. We need to be objective, though, and stop recycling the late Twentieth Century’s pro- and anti-nuclear debate if we’re to decide what to do when the current generation of H-bombs wears out.

To begin with, they seem to work. Nuclear weapons have been used twice, on the same day, against one beligerant over sixty years ago. Even the peaceniks would concede there’s a reasonable chance they’ll never be used again. The bomb is a remarkable thing: a ‘use once’ weapon. Maybe we should acknowledge that this mess is exactly what the planet needs: a rather imperfect but, in practice, 100% effective deterrent for conflict between big nations that depends on the operation of messy and contingent global politics, lots of tricky (and expensive) science and the universal dread of the consequences of use. Perfect. Here’s to another sixty years.