rfbooth.com :: blog archives

Moments in time, preserved to embarrass me later.

19-6-2003 (archived)

Nanotech brings us the world's smallest guitar - and what's more, it's a fretless. I bet the sustain is pathetic, though.

OK, now this is seriously cool. Apparently New Yorkers are “flash mobbing”, in which huge crowds of people arrive in one place for ten minutes. It's distributed performance art. It's funny as hell. It's the most visible and yet purposeless manifestation of smart mobs I've seen yet. It also reminds me that I need to get “Global Frequency” as soon as the trade paperback arrives.

Now, as the comments in to the cheesebikini piece point out, you could potentially get huge media attention in this way. You could have mass protests without police presence and possible suppression. There are so many possibilities, but still, just doing it because it's beautiful is the one that grabs me.

The only thing I've ever been involved in that reminds me at all of this is going to showings of Rocky Horror in provincial towns, watching the locals go roundeyed at all the freaks converging in their town centres. This also ties in nicely with the Matrix costume mobs that have been happening in Japan (sticking with cheesebikini for the linkage because so far I really like it). Distributed art, condensing out of city crowds, making people stop and look and think.

If you're organising one of these anywhere near Manchester, put me on the list. (Kicked off via boing boing.)

20-6-2003 (archived)

Today we had something of a political storm. The new (since the peculiar reshuffle of a week or so back) “leader of the Commons”, Peter Hain, dared to suggest that maybe people who are paid a great deal of money (like £50,000 a year and up) might perhaps pay a little more tax on some of that income.

Now, this is what was, when I was a schoolboy, the party of the British Left, so one might suppose that this was reasonable; but no, an immediate media storm arose, and by the time he had come to make the evening speech he'd been talking about in the morning, he too was saying that there would be no new tax bands. It is, apparently, impossible to even suggest that some minor redistribution of wealth might be in order.

Few will be surprised by this, of course; our left is now reduced to what was recently a roughly politically centrist party, the Liberal Democrats (of course, it is not they who have moved), and they're almost as badly marginalised as the (now essentially nonexistent) American left. Some of my friends, though, are amongst those who might still feel some surprise. They are older than I, from the mid to late thirties on up, and they are mostly people who have voted Labour essentially all their lives (whereas I have always been a Liberal supporter essentially by default, at first because Labour were too far to the fiscal left, and now because they're too far to the fiscal right, and always because of Labour's pervasive authoritarianism; even in the dark days when David Alton was in the LD mainstream, they were as close as we got to a socially libertarian option). They believe, or at least hope (as the most paranoid of conservatives fear) that New Labour still harbour some leftiness in their bosoms.

I have had long conversations, and indeed drink-fuelled arguments, with some of these good friends about the political indifference, apathy, of the young, by which I suppose I mean everyone under thirty. My answer is the same today as it was then: look at the political situation you have left us. We have two barely distinguishable parties of the right, with little to choose between them but for personalities and the precise shade of their gloss, and a mildly progressive liberal fringe party that many people would vote for if only they thought they had a chance, but of course no-one does. How, then, would we be interested in party politics? You have left us nothing of value. There is no choice left, and no Left to choose.

24-6-2003 (archived)

This week's first film review is “Igby goes down”, which I saw on my own as all the women I like to go to movies with were out of town. (I know one can go to see films with men, and I don't believe doing so should prevent you from being, say, a bishop in the Church of England, but somehow it just doesn't satisfy me.)

Our hero of sorts, Igby, and his brother are reacting to intolerable parents (one haughty and pill-popping, one eventually institutionalised) equally and opposingly badly. The elder, Oliver (Ryan Phillipe) is an obnoxious, manipulative, young Republican economics student; the younger, Igby (Kieran Culkin) is equally obnoxious, a serial expellee and runaway with a good line in the sort of insolence that is particularly troubling to those with more authority and fewer brains; both are smart, eloquent yet emotionally inarticulate, and rich, charming and handsome.

Admittedly it stars a Culkin, but nonetheless this is a very funny, deeply black comedy, more bitter than sweet. Many of the lines, particularly those in Culkin's mouth, are first-class, and while there are brief lapses into sentimentality, it's hard not to like a film that opens with two brothers suffocating their mother. In further evidence of the more and more rational approach of the BBFC to “bad language”, it also wins my award for best use of the term “cuntface” by a schoolgirl in uniform. Not perfect, but decidedly recommended.

26-6-2003 (archived)

This post was kicked off by something Simon wondered in (void): “what stuff would best be represented by the medium o' blog which would be entirely unsuitable for the medium of email to the extent that I should be persuaded to go through the rigmarole above”. You should not blame him for the results. (void) is a mailing list; much of what I'm saying here applies to any of the other lists, newsgroups and forums I infest. And yes, if you read (void), you've seen this already...

Email is the right way to have discussions, which is mostly what (void) is for. (Arguably netnews is even more right, but the tools are much the same anyway.) Admittedly the current state of blogging, where commenting and trackbacks are much in vogue, is tending towards a more explicitly threaded state, but I'm not convinced that this is a good thing - because if you want to have public conversations, a publically archived mailing list does seem to me to be the better tool. That's one of the reasons that this site doesn't have commenting or trackbacks; it's my place. If you want to say something on here, mail it to me and I'll post it if I think it's worth posting. I do post other people's work here, but I'm definitely the editor.

While comment systems certainly can be a good thing, I read the blogs I read because of their principal authors, and in many cases (most cases, actually), they don't have automated commenting systems - or if they do, they're not presented in such a way that I would normally see them. bOING bOING is probably a good example - I have almost never clicked through to one of the discussions threads, although I read the blog basically every day.

In a blog, I expect to see things that I generally wouldn't expect to see posted to lists or newsgroups; it's much more about the person or people who write them. Picking local (to (void)) examples, I read Ian's blog, for example, because I like Ian's writing. I read 2lmc because, by and large, I will be interested in the things they link to and, more importantly, the things they say about them. A blogger has licence to say whatever is on its (possibly collective) mind, in a way that I certainly wouldn't be comfortable doing on here. Maybe that's one reason I don't post very much. People who read my site have Asked For It, and so I can link to geek toys one day, write movie reviews another, complain about politics a third, and relate stories about my own stupidity a fourth without guilt. Posting all of that to (void) would seem rude and presumptuous to me; people are not here because of me, but rather because of us. If I did (void)-post everything that I would currently blog, a few people might be happy, but probably a rather larger number would either killfile me or flame me crispy.

ARP is sort of an exception, in the context of (void), but then he is somewhat exceptional. Note for none-(void)ers: ARP writes many, many things on (void), often in a style that suggests he's simply transcribing his inner monologue. He can get away with this. You almost certainly can't.

What I suppose I'm saying is that there's too much (of what may be, to a given reader) drivel on blogs that doesn't belong in (void). I don't mean this in the "appalling signal-to-noise" sense; blogs are only low-signal if you've chosen what are, for you, the wrong blogs. A blogroll, or aggregator setup, or bookmarked tabset, or LiveJournal friends list, or whatever combination of these and others you may use, is really analogous to a selectfile in some vast alt.anything newsgroup with signal-to-noise approaching zero; you read the posts of the people whose posts you've generally found worth reading, and you occasionally may be intrigued enough by a trimmed quote to chase up the poster they're replying to, and so your scorefile grows. I love that, but that isn't what (void) is, and I'm glad it isn't. I don't need a selectfile there.

27-6-2003 (archived)

This week's second film review is “Identity”, a film about which it's hard to say too much without major spoilers. (Indeed, I'm very glad I didn't read some of the reviews I've read while writing this piece until after seeing the film.)

The most visible portion of the plot is a horror-movie staple; ten people find themselves trapped at a motel, floods blocking the exit roads. One by one, the killings begin. Who's doing it? Suspense ensues. However, this isn't really the point of the film, which is somehow tied up with a motel serial-killer making his final appeal before execution, in a driving storm.

Reading that back, you might get the impression that this is some sort of artfully confusing Lynchean piece of ambiguity, but that's not at all the case; I just don't want to give away plot spoilers. It does all tie up neatly, if not utterly plausibly, and it's not a film you're going to be trying to work out for days afterwards; far from it. It's also notable for featuring Amanda Peet playing a slightly more together version of the slutty, skinny sexy chick she played in “Igby Goes Down”; seeing the same actor in two similar roles in a couple of days can be confusing, but the tone of the films here is different enough that it's never an issue.

I liked this a lot, and not just because when (as seen in the trailers) the characters discover they all share a birthday, it's May the 10th, which also happens to be my birthday. Some (spoiler-providing) reviews have claimed that they had it all worked out by half-way through the first reel; I certainly didn't, though perhaps I should have. It's an interesting if slightly creaky concept piece that also works as a tense, occasionally heroic, sometimes funny piece of horror trash, and that's exactly what I needed last night.

28-6-2003 (archived)

This week's last film review is “Wrong Turn”, a by-the-numbers horror film that nods in that oh-so-modern style to the obvious influences it doesn't bother to conceal. A bunch of people find themselves being hunted down by inbred mountain men in the West Virginia woods, and everything goes much as expected (but with high-quality gore, and bonus marks for the use of bow and arrows).

There are plenty of things to like about this movie; Desmond Harrington's (I ask you, does he look like a Desmond Harrington?) solidity in the male lead, the taut editing (84 minutes; in and out, job done) and undeniable momentum, the wonderful gore, with little or no CGI. It could still have been pretty dull were it not for Eliza “Faith from Buffy” Dushku, playing a rather more normal character than she did as Faith; she brings the same utter conviction and depth to this shallow part. Her incendiary presence dominates every frame she's in, and that's no bad thing; she turns this from an average if occasionally jumpy horror flick to a thoroughly enjoyable and gripping, if undemanding, gorefest.

There have been a lot of reviews this week, because I'm likely to be off-net for a while. Do not adjust your sets; normal service will return in about a week.

7-7-2003 (archived)

Well, I'm back, from Bangor. I am reminded of how uninteresting to look at Manchester and its surroundings are; Bangor is between the mountains and the sea, and almost ludicrously beautiful.

It was a good and worthwhile conference, which also gave me a welcome chance to polish up my solo acoustic exhibitionism. The downside was a week plus borders of conference food, which while tasty enough was decidedly not low carb. By the time I was back and ready to restart my now-usual eating habits on Sunday, I was very aware of feeling sluggish, bloated, flatulent (great word, less great condition) and... well... exactly how I felt all the time for most of the last few years, really. This more than anything has convinced me that reduced-carb (especially sugars and starches) is absolutely the way for me to go for the forseeable future, even if I clearly won't be doing full-on weight-loss Atkins forever.

A lot of the reasons for the enormous, continuous-best-seller success of the Atkins books shows up in conversations with friends about this stuff. I have a lot of friends who've gone low-carb and lost a great deal of weight while, from the start, feeling better than they've ever done. I myself had lost over 30lbs before going away last week, though I've done some hopefully-temporary damage with a week of over-indulgence and cake. Friends who'd been eating traditional low-fat, calorie-count diets and were going slowly insane have switched to Atkins variants and are amazed and delighted. It sells because it works, and you (after the first few days) feel fantastic.

I haven't been all that strict; I've had a weekly cheat meal, not kept my carbs particularly low, but have compensated by doing quite a lot of gym work. In fact, I eat pretty much the way that Unqualified Offerings recommends for one going off Atkins, with occasional bursts of strictness. And certainly I could lose faster if I kept stricter, but as a pattern for eating the rest of my life, it feels pretty damned good. And I can wear clothes comfortably which were tight when I bought them, back long before I stopped smoking. That feels really, really good.

There are people I compulsively read because they can write; some are my friends too. Clive is one of them (especially for his amazing grasp of obscenities), and to see that he feels the same way about my writing is, well, intoxicating. It reminds me that, while I'd do this even if nobody read it, being read and enjoyed is at least as rewarding as anything else I do.

8-7-2003 (archived)

There's a nice post-Gods interview with Vinny over at melodicrock:

Ten is in a ridiculous situation. Just look at it now. Paul Hodson is writing great stuff for his own band and Bob Catley but he will not get more then the odd song on a Ten album (if he's lucky) no matter how good they are and how bad the Ten material is.

There is something seriously flawed in a set up like that. It's too frustrating after a while and the only motive behind no one getting a look in on the songs is greed and not wanting to share song writing/mechanical royalties and publishing advances. I don't miss it at all.

And I can testify that this isn't post-leaving sour grapes - he's been saying this for a while. I'm also glad to say that the new Burns Blue material is every bit as good as he says. If you like fun melodic rock, highly recommended.

10-7-2003 (archived)

Yesterday I had occasion to go to Oxford, and needed to be there around 9:30; not wishing to drive anywhere near Birmingham at that time, I went by rail. The journey down was great; left Piccadilly at 5:19, rolled into Oxford fresh and relaxed and dead on time.

The journey back was less good; the train I was planning to be on was running 50 minutes late even before it reached us, and in fact I ended up taking a different one, unsurprisingly packed, and without its seat reservation indicators working so I was shifted several times. Still, it was better than trying to negotiate the ring of motorways around Birmingham, or just about any of the M6 at just about any time.

We had a clear and horrible reminder of how even usually-functional roads can simply break under the stress of events this morning, when an accident south of Manchester on the motorway gridlocked traffic around the bottom half of town for hours. Trains are similarly fragile; the earliest trains, like my outward service, are pretty reliable. By the afternoon, problems have propogated through the system and the whole thing's screwed.

It seems like it should be such a simple problem, though, especially on the railways, and surely with the will (and the money) it should be fixable. Why aren't we living in the future yet?

11-7-2003 (archived)

Richard Herring has been writing about gyms recently:

I'm going to show them though. I am going to go loads of times a week forever and make sure that while I'm there I manage to break a hundred pounds worth of equipment each week. Oh yeah, they might notice eventually and try and stop me, but ironically by this stage I will be so fit and strong that they will not dare challenge me.

Or so he says, anyway. Still, early signs are encouraging; he's even hired a personal trainer:

I was a little nervous about meeting him and ashamed that I had taken this awful step towards twatdom (but then I felt like that when I bought my mobile phone and look at me now, fingers grotesquely twisted from too much texting - and anyone who says it's to do with anything else is lying) [...]

“Twatdom” is word of the week. Your task, should you need one, is to use it in conversation with somebody whom it will surprise.