Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

Linkblogging for 31/07/10

Posted in linkblogging by Andrew Hickey on July 31, 2010

Firstly, I’d like to apologise for not being around much at the moment. I’ve had insomnia for much of the last month and so things like answering emails, thinking, coherent speech and so on have been difficult. As the nights get longer and darker that should change.

Anyhow, some links.

How Many People Are In Space Right Now?

Colsmi has done two great pieces on whether superheroes are childish and fascist (part one , part two ). To me, as well, this reads better in conjunction with Pillock’s post about Frederic Wertham.

Adam Curtis on changing media attitudes towards debt.

The Man Fooker Prize For Gay Men’s Fiction looks interesting, as it includes fiction of *any* genre, not just ‘literary’ fiction. Note for Doctor Who fans – Paul Magrs organised this, and Katy Manning is one of the judges.

One of the proposed changes to simplify the benefit system is to unify all benefits, both for those in and out of work, into one payment. As Steph Ashley points out, this comes very close indeed to bringing in a Citizens’ Income, and lays the groundwork for that to be instituted.

From D-Vice.com , Six Reasons You’ll Never Upload Your Mind Into A Computer. While for various reasons I am a lot more sympathetic than most people to the ‘Singulatarian’ idea of immortality in silico, in practice I suspect it would come out a lot more like my story, because most of those advocating it combine a religious belief in laissez-faire capitalism even after the point where all want has been extinguished with an utter lack of imagination. In particular they do themselves no favours by ignoring objections like these.

And finally, not a link , but something that was mentioned on Twitter today that had shamefully never occurred to me. I am a supporter of gay marriage, because any legalised form of discrimination is wrong. But my own view was that so long as we have civil partnerships, then the objections in practice, as opposed to in principle, are fairly small, so it’s not a top priority.

But of course, civil partnerships are OK for *new* relationships – what hadn’t occurred to me is that if someone gets married, then realises they’re trans, they would have to *get divorced* before their new gender can be legally recognised. I can think of very few more horrible pieces of bureaucratic bigotry than that.

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The Singularity

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on July 27, 2010

Well, of course we didn’t intend it from the start. We’re not monsters, are we?

It’s just, you have all that data, and you’re going to start using it, aren’t you? After all, we’re a business, and we want to give value to our customers.

No, not the users! The advertisers!

Look, if you’re going to pay fifty cents per page impression, you want to make sure that impression counts. So, you know, Ford weren’t going to put a spot on some hippie community wanting to ban cars, and the cigarette companies weren’t going to place anything on the cancer survivors ones. Well, bad example, but you know what I mean.

So obviously we’ve got all this data, and we can predict what the eyeballs – sorry, the users – are actually going to pay attention to, and it’s getting easier all the time. Eventually we know what they’re going to do before they do themselves.

Look, people aren’t special unique snowflakes, you know. People are predictable as hell. And once you can predict one person, you can predict them all.

Well, of course we had the power to predict one. We needed it just to run the site!

The thing is, people aren’t very different. There’s, what, eight, eight and a half billion people in the world? That seems like a big number, but it’s only thirty-three questions.

OK, it works like this. You ask people yes or no questions, right? They split people into two groups. Do you like chocolate? Are you a conservative? Are you female? Is it night-time where you live? That kind of thing. Each one of those questions gives you one bit of information. Choose the questions right – and those aren’t the questions, though they were of that type, and pretty soon you’ve got the person you’re questioning down exactly. Thirty-three bits of information can differentiate eight and a half billion different items. Or people.

No, that’s really all you need, if you choose the questions right – so long as the questions are totally independent, because each question predicts the answer to a load more. Like if you have a Rolls Royce you’re gonna be richer than the guy who goes to work on the bus, right? So if you’ve got a Rolls, you have a job in like a bank or something, not as, I dunno, a street cleaner. You’d have to ask the math guys about that, but that’s the idea.

Of course there was nothing wrong with it! I used the site myself, didn’t i?

No, we didn’t force anyone! They were *giving* us the information! People *like* to give information about themselves. And they were doing it all the time – we got most of the data from games. They’d click all these survey things to get points in games.

No I *don’t* think it should have been regulated! This is America! We’ve got rights! It’s hard to imagine a more fundamental right than the right to play video games.

So once we’ve *got* this thing… I mean, it knows what people are going to do before they do, can you imagine what a goldmine that is? So we start testing it out, and we get it posting status updates for them. We have it post a couple of “Lol, I’m so drunk!” and “chillin’ an pillin’ an lisnin to choons” kind of updates, and the eyeballs whose page they post on don’t realise they didn’t post it themselves, so we offer a service.

No, *NOT* that one! Like I said, we weren’t monsters! We just said “for a small fee, we’ll do your updates for you! No more having to type, we’ll just auto-update, so you keep in touch without the work!”

You’d be surprised how big the take-up was on that. And of course the ones who went for it first were the easiest ones to model – our core demographic weren’t string theorists and brain surgeons, you know? – so it worked very well, for a time.

But then, of course, it happened. We updated someone’s page, and they died before the update.

PR nightmare, you know? Some fuckin asshole kid ripped off his tits on meth has a brain aneurysm, and two hours later his status reads “I’m so high, doodz!” We’re deep in the shit here. Like BP deep. Subterranean.

So then one of our marketing team pulls the masterstroke of the millennium. She remembers this thing called the Turing Test, which says that if you can’t tell the difference between a computer program and a person, then the computer program *is* the person. So, OK, no-one can tell these updates from the real thing, so they are the real thing.

So we can repackage it. Call it ‘Virtual Immortality’. Live on in cyberspace after your body is dead! For a very reasonable monthly fee, you can keep updating your status, IMing, tagging people in games, all the same stuff you were doing already. You can live forever.

So *then* the problem comes when we start deleting accounts.

Look, we’re a fucking business, not a charity. We’re in this to make money, and if those losers can’t pay the bills, the plug gets pulled. Simple.

But people start bleating that we’re ‘killing people’. Do they do that when hospitals pull the plug on some freeloading asshole? I don’t think so. So we have to come up with something to keep these people happy.

So fine, we’ve got these games. You can level up either by paying money or by getting other people to help you. So we make it so that once the dead guys’ money runs out, we’ll keep the account active so long as they can get enough points – which they can only get by getting paying customers to help them. It’s adding value.

So you gonna help me or what?

Fuck you!

Fuck you! My company saved millions of lives! Your grandma’s still online today because of me!

The least you could do is click my fucking cow.

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New Spotify Playlist(s) : The Beach Boys Covered

Posted in music by Andrew Hickey on July 24, 2010

I *am* working on my Batman posts (and on PEP! 2 – which I had to put off slightly, because I realised that I could write an essay about Doctor Who that *also* served as an example of what a truly Liberal attitude towards copyright would look like, and tie the issue together much more nicely than it is at the moment). But today I had some important displacement activity to do, so I decided to try to create a Spotify playlist containing covers of every Beach Boys song (or the originals, where the Beach Boys did a cover version). (Note, for these purposes ‘every Beach Boys song’ only includes tracks on the twofer CDs (except Concert/Live In London and Party/Stack ‘O’ Tracks), Still Cruisin’ and Summer In Paradise. I wasn’t going to go looking for cover versions of Kokomo (Spanish version) or Happy Endings).

I couldn’t quite find every one, but I did manage to put together a seven-hour, 149-track playlist which you can find here.

However, because I know most people won’t want to listen to that, I’ve also put together a much shorter sampler playlist, 54 minutes long, which can be found here, and it’s this that I will be annotating here. However, go for the full playlist if you want to hear such curiosities as a band who only do Beach Boys songs in the style of the Ramones, a Norwegian ‘doom metal’ band covering a Bruce Johnston song, the bloke who covered the whole of side two of the Beach Boys Today! album on the ukulele (including the spoken word studio chatter track Bull Session With “Big Daddy”), Lulu duetting with Sting, the King’s Singers pretending to be ‘cellos, or a cover of Still Cruisin’ done for an exercise CD…

So here’s the short version.
Wonderful/Song For Children by Rufus Wainwright is a straight cover of the first half of the second movement of Smile, and one of the most beautiful things I’ve heard.

Ne Dis Pas by Souvenir is The Beach Boys’ Ticket To Ride knockoff Girl Don’t Tell Me reworked as breathy French pop, and exquisite.

Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder by Anne Sofie Von Otter is from an album Elvis Costello produced for von Otter, a classical singer, about a decade ago. At the time, Costello was interviewed saying that this song, originally from Pet Sounds is one that should be listened to every single day, and I can’t argue with him. This is an absolutely beautiful arrangement, only slightly inferior to the original (just because of the lack of the bass ‘heartbeat’).

Angel Come Home by Sal Valentino is the lead singer of the Beau Brummels reworking the Carl Wilson song from L.A. (Light Album) as Americana (or whatever we’re meant to call rockish country music that sounds more like Steve Earle or Mike Nesmith than Garth Brooks this week). More straightforward than the original, and an odd choice for a cover version.

Let’s Put Our Hearts Together by The Pearlfishers takes what was originally a duet and turns it into a solo piano ballad, making it much more plaintive and wistful, while still keeping all the eccentricity of the original.

Heroes & Villains by Geraint Watkins reworks the Smiley Smile track in the style of Louis Prima, scat singing and all. And is bloody fantastic.

The Warmth Of The Sun by Murry Wilson is by Brian, Carl & Dennis Wilson’s dad, and is from his muzak album The Many Moods Of Murry Wilson. I remember when you’d have to pay fifty quid and up for a vinyl copy of this album, but now you can have it piped into your home just like real muzak. Isn’t the internet brilliant?

Don’t Go Near The Water by Kirsty MacColl is actually a rather pretty cover version of what was originally a rather silly song by Mike Love and Al Jardine from Surf’s Up. If only she’d taken the advice in the title… Her harmonies on the tag are exquisite.

I Can Hear Music by Larry Lurex is a pre-Queen Freddie Mercury solo track, presumably an attempt to hop on the Gary Glitter bandwagon, though the music stays pretty close to the Spector original.

I’d Love Just Once To See You by The Elastic No-No Band is a very simple cover version of what was a very simple song to start with. I’ve always loved the melody of this one, and that lovely melody combined with the completely tossed-off lyrics has always somehow made it even better.

Wild Honey by Nazareth is the proto-metal band covering the Beach Boys’ attempt at R&B. It works better as a heavy metal song than you might expect (but then when I played the original for my mum a few years ago, she thought it was the White Stripes, so…)

On And On She Goes by Sandy Salisbury is a Curt Boettcher/Gary Usher reworking of what was originally a gentle ballad into an uptempo horn-driven track that is as influenced by Motown as by the Beach Boys.

MIster John B by Sylvie Vartan is odd, in that the lyric is reworked into French, but the English word Mister is stuck in for some reason. Other than that, it’s pretty faithful to the Beach Boys’ version.

Unlike Surfin’ USA by Melt Banana, a Japanese noise-rock band, whose version does settle down eventually into a fairly straight punk cover, but starts off wonderfully fragmented and distorted.

Disney Girls by Art Garfunkel is the polar opposite of that. Disney Girls is a song with which I have an uneasy relationship. I’m aware that it’s the single cheesiest song ever written (“She’s really swell, ’cause she likes church, bingo chances and old-time dances”), and that pretty much every time Bruce Johnston’s sung it other than on the original version he’s descended into lounge-singer hell. But for some reason, it still moves me far more than it theoretically should, and here Art Garfunkel gives one of his best vocal performances, his frail sincerity pushing the song well away from the elevator and into something close to genuine beauty.

Anna Lee, The Healer by The High Llamas takes this song, mostly by Mike Love, even further from its Louie Louie roots than the original version on Friends did, with the usual High Llamas combination of electronica and easy listening.

And finally A Day In The Life Of A Tree by Suzy And Maggie Roche is a cover of a song I’ve always loved (though no-one else does). Co-written by Brian Wilson and Jack Rieley, this environmentalist song is also clearly a metaphor for Wilson’s life at the time, and has one of his most gorgeous melodies. Jack Rieley’s original vocal was weak, and the song suffered by its placement on the Surf’s Up album (three Brian Wilson songs in a row were placed together, all with

Quick Admin Note

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on July 23, 2010

I will no longer be linking to any site that contains advertising from MessageSpace. MessageSpace is an advertising company that targets large political blogs, most of which I don’t read, but a few of which I do. MessageSpace regularly runs advertisements organisations like an arms industry lobby group, the “Taxpayers’ Alliance”, and an “English Democrat” (i.e. fascist) political candidate, and while I have no wish to prevent them from doing so (I’m pretty much a free speech absolutist) nor to stop those blogs getting advertising revenue, I also have no wish to provide traffic to that kind of thing. I’ve removed the links to some blogs that use that service, but will reinstate them if and when they change advertising provider.
(This is not meant as a means of persuading them to do so – I don’t think those sites will pay the slightest attention to anything I say here – just an explanation for some links disappearing).

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Doctor Who From The Beginning: Marco Polo

Posted in Doctor Who by Andrew Hickey on July 22, 2010

Marco Polo
Writer: John Lucarotti
Director: Waris Hussein (ep. 4 by John Crockett)
DVD Availability: a half-hour ‘reconstruction’ edit is available on The Beginnings box set Buy From Amazon
Other availability: Narrated soundtrack on CD. Buy From Amazon

First, I’d like to apologise for the delay in doing this one. I’ve been physically exhausted for about a month now, and have no idea why. It’s made it very hard to concentrate on writing anything of any length. I’ll do some more Batman posts over the weekend and deal with the next Who story on Monday.

Marco Polo is notable for several ‘firsts’. On the plus side, it’s the first historical (if you don’t count the adventure with the cavemen) – a genre that ended early in Patrick Troughton’s run, but that was vitally important in Hartnell’s time, where the Doctor would turn up in a famous historical setting and have an adventure with no SF/fantasy/horror elements at all. These stories were often among the best the show ever produced, and it’s a sad indictment of… something, whether modern audiences, modern TV executives or the lack of ambition of the people making the programme, that while in 1964 audiences could be expected to sit through seven straight weeks of travelogue through medieval China, the modern audience – which we get told all the time is ‘more sophisticated’ – is expected not to be able to stick forty-five minutes of early 20th century France without a giant invisible chicken-monster.

On the minus side, however, it’s also the first story where the BBC deliberately set fire to every surviving copy, thus ensuring that it can never be watched again. A hundred and six episodes of Doctor Who were destroyed in the 1970s to save space, including all seven episodes of this story – one of only three Doctor Who stories where not a single frame of footage remains. Doctor Who fans sometimes act as if this act of cultural barbarism only affected Who, but in fact it got off relatively lightly (thanks in large part to obsessive fan Ian Levine rescuing several stories from the flames). If you want to see Alan Bennett’s On The Margin, or John Fortune and Eleanor Bron’s Where Was Spring, or the Beatles on Top Of The Pops, or the BBC’s coverage of the moon landings! you can’t – except for a few seconds of the Beatles doing Ticket To Ride which are preserved on a Hartnell Doctor Who story.

However, we do have soundtracks to all the missing Doctor Who episodes, thanks to fans who taped the audio off their TV sets, and we have still photographs of many episodes too, and a group of fans called Loose Cannon Productions have used these to ‘reconstruct’ many of the stories (they only distribute these reconstructions on VHS, to avoid legal action from the BBC, but I’m sure you can find them in other formats easily if, like me, you have no TV). In the case of Marco Polo, as well as doing this, one of their members also did a half-hour reconstruction of the highlights of this, used on the The Beginning box set.

And the results are quite extraordinary in this case. Many of the surviving photos of this are in colour, and the team colourised the rest, so it’s actually the only colour Hartnell story, allowing us to experience the astonishingly beautiful production design for ourselves, and putting the lie to all those jokes about ‘wobbly sets’ – this was not a cheap show.

The plot itself is Boys’ Own Adventure stuff – a TARDIS component breaks down, and Marco Polo takes the broken TARDIS to present it to Kublai Khan, obligating our heroes to travel with him and his caravan, and to thwart the machinations of the evil warlord Tegana (who is basically the Hooded Claw, all moustache-twirling villainy except when he’s around Polo, at which point he’s all sweetness and light, and who keeps coming up with unfeasibly complex death traps), while learning a little about medieval China and science (one episode is basically designed to explain the concept of condensation). Luckily, however, the script isn’t, with Susan and Ping-Cho (a 16 year old girl on her way to get married) driving much of the plot and having a relationship that would, today, be called ‘slashy’.

(Speaking of ‘slashy’, fan legend says that the monkey perched on the shoulder of villainous, eyepatched character Kuiju was wildly incontinent and spent the entire time urinating on him. This is one more reason to regret the loss of the videotapes).

It’s also amazing how little this story falls into the racist cliches about China so prevalent at the time. Possibly having an Asian director (Waris Hussein, on his second and last story for the show) made them take the edge off, as the show certainly never shied away from these elements in the future.

Watched all in one go, in a reconstruction, this is frankly a bit hard going. But if you spread it out over several viewings, you’ll find the story has a lot to offer. In truth there’s very little to date it, other than some scenes of Susan trying to teach Ping-Cho 60s teen slang.

While as a Doctor Who fan I obviously wish that every episode still existed on videotape, I can’t in all conscience say that, say, Fury From The Deep being destroyed is a great tragedy. Much better shows than that were also consigned to the flames, with people kicking up much less fuss now. But Marco Polo *is* a great loss – at least as much so as any of the episodes of Not Only, But Also, and more so than many of the other lost shows.

While the reconstructions can be a little hard going, this one is a truly superb effort. But for those who don’t care about Doctor Who as much as I do, the half-hour version on the DVD is probably more than enough for you.

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