28 April, 2012

A thought experiment

Let's consider a hypothetical situation:

Let's say the ABC (or the BBC, or NPR, or PBS, or CBC, or your local equivalent) were merely accused of just half the corruption that News Corp is known to have committed.

What would happen then?

Your thoughts in the convenient box below, if you would be so kind please.

25 April, 2012


19 April, 2012

The Age of Entitlement

  The Age of Entitlement by Billablog

When the EU is in its seventh decade
And the East will dominate
The solution to protect our interests
Is to dismantle the welfare state

This is the ending of the Age of Entitlement, the Age of Entitlement
Entitlement!  Entitlement!

No more guarantee of welfare
Going to fend for yourself there
Looking to our Asian neighbours
Gonna do things same as they does
Must make necessary savings
Do it by eliminating,
Entitlement… Entitlement

No more pensions, no more baby bonus
No first home buyers grant
John Howard said that we could afford it
Now Joe Hockey says we can’t

This is the ending of the Age of Entitlement, the Age of Entitlement
Entitlement!  Entitlement!

Watch the interview here: http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2012/s3480665.htm


11 April, 2012

The Bonus Discs - The Wall

The third and final volume of the expanded editions of The Best Pink Floyd Albums Ever is, I’m sorry to say, a bit of a letdown.  It pains me to say this because The Wall was one of the first albums that made me realise that someone else gets it.  The remastering job is superb with beautiful clarity but in contrast to the other Immersion editions, this feels hastily put together to meet a release schedule.

Discs three and four in the boxed edition are Is There Anybody Out There – the live version of The Wall recorded from performances in 1980 and 1981, which has been available on CD since 2000.  It’s hard to imagine anyone considering this edition not having that album already.  What’s missing from this version are the excellent sleeve notes from the original 2000 edition, even though there was plenty of room in this package for them.

And so to the previously unavailable material which makes up discs five and six.  These are the demo version of The Wall, including Roger Waters’ original home demos.  The demo discs are broken up into seven “programmes.”  James Guthrie’s sleeve notes (printed on the cardboard disc sleeves – seriously people, you couldn’t spare one page in the two picture books for some sleeve notes?) explain that this sequencing is to represent both the separate sessions and the different track sequences that were experimented with during recording.

The first programme Roger’s initial demos which Nick Mason once described as “unlistenable.”  (One can only assume he hadn’t heard Ummagumma recently.)  They have been edited down to highlights, which does make sense but some of the songs are so heavily edited that you start to think you’re listening to The Wall megamix.  There are then five programmes of band demos, sometimes interspersed with Waters’ demos and disc six concludes with David Gilmour’s home demos of Comfortably Numb and Run Like Hell

Although fascinating in places, the demo discs don’t reward repeated listening.  Not that they ought to or course – they were never intended for public consumption.  Some of the highlights include,

The first band demo of Another Brick in the Wall, (disc 5, track 24) which baits the audience with lines like, “We don’t need your adulation,” and, “you should have seen them in the early days.”

Teacher Teacher – a song that would eventually evolve into The Hero’s Return on The Final Cut, and presents a much more sympathetic view of the teacher character.  Both this early version and the one that was eventually released are written from the point of view of a returned soldier suffering what would now be called post traumatic stress disorder, who falls into teaching as a way of making ends meet. 

Young Lust – same basic tune but effectively a completely different song to what was eventually used on the album.

Sexual Revolution – eventually included on Waters’ solo album The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, which was written at the same time as The Wall.

The Doctor (Comfortably Numb) (disc 6, track 5) – There was clearly work to do on Comfortably Numb, and every change they made was the right decision, but this does reveal that The World’s Greatest Guitar Solo (it just is, okay?) was well on the way to being fully formed even in the first rehearsals.

The single disc of demos included on the “experience edition” is culled from the best of these two discs, so that makes the medium-sized version far more attractive to those who want to hear how The Wall took shape but don’t fancy spending $100 or more.

That just leaves us with the DVD, the main portion of which is the documentary Behind The Wall, which was made in 2000 around the same time as the release of Is There Anybody Out There?  Although not new, it is previously unavailable on DVD.  Also included on the DVD are a previously unreleased interview with designer Gerald Scarfe from 1982, a restored version of the video clip for Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2, and a live version of The Happiest Days of Our Lives from Earls Court in 1980 which lasts all of 82 seconds.

The problem with this box set is that there’s so much that we know is missing.  For a start, there’s the film.  It’s been available on DVD since 1999 and again, while it’s fair to assume that anyone who wants this box set already has the DVD, but if this is the Immersion Edition, then let’s do it properly.  Hi-def Blu-ray perhaps?  Nup!  The documentary reminds us that The Wall was devised as an album, a show and a film all at the same time, yet while we know there is complete film of The Wall concerts, only an insultingly small amount of it is included.  Many have already complained about the lack of a 5.1 mix.  Engineer James Guthrie has said that a surround mix is in the pipeline and its eventual SACD release will immediately make this edition less than definitive.  Even so, the music for the film was remixed in 5.1.  And what about the album of music from the film that was mooted in 1982 but never eventuated?

In fairness, there are probably various legal reasons why some of these could not have been added.  For a start, the film of The Wall is owned by Sony, not EMI and many of the copyrights relating to The Wall are owned by Roger Waters personally rather than Pink Floyd as a group.  Be that as it may, the release should have been held over until they could have made it a true immersion edition.  The cover is bloody awful too.  Storm Thorgerson is brilliant and Gerald Scarfe is brilliant but they do not exactly share a creative vision.  They should have stuck with Scarfe’s minimalist original, but if they couldn’t do that, any page of the Thorgerson-designed book would have made a better cover than this pointless collage.

It contains all the trinkets that are included in the other Immersion editions but in terms of actual content, what we get for paying anywhere between three and five times the price of the experience edition is a second disc of demos and an hour long documentary.  Not even close to the magnificent standard set by the Dark Side of the Moon box.

Worth paying extra for?
Sadly, no.

Comfortably Numb - initial 1985 CD release 

Comfortably Numb - from the Shine On box set, 1992

Comfortably Numb - 1994 remaster 

Comfortably Numb - 2011 remaster

Comfortably Numb - from Is There Anybody Out There? 2000 remaster

Comfortably Numb - from Is There Anybody Out There? 2011 remaster

Another Brick in the Wall - from Pink Floyd The Wall DVD, 1999

Another Brick in the Wall - 2011 restoration

10 April, 2012

A billion dollar idea

You can just imagine the conversation…

“So, I’ve made this app.”

 - Okay, what does it do?

“Well, you know those smartphones with the really good cameras?  Well, this app takes a photo with that camera and makes it look like an old polaroid, or a washed-out slide, or one of those lomography photos.”

 - Why would anyone want to do that?

“It looks cool.”

 - If you say so.  How much are you going to charge for it?

“Nothing.  It’s a free download.  But we will host the photos people post.”

 - Ah right, and you’ll have ads there?

“Um, no.  Well, not yet.  Maybe.”

 - And you can get this on any phone?

“No, just the one.  Maybe some others later.”

 - Well, I suppose it’s all good practice for you but I can’t see you making any money from it.

Now Facebook has bought Instagram.  That’s not surprising in itself.  These things happen all the time.  What is surprising is that they paid roughly one billion dollars for it.  And this is for a service that according to its own FAQ has no specific plans for monetising what it does. 

Paying that kind of money for that kind of service has led many to make comparisons with the dot-com crash at the turn of the century and News Corp’s disastrous takeover of MySpace.  Obviously for the sale to have happened, two sets of people would have to have thought two sets of things.  Instagram would have to think that they make more money out of their product this way than by any other way (seems like a bit of a no-brainer), and Facebook would have to think that they’re going to make more than a billion dollars from the acquisition.  I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re not completely insane.  It’s possibly a better investment than Google buying YouTube for 1.65 billion dollars in 2006.  YouTube is massively popular – to the extent of being the world’s second most used search provider after Google itself – but as Slate reported in 2009, it bleeds money due to phenomenal bandwidth costs.

Of course, this is all private money going on private things, but just consider this the next time you think too much money is spent on the space program.  Mark Zuckerberg just spent a billion dollars on a service that makes photos look old and crappy. 

And just by coincidence, the second payout in the CSIRO Wi-Fi patent case was reported last week.  Between the two payouts, the CSIRO gets roughly 425 million dollars, or less than half the purchase price of Instagram.  Think that through for a moment.  International readers should also note that CSIRO stands for Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation – Australia’s national science agency.  That’s right teabaggers, you got your Wi-Fi from socialism!

I’ve got nothing against Instagram per se.  I’ve used it and some other similar apps.  It’s fun to play around with the filters and I follow some people on Twitter who create some really beautiful pictures with it.  However, the ubiquity of the app has begun to annoy me.

At the risk of overthinking things, the tone of a picture or film always gives clues to when the picture was taken.  I remember when colour film of 1930s nazi Germany was discovered.  It looked literally unreal because to those of us who weren’t there at the time, anything before about 1956 was in black and white.  That’s why Spielberg shot Schindler’s List in black and white.  It wasn’t to be artistic, it was to be realistic because every picture we have of the real concentration camps is in black and white, so to film it in true colour would not have been as convincing.  Colour didn’t come in large quantities until the 50s, so the colour footage of pre-war Germany initially looks like it’s from the 50s.  Television is the same.  There’s a particular look to videotape from the 60s and 70s.  You don’t have to be a photographic expert to get a rough idea of when a photo was taken just from the colour and saturation.   Now with Instagram and dozens of copycat services, that’s being muddied.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there are teenagers who have looked at their grandparents’ wedding photos and just assumed they had Instagram.

How the spire fire might have looked
if it had happened in 1977
It wouldn’t be such a problem if the service were just used for being creative, but its ubiquity has meant that increasingly, photos of record are being Instagrammed.  When the spire of the Victorian Arts Centre in Melbourne caught fire from new year’s eve fireworks, one of the first pictures was posted on Twitter and picked up by both major newspapers’ websites, but it was bloody Instagram!  Photo filters should never be used for something like that.  Then just a few days later, there was five minutes of slight interest when it was announced that Barack Obama had joined Instagram.  There’s no doubting that Obama is the first social media president, but this is too much.  Fair enough that he posts announcements online and does his weekly address on YouTube, but it’s undignified for a national leader to post photos taken through the “toaster” filter. 

There was also a big deal made around the time of Obama’s inauguration that he was the first president to have his official portrait taken with a digital camera.  It was a complete non-story – that was a historical inevitability.  What worries me is that if his official portrait were taken this year, it might look more like this.

And that could cause future scholars to think, “I thought Obama was elected in 2008, not 1968.”
Or even worse, they might look at photos from the 20th century and wonder what Instagram filter they were taken with because we’ve confused the visual dating methods so much.

Definition of cognitive dissonance:

Robert Mugabe claims to have the support of Zimbabweans.
Educated, politically aware westerners say: “You’re a corrupt dictator!”

Vladimir Putin wins Russian presidential election.
E.P.A.W: “Yeah, right!”

Hamid Karzai declares victory in Afghan elections.
E.P.A.W: “Oh, that was so rigged!”

George W Bush said he was protecting the world from terror.
E.P.A.W: “No you’re not, you twit!”

Pauline Hanson: “I represent mainstream Australia.”
E.P.A.W: “Oh, shut up, you silly woman!”

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wins the Iranian election.
E.P.A.W: “As if! The real Iranians all hate him.”

Cardinal George Pell is the head of the Catholic Church in Australia.
E.P.A.W: “Duh, okay!  Catholics must be teh crazy people if they have him as leader.  Why they no kick him out otherwise?”

06 April, 2012

Really, Mitt?

Never a big one for self awareness, Mitt Romney has accused Barack Obama of being out of touch. 
No, really.  Mitt Romney says Barack Obama is out of touch.

President Obama thinks he's doing a good job. I'm not kidding. He actually thinks he's doing a great job ... It's enough to make you think that years of flying around in Airforce One surrounded by an adoring staff of true believers telling you that you're great, that you're doing a great job, it's enough to make you think that you might become a little out of touch with that. And that's what's happened.

So what are you saying, Mitt?  Are you saying that if you were president, you’d travel by Greyhound bus* and surround yourself with people who think you suck?  Are you saying that if you become president, you’ll take a leaf out Sarah Palin’s book and sell Air Force 1 on eBay and put the proceeds towards the national debt? 

To accuse any sitting president of being out of touch just because of the nature of the office is a tiresome and predictable argument.  I wrote years ago about what a lame angle it was when it was applied to Bush, and indeed predicted that Republicans would eventually pull it out to use against Obama.  (The date was 16th December, 2009. Write it down folks!)  I have few kind words for Bush, but I never begrudged him flying around in Air Force 1.  That’s called Being the President. 

But there’s an extra layer of irony when it’s Mitt Romney making the accusation.  Is this the same Mitt Romney who, on the spur of the moment, wanted to make a $10,000 bet with Rick Perry?  That must have been a tense moment for Mitt, trying to figure out what number would represent his confidence of winning but not his immense wealth.  A swing and a miss.  My guess would be that most average people, when making a bet that they’re sure they will win, while not wanting to be too broke on the off chance that they lose, might stretch to $100 which, by the way, is the square root of 10,000. 

Is this the same Mitt Romney whose appeal to Michigan was “I like cars,” and “My wife drives a couple of Cadillacs.”  You’re probably the same yourself.

Is this the same Mitt Romney who put on a Southern accent and started saying “y’all” to impress the locals – because that worked so well for Hillary Clinton, didn’t it?  She at least had the justification of living in Arkansas for 20 years.  You know what Mitt, I’ll be that before the primary, I’d had cheese grits more recently than you.  I hesitate to name a figure, so let’s just say 10% of my weekly earnings against 10% of yours.  That would be fair, right?

Is this the same Mitt Romney who told NASCAR fans that he follows the sport, “Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans. But I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners.” 

This is the guy, who currently claims to be unemployed, who’s saying Obama is out of touch?
If making cheap shots about understanding the plight of the common man is the game he wants to play, I wish someone in the press gaggle would ask him what a loaf of bread or a bottle of milk costs.  Or would that be a “gotcha” question from the lamestream media?  Actually, yes it would.  I don’t expect high office holders to know the price of specific groceries at any particular time and place.  But I’ll bet every other unemployed person does – and you can raise that bet as high as you want to go.

*I realise that you might have to look up what a Greyhound bus is.  I’ll give you a hint: it’s not a bus with a caged greyhound strapped to the roof.

04 April, 2012

Why Wikipedia has supplanted the great Encyclopedia Britannica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom

You may have read the news about the final print edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Much of the blame for this has been attributed to Wikipedia and there is one simple reason.
To quote the classics,
...though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects.

First, it is slightly cheaper...

All it needs is the words Don't Panic printed in large friendly letters.
Wikipedia is now officially the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy.